First Inter-Ministerial Committee of the Indentured Labour Route Project
On 16 July 2021, Prof. Hubert Gijzen, Director, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa represented the Director-General of UNESCO, Mrs. Audrey Azoulay, at the First Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Indentured Labour Route Project (ILRP), hosted by the Government of Mauritius through its Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage and Secretariat for the ILRP, in collaboration with the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund and the University of Mauritius.
The Indentured Labour Route project was launched by Mauritius and bring together all countries who have experienced indenture and other forms of forced labor and servitude in the mid-nineteenth and twentieth century, in a strive to contribute to nation building efforts and to a greater understanding among peoples and societies across the indentured diaspora as well as within the countries themselves.
In his opening remarks, Hon. Avinash Teeluck, Minister of Arts and Cultural Heritage of Mauritius reiterated the importance of this meeting organized in the context of 15th anniversary of the Aapravasi Ghat’s inscription on the World Heritage List, and recalled its historical significance, acknowledging the role of Indentured laborers arriving from India to work on sugar plantations and their contribution in writing a new page of Mauritian History.
He reaffirmed Mauritius lead on this project and welcomed its renewed International Scientific Committee (ISC), with expectations shared that this first Inter-Ministerial Committee will give a new impetus for its implementation.
In delivering the Message of support from Mrs Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO on this occasion, Prof. Hubert Gijzen, Director, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa expressed UNESCO’s proudness to be part of this important initiative, which speaks to the very heart of the Organization’s mandate – to combat ignorance and share knowledge, and to build lasting peace through mutual understanding, reconciliation and cooperation. He commended the ISC of this project, of which UNESCO is a member, and applauded its ambitious Action Plan for the 2021-2023 period.
In reaffirming UNESCO’s readiness to explore further ways of supporting the implementation of this Action Plan, Prof. Gijzen noted:
Among other personalities delivering Messages during this event:
Shri V. Muraleedharan, Indian Minister of State for External affairs and of Parliamentary Affairs recalled the historical ties between Mauritius and India:
“The legacy of this system is the diasporic ties that we value and cherish and we seek to strengthen them as bonds that binds us today”, he said.
Her Excellency Marie Levens, Minister of Education, Science and Culture of Suriname
“Suriname is pleased to say that the documentary heritage of Indian indentured labor of my country, Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago are inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register since 2011.”
Hon. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Home Affairs and External Communications, Minister for Rodrigues, Outer Islands and Territorial Integrity of Mauritius finally delivered a welcome address, in which he recalled the backgrounds of the project with the following words:
“Today, there is a need for the indentured experience in various countries to be better known across the world. As a country that has witnessed the largest migration of indentured labourers in the 19th century, and having the largest proportion of descendants of indentured labourers, Mauritius is ideally suited to take the lead in creating this Route. This is why in October 2014; the project was presented to UNESCO by Mauritius.”
He further reaffirmed the importance of the inter-ministerial committee, which he said: “aims to foster research on indenture and disseminate information on indentured labour as an international phenomenon. The objective is also to set up and conduct collaborative programmes that will promote the history of indentured labour worldwide and create a synergy with the Slave Route Project.”
He then connected this event to the celebration Apravasi Ghat as UNESCO World Heritage Site when he said: “Fifteen years ago, on 16 July 2006, the Aapravasi Ghat was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Today, it stands as the international symbol of the indentured migration.”
A video film on the retrospective of the inscription of the Aapravasi Ghat on the UNESCO World Heritage List created for the 15 Anniversary was then displayed as part of a special commemorative session, and is available online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dK5mZLO884
In her Presentation on the Indentured Labour Route Project, Dr. Vijayalakshmi Teelock, Vice-President of the International Scientific Committee acknowledge the work done thanks to the ISC. that: “I would like to thank members of the ISC for having enriched our world here in Mauritius with your thoughts, experiences and your insights and made all that we normally see on TV become alive.”
She further enlightened the audience with some key achievements, when she added: “So far, we have begun compiling a database of Scholars, Satyendra Peerthum has collected over 250 names of scholars, Christelle Miao Foh and Jayshree Mungur have compiled a list of heritage sites relating to indenture and Babita Bahadoor has compiled a photographic database.”
One of the main point on the agenda of this meeting was the Presentation of the Indentured Labour Migration International Database, delivered by Dr. Maurits Hassankhan, President of the ISC of the ILRP. This session that also served for the official launch of this flagship initiative which aims to emulate the creation of national databases and to build an international framework so that each database will be linked with one another for better accessibility and outreach of their contents, in an implementation timeframe running from 2021 to 2024.
The discussion that followed saw the confirmation of commitments from different representatives of countries and institutions to participate in this International Database, including Mauritius, France, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, South Africa, Suriname, Netherlands, India and Australia, with ambition to reach out to more countries impacted by the Indentured Labour Route Project.
This First Inter-Ministerial Committee of the ILRP ended with the official launch of the new website of the project, providing more information about this project, with access to educational material and other publications and documents on indentured labour, and will also host the Indentured Labour Migrations International Database.
In his closing remarks, Hon. Avinash Teeluck, Minister of Arts and Cultural Heritage of Mauritius congratulated the ISC for the launching of the Indentured Labour Migration International Database Project.
The Indentured Labour Route Project was officially presented and endorsed by UNESCO at its 195th Executive Board Session (2014), “Recalling decision 30 COM 8B.33 of the World Heritage Committee and bearing in mind the importance of an international indentured labour route project, which would be complementary to the Slave Route Project and the General History of Africa and implemented in the context of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).”
UNESCO, through its Regional Office for Eastern Africa in Nairobi is among the 14 Member of the International Scientific Committee of the ILRP, represented by Prof. Hubert Gijzen.