Indo-Surinamese or Indian-Surinamese, are nationals of Suriname with ancestry from South Asia. They are mostly descendants of the indentured workers brought by the Dutch and the British during the 19th-century. Per the 2012 Census of Suriname, 148,443 citizens of Suriname are of Indo-Surinamese origin, constituting 27.4% of the total population, making them the largest ethnic group in Suriname.[1]

India Suriname
Total population
148,443[1] (2012, census)
Regions with significant populations
Paramaribo, Nickerie, Wanica, Commewijne, Netherlands, United States, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, United Kingdom
Sarnami Hindi, other Indian languages, Dutch, Sranan Tongo, English
Majority: Hinduism
Minority: Islam, Jainism, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Indian people, Indian diaspora, Indo-Caribbeans, Indians in the Netherlands, Indo-Caribbean Americans, British Indo-Caribbean people


Indo-Surinamese are also known locally by the Dutch term Hindoestanen (Dutch pronunciation: [ˌɦɪnduˈstaːnə(n)]), derived from the word Hindustani, lit., "someone from Hindustan".[2] Hence, when Indians migrated to Suriname they were referred to as Hindustanis, people of Indian origin. They were also known as girmityas, a term referring to the Agreements that the labourers had to sign regarding the work and the period of stay, and meaning "Someone with an Agreement."[3][4]


Indian indentured labourers

During the British Raj, many Indians were sent to other British colonies for work. After the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colony of Suriname, the Dutch government signed a treaty with the United Kingdom on the recruitment of contract workers. Indians began migrating to Suriname in 1873 from what was then British India as indentured labourers, mostly from the modern-day Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the surrounding regions.

The first ship transporting Indian indentured labourers, the Lalla Rookh, arrived in the Paramaribo. Newly freed slaves in Suriname who witnessed Indian workers disembarking at the harbour, reportedly stated, "Jobo tanbasi", meaning "The white man is still the boss", suggesting that they viewed the development as a continuation of the slave trade. Initially, the transport and living conditions of Indian labourers in Suriname was worse than it had been prior to the abolition of the Dutch slave trade. The British Viceroy of India described it as "a new system of slavery". In 1870s, conditions were improved greatly following the passage of new legislation to protect the Indian workers. The Government of the United Kingdom and the colonial British Government in India feared comparisons to slavery would hurt their reputation, and enacted several legislations to make transportation of Indian workers safer and improve working conditions in plantations. The Dutch government, which had signed the agreement to recruit workers with the British after long and difficult negotiations, also feared jeopardizing the arrangement and meticulously followed the regulations imposed by the British. The Dutch were also concerned that they would be accused of reviving the slave trade.[5]

In order to reduce the mortality rate among workers being transported from India, the colonial British government required the presence of at least one doctor on every ship. As regulations required the doctor to be of European-origin, the regulations also required that one Indian indentured labourer be appointed as a translator and that he would be paid for his services at the end of the journey. Other regulations mandated that every ship have distilling apparatus with a capacity to produce at least 500 litres of drinking water from seawater daily, and also required ships to have a sickbay, male and female nursing staff, adequate food and medicine, and artificial ventilation in the passengers' quarters. Another regulation prohibited any ship transporting Indian indentured labourers from setting sail between the end of March and the beginning of August. Any shipping company that violated the regulations would be prohibited from transporting contact workers in the future. While the mortality rate among slaves working on plantations between 1680 and 1807 averaged 50.9 per thousand people, following the passage of the regulations post-1873, it dropped to 7.1 per thousand among Indian workers.[5]

Indo-Surinamese made up 37.6% of the population in the 1972 Census.[6] Just before and following the independence of Suriname on 25 November 1975, many Indo-Surinamese emigrated to the Netherlands, resulting in a decline in the population of the Indian community in Suriname.


The majority religion among the Indo-Surinamese is Hinduism, practiced by 78% of the people, followed by Islam (13%), Christianity (7%), and Jainism. Among the Hindus about 63% follow orthodox, traditional Hinduism that they call Sanātanī to differentiate themselves from the 15% who belong to the reform movement Arya Samaj, started by Dayananda Saraswati.[7] Among the Indo-Surinamese Muslims, 60% follow Sunni Islam while 40% identify as Ahmadiyya, of either the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam or the Ahmadiyya community.

Notable Indo-Surinamese peopleEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Censusstatistieken 2012" (PDF). Algemeen Bureau voor de Statistiek in Suriname (General Statistics Bureau of Suriname). p. 76.
  2. ^ van der Zeijden, Albert (1990). De cultuurgeschiedenis van de dood. Rodopi. p. 154. ISBN 9789051832167.
  3. ^ "Suriname Seeks Stronger Relations with India". Outlook. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  4. ^ India, Press Trust of (20 March 2011). "Suriname forstronger ties with India". The Hindu Business Line. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b Emmer, P. C. (30 January 2006). The Dutch Slave Trade, 1500-1850. Berghahn Books. pp. 138–140. ISBN 9781845450311. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  6. ^ "National Census Report: Suriname" (PDF). Caricom. 2009. p. 32. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-06-27. Retrieved 2017-01-07.
  7. ^ "Censusstatistieken 2012" (PDF). Algemeen Bureau voor de Statistiek in Suriname (General Statistics Bureau of Suriname). p. 50.

Further readingEdit