(Caribbean Sea): Tears flowed incessantly down dozens
of cheeks as the Indian national anthem echoed for the first time
in the history of this small island in the Caribbean Sea.
The occasion was as historic as the playing of the anthem itself.
For the first time, an Indian minister had set foot on this
island, which, despite its distance, has very historic and very
vibrant links with India. Thus, it was hardly surprising that
hundreds of Guadeloupeans turned out to greet Minister of Overseas
Indian Affairs and Minister of Civil Aviation Vayalar Ravi when he
arrived here on a two-day trip earlier this week.
Guadeloupe is a small island of about 1,600 sqkm in the West
Caribbean Sea and is home to over 420,000 people. Of them, nearly
50,000 are of Indian origin, whose forefathers were brought to
this distant land by the French nearly 158 years ago to work on
the plantations. However, their links with India have been
Over the last century and-a-half, the residents of Guadeloupe and
its neighbouring French-ruled island of Martinique, which is home
to another 10,000 PIOs (people of Indian origin), have had
absolutely no contact with India. French laws, at least till very
recently, ensured that any cultural or social links that could
have been handed down through the generations did not materialize,
says Michel Narayaninsamy, a local businessman and president of
the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO)
"For starters, our ancestors, the plantation workers, were all
made to adopt Christian names and were literally forced to convert
to Christianity. They, of course, had no access to any Indian
language training and soon they lost (knowledge of) all the Indian
languages and today we can converse only in French," Narayaninsamy
told IANS in Guadeloupe during Ravi's historic visit.
During the visit, which was the outcome of persistent efforts by
the PIOs of Guadeloupe for the last two years, assisted by GOPIO
Guadeloupe and its parent organization, GOPIO International, Ravi
first inaugurated a memorial to the Indian immigration in
Guadeloupe. The memorial is set on a farm where the first batch of
plantation workers began work. Incidentally, this farm is now
owned by a PIO family.
In his address at the inauguration of the memorial, Ravi praised
the courage and tenacity of the PIOs of Guadeloupe, who, despite
all odds, managed to maintain something of Indian culture and
Indianness within themselves.
"I must congratulate all of you for the remarkable courage that
you have shown in retaining your links with India, even after the
passage of so much time and loss of all contact with India. Your
community has also emerged from a very difficult period to a
situation today where many of you are doing very well and have
made us in India very proud of your achievements, which have come
only through your hard work," Ravi told the gathering.
He offered help and assistance of the Indian government, and
notably his ministry, to ensure that the PIOs in Guadeloupe can
regenerate their links with India and Indian culture.
"I would like to inform you that my ministry organises very
focused programmes for the PIO youth all over the world where we
take them to India for a complete discovery of India by travelling
to various parts, meeting with various social, political and
business leaders and this trip, I can say, firmly reconnects them
to India. So I would urge GOPIO Guadeloupe to suggest names of
such youth who can be part of this programme," Ravi said.
Ravi also addressed a business meeting organised by the local
chamber of commerce in collaboration with GOPIO Guadeloupe, where
he invited the business community of the island to do more
business with India, specifically in sectors such as food
processing, agriculture, trading and infrastructure. He also
expressed belief that Indian companies would also start investing
in Guadeloupe once business ties were firmly established.
Ravi also honoured a notable PIO of the early 20th century, Henry
Sidambarom, who devoted his life to fighting for the basic rights
for the Indian community. Sidambarom's father had come to
Guadeloupe as a farm worker in the first few boats that landed
here around 1854-57. Henry Sidambarom was born in Guadeloupe in
1863 and began his fight for the fundamental rights of the Indians
in 1904. His battle was focused on the French granting French
citizenship and hence voting rights and other fundamental rights
for the Indian migrant workers, who had been treated as stateless
persons till then in Guadeloupe.
Sidambarom's grandchildren, who had come especially for the event,
recounted his battle and how he had to face a court case for 19
years due to this. But finally, he won and the French
administration was obliged to recognize the rights of the Indian
Ravi praised the courage of Sidambarom and asked his family and
others to provide all the relevant information and photographs of
his battle so that it can be included in the Museum on Indian
Migration that his ministry is setting up. He also declared his
support for the demand of the PIOs from Guadeloupe that a memorial
in Sidambarom's memory be erected at Karaikal in Puducherry, the
native place of his family.
"It will be a proud moment for India when we recognise our sons
who have so bravely fought for the rights of their fellow
citizens," he told the meeting organised at the place where a
statue in memory of Sidambarom has been built.
Ravi also promised the Indian community all assistance in learning
Indian languages, dances and cuisine and also access to Indian
television channels in order to revive their links with India. He
also urged the PIOs of Guadeloupe to turn up in large numbers at
the next edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, scheduled to be
held in Jaipur in January 2012.
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