Hinduism in French Guiana
The abolition of slavery by France in 1848 created a crisis in its three colonies in the Caribbean – French Guinea, Guadeloupe and Martinique. It was feared that the impending desertion of African slaves from the plantations would result in enormous losses to the French planters, losses that would be compounded by recurrent floods and epidemics that were endemic in that region.
Accordingly, France decided to follow the example of Britain and recruit indentured labour from India to replace the former slave labour. Initially, it had no difficulty in doing so because of its own Indian connection in the form of its territories in Pondicherry, Mahe and Karaikal. But it soon found that the supply from those areas was insufficient. Accordingly, it commenced negotiations with Britain in 1851 for permission to recruit Indians from British India. As these talks went on endlessly without agreement, it apparently managed in 1852 to spirit out some persons from British India to its own enclaves and then shipped them off to the Caribbean. Initially, the British Government had been willing to allow France to recruit Indian labour for work only in Reunion. It finally conceded the French request by the Treaty of Paris of 11 July 1860.
As many as 42,326 (wrong number : 25,000 for Martinique alone, 42,000 for Guadeloupe and less than 10,000 for Guianan) Indian labourers are reported to have arrived in the three West Indian French colonies between the years 1853 and 1889 when this system of recruitment was finally terminated by Britain. Only 4,613 of them had remained there by 1898 due to the death or repatriation of many labourers. Contemporary British records were full of horror stories about the condition of the Indian workers. Their migration to an unknown land without any satisfactory system of supervision and control had been unfortunate.
Even at the end of the 1990s, Professor Lotus Vingadassamy, a native of French Guinea, made the following remarks about the PIOs People of Indian origin in the French West Indies at a meeting in Delhi’s India International Centre. The transplantation of her community from India to the West Indies, she said, ‘carried psychological connotations of deep sorrow and suffering, inconsolable mourning, along with the everlasting feeling of being torn inside.