Memorial To Mark The Journey Of India’s ‘Indentured Labourers’

Kolkata: It’s late but late is better than never. Now there is a monument that marks a sad period in India’s history when thousands of its people were carted away as ‘indentured labourers’ beginning early 19th century.

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Jay Banerjei, National Co-ordinator for GOPIO Canada and Ashook Ramsaran, the Executive Vice President GOPIO International.

The Memorial was inaugurated on January 11, 2011 at Kidderpore Depot along the Hoogley River in Kolkata by Vayalar Ravi, India’s Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs. It was attended by hundreds from several countries including Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, Guadeloupe, USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Kenya, Fiji, Mauritius, Re-Union Islands, New Zealand, Australia and others where persons of Indian origin reside.

The Kolkata Memorial is inscribed with a memorial plaque (in English and Hindi) that pays tribute to those who left India as indentured labourers from 1834 thru’ 1920. It  is meant as “recognition and remembrance of their journeys to far away lands seeking better livelihoods for themselves and their descendants; for their pioneering spirit, determination, resilience, endurance and perseverance amidst the extremely harsh and demeaning conditions they encountered; for their preservation of sense of origin, traditions, culture and religion, and their promotion of the Indian culture; for their achievements and successes despite insurmountable odd”.

“My phone has not stopped ringing since the event. I have been inundated by emails from people in Canada who are so touched by this momentous occasion,” said Jay Banerjei of GOPIO Canada.

Due to the tremendous efforts and persistence by Guyanese born Ashook Ramsaran, in his capacity as Executive Vice President of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO International), he worked closely and continuously with the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to draft the inscription and design the plaque. The Government of India accepted the proposal and erected a memorial with the inscription plaque contained within. The inscription on the plaque was taken from the draft provided by Ashook Ramsaran.

The inaugural was preceded by a commemorative luncheon hosted by GOPIO and the newly formed Global Indian Heritage Society (GIDHS) and attended by Minister Ravi and his staff at the Oberoi Grand Hotel in Kolkata. The guests felt that this is a long overdue tribute to those who took the risks on barely a promise, to their individual and shared sacrifices and their endurance that made it possible for their descendants to flourish with the spirit of Indianness that transcends time.

The Kolkata Memorial project has significance to millions of descendants of those who left India as indentured Indian laborers from 1834 thru’ 1920. The project that began with the installation of the inauguration plaque on January 11, will be followed by  a museum and a resource centre.

“This will be a lasting legacy for present and future generations of their descendants”, remarked Ramsaran. . “A noble effort indeed”, said writer and historian Dr Anand Mullo of Mauritius; “An extra ordinary service to the Indian Diaspora”, said Indian emigration roots researcher Shamshu Deen of Trinidad & Tobago; “A commemoration tribute whose time is overdue”, said Prof Mohan Gautam of The Netherlands; “We are all deeply indebted for the Kolkata Memorial which is a tremendous achievement”, said prominent Indo-Caribbean Diaspora icon (Dr) Yesu Persaud of Guyana.

Ramsaran who spearheaded the effort for the Kolkata Memorial says, “I feel so honored and privileged to be actively working in prominent leadership role to see the Kolkata Memorial become a reality. I have remarked previously that, “our ancestors who left those shores truly deserve their place in the annals of Indian history and the journeys of people of Indian origin. We owe them due recognition and a lasting remembrance – and that is what the Kolkata Memorial will be.”

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