On June 5, 1873, the ship 'Lalla Rookh' arrived in Suriname after a long journey from Calcutta. The arrival of this ship is known as the starting point of the Hindustani community in Suriname. In this article by Arson Sadhoe (student editor at INCLUDED) you will learn more about different aspects of history in combination with stories from students and employees of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.
The arrival of the Lalla Rookh starts a new community in Suriname, working under the indentured labour system. The Lalla Rookh was the first boat that brought Hindustanis to Suriname, on which 410 people were transported, but certainly not the last, another 63 of these types of transport followed. On each trip, there was a large proportion of passengers who died at sea, in most cases the journey on sea was about 99 days.
Slavery would be abolished in Suriname on July 1, 1863, prompting the plantation owners to look for a new way to keep the plantations running. The enslaved were under state supervision from July 1, 1863, although they were free, they had to work on the plantations for another 10 years. Slavery was not officially abolished until July 1, 1873. Do you want to know more about this? Check out our Keti Koti program.
To keep the work on the plantation rolling, the planters started looking for replacements. They found this replacement in what was then British India, through consultations between the Netherlands and Britain, the Coolie Treaty was created. This treaty brought 34,395 indentured servants from India to Suriname. Other communities were also brought to Suriname through the indentured labour system, including the Chinese and Javanese communities. Between 1854 and 1874, the Chinese community was also transferred to work in Suriname. On October 20, we will remember the arrival of the Chinese community 170 years ago. The same goes for the Javanese community, we will remember their arrival on August 9, 133 years ago.
Suriname was not the only place where the indentured labour system found place. In British Guiana, for example, people were also transferred from India to Guyana to take over the work on the plantations. This was the inspiration for many planters in Suriname to bring people over from India. This has contributed to the fact that there is a very large Indian diaspora throughout the world. You can find large communities in the Caribbean, Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa, and many more places. Most places were once owned by France, the Netherlands, and/or Britain.
All kinds of techniques were used to persuade Hindustanis to work in Suriname.
They were often lied to, the British who wanted to persuade workers in India to work in Suriname, promised the Indians a lot. They were told they would arrive in the promised land "Shri Rama" (the land of the Hindu god Rama), and meet a wonderful and rich future there. The agents who recruited the workers responded to the situations impacting Indians. Around 1873, it was not a good time to be in India. There have been 18 major famines coming in a span of 27 years and poverty has been prevalent in many densely populated areas. Many people in India lived by the caste system and the lower your caste, the worse off you are.
They were offered work and the chance to help their families. Many Indians went along with this because, for many, life in India was not good for them.
Most Indians were not aware of what it would entail, nor were they told. For example, Suriname would be very close, close to Sri Lanka. And the Indians would have to do light work, but it soon turned out that nothing could be further from the truth. The journey to Suriname was long, many people fell ill and died without ever reaching the promised land. It was up to the newly arrived Indians to take on the heavy work on the plantations.
Difference from slavery
The indentured labour system has many overlaps, but is it the same? Depending on the contract that the planters had drawn up for the Hindustanis, they were paid (this often involved a few guilders) and a contract for, for example, 5 years. Hindustanis lived in so-called coolie-lines and were often kept separate from the other workers, the Javanese, and 'free' workers. The planters feared they would conspire for better wages.
One of the major differences is that the Hindustanis were not in possession under the indentured labour system. Within slavery, enslaved are owned by the planters. The system had a much longer duration than the indentured labour system, with the children of many enslaved being born into slavery. In addition, the rights and treatment within the two systems are different. Add the same time there were also similarities because the work on the plantation is still the same. But probably the most important fact to recognize, the systems both come from colonial force majeure, exploitation, and oppression of people from Africa and Asia.
The systems lived side by side, and to this day have an impact on the Surinamese community and Surinamese.
In Suriname, indentured labour took place until 1939 (but stopped in 1916 for Hindustanis) and many revolts arose within the plantations during the time of indentured labour. There are stories of Hindustani resistance, and there were about 11 major uprisings on various plantations in Suriname. Revolts broke out several times on the Resolution and Alliance plantations due to the harsh working conditions, this also applies to other plantations such as Zorg en Hoop and Zoelen. In another revolt on the Alliance plantation, both Hindustani and Javanese rebelled against the heavy work and low wages.
One of the indentured servants who rebelled on plantation Zorg en Hoop was Janey Tetary. She fought against oppression and exploitation and has a unique story as a young Muslim woman. In 1880 she arrived in Paramaribo and was transferred to plantation Zorg en Hoop. She protected other women on the plantation and stood up for their rights. In 1884 there was a major revolt on the plantation against the harsh working conditions, in which Tetary and 6 other indentured servants were killed.
The Hindustani community still exists today and has changed a lot over the years. The culture has many influences from India, the Netherlands, and Suriname. And different beliefs and religions play a major role in this, as Hindustanis are Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, and can believe in other faiths. Because Indians from different regions of India were brought together with all the other cultures from Suriname, something new was created. Thus, a new language, a new form of music, and a whole new community emerged. This community has a lot of beauty, but at the same time, there are also many problems going on in the Hindustani community, which are slowly being discussed more and more. For example, it has been the case for years that the suicide rates are highest among Hindustanis in the Netherlands. Within the Hindustani community, there is a taboo surrounding talking about your mental health, but there are also taboos on all kinds of other things that Hindustani people experience. The impact of contract labour can be found today; the past has an impact on the present. At the same time, many of Hindustani youth are unaware of the past. That is why we ask Hindustani students and employees of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences a little more about the day of 5 June.
The stories of…
Rohini is a final-year student and shares her story of adoption and her culture. “For me, a day like June 5th means that my bloodline started 150 years ago in India and now after many generations, here I am. I was born in District Nickerie, a forgotten place where there were many plantations where our ancestors worked. Partly thanks to my adoption by another Hindustani family, I am the very first generation of my bloodline to build a life in the Netherlands. So, I've come a long way. My nani (maternal grandmother) was an orphan just like me. Through my grandparents, I experienced loving parents and inherited my Hindustani identity.”
Raisri is a former student of the Hogeschool and now works for mentors in Zuid, she tells the story of the emergence of a new culture. “Hindostanen came from India, but the Hindustanis we know from Suriname have a completely different culture than those from India. There are overlaps, but the culture is different and distorted. Someone I know from India did not understand our existence and how that happened. It is funny because we are a large community in the Netherlands, but in India, we have long been forgotten.”
Manavi is a graduate and tells the story of her family. “My Adjie (paternal grandmother) has often shared stories with me about how brave the ancestors were to leave their homeland and build a new life in an unknown land. I have been lucky enough to be raised by my Adjie in addition to my parents. Because of her, I learned the Hindustani Sarnámi language faster. It made communication with my Adjie and the elderly in general easier because they sometimes did not have a good command of the Dutch language. I think it is also important as a Hindustani to value family ties, at least that is something I do.”
Cheryl is a teacher in the social work program and reflects on the present. “It is important to reflect on the effect of our migration past. In my opinion, we do that too little because we are absorbed in 'the issues of the day'. Our past, despite being 150 years old, continues to work. It provides a rich culture and history of which we can be very proud. Hindustanis are quite invisible in our society. We, like our ancestors, do what is expected of us. We go to school, work, and don't get in touch much. Although we are very cordial and that is seen as open, we are very closed. As a result, problems are not discussed and it can be difficult to form your own identity and choose for yourself, without receiving criticism from the Hindustani community. Embrace the past, take the positive with you, but also focus on the future. We no longer have to migrate under duress, we can be here and show ourselves. Let this day be a moment to share more about this and about yourself.”
July is a Facility Management student and takes her identity into her work as a DJ. “I listen a lot to Hindustani and Bollywood music. I am also a DJ and I play Hindustani and Bollywood music and I mix that with urban. I try to bring a bit of myself and other cultures together.”
Wandita is a student at the English teacher training and shares how she expresses her culture. “For me, being Hindustani is a very big part of my life. I grew up with the Hindustani culture. My parents raised me with that. My sister and I also do Bollywood dance and I'm very happy that I ended up in that. We also look back to our ancestors because they also did Bollywood dance, and we also do Indian classical (Kathak and Bharata natyam) that also comes from India, and we also see it from our past. We are a community with all of us. We are just one big family together, we are Hindustani.”
Finally, we spoke to Shakiel, the education manager at Facility Management, who tells a story about parenting. ”Being Hindustani is about diversity around food, drinks, people, and parties. It's about inclusion and fun. And I think it's good to reflect on the Hindustanis who went looking for a better future for their children. As a parent, you always want to be able to give your child more opportunities. Have respect for the steps the ancestors have made, because it makes who you are, in the here and now.”
Celebration or commemoration?
On June 5th we will reflect on the history of the Hindustani community. One will see this day as a celebration of community survival and its rich culture and the other wants to remember their ancestors on this day. On a day like this where we look back at a history with beautiful and difficult sides, which has an impact to this day, it is important to make room for both. When we celebrate the strength and diversity of the community, it is also important to be aware of history to recognize patterns. Do you want to do this on June 5? This is possible in Rotterdam and The Hague. In the now sold-out theater Zuidplein, you can follow a piece about the first steps to Suriname. Or join the Sarnamihuis memorial march in the Hague, with a subsequent program.
This article does not elaborate on the full history, do you want to know more about this? Then read the following books:
- Tetary de koppige
- De tot koelie gemaakten
- De Calcutta brieven
This article uses the above books as research material.
This article was written by student editor, Arson Sadhoe