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PARAMARIBO –An archeologist has announced intentions to locate the graves of Indian indentured workers massacred in 1902 by colonials. Archeologist Ben Mitrasingh’s plan will shed light on a piece of Suriname’s history that the colonial rulers have made efforts to bury.
After slavery was abolished in 1863, the Dutch colonial rulers shipped in people from East India, to slave as indentured workers, earning little pay on the plantations. The 16 who were shot and killed on July 30th 1902, had protested working conditions at the Mariënburg sugar plantation in District Commewijne. The Scottish plantation director James Mavor, also known as Massa Mewa, apparently mistreated the workers, withheld their meager pay at will and forced their married women into sexual relationships. Fed up workers eventually killed Mavor, after which the colonial Government sent the army to restore calm. During the ensuing clash, the 16 protesting workers were mowed down.
On July 30th 2006 a monument to mark the workers’ sacrifice was unveiled by then Vice President Ram Sardjoe, but the location of the mass grave their bodies had been buried in, remained unknown. All that is known is that the soldiers dumped the bodies unceremoniously in a grave alongside the train track of the plantation, and before closing the graves scattered lime on them to prevent stench. The colonial Government also prohibited visiting the graves.
Many people within the Hindustani community were elated when the sacrifice by the slain workers was given due credit. Aside from the atrocities plantation owners committed during slavery, not much is known about the hardship indentured workers suffered for Suriname to maintain its spot as a lucrative colony. “Finally these heroes will be given their due place in Suriname’s colonial history,” one person commented on online community www.waterkant.net.
Archeologist Mitrasing stressed that his intention is not to exhume the bodies, but rather to locate the graves. “It’s sort of giving in to a social urge. The community wants to know where they are. I want to locate the graves and leave a marker on them. That’s all,” he said.
He said locating the graves doesn’t have to be an immense task; nature has reclaimed much of what once was the plantation, but the lime that was scattered on the bodies should have rendered the area infertile. He intends to seek funding for his project from companies like Dutch bank ABN AMRO and others that were founded from the remains of the Dutch Trading Company, the then owners of the Mariënburg Plantation.