Connecting to Your Roots: Explore the Country of Your Ancestors
We have moved out of our hometowns in search of education or livelihood, or have just been forced to relocate because of some factors that we haven’t been able to control. And for most of us, life has been a tsunami ever since, from where we have been moving from city to city, from one country to the other. As I was browsing through a group in Facebook formed by my batchmates in school, I was awed by the wide diversity of our present locations. Until a few years ago, we used to sit next to each other; meet up at lunchtime and after school; growing up gradually.
This has been the story of our parents and forefathers. Someone, somehow, moved out somewhere in pursuit of something that seemed lucrative enough. With him, came his family. His children studied in the new town, and with time, had families of their own. As children, some of us have been told, “we are from this and that place”, but we could not relate as we had no memories of our own. Well, perhaps, we are the lucky ones as some of us would not even be aware of our origins; having lost touch with even our mother tongues.
India has always been a “land of emigrants” and an Indian can be found in practically every corner of the world. A UNDP report has estimated The Non-Resident Indian (NRI) and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) population across the world is estimated as over 30 million.
The Indian diaspora has grown out of many causes and several crossings. Large proportions have migrated to British colonies like the West Indies, British Guyana and Mauritius in the early years of indenture system. After 1860, Government of India allowed movement of migrants to other British colonies in Asia (Ceylon, Burma and Malaya), Oceania (the Fiji islands) and Africa (South Africa and Kenya). Many of them came back to home country, but large portion of the migrants opted to stay back. The next generations have learnt British history, European history, Ancient history, but hardly ever heard about the indenture system and have any idea about how their parents arrived in a foreign land.
Indians around the world, 2009
(Figures in Million)
With the development of communication systems and technology, opportunity has opened for one to find their roots, and know about the history and culture of a race one belongs to. Many people have come back to India, centuries after their forefathers left for other shores.
If you wish to rediscover your roots, and taste a flavor of the life you have heard so much about, come back to India. You can find out details of your ancestors through digitized records in Indian offices. Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) launched a new scheme called “Tracing the Roots” in October 2008. Under this scheme, the Ministry facilitates Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) in tracing their roots in India. For this purpose, the Ministry has signed an MOU with an organization called “Indiroots”. An applicant is required 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% of the fee is refunded to the applicant.
The process of locating ancestral villages is a not a simple search on the map; it entails a good deal of field work. Village addresses are usually obtained from the indenture documents of migrants. Many villages have grown larger over the years and been bifurcated, others have had their names changed and even the districts have changed. To make the task even more difficult, the old documents used archaic spellings that bear little resemblance to present-day names. We, at The Other Home, promise to help you to the best of our ability to assist you in identification of your belonging.
God forbidding, even if your forefathers cannot be traced, you can still connect with the culture and its heritage through visiting the town and staying in the comfortable and homely atmosphere of a homestay. Enjoy traditional food, cultural programmes and visit the popular and not so well known tourist destinations to capture the spirit of the town that defines your soul. Check out the homestay locations brought to you by The Other Home in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat,Kerala, Karnataka and Goa.
Some of the inspiring stories are:
Shobha Rae, a Canadian yoga teacher: Shobha migrated to Canada in 1970 from Fiji Islands, where her grandfather Bhairon Rae and father Ram Naresh Rae spent their whole lives. In 2004, when she wished to revisit her roots, she contacted a social organisation in Canada, who helped her hire a researcher in India to search the family’s village in Uttar Pradesh. The researcher located Baijudhia village and sent her the address for another relative in Gorakhpur, Banwari Rae. The family reunion was indeed a great affair.
Basdeo Pandey, Ex-prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago: Basdeo Pandey was born in St. Julien Village, Trinidad where his parents, Harry “Chhote” Sookchand and Kissoondaye Pandey, had arrived when they missed the boat going back to Fiji during their younger days. Fate brought him to India as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in 1997 and he managed to trace his roots to Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh.
Mattias Hoebeke, a Belgium constitutional law teacher: Mattias was adopted by Belgian couple in 1978 from the Missionaries of Charity in North Delhi, where he had grown up after being abandoned as a newborn outside an orphanage in Uttar Pradesh. He grew up in Bierbeek and currently working as a constitutional law teacher living in Louvain, Belgium. He had been contemplating to find out his biological parents but could manage to visit India in 2008. Although he could not trace his family, he met Sister Alfonsa, who had handed him over to his adoptive parents.
Balliram and Leela Maharaj, Trinidad and Tobago : Balliram Maharaj and his wife, Leela, came to India in 2010 to discover their roots. Leela’s grandfather, Paltu Prasad left India in 1910 to work on the sugarcane plantations in Trinidad as an indentured worker where he became friends with Changa Maharaj, Balliram’s grand father who had come to Trinidad from Channauli. The common link was that they hailed from the same district in Uttar Pradesh. Leela and Balliram’s families had lost touch with the relatives in India, and they had very little information about their ancestors. So, they hired a prominent genealogist, Shamshu Deen, who carried out searches from Trinidad and helped Leela and Balliram to contact their relatives in India.
Shazeda Amzad, United States: Shjazeda’s great-great grandfather Amir Amzad, his wife and two sons moved from Parsa village, Basti (Uttar Pradesh) to Guyana in 1889 to work as indentured labour. Shazeda’s grandfather Mohamed Amzad had migrated to New York from Guyana. In 2007, Shazeda started the mission to find out her roots and got the passes that were issued to her great-great grandfather the Guyanese authorities. However, it was not easy for her to locate Basti in India. However, with the help of Indiroots, she finally reunited with the family in the Parsa village in Basti.
Evelyn Swamy, Canada: Born in Guyana, Evelyn Swamy had shifted to Canada. She had always wanted to visit her ancestors’ home and to meet her relatives. Evelyn came to India in 2009 to search her ancestors and family members. Through ancestral search programme, she managed to find out the ancestral village of Jamuni from where her maternal great-grandmother had made the journey to Guyana. Part of the family has now moved out of the village and one distant cousin lives in Panipat, Haryana. She visited him as well.