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Surinamese Envoy Remembers Indian ancestors

Suriname envoy at Kolkata ghat from where ancestors set sail

Kolkata, Dec 12 (UITV): India’s relationship with Suriname dates back to over almost 150 years. Suriname is a small country located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America.

In 1863 slavery was officially abolished in Suriname but the plantations, of the former Dutch colony, was in need of labor. To fulfill the work requirements of sugarcane plantations in Suriname, East India Company recruited laborers from India with an agreement. Laborers were to receive 25-pence a week for their labor. It started with Lalla Rookh (The first ship), carrying 399 workers on board, consisting of 279 men, 70 women, 32 boys and 18 girls under 10. On June 5th, 1873 the ship arrived at Parimaribo, the capital of then Dutch Guyana. So, June 5 is celebrated as he Indian Arrival Day in Suriname and is a national holiday.

Suriname Memorial (a small non – descriptive memorial) has been built on the banks of Hooghly River in Kolkata which is a replica of the Baba and Mai monument in Parimaribo, Suriname’s capital. It symbolizes the first Indian man and woman to set foot on Suriname.

Suriname Memorial in Kolkata stands as a tribute to the thousands of Indian labours.

Aashna Kanhai, Surinamese ambassador to India

Aashna Kanhai, Surinamese ambassador to India who had visited Suriname Memorial recently got nostalgic about her ancestry. Her great grandmother's father was among the indentured laborers who landed in Suriname.

“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 said.

Aashna Kanhai was accompanied by MJ Akbar, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, visited the spot on the occasion of her country’s Republic Day on Nov. 25.

Nearly 34,300 Indian laborers were taken during different voyages to Suriname. Of the 34,000-odd Indians who reached Suriname, 65 per cent stayed back.

MJ Akbar, Dutch ambassador Alphonsus Stoelinga also talked about histories of India and Suriname at the event. Kolkata Port Trust is planning to organize heritage tours at the Suriname Ghat (Kolkata).

Written by Adithya Dithu