Home > Calcutta (Kolkata), Calcutta Heritage, General > Unveiling of Dutch plaque at Suriname Memorial, Kolkata

Unveiling of Dutch plaque at Suriname Memorial, Kolkata

Unveiling of Dutch plaque at Suriname Memorial

Balu Ghat (Suriname Jetty), Garden Reach, Kolkata

Also see: Suriname Memorial

“My ancestors must have stood here for the last time before leaving India forever. The men carried two dhotis and two kurtas each. The women carried two saris each. Apart from this, some carried religious books like the Ramayana, Mahabharata or Quran,”

Aashna Kanhai Ambassador of Suriname

Unveiling of the Dutch plaque at Suriname Memorial, Kolkata. L - R: Dave C Prasad (High Commissioner Trinidad & Tobago, Aashna Kanhai (Ambassador of Suriname), M J Akbar (Union Minister of state for External Affairs), Alphonsus Stoelinga (Ambasador of the Kingdom of Netherlands), Vinit Kumar (Chairman of Kolkata Port Trust) and Kajari Biswas (Branch Secretary, Kolkata, Ministry of External affairs)

Unveiling of the Dutch plaque at Suriname Memorial, Kolkata. L – R: Dave C Prasad (High Commissioner Trinidad & Tobago, Aashna Kanhai (Ambassador of Suriname), M J Akbar (Union Minister of state for External Affairs), Alphonsus Stoelinga (Ambasador of the Kingdom of Netherlands), Vinit Kumar (Chairman of Kolkata Port Trust) and Kajari Biswas (Branch Secretary, Kolkata, Ministry of External affairs)

Suriname Memorial, a small non – descriptive memorial, on the banks of Hooghly River in Metiabruz and Garden Reach area was unveiled, on 7 Oct. 2015, by the Union External Minister Sushma Swaraj, in the presence of  Aashna Kanhai, Ambassador of Suriname.

Alphonsus Stoelinga (Ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands)

Alphonsus Stoelinga (Ambassador of the Kingdom of Netherlands)

The Suriname Memorial may be new but India’s relationship with Suriname dates back to over almost 150 years.

A joint initiative of India and Suriname government the memorial is built in honour of those Indian contract workers who migrated to Suriname, the small country located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America, from 1873 to 1916.

During this period a total of 64 ships made it to Suriname from from Kolkata carrying a total of 34,304 contract workers from India.

It started with the ship Lalla Rookh,  carrying 399 workers on board, consisting of 279 men, 70 women, 32 boys and 18 girls under 10. It arrived at Parimaribo, the capital of then Dutch Guyana, on June 5th, 1873. Today June 5 is celebrated as he Indian Arrival Day in Suriname and is a national holiday.

Aashna Kanhai (Ambassador of Suriname)

Aashna Kanhai (Ambassador of Suriname)

This was part of the huge human immigration that triggered of with the abolition of slavery.

During the colonial period, after the abolition of slavery, over a million Indians migrated as indentured workers to the Caribbean, South Africa, Mauritius and Fiji Islands to work on sugarcane plantations. (Also see: Indenture Indian Labour Memorial and Kolkata Port Trust Clock Tower)

The small and simple memorial represents the statue of Babba and Mai or Mai Baap (Father & Mother). It depicts a plainly dressed couple, carrying a potli, who had left the Indian coasts to work as labourers in sugarcane plantations in Suriname.

The statue is a replica of the Baba and Mai monument in Parimaribo, Suriname’s capital, which symbolizes the first Indian man and woman to set foot on Suriname. The statue at Parimaribo, marks the spot where the first Indian laborers entered Suriname.

M J Akbar (Union Minister of state for External Affairs)

M J Akbar (Union Minister of state for External Affairs)

The Mai Baap statue houses four plaques on the four sides of the pedestal. Written in English, Hindi, Bengali and Bhojpuri (roman script).

It glorifies the undying spirit of the Indian indentured labours, who contributed substantially to the development of Suriname (Also see: English Plaque of Suriname Memorial).

On 25 November 1975 the Dutch colony of Suriname achieved its independence.

Soon after independence about one third of the country’s population, including a large percentage of Indian indentured labour decedents, migrated to The Netherlands (Holland).

Exactly 42 years after independence the Dutch Embassy in India decided to add a fifth plaque in Dutch at the very base of the Suriname Memorial to commemorate the migration of the descendant of Indian Indentured labour.

The audience consisted mainly of foreign diplomats

The audience consisted mainly of foreign diplomats

The commemorative plaque was unveiled by the M J Akbar (Minister of State for External affairs), in the presence of Alphonsus Stoelinga (Ambasador of the Kingdom of Netherlands) and Aashna Kanhai (Ambassador of Suriname).

The area around the Suriname Memorial was beautifully decorated by the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT). Two flexes provided the brief history of the Indian Indentured labour.

Also on exhibits was a model of a ship along with several mariners items like the Buoy Light, Shore Light, Emergency Light and Boat Compas.

The event started with the screening of two videos of renditions by Surinamese singer Raj Mohan were screened. In a Bhojpuri song, the singer brought out the feelings of a ‘coolie’ after he realized that he had been cheated. The second song by Mohan was Tagore’s “Ami Chini Go Chini Tomarey, Ogo Bideshini.” According to the ambassador of Suriname the song is extremely popular in her country.

Mariners' equipment displayed at Suriname Ghat, L - R: Buoy Light, Shore Light, Emergency Light and Boat Compas

Mariners’ equipment displayed at Suriname Ghat, L – R: Buoy Light, Shore Light, Emergency Light and Boat Compas

Vinit Kumar (Chairman of Kolkata Port Trust) said the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) was proud to be part of the historic event. He said that the area adjoining the Suriname Memorial will soon be landscaped and a approach road to the memorial developed.

Suriname Memorial. L: Without the Dutch Plaque, R: With the Dutch Plaque

Suriname Memorial. L: Without the Dutch Plaque, R: With the Dutch Plaque

While Dutch ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga recounted how his country shared a piece of history with India and Suriname, her Suriname counterpart Aashna Kanhai was more emotional as she narrated the story of her great grandmother’s father, who made her journey to Suriname (then Dutch Guyana), from this very place more than a century ago.

“The word ‘indentured labour’ hides the inherent exploitation of these poor workers. They were taken as replacement slaves and not employees. They were cheated… thaga diya. They had been told that they could come back after five years. But that was not to be.”

M J Akbar (Union Minister of state for External Affairs)

 

Dutch Plaque at the base of Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat (Suriname Jetty), Garden Reach, Kolkata

Dutch Plaque at the base of Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat (Suriname Jetty), Garden Reach, Kolkata

M J Akbar (Union Minister of state for External Affairs) stressed more on the the exploitation on the indentured labourers. He said that despite slavery being abolished they were treated no less than slaves. Akbar ended his speech by glorifying the undying spirit of the Indian indentured labours.

I, however, believe that the Indian Indentured labour probably had a rebirth after they reached the distant lands, and their will, which spurred them to travel across the oceans to earn some money, is remarkable. This strength of human will should be celebrated. We need to remember the word ‘liberation’ does not remain confined to just liberty and freedom from foreign rulers but also from hunger, poverty, illiteracy and social evils that still persists.

M J Akbar (Union Minister of state for External Affairs)

Special Thanks:

A very special thanks to Kajari Biswas (Branch Secretary, Kolkata, Ministry of External affairs) for the invitation.

References:

  1. Memorial to Indian Labour by Anasuya Basu, The Telegraph dated 26 Nov. 2017
  2. Suriname envoy at Kolkata ghat from where ancestors set sail by Jayanta Gupta, Times of India (Kolkata) dated 26 Nov. 2017
  3. India, Netherlands commemorate saga of Indentured Labourers, The Statesman dated 26 Nov. 2017
  4. ৩ দেশেই সুরিনামের রাষ্ট্রদূত আশনা, Ananda Bazar Patrika, dated 26 Nov. 2017
Advertisements
  1. November 29, 2017 at 5:09 PM

    All your posts are so informative and unique, they take me by surprise. I mean There are a lot of things I do not know about my city. (Missed you in BNLF)

    • November 30, 2017 at 2:30 PM

      Thanks Datta, nice to know that you were in BNLF. Lets do a bloggers’ meet in Kolkata.

  2. vagabondstories1
    November 30, 2017 at 11:58 AM

    Looks like this was a great event. Saw your post on IB. great going. If you have time do check out my travel blog: http://www.ourvagabondstories.com

    • November 30, 2017 at 2:29 PM

      Dear Harry & Nikita it was indeed a great event. Saw your blog nice work. Keep travelling and blogging!!!

  3. November 30, 2017 at 1:28 PM

    nice informative post

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: