South African group to trace roots in India

By Lakshmi Krishnakumar, IANS,

Durban/New Delhi : A group of South Africans will arrive in India Oct 12 to trace their roots and know more about the land their forefathers left over 150 years ago to work as indentured sugarcane labourers.

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The arrival of the 16-member Christian group from South Africa marks the 150th anniversary of the departure of indentured sugarcane labourers from India to South Africa.

“Sixteen members of Indian origin from our International Christian Organisation will visit India on the 12th of this month (October),” Loretta Rajkumar, MP of the opposition Inkatha Freedom Party from the South African province KwaZulu Natal, told IANS.

The “Tracing the Roots” programme run by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) has become a big hit with the people of Indian origin (PIO). About 1.3 million people are of Indian origin in South Africa and 80 percent of them are based in Durban city.

Rajkumar said that the ministry’s initiatives for the diaspora is commendable.

The MP, from whose organisation 16 people of Indian origin are visiting India, said that she has already been able to trace her roots thanks to the ministry’s trace the roots programme.

“I am glad I could trace my roots. Our grandparents were indentured labourers on the sugarcane fields here. It meant a lot to me to find my roots as I could connect better with my grandparents and my ancestry.”

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told IANS: “Not knowing your roots can often put one in a limbo particularly outside your land of origin. There is a need and a feeling to belong.”

“Indian diaspora in their third and fourth generation particularly feel so if they don’t know who they are and where they belong.

“My ministry is happy that the diaspora is showing interest and wants to trace their roots and where they come from. We will help in all possible ways,” he said.

People of Indian origin who want to trace their roots have help at hand when they want to begin their search.

Chandra Shekhar Tiwari from Lucknow, capital of India’s Uttar Pradesh state, assists in tracing Indian connections and he has helped a 100 PIOs.

After working independently for 11 years, Tiwari signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2008 with the ministry following a rising demand from the Indian diaspora that sought assistance to trace its roots back in India.

Tiwari said: “Sometimes I can track down the roots in less than a month’s time and it has also happened that I had to make long and repeated trips and follow-ups, taking up to even six months.”

Former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago Basdeo Panday was one of Tiwari’s first clients and he managed to trace his roots in 1997 to Uttar Pradesh.

“Tracing the Roots” designed by the ministry requires an applicant to fill up a form and deposit it with the Indian mission concerned along with a fee of $500.

In case of a failed attempt, 50 percent of the fee is refunded to the applicant.

Tiwari said: “The unsuccessful cases recorded were of women labourers who migrated alone…we try our best to help… Only half the money is refunded because if you look at it, same effort goes into a successful or unsuccessful tracing.”

The programme focuses on third and fourth generation PIOs whose grandparents left India as indentured labourers to various parts of the world. Applicants are mostly from Trinidad and Tobago, Guinea, South Africa and Fiji.

(Lakshmi Krishnakumar can be contacted at [email protected])