August 2014 \
Journey To French West Indies

Puducherry, or Pondichery, was the point of departure for many Indian workers who were taken to colonies of France, writes Shubha Singh

  • The ship L'Aurélie sailed from Pondicherry to Guadeloupe in 1854 (left). The Indian workers who went to Guadeloupe

Indian Arrival Day is commemorated in Mauritius and the Caribbean islands as the day the first group of Indian workers reached the island colonies in the 19th century. It falls on different days in Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Reunion Island and is the occasion for holding parades, cultural displays and a government sponsored official commemoration.

Several events are held in December in Guadeloupe to mark the event, but for the first time, the 160th anniversary of Indian departure day to Guadeloupe was observed on August 23 in Puducherry at the Puducherry University campus.

Pondicherry, as it was known then, was a French enclave on India’s eastern coast and the point of departure for many Indian workers who were taken to the French colonies. The ship L'Aurélie sailed from Pondicherry port in August 1854 and reached Guadeloupe on December 26, 1854 with 314 passengers on board including 15 children.

A cultural organization, Souvenirs des Indes and a non-governmental organization, Ader India organized a commemorative function at the Indian Workers memorial at the University campus. The university campus has a memorial ‘Route of Indian Workers’ that was set up with support from the state government of Puducherry, UNESCO, the French Consul from University of La Reunion from Reunion Island and diaspora organizations in January 2010. It is a monument in the memory of Indian workers who migrated to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and the French Caribbean territories of Mauritius, Martinque and Guadeloupe.