Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Arenda Oomen for Rijksoverheid.nl – Rijksoverheid.nl, CC0

In early June, Suriname would be observing the 151st anniversary of the arrival of Indians to replace African slave labor in the Caribbean Community nation and a plethora of local Hindustani groups now want The Dutch to apologize for indentureship in much the same way they did for slavery in late 2022 and mid 2023.

The groups have dispatched a letter to King Willem-Alexander, expressing “deep indignation” for indentureship saying that they “were made coolies,” meaning unskilled laborers working for less than peppercorn wages under conditions in what was clearly a new form of slavery in this part of the world. “It is high time for a just recognition and apology towards the Hindustani descendants of those who were made coolies. This action should come directly from you as a symbol of sincere regret and recognition of the immense harm done under the supervision and responsibility of your ancestors to countless individuals and generations. This dark passage from Dutch history can no longer be ignored.

They argue that once the African trans Atlantic slave trade had been aborted, The Dutch turned to India for labor, under a system they had referred to as indentureship linked to contract work but this was highly misleading the groups said.

“By using the name contract workers it seemed as if there was an employer and employee relationship, while the content was the same. The Netherlands then led the entire world astray. Under the eye of the Dutch monarch (Willem III), Hindustani workers were cunningly recruited, deceived and forced into a life of exploitation, systematic torture, abuse and even murder on the plantations in Suriname. Responsibility for these atrocities lies squarely with the Dutch authorities, who actively contributed to the creation and enforcement of this abhorrent system. It was a system that served economic interests at the expense of humanity and dignity. The Hindustani indentured servants were treated as nothing more than substitute slaves, doomed to a life of hardship and fear, with no hope of justice.”

Preparing to observe the 151st anniversary of the arrival of indentured labor to Suriname, the groups argue that this would be an opportune time for The Dutch to formally apologize for their role in the trade.

Back in late December 2022, then Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte formally apologized to Caribbean peoples and governments, saying the African slave trade was a horrific blot on the Dutch past. He also said the door was now open for formal talks on monetary reparations. In June of last year, King Willem-Alexander followed Rutte, saying that ”I am standing here in front of you as your king and as part of the government. Today I am apologizing myself. On this day we remember the Dutch history of slavery, I ask forgiveness for this crime against humanity. At some point, one feels the moral duty to act. The chains have truly been broken.”

Ramming home their point, the Surinamese academics and religious leaders contended that Indians are still suffering from the legacy of indentureship today. “The scars of this past are deeply rooted in the souls of the descendants of those who were made coolies. Generation after generation have suffered the trauma, forced to live with the legacy of injustice and humiliation. We therefore request with great urgency and respect that you, as a representative of the Dutch people and heir to this history, publicly apologize to the descendants of those. These apologies should be more than a formality, but a sincere gesture of regret and a commitment to work toward justice and reconciliation. It has now been more than 150 years since the victims involved and their heirs have been waiting for an apology. This suffering must eventually come to an end. That is why we are giving you time to express this apology on the 151st anniversary of Hindustani immigration on June 5, 2024.