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President Murmu receives highest Surinamese honour, showcases India’s unique people-to-people bond with Caribbean

Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi presents the 'Grand Order of the Chain of the Yellow Star' - the highest Surinamese award - to Indian President Droupadi Murmu at the presidential palace in Paramaribo on Monday (All images courtesy: Rashtrapati Bhawan)

Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi has assured that the Indian culture on the northern coast of South America will be kept alive for many generations to come.

On Monday, as Suriname celebrated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in the country, Indian President Droupadi Murmu was presented ‘Grand Order of the Chain of the Yellow Star’ – the highest Surinamese award – at the presidential palace in Paramaribo.

Santokhi said that President Murmu’s visit not only symbolizes the close historical bond between Suriname and India, but also focuses on gratitude and respect for the ancestors, and for their dedication and strength for the unknown.

Terming Murmu’s achievement of becoming the first tribal and second female President of India as a “heroic act”, the Surinamese head of state said that he is honoured to bestow the award on his Indian counterpart on a day when immigrants from India set foot on the country’s soil.

“The celebration of 150 years of Hindu Immigration is inherent to the theme of India’s G20 Presidency, which is ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’,” said Santokhi.

“India is also an example when it comes to preserving culture and using the diaspora for development,” he added.

On the occasion of 150 years of Indian Immigration, a cultural festival took place that had President Murmu as the guest of honour. The event, said the Surinamese President, celebrated the rich culture that the Hindu ancestors brought to their new homeland and remains one of the most binding factors between Suriname and India.

“Since the early days, Indian culture has been kept alive and passed on from generation to generation. Although we may have added our own Surinamese twist to the traditional Indian culture of our ancestors, it is still the same glorious Indian culture that we celebrate and enjoy here,” mentioned Santokhi.

To give an impression of the rich Indian culture, an authentic indentured labour village has been built on Independence Square. Actors simulated how the indentured servants arrived in June 1873 on the first ship from India named ‘Lalla Rookh’, registered themselves and finally made their way to the village.

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An enactment by local artists of the arrival of the first group of Indians in Suriname aboard the Lalla Rookh

In the village, the life of the then-contract workers was reenacted as well as possible. Small livestock, banana plantations, a well and even a Hindu wedding made it complete.

“They came with their religions, culture, customs, values and hopes for a better future. And since then they have merged into the Surinamese mosaic of people, contributing to the development of Suriname’s economic, social and cultural life,” said the Suriname President.

Commending Indian initiatives at the global level, he said that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has “concrete forward-looking plans” to stimulate development.

Both India and Suriname are currently cooperating in trade and investment, agriculture, electricity, security, ICT, capacity building, public health, culture and project finance.

President Santokhi appreciated India’s support to Suriname in reforming the country’s economy and assured full support to Indian initiatives like the International Big Cat Alliance, the International Year of Millet 2023, the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilience Infrastructure.

As cooperation also expands to the oil and gas sector, Indian companies have been invited by Surinamese oil and gold company Staatsolie to participate in the Suriname Energy, Oil and Gas Summit and Exhibition (SEOGS) to be held from June 19 to 22.

suriname india history
President Droupadi Murmu pays respects at Mama Sranan monument in Suriname. The monument represents Mama Sranan, or Mother Suriname, holding her five children, the five ethnicities that inhabit Suriname with care and affection (Image courtesy: Twitter/@rashtrapatibhvn)

The Suriname leader said that progress is also being made in the medicine sector and the development of traditional medicine. Both countries are working together to set up an academic chair, a herb nursery and production plant, training and education opportunities and an Ayurveda hospital in the Saramacca district. In addition, there is a collaboration between Indian companies and the Company Medicines Supply Suriname (BGVS) for both the purchase and production of medicines for the local and regional markets.

President Murmu’s visit carries forward PM Modi’s vision of utilising India’s current G20 presidency to give resonance to the voice of the Global South.

Countries across the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and the Pacific Ocean continue to count on India as reliable partner and expand collaboration in the multilateral sphere to promote mutual interests as developing states.

Also Read: President Murmu in Suriname, Jaishankar in Namibia as India’s Global South mission goes into top gear