Nearly 360 people of Indian origin from the picture-pretty island of Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean have signed a plea asking the Indian government for the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card and for opening a consulate in Guadeloupe to maintain a direct and permanent link with the land of their forefathers.
An extract from the strongly worded two-page petition in French, a copy of which is with the IANS, says: "I sign the petition to seek the OCI card to repair deep injustice of which I am a victim today but successive Indian governments have made it tough for me to visit, to study, to work, invest, live, meet my family in the country of my grandparents and my country of origin."
Over 150 years and still counting, the 54,000-strong community in Guadeloupe has kept Indian culture and tradition alive and is seeking to cement its links with the land of its forefathers. But their inability to prove that their grandparents or great-grandparents were Indian has made it difficult for them to attain the OCI, which allows them to live in India as long as they want plus get other benefits like owning property and working.
Over 43,000 indentured Indian labourers came to the l'île Papillion, the butterfly-shaped island, to work on sugar plantations between 1854 and 1889. The French colonial settlers, who had brought them to replace slaves, burnt most of the records so as to avoid sending them back home on completion of their five-year contracts.
It was not before 158 years that India established its contacts with its people in Guadeloupe by sending Minister of Overseas Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi in 2011.
Seeking a waiver of the rules in the case of Guadeloupians, Michel Narayninsamy, president of Guadeloupe Global people of Indian Origin (GOPIO), said the trauma of abandonment and the isolation for nearly 158 years is still alive.
"India, our grandmother, does she need official documents to recognise her grandchildren? Why is India too slow in recognising us? India should adapt its legislation to the particularities of its diaspora to enable her children from Guadeloupe who want to obtain the PIO or OCI card," Narayninsamy told IANS.
Over successive editions of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, including the just-concluded one, Narayninsamy has been actively crusading for Indians in Guadeloupe, but without much response from the Indian government.
In the recently concluded fifth Francophone reception, organised for the French-speaking diaspora, Vayalar Ravi promised to look into the matter.
"I understand that it is a matter of concern and we will look into it," he told a gathering of Indians from Guadeloupe, Reunion and Mauritius.
"Many Indians of Guadeloupe today turn their eyes towards India but remain skeptical about the genuine willingness of India to integrate them into the Indian family," Narayninsamy said on being asked about the young Indians in Guadeloupe.
Historical evidence cited by the GOPIO show that following a March 27, 1852, decree of the French president and the convention of July 1, 1861, all immigrants were entitled to be repatriated free to their homeland on completion of their five-year contracts.
But with plantation owners delaying the departure of their Indian labour by all means and various other reasons, only an estimated 8,700 Indians left Guadeloupe between 1861 and 1906 on 28 ships, though one of them returned after one month.
A few hundred Indians, who had achieved success as businessmen, home and land owners chose to stay back. But a vast majority of Indians had to stay back only because they could not get their repatriation. They were forced to convert to Christianity and take Christian names, abandoning their Hindu culture, language and traditions.
(Meenakshi Iyer can be contacted at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>)