Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Wednesday unveiled the Suriname Memorial at the Suriname Ghat along the banks of river Hooghly. The statue, of a plainly-dressed couple carrying a potli, honours those Indian indentured workers who had migrated to Suriname, the small country located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America, from 1873 to 1917.
The memorial is an alluminium representation of ‘Baba and Mai’ or ‘Mai Baap’ – a depiction of the male and female indentured workers who had left the Indian coasts to work as labourers in sugarcane plantation. The original ‘Baba and Mai’ monument is in Parimaribo, capital of Suriname, and symbolises the first Indian man and woman to set foot in this Dutch-speaking nation.
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Set up at Suriname Jetty, the monument notes the exact location from where the indentured workers from India used to board tiny, cramped ships to make their way towards an uncertain future at unknown shores.
The first ship, named Lalla Rookh and carrying Indian indentured labourers, had arrived in Suriname in June 1873. Today, the largest ethnic group in Suriname are the East Indians, descendants of the 19th century indentured labourers primarily from Bihar and Eastern UP.
“In 1863, slavery was abolished in the Dutch colony of Suriname, but as a plantation colony it needed skill labourers. So with the assistance of the East India Company, the Dutch looked to bring in workers, mostly from the Bhojpuri region. They made their way from one sub-depot to another until finally reaching 20 Garden Reach, Calcutta Port — this very spot. Upon their arrival, they were given a thali, a lota, a couple of kurtas or saris and dhoti. That was it,” said Aashna Kanhai, Suriname’s Ambassador to India.
At the event, Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi said, “When I was in Suriname, I never felt like I was outside India. They celebrate the festivals we do and despite there being cultural differences and differences in language, the essence of what makes one an Indian was preserved.”
Also present at the unveiling were Amit Mitra (State Finance Minister), A K Agarwal (Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs) and R P S Kahlon (Chairman of the Kolkata Port Trust)
Stressing on Know India Programmes for PIO countries, says Sushma Swaraj
Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Wednesday said her ministry was stressing on the Know India Program for the children of the residents of the PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) countries so that they can know about their roots. “We have the Know India Program, which is only for kids of citizens of PIO countries. We take them to various parts of the country so that they get to know India. And we have seen the kind of sense of completeness they have when they meet their roots,” she said. “The residents in those countries have huge population of PIO who have kept alive their traditions. The language of eastern UP and Bihar are still found in those countries. With their hard work and undying spirit they substantially contributed towards the development of Suriname,” Swaraj said while unveiling the Suriname Memorial. (PTI)