Diasporic Indians in The Netherlands


NRI/PIO - In The Netherlands

PIO/NRI Communities in the Netherlands: Some observations

Dr. H.U. Qureshi

Although the history of the Indo-Dutch contacts goes back as long as 17th century CE yet it is the late 20th century that witnessed an upsurge in these contacts and upgraded them to the level of bilateral relations, and which have been detailed in the work commemorating the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence from the foreign yoke and published by the Foundation for Critical Choices for India. Two major reasons of this very welcome development may be attributed to the renewed interest in knowing the unknown India, and second one being the exodus of the Hindustani Surinamese to the Netherlands.

Dutch Guyana, presently Surinam, won freedom from the Netherlands in 1975 and the following years saw mass emigration of our Hindustani brethren to the tune of 100,000+ during the mid 1970s. Many different theories have been put forward for their emigration to the Netherlands, inter alia, incentives like high rate of economic growth in the Netherlands in early 1950s and 1960s coupled with the pursuit of ideals of welfare state, prospects of better life in the Netherlands, apprehension of loss of economic, political and social supremacy in the newly formed Surinam, freedom and violation of human rights by the ethnic majority of Surinam. They are part of the Global Indian Diaspora and called the PIOs.

Their Indian counterparts, popularly known as the NRIs, began their emigration to the Netherlands from India in the post-Independence period. They had different objectives in mind - better future, economic stability, adventurism, etc.

In spite of their common origin, the two communities have remained aloof from each other until early 1990s. A significant change was heralded with the launch of a fund-raising campaign that resulted in 1995 in the installation of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Amsterdam on Churchillaan - the street named after the war time British prime minister who had once refused to receive the Indian naked fakir!

Surinami PIOs quickly adapted themselves to the Dutch culture and started the process of integration that culminated, in most cases, into assimilation of the younger generations with tender minds. Most probable reason for this fast process would be identified as their acquaintance of Dutch language as a consequence of:
  • Their being ruled for quite some time by the Dutch and familiarity with the Dutch language and the Dutch social, cultural and political system;
  • Their determination to keep staying in the Netherlands;
  • Their conscious effort to integrate with the Dutch society.
On the other hand, it can be argued that lack of these causes on the part of NRIs is to be cited for keeping the two communities apart from each other.
Issues facing the NRIs in the Netherlands:
  • Educational: a) For a considerable majority of the NRI community, it is one of the vital issues, in the sense that their children who were born and raised outside the Netherlands are not familiar with Dutch language which makes it difficult for them to attend the normal Dutch schools. Even if they are familiar with it, they may lack the necessary command over it and thus would fail to compete with their Dutch colleagues. Those born and raised there, however, have better prospects in this respect. Although the Dutch have sufficient experience of teaching their mother tongue to foreigners yet the process is yet to be perfected!

    b) Unlike the British, American and French and some other European communities, NRIs have no school of their own and these schools, with enormous and huge tuition fees are beyond the reach of common NRIs. Those working for international and/or multinational organisations are, however, exceptions.
  • Social: Dutch is quite a liberal society; it is rather too liberal. Many of our taboos are part of its normal cultural structure. And our teenagers are unknowingly drawn to these too liberal values and consequently some sort of identity crisis or generation gap is created.
  • Linguistic: Majority of the NRIs, thanks to facilities made available to them, can manage themselves well in the streets with their scanty knowledge of Dutch language but it is rather difficult for them to have proficiency in this language. It is not that they are unwilling to acquire command over that language; it is rather lack of time that prevents them from gaining it. Let us not forget that this scanty knowledge of Dutch language becomes a handicap in their integration with the Dutch society. It is, however, to be added that in most cases our Dutch acquaintances prefer to speak English to polish their fluency in English!
Issues facing the PIOs in the Netherlands:
  • There is hardly any doubt that the climatic conditions affect our health. PIOs mostly originate from the eastern Indian states like Orissa, UP and Bihar and have stayed more than half a century in the damp hot climate of Surinam. Change in climatic conditions has adversely affected the first generation of the PIOs and quite a number have suffered from rheumatic pains and other health problems;
  • Like the NRIs, PIOs also experience generation gap but far less than the one which the NRIs experience;
  • Most of the communities maintain their social status even outside the geographical borders of their countries of origin. Although the dawn of 21st century is witnessing change in the thinking of our PIO brethren, yet it is too early to forget the barriers of caste, educational levels, official and/or social positions and material affluence;
  • Like many other foreign immigrants, PIOs also started living in and around the cities and towns where they would be able to access their compatriots and this resulted in creating some sort of concentration areas. But this situation is fast changing now and little attention is paid by them to find accommodation in such areas. The same holds true in respect of quality of the accommodation which was previously responsible for living in ghetto like conditions because of poor income;
  • Racist elements in the Dutch society have long accused the PIOs of misusing the Dutch social welfare system; it is true but as much as it is true in respect of any other minority group;
  • Too much of liberty experienced by the first generation PIO youngsters had caused some sort of rebellious trends among them but spread of education and elderly guidance has effectively channelized this attitude among them;
  • Considering the ethnic and religious affiliations, one can hardly blame the older generation PIOs for their disliking of old people’s home and the related problems existing there.
It was in this spirit that the PIO/NRI communities of the Netherlands drafted a plan to found an Indian Cultural Centre as a focal point of cultural/social activities in the Netherlands and in order to promote socio-economic and cultural activities, to address the issues and to find/suggest remedies for them. The plan has drawn active support from our ambassador, Mrs Cowsik and is already in its initial stages of implementation.

The proposed Centre is visualized as a non-partisan, non-sectarian, secular and self-sustaining organisation. It will involve members of all sections of the NRI/PIO community in the Netherlands as well as the sections of the Dutch population interested in India and Indian culture.

Initially, propagation of Indian culture among the Dutch population and its reintroduction to the community of the NRI and PIO settled in the Netherlands will form the nucleus of its activities but will hopefully cover other areas also in due course.

Published by GOPIO:
Website: www.gopio.net/pio_netherlands.doc

Photos by Ir. Karan J. Jankipersad, Delftgauw.