Book launch on 1 June 2024 of 150 years of Hindostani’s 1873-2023 - A history of two migrations

Chan Choenni & Kanta Adhin

[ 12 June 2024 ]

On 1 June 2024, the Dutch book 150 years Hindostani’s 1873-2023 – A history of two migrations by authors Chan Choenni and Kanta Adhin was launched in the National Archives in the city of The Hague, The Netherlands. 

Hindostani’s are the descendants of the indentured labourers who were brought to Suriname from then British India to work on the plantations after the abolition of slavery in 1863. This occurred on the basis of the 1870 agreement between the Netherlands and Britain ‘concerning the immigration of free workers from British India for the colony of Suriname’, known as the Immigration Treaty or the Coolie Treaty. The first group of 410 indentured labourers arrived in Suriname on 5 June 1873 with the ship Lalla Rookh. Annually, 5 June is commemorated and celebrated as the Day of the Hindostani Immigration.

From 1873 to 1916, over 34,000 workers were brought to Suriname with a five-year contract, the so-called British-Indian immigrants who later called themselves Hindostani’s. After five years they could return to their home country, enter into a new five year contract or stay in Suriname as a free worker. The colonial government was very pleased with their work ethic and encouraged stay in Suriname. As a result, more than two-thirds settled in Suriname after the contract expired. They played a pivotal role  in the agricultural economy of Suriname. As immigrants, they and their descendants experienced discrimination and exclusion that continued after they obtained Dutch citizenship in 1927. Even when they were the largest population in multi-ethnic Suriname around 1970 – with a share of about 37 per cent – they were politically excluded during the process towards independence of Suriname in 1975.

Hindostani farmers became major producers of rice in Suriname.

This led to a second migration out of fear of the uncertain future. Prior to independence, about 40,000 Hindostani’s arrived in the Netherlands, with smaller numbers afterwards. Today, the approximately 180,000 Hindostani’s make up about one per cent of the Dutch population and are the largest group among the Surinamese population in the Netherlands. Still many Dutch people are not aware of the Surinamese background of the Hindostani people and their history. They are often directly associated with India.

The book 150 Years of Hindostani’s 1873-2023 – A History of Two Migrations provides insight into indentured labour as a system of exploitation, but also of opportunities. The Hindostani ancestors were not passive victims. They stood up for their rights, as evidenced by several uprisings, some of which ended in bloodshed. Besides, many also saw opportunities for a better life and took initiatives to improve their lot. The book further  contains a historical and current overview of Hindostani’s in Suriname and in the Netherlands and their relations through time with India, the land of their ancestors. Topics covered include citizenship, integration, culture, religion, political participation, interrelationships between the Surinamese and the Dutch Hindostani communities and their (increasing) orientation towards India resulting in a triangular relationship between the three countries. Personal stories and photographs contribute to a vivid picture.

Currently, there is an ongoing debate in the Netherlands on colonial history which is dominated by slavery. With this book the authors draw attention to another part of the colonial history, that of indentured labour and developments afterwards. There are some parallels how the communities developed in Suriname and in the Netherlands, such as a strong focus on socio-economic progress, preservation of their culture and their orientation towards India, with Bollywood as an important factor. But also, for example, an inclination not to talk about problems. In the Netherlands, Hindostani’s are often seen as silent migrants.

Tribute by President Murmu of India and President Santokhi of Suriname to the indentured labourers who emigrated from India to Suriname and helped build Suriname (5 June, 2023).

In Suriname, they are still the largest group and currently, besides their dominant socio-economic position in the country, they also possess political power. In 2020 a Hindostani president was elected. On 5 June 2023, president Draupadi Murmu of India attended the 150th commemoration of Hindostani Immigration Day in Suriname. It was her first official visit to a foreign country after her inauguration in 2022.

On 1 June, the first copy of the book was officially presented to mr Jan van Zanen, the Mayor of the Municipality of The Hague that harbors the largest Hindostani population. Further copies were presented that day to ms Padma Ratan-Jipat, an active member of the Hindostani community in The Hague whose activities reflect the triangular relationship Suriname-The Netherlands-India; mr Rabin Baldewsingh, Government Commissioner with the function of National Coordinator against Discrimination and Racism who, as a member of the Hindostani community,  is a firm advocate of  preserving the Hindostani language (Sarnámi) and culture;  mr Krish Gupta, director of the Gandhi Centre which is the cultural wing of the Embassy of India in The Netherlands; and to mr Arjan Agema, representative of the National Archives hosting the book launch.

Immigration celebration in Nijmegen during the 150th Commemoration Year (2023).

During the  commemoration of the Day of the Hindostani Immigration on  5 June at the Immigration Monument in The Hague, the authors also presented copies of  their book to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, mr Robbert Dijkgraaf, to the Ambassador of India, Ms Reenat Sandhu and to the Ambassador of Suriname, mr Rajendre Khargi.

Both authors live in The Netherlands. Mr Chan Choenni is a former professor of Hindostani migration to the special  Lalla Rookh Chair at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Kanta Adhin is a former Dutch diplomat and associated with the website as editor-in-chief and columnist. The authors previously worked together on publications about Hindostani migration and integration in 2003 and 2008.

The book, written in Dutch, is  available via the webshop of the publisher and (online) bookstores in the Netherlands.

Mayor Jan van Zanen of  The Hague received the first copy during the book launch (June 1, 2024, National Archives of The Hague).

The authors presented a copy to minister Robbert Dijkgraaf of Education, Culture and Science during the commemoration of  the Hindostani Immigration on 5 June 2024 (Hobbemaplein The Hague).

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Chan E.S. Choenni en Kanta Sh. Adhin  | Sampreshan: Zoetermeer 2024 | ISBN 9789083199696 | softcover (genaaid gebonden) | ong. 180 illustraties | pp. 280 | €27,50 | Bestel bij SAMPRESHAN.COM