Descendants of Bihari migrants trace the roots of their family tree


Migration of unskilled manual workers from Bihar is not a new phenomenon. It began in the middle of 19th century when they left for Mauritius, Fiji, Surinam, Guyana, the Caribbean Islands and other distant lands during the British Raj as girmitiya (indentured) workers.

Most of them ended up leading lives of unmitigated hardship and abject penury. But some fought against all odds to not only survive but also to pave the way for a better future for their descendants.

They embraced the local culture and assimilated themselves totally in alien lands. In fact, some of their descendants went on to become the heads of the governments in those countries, underlining the triumph of human spirit over all impediments.

But while they acclimatised themselves with local cultures and learnt new languages in their adopted lands, they could not sever the proverbial umbilical cords with the land of their forefathers.

It was not surprising that Rajkeswur Purryag, the President of Mauritius, could not hold back his tears when he reached Wajitpur village in the Patna district on Sunday last.

It was, after all, the fulfilment of his long-cherished dream since he had been trying for a long while to locate the village from where his great grandfather Laxman Nonia had migrated from 150 years ago.

Nothing was known about his forefathers except the fact that they came from somewhere in Patna district’s Masaurhi area.

Rajkeswur himself had come to Bihar 25 years ago to locate his village but failed. It was only after he sought the help of chief minister Nitish Kumar that he not only found his village but also was reunited with his long lost kin belonging to the same family tree.

It was a similar story last year for Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who came to Bhelupur in Buxar district. It was on July 18, 1889 that her grandfather Ram Lakhan Mishra had migrated to the Caribbean islands from a ship named Volga which carried 556 people.

It was exactly the way Moheet Ramgoolam, the grandfather of Navinchandra Ramgoolam, the prime minister of Mauritius, had also left India on September 7, 1871 from Harigaon village in Bhojpur district.

Moheet’s descendent See-woosagur Ramgoolam went on to become the Mauritian PM from 1961 to 1982. He is acknowledged as the father of Mauritius because of his immense contribution to rebuilding the nation after its independence.

Evidently, the illustrious descendants of the girmitiya workers are aware of the hardships of their ancestors as well as their roots. Rajkeswur said that his forefathers had taken Bihar and India in their hearts after they were lured away to Mauritius in the name of better life.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s ancestor carried the Ramayana and the Bhagwad Gita with them on their journey to an unknown future. Hardly surprising then that Navinchandra kissed the soil of Bihar when he returned for the first time in 2008.

These high-profile dignitaries are not the only ones trying to locate the land of their forefathers in Bihar. Every year, hundreds of well-heeled people from foreign countries come to the state in search of their roots.

The Nitish government has launched a scheme called ‘Know Your Roots’ to help them find their ancestral lands.

It is true that the Bihari migrants to foreign shores had to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds thousands of miles away from their home to survive. They had also sacrificed a great deal to make lives easier for their descendants.

It is only in the fitness of things that their descendants are expressing gratitude and returning to their roots to acknowledge their sacrifices.

The tears of joy rolling down the cheeks of the Mauritius president upon arrival in the land of his forefathers did not merely reflect his emotional state of mind and happiness but were also symbolic of all the pain of separation that his ancestors might have endured in their lifetime after leaving their motherland.

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