Monday, May 5, 2014

"Do we really need to prove we are Indians?"

Jean Régis Ramsamy, a historian and a journalist with Reunion Premiere television, strives to seek and restore his roots in India. And in the process, he has become a strong voice of the nearly 250,000 people of Indian origin in Reunion.

Located in the south-western Indian Ocean, Reunion – an Overseas Department of France – is a magnificent volcanic island with most Indians following Tamil traditions and nursing an inherent desire to connect to their ancestors’ land.

But most of them, including Ramsamy, have lost any tangible evidence of their Indian origins and ancestry centuries ago. It is estimated that between 1848 to 1860, nearly 38,000 Indians arrived in Reunion Island as indentured laborers. The colonial masters wanted to ensure they could not find their way back home and so, they destroyed their documents.

In successive diaspora events in India, Ramsamy has been making the right kind of noises, but his hopes for getting a PIO card for his people get stymied each year, because the government insists on documentation.

Speaking to Meenakshi Iyer, on the sidelines of 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Ramsamy says that the PIOs in this island mainly have cultural and educational aspirations from India, and that the Indian government’s stance over PIO cards to them has largely remained unchanged.

Which part of India are you from? Have you ever visited the place?

My forefathers were from Tiruchirappalli and Periakottai in Tamil Nadu and also Pondicherry. Yes, I keep visiting Tamil Nadu because my brother is learning mridangam from Kalakshetra, Chennai. Almost every year, we visit Tamil Nadu to imbibe its culture and traditions and visit temples. Unfortunately, language is a barrier because we do not understand Tamil.

Indians arrived in Reunion Island as indentured laborers. To ensure they could not find their way back home, the French colonizers destroyed all their documents to cut off all ties with their homeland. What is the stance of French government on this and what did the French ambassador (Francois Richier) say when you raised this issue with him?

I am not sure whether there was any hidden agenda behind destroying the documents and indentured labor politics. But it is true that our archives were burnt. Today when the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs asks us about our ancestors’ record, it doesn’t make sense, at least to me. Look at us... Do we really need to prove that we are Indians?

The French ambassador understands our situation and has been doing his best to sort out the issue. But the ultimate solution rests with the Indian government. We deserve their attention and a ‘specific’ card!

Were you convinced with what Vayalar Ravi (Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs) said at the Francophone reception on January 8 this year?

We have met him so many times in Durban, Mauritius and Guadeloupe. He lent us an ear and said that he will look into the matter. He said that he has given orders to his staff to be indulgent with us. He also said that we need to wait till the 2014 elections!

No comments :