Guadeloupe in the French West Indies is a beautiful island that reminds you at various points of the excesses of the French empire and a self-serving colonial system. In fact, some of those self-serving systems that existed nearly 350 to 400 years ago when the islands were colonized are still at times visible. Over the years, though, the lines dividing man and man have blurred considerably.
Indians landed up in Guadeloupe for the first time in 1854, six years after the abolishing of slavery in France. In the next thirty five years, over 42,873 Indians left the shores of India to find a better life in Guadeloupe. But only 39,800 arrived alive. Even though they were promised free return journeys, only about 20 per cent managed to come back to India as returning ship convoys were rare. The mortality among Indians was not unexpectedly very high-----in the commune of Moule, for instance, 45 per cent died within the first five years of their arrival. One could put this down to severely inhuman conditions of working, the savage nature of the plantation owners and, of course, the unforeseen incapacity of the Indians to toil like animals in foreign climes. When they signed up for indenture, they were clearly not prepared for the harsh life in the plantations.
Some of the Indians were tricked into leaving India. They never ever found the promised pot of gold. Instead they were handed sickles and scythes to mow down sugarcane fields. There was no training or acclimatization. It was assumed that they were fit for such physical work. When the tricked Indians wanted to return, they were treated roughly, and injected with generous doses of fear. The more rebellious ones were whipped or shown the gun. It was at the island of Ilet A Cabrits that 34 Indian men and one woman were moved to the House of Corrections. It was a prison, meant to correct human beings who were simply asking to be sent back home and made free from their bonded entrapment. Instead of being looked after in the manner human beings should, they were left to rot and die at the Ilet A Cabrits. It was a message to the rest on how rebels would meet the same fate. The story of the 35 Indians was a well-kept secret that toppled out of the archives in 2012, and today a memorial stands in their name (see cover photo) at the island of Les Saintes. It is dedicated by the local mayor to those Indians who were left to die for wanting to breathe the sweet air of freedom.
The history aside, Guadeloupe has much to showcase in terms of its scenic, volcanic beauty spread across its five main islands—Grand-Terre, Basse-Terre, Les Saintes, La Desirade, Marie-Galante—and its numerous archipelagoes. It is a vibrant cruise stop among those who love to sail the waters of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. There is a rich tapestry of food and music on offer, and a milieu of culture with a recorded history that dates back to the time of the visit of Christopher Columbus in 1493.
Elsewhere in this largely Guadeloupe-featured magazine, you’ll also find some other news of interest from India as well as the world of the Indian Diaspora.
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