After the United Kingdom, the second largest Hindu community of Europe live in the Netherlands. There are between 150,000 – 200,000 Hindus currently living in the Netherlands, the vast majority of who migrated from Surinam – a former Dutch colony in South America.
There are about 50,000 Hindus living in the Hague (Dutch capital) while the other concentrations of Hindus are in the Cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Most Dutch Hindus trace their ancestry back to India from about 5 to 6 generations ago. Their ancestors were mainly from the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh areas of India.
They were taken to Surinam as ‘Indebted Labourers’ – a system that was all but slavery and used by the colonial powers to get very cheap labour to replace the freed slaves – on a ship called “La la Rookh”.
In several ways, the Hindus in Holland are better organized than in the UK or USA. They are well integrated into Dutch society. There are five government funded Hindu primary schools in the country. All of these schools are run by the Hindu community but are regarded as “national” schools and teach the same curriculum as other schools in the country. In addition to this, the schools also teach Hindi, mark important Hindu festivals, as well as teaching the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The schools are open to all children and between 2% to 3% of students are from non-Hindu backgrounds. On the whole, students from these schools also perform better than average. The Hindu community also has a weekly 30-minute program on national television called “Ohm”, as well as their own radio program. In addition to this, the Hindus in Holland have also set up their own Human Rights group called Agni to campaign for and distribute information about human rights violations of Hindus across the world.
Holi was celebrated in a big public event in The Hague and Rotterdam earlier this year, which included a fantastic display of bright red water spouting from a big public fountain.
“Seva Netverk” is a charity set up by the Dutch Hindus to help people across the world. Some particularly important projects they have been involved in are in India where they have set up many schools in poor villages and have also helped to track down and rescue young girls who have been taken into prostitution.
While there is this vibrant and thriving Dutch Hindu community, there has also recently been in an increase in Hindus migrating to Holland from India. However, the Dutch Hindus we spoke to say that there tends to be quite a separation between the two groups and as far as they can see, Indian Hindus tend not to be visible apart from when they visit Mandirs.
While the mother tongue of Surinamese (and Dutch) Hindus is Bajpuri, they also ensure that everyone can attend free Hindi classes and the vast majority of Hindus are able to speak in Hindi. Indeed, their radio programmes are run in Hindi. The community have also evolved and adapted their own music and dance from the Ramayana, called Nagana Baithak Gana.
[This article was originally written in 2006]