The Indian Diaspora Council, in collaboration with its global affiliates and partners, held a New York launch of the 100th anniversary commemoration of the abolition of Indian indentureship at the Consulate General of India in New York on March 3. The tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as Connecticut and Massachusetts have significant population of PIOs and NRIs who are descendants of Indian Indentured laborers originally from Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, Jamaica, South Africa and other countries.
The theme of the event was ”Centennial of Abolition of Indian Indentureship: Challenges, Progress, Achievements and Charting New Frontiers.” It was an over-capacity participatory event with speakers and invited guests focusing on the commemoration of the centennial of abolition of Indian Indentureship; history of Indian Indentureship; perspectives on the end of an era; challenges, progress and achievement; descendants of Indian Indentureship and the PIOs experience, an IDC press release said.
March 20, 2017 marks the centennial of the official abolition of Indian Indentureship, an era spanning the years 1834-1917, starting immediately after the formal Emancipation of Slaves in 1834. Indian Indentureship was an intense and harrowing period of Indian migration from several Indian states to far way lands of then British colonies around the world. The history and consequences of Indian Indentureship are deeply embedded in people belonging to Mauritius, Fiji, Malaysia, South Africa, East Africa, Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, Jamaica, Belize, Grenada, St. Lucia and other countries of the Caribbean, as well as former French colonies of Reunion Island, Seychelles, Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana.
Similar commemoration events are being held by the IDC and its affiliates in several countries impacted by Indian indentureship this month, including a two-day conference in New Delhi on April 22-23. The New York event precedes the Indian Diaspora World Convention 2017 to be held in Trinidad & Tobago March 17 to 20.
The March 3 program was moderated by Suzanne Mahadeo, editor for Global Fund for Women’s, after which Rev. Seopaul Singh, Pandit Goor Jaganath and Imam Abdool Hakim conducted invocation prayers.
Event chairperson Jhairam Persaud welcomed the attendees, officials and guests, citing the focus on the centennial theme and its significance.
Introductory remarks were made by IDC president Ashook Ramsaran who spoke on the fitting tribute of the centennial at the Indian Consulate and elsewhere, and requested observance of “a moment of silence for all those who made the harsh and treacherous journey, paving the way for progress over many generations. The Youth Corps headed by Resha Ali assisted with ushers and program supports; while Patsy Leopold coordinated the site registration.
Harbachan Singh introduced Consul L. T. Nghaite, Consul (PIC) & Head of Chancery at the Indian Consulate as chief guest representing Consul General Riva Ganguly Das who was away from New York. Consul Nghaite spoke of the commemoration and its significance.
Introduced by Darrel Sukdeo, Guyana’s Consul General Barbara Atherly spoke of the many contributions of Indians to Guyana in all segments of society – social, cultural, political and economic, including foods, music and dance.
Mauritius minister representative to the United Nations, Vishal Lutchoomun, introduced by Sharla Khargi, traced the history of Indians to Mauritius beginning in 1834 and the inherent bonds with India.
Martin Lalsingh introduced feature speaker Marina Budhos, a renowned historian and an award winning writer on the Indian Diaspora, fiction and non-fiction. Budhos spoke of the history of Indian indentureship and the story of sugar which was the mainstay of the plantations for which the Indian indentured laborers were recruited.
Gene Ram introduced Dr. Tyran Ramnarine, Fullbright scholar, historian and academician, who spoke on the need for cheap labor and easy recruitment in India in those states experiencing famine during that era.
Consul Nghaite presented mementos to Budhos and Ramnarine on behalf of the Indian Consulate, and IDC officials Deo Gosine (IDC coordinator, Trinidad & Tobago) and Santram Dukhbhanjan (IDC treasurer) presented IDC mementos of appreciation as well. In addition, Consul Nghaite and IDC made a special presentation to Guyana freedom fighter and icon Pandit Ram Lall.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s representative Hersh Parikh presented a citation to IDC and the centennial commemoration. New York State Assembly Member Nily Rozic was represented by Bindu Belani who presented citation as well; while Harpreet Singh Toor presented a citation from New York State Assembly Member David Weprin.
In his speech, Desi Talk publisher and Padma Shri award recipient Dr. Sudhir Parikh noted that it is a solemn commemoration and commended those who made the journey.
Other speakers included ayurveda expert Dr. Ramesh Pandey and clinical scientist Sharla Khargi.
Denyse Baboolal of Jaya Devi Arts, Florida introduced the band from Suriname which sang nostalgic songs reminiscent of the music among the descendants of indenture laborers.