GIS – 3 November 2014: The three-day Indenture Labour Route International Conference, focusing on the Establishment of the International Indenture Labour Route and aiming to discuss on the way forward for the implementation of the project and its financing with the assistance of UNESCO and Member States, kicked off this morning at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute Auditorium, Moka.
The conference was graced by the presence of the Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr. Mookhesswur Choonee; the Minister of External Affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs of the Republic of India, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj; the Special Representative of the People’s Republic of China on African Affairs, Ambassador Zhong Jianhua; and other eminent personalities.
In his address, Minister Choonee highlighted that the International Indentured Labour Route Project symbolises the story of more than 2.2 million indentured labourers mostly from India, sent to some 26 countries in various parts of the world.
He recalled that the International Indentured Labour Route Project which will complement the Slave Route Project since both relate to the movement of a mass of people across continents, has been approved by UNESCO.
According to him, the project will help promote reflection on culture pluralism, intercultural dialogue, sustainable development and peace. Under the project, an international database on Indentured Labour accessible worldwide will also be set up. The database would disseminate information about such a major historical event and build a greater understanding and cooperation among peoples.
Mauritius as initiator of the project and as the only country hosting a World Heritage Site linked to Indentured Labour, that is, the Aapravasi Ghat, is hosting the Secretariat of the project at the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund under the aegis of UNESCO to conduct research and document the indenture experience in Mauritius and in other countries where the system existed; and set up national and international links with other countries., underlined Mr. Choonee.
What is now needed is a roadmap for the future and this goes in hand with the establishment of an international scientific committee to elaborate a plan of action that would be implemented with the help of the Secretariat, he added.
For her part, Minister Swaraj stated that the indentured labourers forged and shaped the destinies of their new homelands through their hard work and perseverance. Today, their descendants continue to make sterling contributions to modern society in all conceivable fields, embodying the ideals of their ancestors, she added.
The arrival of these brave people from India, she underlined, was much more than the mere transportation of a group of labourers to an unknown land. It was a profound transfusion of the very pluralistic soul of India and her cultural heritage. This heritage is found alive in all its colours to this very day in Mauritius and other countries on the Indentured Labour Route, she said.
According to the Indian Minister, the story of the Indentured Labour Route deserves to be studied, told and heard, in a more complete, systematic and scientific manner. This Project, she added, would provide a platform and act as a catalyst to bring together researchers and scholars from around the world for conducting research and documentation on hitherto unknown aspects of the indenture experience. It would also result in preservation and promotion of important sites and places of memory associated with Indenture system, as well as the intangible cultural and artistic expressions borne out of this chapter of world history.
Mauritius was the first and largest recipient of indentured labour from India, and is home to the Aapravasi Ghat, a spiritual and emotional shrine to the memory of these brave souls, Mrs. Swaraj stated. For her, India's relationship with Mauritius is truly unique and extraordinary, and is anchored in the footsteps imprinted on the sixteen steps of the Aapravasi Ghat by the first Indians that landed there 180 years back.
“India is extremely proud of its Diaspora around the world, and its achievements in various fields, be it political, economic, scientific, or cultural. From Ebene to Silicon Valley, the Indian diaspora has made valuable contribution to the socio-economic fabric of their adopted countries. We also believe that the Indian Diaspora has much more to contribute to the building of modern India”, she added.
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