Port-of-Spain: Indentured labourers have enhanced the multiculturalism in their host countries, according to Dynaeshwar Mulay, Secretary, India's Ministry of External Affairs, with responsibility for Overseas Indian Affairs.

Mulay was addressing the opening ceremony at the Indian Diaspora World Convention 2017 at Divali Nagar, Chaguanas, Trinidad. The convention marks the centenary of the abolition of indentureship 1917 to 2017.

“Credit goes to the countries which received indentured labourers, and which allowed these countries to become truly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and plural societies,” Mulay said.

“The Centennial gives us an opportunity to dwell on some important aspects of indentured labour system and its impact on countries to which Indian and other workers had migrated. The indentured labour system had a long-lasting and indelible impact on lives of thousands of Indians, and it is estimated that more than two million Indian nationals were taken as indentured labour. The workforce that was imported from India comprised largely people from the northern provinces of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and a small percentage from Kolkata and the erstwhile Madras province of South India,” Mulay told hundreds of patrons from 15 countries in attendance.

Mulay said that the Overseas Citizens of India Card is being issued by the government of India for multi-entry, multi-purpose visas for India. “We are aware of the difficulties faced by People of Indian Origin(PIOs) in Girmitya countries in obtaining OCI Card without proper proof of Indian origin. We acknowledge their concern and have made efforts to address these issues. I am glad to announce that starting with Mauritius, we have put in place new procedures and documentation requirements so that descendants of Girmityas from this country could become eligible for OCI Cards. We remain committed to addressing similar difficulties of PIOs in Fiji, Reunion Islands, Suriname, Guyana and other Caribbean countries,” he said.

Mulay said: “I am very happy to see that our High Commission in Port-of-Spain is actively engaged with the overseas Indian community and is helping them promote and sustain their links with their country of origin. I would like to convey my appreciation to our young and dynamic High Commissioner, Shri Bishwadip Dey, for his enthusiastic initiative and efforts in this regards. The ministry looks forward to supporting the High Commission’s initiatives to strengthen bonds of the Indian diaspora with their place of origin.”

Member of Parliament for Shiwar, Bihar, Rama Dev, speaking in Hindi - her speech was translated by Dr Rampersad Parasaram, Chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Indian Diaspora Council)TT-IDC) - hailed the progress the Indian diaspora has made in their new homeland. “It is a matter of pride that the descendants of those Indian indentured labourers have reached high position in political arenas of those countries where they settled. “I am happy to see that all-round progress made by the Indian indentured labourers and their descendants spanning over four generation in this beautiful rainbow country of Trinidad and Tobago, which is one of the many countries that have received in indentured Indian labourers”.

Dev said that the Indian origin community in Girmitiya countries have brought with them many aspects which are characteristic of their country of origin such as languages, cuisine, festivals of India, folklore, art, culture, religious traditions and rituals..

“I come from Bihar, the state that sent a large number of Indian workers, and in the last two days, I have interacted with several people, including those of Indian-origin. I was very pleased to see cuisine in Trinidad and Tobago—phulorie, saheema, aloo-channa, and roti which readily reminded me of my birthplace,” she said to thunderous applause.

Conference chairman, Dr Primnath Gooptar, in his address, said that the spirit of the conference reflects our belief that global efforts favour organizations and individuals who can effectively reach across boundaries with their partners across the seas. “As a result, performance excellence is no longer about individual players and administrators—it is about stress-free co-ordination and association across borderless boundaries. It is our hope that the conference will bring to the fore some of the burning issues which confront diaspora communities in the Caribbean, as well as at the international level and that those discussions will continue with new directions and initiatives.”

(Paras Ramoutar can be contacted at paras_ramoutar@yahoo.com)

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