The power of culture
focus on migration
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----Migrantsoul

The sugar cane plantations in India use mainly migrant labour as they have fewer rights. For the migrants, however, this work is sometimes the
only solution when their own communities can no longer support them. This woman from Rajasthan is part of a group heading for sugar cane plantations near Aurangabad in Maharashtra, India.

Photo from Migrantsoul, Shahidul Alam / Drik

The Bidesia Folk Tradition

Starting this January, the initial phase of the research project Bidesia on Hindustani migration history and culture focuses on migration memory and stories of Hindustani people in Northern India, Surinam and the Netherlands. Other countries will be involved at a later stage. A team of researchers are gathering and analysing historical material in writing as well as consulting oral sources. For example, Hindustani people are invited to sing their Bidesia songs.

The Bidesia project will show how tradition, cultural performances and language (Bhojpur) were (and still are) handed down from one generation to the next. Bhojpur is a dialect of Hindi and the official language of India. The Bidesia project will analyse the impact of the Bidesia folk tradition for Hindustani people in terms of community development and cultural identities.

The meaning of the word Bidesia, which is the name of this research project, is twofold. It is an affectionate term for the Hindu migrants who have left their native land, mainly the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (formerly Hindustan). It also refers to the folk tradition which has developed in memory of those migrants. The Hindu migration phenomenon is still represented in the ancient oral tradition of Bhojpuri folk culture of India today: it is called the Bidesia folk tradition.

Even though the Bidesia project takes into account all three streams of the oral tradition of Indian migrants, it focuses on the song tradition regarding internal and external migration from various regions from Indian society. The other two oral traditions are the ritual oral tradition (Sanskar songs) and the oral tradition regarding everyday life, seasons, economic activities, suffering and struggles.

For example, a North-Indian question & answer song tradition has survived in the form of Baithakgana. The Hindustani migrants also brought folk ballads, dance and theatre such as Leela, musical instruments and other cultural practices. Even though some aspects of this unique cultural heritage are in danger of disappearing, most aspects are still very much alive among Hindustani people in Surinam and the Netherlands.

By 2007, the Bidesia project team aims to have published a book, to organise exhibitions in the three participating countries and an international poetry workshop.

Susan Legene, Royal Tropical Institute

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Imminent launch of international project on Hindu culture (The Power of Culture, november 2004)

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