Overseas Citizens of India

India Ambassador to France visited Guadeloupe with GOPIO

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March 14, 2016

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The memorial in in Capesterre-Belle-Eau dedicated to Indian workers hired in the 19th century to work in Guadeloupe

The memorial in in Capesterre-Belle-Eau dedicated to Indian workers hired in the 19th century to work in Guadeloupe

The Ambassador of India to France, Mohan Kumar, made a three-day visit in Guadeloupe, in the French West Indies, to strengthen some very promising economic and cultural ties between the island and India. He also paid tribute, invited by GOPIO Guadeloupe, to the Indian workers who were hired and sent in appalling conditions to Guadeloupe in the 19th century and stressed the great vitality of the community of people from Indian origin in this French overseas region.
An emotional moment, to recall some crucial historical and human ties between India and the people of Indian origin living in Guadeloupe: Ambassador of India to France, Mohan Kumar, participated last week in an official meeting in Capesterre-Belle-Eau, before the Memorial to Indian hired workers, who were sent in Guadeloupe in the 19th century to work there in sugar cane plantations, in horrible conditions. The event was organized by GOPIO (Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin) Guadeloupe.
The President of GOPIO Guadeloupe, Michel Narayaninsamy, recalled with emotion in his speech the dramatic conditions in which these Indian hired workers arrived on the island. Between 1854, under French Emperor Napoleon the Third and 1889, during the colonial era of the Third Republic, 93 boats convoys have transported 42,873 of them, including 1680 who died during the dangerous crossing of nearly three months.

This labour was officially hired to revive the production of sugar cane, after the abolition of slavery in France in 1848. “In fact, it was for plantations owners to ensure the production sustainability and to curb the emerging demands of New Free people”, who were slaves before, says Michel Narayaninsamy.

These workers recruited in India, in the French and British side, after an agreement between these two colonial powers, have been victims of racism, systematic exploitation and dramatic living and working conditions. So much so that the British authorities, and later their French counterparts, finally decided to end this migration, called a “modern slavery” by yet hardened observers.

Violence at all levels affecting these workers and their families had terrible consequences. “All this suffering, all this humiliation, caused the premature deaths of more than 25,000 children, women and men, at the average age of 32 years”, said the President of GOPIO Guadeloupe in his speech.

Since then, the descendants of those workers, estimated at 54,000 people in Guadeloupe, have continued to ward off this painful legacy by developing a supportive community, well integrated into the social mosaic of Guadeloupe, and faithful to its Indian roots, through a patch cultures, castes and religions, representing their various regions and communities of origin in India. But also through a great economic dynamism.

The descendants of Indian workers, who were mostly poor farmers from India, notably from regions like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, – and arrived mainly through the boarding points of Calcutta and Madras, in the English side, and Karaikal or Pondicherry in the French side – have often been very successful since then and forged through their work and sense of entrepreneurship the tools of their real emancipation and development. In all types of economic sectors: transport, industry, commerce, tourism…

“Unofficial ambassadors”

Ambassador Kumar had particularly these people from Indian origin in mind, when he explained how he intends to develop the promising economic relationships between Guadeloupe and India, in many fields, from industry and trade to tourism, through cultural exchanges. He met during his visit many entrepreneurs, some members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Guadeloupe and local politicians, like the Mayor of the city of Pointe-à-Pitre, Jacques Bangou.

The Ambassador also held a conference on business opportunities between Guadeloupe and India, in Baie-Mahault. The challenges are twofold: to develop direct investment from Indian entrepreneurs on the island but also to facilitate the business of Guadeloupe entrepreneurs in India.

This perfectly francophone and francophile Ambassador also recalled that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “considers the Indian community with gratitude, recognition and respect.”

“You are unofficial ambassadors for our country. We value your contribution to the country in which you live in and we are proud of it. We decided to celebrate the ‘International Yoga Day’, June 21, in Guadeloupe”, he added, in line with Delhi’s policy to rely on the dynamism of its diaspora, on the depth of its history and on its diversity.

On the GOPIO Guadeloupe side, to strengthen these ties, Michel Narayaninsamy asked in his speech that India officially recognizes the existence of these descendants of Indian workers who were hired in all French overseas departments, Guadeloupe, Saint-Martin, Martinique, Guyana and Reunion.

He added that this recognition could result in the granting of an OCI card (Overseas Citizens of India) to the descendants of Indian workers and in the opening of an Indian consulate in Guadeloupe.

The ambassador will pass the request about the Consulate. To obtain the OCI card, one has to meet the requirements of this status and prove, via official documents, the origin of its Indian workers ancestors. It can be a daunting task because the documents given during the so called “recruitment”, which was more a fool’s game, were often incomplete, if not lost later in the maze of history.

Established in 2008, GOPIO aims at promoting Indian culture throughout the Caribbean and in the rest of the world, developing the ties between India and the Indian diaspora and searching in India for the family origins of Indians living in the Caribbean.

GOPIO will organize May 20-22 in Capesterre-Belle-Eau, as part of the Days of Remembrance, the Pio Fest, a festival of dance, music, cinema, cooking, but also business events and training sessions. Tourism will be a central topic of the festival, which will also be the opportunity to officially inaugurate the Memorial to Indian hired workers, in the presence of French, Indian and diaspora personalities.



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