On World Refugee Day, Kolkata Port recalls history of human migration

Suriname Memorial

“In the dead of a winter night, I was standing on Garden Reach jetty, little aware that the jetty was 114 years old. It took me at least 21 years to understand the heritage and history of the Kolkata port” recalled Gautam Chakraborty, heritage advisor to Kolkata Port.

On World Refugee Day, Chakraborty recalled that Kolkata Port has been a significant point of mass migration, not only refugees, which led to the growth of Diasporas both in India and abroad.

The website ‘world port source’ states that the “Partition of India in 1947 was a setback for the Port of Kolkata when it lost significant trade from much of its former hinterlands.


Refugees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) flooded the Port of Kolkata, exacerbating its problems. By the middle 1960s, economic stagnation, social strife, and political instability drove many companies from Calcutta, and many others were taken over by the state.”

The Kolkata Port archive material reported, “With the advent of freedom in 1947, the Port was called upon to champion the national cause. The Port took over the responsibility in the wake of the aftermath of Second World War and the partition of the country.”

Mr. Chakraborty points out, “River tourism is a way to inform people about a port’s rich heritage and history but at the moment, the Kolkata port’s heritage river tours are stuck due to the pandemic. However, to trace the migration history of this port, visits to Suriname Memorial and Indenture Memorial, are a must.”

The Suriname Memorial on the banks of the Hooghly River, towards Metiabruz, was set up in 2015, and later a Dutch plaque was added in 2017. “It was a starting point from where hundreds of men and women set sail on the ship, Lalla Rookh in 1873 to work in sugar plantations in Suriname- a country on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America”.

The ‘Mai Baap’ statue at the Suriname Memorial depicts a man and woman dressed in their plebeian outfit and holding a cloth bag, probably containing bare essentials, as they get ready to cross the waters to another continent. Indenture Memorial too remained a witness to a mass exodus of Indian laborers to different parts of the globe.

“The first ship sailed to Mauritius in 1834”.

 “Such movement of migrants contributed to the rise of the Indian diaspora. Similarly, there were various depots that were set up by colonial tradesmen in the city. One such was in Bhawanipore. As to its exact location, it is a matter of debate. Many accounts suggest where the BSNL office is today located.”

The Kolkata Port that stands witness to mass human movements in history sits on a treasure trove of accounts that narrate the journey of lives, some of which made to the shore while many were lost at the seas.

The port chairman, Vinit Kumar, confirmed that ideas are being discussed to turn the Indenture Memorial into a tourist spot.