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In Praise of the Hindoestanen February 29, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

Beachcombing has run, over the months, a series of forgotten kingdom posts: lands and peoples that time forgot. Sometimes he has stretched this definition to its elastic limit by including forgotten communities: a personal favourite, for example, were the Confederates who fled from Lincoln’s peace and came to settle in Brazil. Another group that he has become increasingly fascinated by are the Hindoestanen of the modern Netherlands, a people that, by some estimates, number almost two hundred thousand. The Hindoestanen are, of course, of Indian descent, but what is interesting is how they arrived in Holland, for they did not come directly from India but by a (very) round-about route.

Essentially from 1873 to the time of the First World War the British allowed/encouraged Indian workers to travel from the Raj to Surinam in Southern America: Surinam being, of course, at this date, a Dutch colony, a younger sister of the more important Dutch possessions in the Pacific, possessions that the Japanese would chew up a generation later.

Surinam survived the Japanese onslaught and the Hindoestanen became an important part of that multi-ethnic state speaking a mix of Dutch, Hindi and other sub-continental languages. They had different religious backgrounds and the slogan of the Hindoestanen political party in Surinam was the pleasing: ‘Hindu, Moslem, Sikh, Christian; they are all brothers; India is the mother of them all!’ Par for the course in Delhi, of course, but a strange phrase to hear in downtown Paramaribo.

The Indians had come as indentured workers – about 30,000 of them of whom 20,000 decided not to return to India. But if they began as a poor community they quickly became one of the elites of the colony. Indeed, so invested were they in Dutch rule that the Hindoestanen often opposed decolonization when it finally became an issue in Surinam. Certainly, tens of thousands of Hindoestanen wisely got out with independence in 1975 and went to their step-mother, the Netherlands.

The Hindoestanen now established themselves in cold Holland, having gone anti-clockwise around the world, from northern India, to dank Surinam to the dykes of the Low Countries. As such they resemble some other communities moved around like checkers pieces by colonial governments, that had to then move again when the imperial draughts board was finally shut up in the mid-late twentieth century.

Another example are the Ugandan Indians who that idiot Idi Amin chased out of his country: honestly, who wouldn’t want an affluent, well-educated Indian middle class to tax?!

Interestingly India’s new found power in the world has not yet been welcomed by the European Hindoestanen,  most of whom see themselves as Dutch rather than Indian. But with the shifting and peculiar identities of modern continental Europe, Mother India might yet come and appeal successfully to the great, great grandchildren of those the British loaded onto boats bound for Dutch Guyana.

Any other twice or thrice-moved peoples: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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29 Feb 2011:  Southern Man writes in (and the emails below substantiate this in different ways): ‘Two groups that have moved endless times. First, the Jews who have been kicked around like a football from country to country: there was recent news, for example, of the evacuation of the last Yemeni Jews from their country now heading to the New World. Second, African slaves who were moved around through sales and then by daring escapes for freedom. Think of those slaves brought to the US and then their grandchildren brought back to Liberia in Africa.’ Andy the Mad Monk writes in: Jakub has a fascinating side light on this. Following your post on the Hindoestanen, here is another many times moved community that might be of interest: a slave settlement.  Speaking of Paramaribo, there’s also a significant and quite ancient community of Jews in Surinam.  Louis K, meanwhile, writes in about the Hindoestanen: ‘Being Dutch myself, I could not help notice that there are some trends within the Hindoestaanse Gemeenschap (Hindustan community) that seem to have escaped your attention. As the subject of ‘Identity’ (thanks to mr. Geert Wilders) is now ‘hot’ within Dutch society, for all different immigrant and non-immigrant cultures, a lot of Hindustan teenagers are turning to ‘Mother India’ to pronounce their ‘Indianischness’. Which is in turn roundly condemned by the older generation, who still remember that THEY came from Surinam. However, in The Netherlands, the Surinam Identity was, until recently, seen as a negative thing, and was splintered along ethnic lines (Indonesians, Hindustani, Ex-Slaves and Escaped Slaves, with a smattering of Chinese and Levantines)  and the younger generation only knows The Netherlands. But I have read that they suffer from the same problem as US Afro-Americans that “return” to the motherland: Next to no knowledge about what is going on, and culture shock, because all they know about India is from the Bollywood movies that they see.’ Then pulling in the other direction there is Chames: I remember a recent meeting of the Hindustan community in Netherlands organised, in part, by the Indian Embassy there. One Hindustan speaker stood up and said words to the effect that ‘we are Dutch not Indian’ and was cheered ‘to the rafters’. Thanks SM, Andy, Jakub, Chames and Louis!

30 May 2012: Sword&Beast writes in ‘Your post on the hindustani of course got me interested. Living in Suriname itself for 4 months now, I have not much to add to your instructive post and the comments afterwards. Maybe just a picture from Suriname itself: the hindustani community represents, today, around 35% of the Surinamese population. Even though the community had reservations on the pace towards independence, and many indeed left in 1975, they had a major role in it. Its main party, the VHP, has more than 60 years, and its first president, Jagernath Lachmon  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagernath_Lachmon), is revered as one of the founders of the nation. Besides being well organized and generally afluent, the community is proud of its heritage, with temples, festivities and excellent food. One recent example was the hosting, last week, of the Miss India Worldwide Pageant (http://miww2012.com/), with contestants with indian ascent from Sri Lanka to Scotland. By the way, the girl from neighbouring Guiana won it. ‘ Thanks S&B!!