Today 148 years ago the first Indian migrants arrived Suriname by a ship called Lalla Rookh.
Indian crooked agents (sent by the British) had cheated them, saying “come to the country of Shri Ram; there you will be very happy. You will do some light work for 5 years and then get land and money, after which you return to Bharata (India).” They agreed to go, in the illusion they would get a better future for themselves and their families.
But in the ship they were ill-fed and many fell sick. Many even died during this long, terrible journey. At arrival in Suriname, their dreams were shattered. It appeared they had to take over the work of the former (African) slaves, who had just been freed. They had to work in inhumane conditions, at salaries even less than the former slaves got. They had to work like slave animals. The British and Dutch rulers were merciless, increasing workload, torturing them at the slightest and even raping women.
One day because of this reason, the Indian workers killed the top manager and a resistance started. Many Indians were killed and their mass grave has still not been found. The inhumane rulers did this because they knew how important a funeral is for hindus, muslims and sikhs, as they believe their souls wouldn’t get peace without a proper funeral according to the rituals and traditions.
After their “contract” ended, some 1/3 Indians returned to India. Some 2/3 remained in Suriname as they didn’t trust the British anymore or thought they had nothing left to go back for. All those years, there was no communication possible between them and their families back in India. What if the British had killed them? What if no one was left? Or what if they had forgotten about them?
With pain in their hearts, they started a new life
People started building a new future in Suriname. After Suriname got independent, the Dutch left the country looted (even today Suriname is very dependent on other countries for the economy, healthcare and development. Some people even call Suriname a lost country, as the state of the country seems very barren today.). When they got the chance, many people decided to go to the Netherlands for a better future.
In the beginning there was a lot of discrimination (for example, migrants from Suriname weren’t allowed to live in the cities), but after being so inhumane for many years, the Dutch eventually had to give the people a place in their society. While most of our ancestors were illiterate and barely went to school, today Indians are not only known as very hard workers, but also bright students, reaching high positions and contributing highly to Dutch society.
Despite this, we are still very proud of our religions, culture and customs. We managed to make our own identity into the modern world without forgetting or ridiculing our religions, culture, customs etc. In intercultural society we speak fluent Dutch, but at home our Sarnami (mix of mainly Bhojpuri and Awadhi with tiny bits of Dutch and Sranang Tongo, the language of Suriname) is still intact. We still play and listen to our harmonium, dholak and dandtaal, sing our lokgeets and dance on it with joy, and religion, rituals and traditions are still an important part of our identity and lives.
Thanks to the Indian government for issuing the OCI card, today we are even able to go back to India and contribute as per the purpose of our ancestors: creating a better future for their families and motherland, wherever they may be. What many Indians nowadays do, is earning money abroad and investing it in India, helping the country develop. Many people from Dutch-Surinamese-Indian migrant families even run their own NGOs developing health clinics, schools and other facilities for underpriviliged people. Many 3th, 4th and 5th generation Indian migrants even moved to India permanently, continuing their lives here.
As a 5th-generation Indian migrant, every 5 June I remember this story of my ancestors…..
Even during my journey in India I regularly share this story on small public platforms where I get an opportunity to speak. The Dutch and British destroyed a lot of historical evidence to hide their barbaric actions, but I am grateful to have people in my family who passed on the story of our ancestors and even personally talked to some people who or whose parent had seen the ship journey or barbaric circumstances in Suriname with their own eyes.
I often think about their pain, blood, sweat, tears, painful deaths, hard work, sacrifices and especially dedication to keep on going and building towards a better future, no matter what, however the rulers are and even when there seems to be no perspective…..
I feel so indebted to them and whenever I feel low or defeated, I try to remember them and feel empowered again. If they didn’t give up at such devastating times, then why should I?