Kolkata memorial for indentured immigrants

By Vishnu Bisram

A memorial monument, designed to bring the descendants of Indian indentured servants, including Guyanese, in touch with their past,  is set to be constructed at the Port of Kolkata (Calcutta), India.  The monument is a tribute to the millions of indentured servants who left India for other shores during the period 1834 to 1917 is set to be  constructed. Guyanese nationals Ashok Ramsaran and Vishnu Bisram,  along with nationals of other countries, lobbied the Indian government for the monument through GOPIO and the government has agreed to the proposal. It is a momentous achievement for the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin which has been working closely with the Indian government on projects beneficial to the overseas Indian communities.

Ashok Ramsaran

The government of West Bengal state, where most Indians departed for Guiana, has given its blessings to the proposal, providing land at the port for the project. The handing over of land was undertaken in July during a visit to New Delhi and Kolkata by Ramsaran.  Bisram will follow up on the project during a visit to Delhi and Kolkata in mid-August. The project will begin at the conclusion of the annual Indian Diaspora Conference on January 10, 2011.  Leaders from several countries are expected to grace the ceremonies inaugurating a commemorative memorial plaque.  This will be followed by the Construction of an indentured museum where the indentured labourers were processed and housed before their trip to the colonies like British Guiana and Trinidad.

The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs is enthused and supportive of GOPIO’s proposal for the monument and museum. Spokesperson Dr Didar Singh, who is Permanent Secretary of the Ministry said, “The descendants of all those who had left for foreign shores from Calcutta port during that period have been lobbying with the government for a memorial and a museum in Calcutta to honor the memory of their ancestors and we have gotten it going”.

GOPIO Vice President, Ramsaran, is also excited about the monument.
Ramsaran who can trace his ancestry to his great grandfather’s emigration in 1853 through the port of Kolkata, said that “this is a fitting tribute of due recognition and an effort on behalf of the descendants of the hundreds of thousands of Indian indentured laborers to erect an appropriate, long lasting physical connection in the land of our ancestors. This is a memorial and museum to emotionally and physically connect the descendants of those indentured workers with the story of their ancestors and their ancestral homeland. This will be our tribute to our ancestors and a lasting legacy to present and future generations”.

A team of officials led by Didar Singh and Ramsaran travelled along the Hugli River to select an appropriate site for the monument. Hugli River was used for docking of transport ships to receive their precious cargo of laborers to the colonies. The team visited and evaluated the various depots including the Suriname Jetty, the Demerara Depot, Garden Reach Depot, etc. This was followed by a visit to Bhowanipore and Alipore which were used to house the Indian indentured labourers while they awaited a ship load of 400 to undertake the journey.

There will be two phases to the project.  Phase 1 involves installing a memorial plaque at Kidderpore (Demerara) depot clock tower which is intact on January 10, 2011.  President Bharrat Jagdeo and leaders of several other nations will be invited for the ceremonies. Phase two is for the museum and resource centre containing records of Indian indentured labourers’ emigration (1834 —1920), literature, works of art, documentaries, films, artifacts, photographs and emigration records relevant to that era and those who left as indentured labourers.

The museum  will be constructed from donations by descendants of indentured servants.


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