Girmitiya Descendants: Past, Present & Future

Author:   Prof. Onkar Nath Upadhyay

Girmitiya Descendants: Past, Present & Future

An International Interdisciplinary and Multilingual Seminar

A Brief Report

An International Interdisciplinary and Multilingual Seminar on Girmitiya Descendants: Past, Present & Future, sponsored by the Indian Council of Social Sciences Researches (ICSSR), was organized by the Centre for Indian Diaspora & Cultural Studies in association with the Department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Lucknow from January 30, 2024, to February 01, 2024. In broader visions, the conference focused on the unheard voices of indentured laborers, known as ‘Girmitya’, who were transported from different parts of India, especially from Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to the countries like Mauritius, Fiji, Surinam, South Africa, Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana etc in between 1836 to 1920. They were hired on a temporary agreement of five years, giving them the hope of a 'Dreamland', a land that is full of luxury, opportunity, and possibility, a land that can change their life completely. Finally, their dream land was vanished during their journey in which they were treated as cattle. They became helpless, toiling in the foreign land ceaselessly to survive. Therefore, it was very important to organize a seminar like this to navigate deeply into such breathtaking incidents that happened in the past and also to highlight their role in the better prospect of their own as well as to present India as Vishva-Guru.

The objectives of this seminar spanned historical exploration, aiming to scrutinize the socio-economic, cultural, and political factors that underpinned the Girmitiya migration. Delving into the indenture period, the focus extended to the understanding of the experiences of Girmitiya Communities, encompassing their trials, tribulations, and resilience. Transitioning to contemporary times, the seminar aimed to analyze the present-day socioeconomic and political dynamics within Girmitiya Communities globally. An exploration of challenges and accomplishments in preserving Girmitiya cultural heritage and identity formed another crucial facet. The significance of cultural preservation and identity maintenance among Girmitiya Descendants were underscored, examining the evolution of tradition, languages, and customs across generations. Community empowerment caught special attention, involving an assessment of present socio-economic challenges faced by the Girmitya Community and the discussion of strategies for empowerment. Additionally, successful community initiatives contributing to the well-being and development of Girmitiya Descendants were highlighted. Prospects, especially the aspirations of and goals of the younger generation within Girmitiya communities were explored.  The role of global connection, diaspora networks, and transnational collaboration in shaping the future of Girmitiya descendants was also a matter of discussion.

The significance of this seminar lay in the scholarly engagement of different scholar, exchanging their ideas and methodologies related to the Girmitiya Study.  The facilitation of collaborations between academic institutions, community organizations, and individuals interested in Girmitiya history and diaspora studies was also a key objective. Moreover, the seminar actively engaged in raising public awareness about the historical significance of Girmitiya migration and advocated for the recognition of Girmitiya's contributions to the societies they settled in, emphasizing the imperative need for preserving their stories and heritage. In short, the International Seminar on Girmitiya Descendants aspired to create a comprehensive and inclusive space for dialogue, collaboration, and knowledge exchange, fostering a profound understanding of the past, present, and future of Girmitiya communities worldwide.

To make this conference a sky-high success, it built communication with different dignitaries living in different countries. Besides the wish of our honorable Vice Chancellor Prof. Alok Kumar Rai, the aspirations of national as well as international speakers namely Ajay Chaubey, Ajay Chhabra, Amit Mishra, Deepak Pandey, Deepti Aggarwal, Dennis Ramdahin Indrani Rampersad, Jyoti Sharma, Krishna Maharaj, Nutan Pandey, Pankaj Jain, Rajneshwar Deo Lal, Satish Rai, S.H. Singh, Sunanda Verma, Vimlesh Kanti Verma were present. Besides, there were 150 paper presenters on bothb physical and virtual modes across India which got an overwhelming response from scholars and professors.

The session was inaugurated with the lighting of the lamp, succeeded by a welcome address delivered by Prof. M. Priyadarshini, Head, Department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Lucknow, who addressed cordially and wished the event a grand success. Her talk was followed by Prof. Nishi Pandey, Professor of Eminence who encapsulated the objectives of this conference. The books of Shardhanand Harinandan Singh’s Homogenization in Multiculturality and Dr. Satish Rai’s The Age of Truth were unveiled. Thereafter the keynote lecture of Prof. Surya Prasad Dixit viewed on Hindi Journalism in Girmitiya countries. The collaborative talk of  Dennis Ramdahin and Dr. Archana Tewari centered their focus on the obituary of Basdeo Pandey, Former Prime Minister, of Trinidad & Tobago.  The chief guest address was given by Dr. Amit Mishra. Consequently, there were two consecutive plenary sessions. The first session included the speech of Ajay Chhabra, who shared his joining in a project that had included a Girmit immersive 360°animation experience of an indentured laborer from India. His talk was further elaborated by Dr. Satish Rai who traced his forefathers’ root. He addressed the core issues such as the grant- narrative of Colonialist that the descendants of the global girmitiyas face regarding how the past, present, and future have been presented generally by academics, scholars, and other documenters of global girmit thus far, discussed with special reference to his sixth book, The Age of Truth-Positioning Global Girmit In Historical Context: A Discourse on the Doctrine of Discovery (2023). Finally, he offered some practical solutions and strategies to address these issues. In the second session, Dr. Amit Mishra and Prof. Jha unfolded the role of compulsive nostalgia, certain markers of culture e.g. religion, language, cuisine, etc. to explore the negotiations of girmitiyas and their descendants to articulate their diasporic identities, and the idea of space as companion in Gitmit Diaspora.

The shine of the conference continuously glowed with more rays of hope on the second day, which consisted of two plenary sessions along with another academic session. In the first session of that day, Dr. Indrani Rampersad, an Independent Academician, articulated on Bharatiya Indentured diaspora from the postcolonial perspective. Subsequently, Dr. Rakesh Pandey, editor of Pravasi Sansar, highlighted his lecture on the impact of Avadh and Avadhi Diaspora on Girmitiya world. In the second plenary session of that day, we had Prof. Vimlesh Kanti Verma, Dr. Sunada Verma, Dr. Deepak Pandey, Dr. Deepti Agarwal, Dr. Jyoti Sharma, and Dr. Nutan Pandey spoke on the relationship between language and identity. The key theme that they all tried to emphasize was – how language determines the identity, existence, and the creation of one community. Last but not least speaker of the day Dr. Avinash Kumar, Deputy Director ICSSR, spelled out the cartographic memory of the Bhojpuri region and their cultural heritage.

The concluding day preserved one plenary session, two academic sessions, and a valedictory session. The main speaker of the plenary session was Dennis Ramdahin who offered his view on the digitalization and statistical analysis of global Indian-indentured emigration records. Another keynote speaker Krishneil Maharaj concerned with diaspora issues faced by younger members of the diaspora. Then the valedictory report was presented by Prof. O.N. Upadhyay, Organizing Secretary and Professor of the Department of English and Modern European Languages, University of Lucknow. The presidential sppech was given by by Prof. P.S. Shukla, Vice Chancellor, NEHU, Shillong who recapitulated the findings of the seminar. Consequently, Prof. Ranu Uniyal gave formal vote of thanks. The conference came to an end with the national anthem sung by all together.

In a nutshell, this particular seminar had been a groundbreaking platform for unearthing the perilous history of the Girmitiya diaspora. It also created a stage where the exchange of ideas on the Girmitiya Study played a pivotal role. The following resolutions were passed in the Seminar:

  • To establish Global Girmit Research Centre
  • To declare Indian indentured labour a crime against humanity by the UNESCO;
  • To support the digitization of the details of Girmitiyas across the world in collaboration with the Global Girmitiya Association at the level of State Government of Uttar Pradesh.
  • To assist the Girmitiya descendants to meet their Indian relatives with the help of Govt. of Uttar Pradesh.
  • To connect the disconnected with their roots.
  • To prepare the platform for presenting India as Vishva Guru, the leader of the world.
  • To consider Indian civilization as the oldest civilization of the world.


Prof. Onkar Nath Upadhyay

Organising Secretary

Centre of Indian Diaspora and Culture Studies

University of Lucknow-226007

[email protected]




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