Your Excellency Mr. Chandrikaprasad Santokhi, President of the Republic of Suriname,
Excellencies, the Ministers and members of Parliament,
Mr. Anil Manoorath, Chairman of the Cultural Union of Suriname,
Ladies and gentlemen,
1. I am very pleased to be here at the beautiful and famous Independence Square today. I am touched by the enthusiastic welcome and warm hospitality that you have accorded to me, and to all the members of my delegation. I bring you greetings and good wishes from your brothers and sisters in India. This is my first visit to your country, and today is indeed a special occasion.
2. The beauty of your country’s lush green landscape, the remarkable variety of plants and wildlife, and the pure breeze, create a wonderful ambiance.
3. However, what has truly won my heart, is the diversity of the people of Suriname, your welcome, your love , your enthusiasm. There are so many similarities between India, that is well known for its diversity, and Suriname, that the people of both countries could integrate very easily in each other’s societies. I feel like I am at my own home!
4. We are all gathered here today to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Suriname, an important milestone in the history of Suriname. On this day , in the year 1873, the first group of Indians reached the shores of Suriname, on board the ship Lala Rookh. This was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of this country. Subsequently, over the next few decades, more than 34,000 Indians arrived in this country.
5. They set out from their motherland on a very perilous journey . They didn’t know much about this new place. They then made it their home. Despite harsh working conditions and challenges such as low wages, they created a close-knit community, the roots of which were connected to their culture and traditions: a gift of their motherland, India. Their stories are the chronicles of 150 years of patience, firm resolve, courage and enterprise.
6. On this occasion, I pay my respects to our ancestors, and I salute those that helped build this nation. We are very proud of the contribution and achievements of the current generation of Indian Surinamese based here, in promoting and strengthening India-Suriname relations.
7. I am happy to note that despite the vast geographical distances, the different time zones and cultural diversity, the Indian Diaspora, has always remained attached to their roots. Over the last 100 years, the Indian community here has not only become an integral part of society in Suriname, but it also constitutes an important pillar of the deepening partnership between India and Suriname.
8. As an example, a special incident that always comes to my mind is President Chandrikaprasad Santokhi’s taking his oath in Sanskrit. I was so pleased to hear that, as were all Indians, and our Prime Minister shared this news with the entire country in his Mann ki Baat radio program.
9. Today , at a time when Suriname is celebrating the legacy of its ancestors and its links with India, India stands with Suriname in solidarity and reverence. As the saying goes, "you can take an Indian out of India, but you can’t take India out of the heart of an Indian”.
10. The deep attachment and love demonstrated by all Indian Surinamese in their efforts to protect this rich heritage and language, and to convey it to the young generation, touches the hearts of all Indians.
11. I am also pleased to learn that Suriname has been acclaimed as one of the foremost foreign countries in the world to promote the Hindi language - this evening’s wonderful cultural performance was an example of this.
12. Today, on this historic occasion, I am very pleased to announce at this forum, that my government has approved extending the eligibility criteria for the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card from the fourth generation to the sixth generation. This will possibly enable all those people to get an OCI card, whose ancestors came to Surinam on board the first ship Lala Rookh.
13. The OCI card can be seen as an important link in your 150 year old relationship with India. I request all members of the Indian diaspora to continue to make efforts to maintain your connections with India.
14. Both Suriname and India, have made efforts to rebuild their economies and social systems after a long period of colonial rule. This experience has created a feeling of solidarity between us. Our bilateral relations, are based on our shared aspirations for development.
15. As a mutil-cultural society and as a land of opportunities, Suriname has welcomed all the varied communities that came and settled here. During these years, diverse communities evolved into one family and one country. The ethos of the various communities that make up Modern Surinamese society, is in many ways, much like the social fabric of the diverse and modern Indian society.
16. I hope that the young Indian Diaspora with make use of opportunities like Know India Programme and ITEC scholarships, which can help them stay connected to India.
17. Finally, I congratulate all brothers and sisters of Suriname for their dedication and commitment to unity and inclusiveness . I wish you all good health, happiness and success in your efforts.
18. It is my hope that in the days to come, the Indian community will continue to strengthen this relationship, and each and every individual among you will continue to act as a bridge between India and Suriname, connecting both countries. On this occasion, I invite all of you to come to India, to witness India’s development journey and to participate in it.
19. When the 175th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Suriname is celebrated, Suriname will have reached an important stage in its development journey. I am sure that the celebration organised on that occasion too, will bear witness to even stronger bonds of development, prosperity and cooperation between both countries.