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Research Article

Negotiating Minority Identities in Europe Through Cultural Preservation: Music as Heritage among the Dutch Hindustani Diaspora in the Netherlands

Published online: 08 Aug 2023


Twice-migrant and descended from the colonial labour diaspora, the Dutch Hindustanis in the Netherlands are one of the most assimilated, socially integrated and upwardly mobile minority diaspora groups in the Netherlands. The group also remains the repository of the early vestiges of Hindi film music as well as traditional music from the Northern Indian plains, thereby making it a fascinating case study for cultural preservation. This paper undertakes to take a close look at the modes and methods employed by the Dutch Hindustanis to preserve their musical heritage and argues that it has emerged as one of the primary nodes of diasporic identity formation for the group.

Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).


1 For full interview, please click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2viEFf0HJY (last accessed on October 10, 2022)

2 A traditional form of folk music originating in the Bhojpuri-speaking parts of the Indo-Gangetic plains.

3 Phag is sung and played primarily during the spring festival of Holi in the Bhojpuri-speaking parts of North India.

4 Girmitiyas, also known as Jahajis, were indentured laborers from British India transported to work on plantations in Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, and the Caribbean (mostly Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname) as part of the Indian indenture system.

5 Diaspora formation refers to the processes of identity construction, integration and community formation that take place in the country of settlement.

6 Homemaking, in the present context, primarily refers to the “homing” desire of the diaspora groups – a process of diasporization leading to the formation of communities in host lands. Avtar Brah (Citation1996) has described it as the tendency to ‘create a home away from home’. The “homing” desire of a diasporic community does not necessarily mean desire for the “homeland”. She associated the concept of home with the everyday lived experiences of diasporic communities the world over, mediated by historically specific social relations.

7 During the Covid pandemic period, since travel was restricted and in many cases banned, the methodological practice of remote ethnography gained traction and momentum, providing researchers across the globe scope to undertake ethnographic research through online platforms. Remote ethnography therefore refers to the methodological practice of collecting ethnographic data and conducting field research using online platforms.

8 Baithak gaana developed in Suriname during the colonial period (Bihari-Elahi Citation2021). It became a more all-encompassing genre after the Hindustanis arrived in Suriname and refers to sohars, birhas and bhajans from the Bhojpuri-speaking regions of the Indo-Gangetic plains. The baithak gaana was performed at weddings and other socio-cultural gatherings. The musicians and the singer traditionally sat on the floor in a U-formation, which is where the terminology is said to have originated – “making music sitting in a lotus position”.

9 Chutney music is a hybrid blend of Hindustani folk music, primarily Bhojpuri music, mixed with local Caribbean calypso music with later admixture of Hindi film music, developed as a musical genre in the Caribbean post-colony of Trinidad and Tobago and is popular and Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, Fiji, Mauritius and South Africa.

10 It is imperative to mention that a large part of the participant observation was undertaken between 2016–2019 – the period when I was present in the Netherlands.

11 Conversational interview method was used for gathering verbal data over several sessions. Some leading questions were asked but the respondents were allowed to engage in a free-flowing conversation with the interviewer.

12 Ruben Gowricharn, Chann Choenni and Jaswina Bihari-Elahi are first- or second-generation migrants from Suriname, whereas Sinha-Kerkhoff is Dutch.

13 Priya Swamy is a Canadian-Dutch scholar of Indian heritage.

14 The thumri is a vocal genre or style of Indian classical music. The form is generally connected with dancing, mild eroticism, dramatic gestures, evocative love poetry and folk songs, especially from Uttar Pradesh, though there are other regional variations. The text is normally romantic or devotional in nature, the lyrics are usually in Awadhi and Brij Bhasha, dialects of Hindi. Thumri is characterized by a greater flexibility with the raga. It is also used as a generic name for some other, even lighter, forms such as Dadra, Hori, Kajari, Sawani, Jhoola, and Chaiti, even though each of them have their own structure and content — either lyrical or musical or both—and so the exposition of these forms and their renditions vary.

15 Khayal is a singing style in North Indian classical music. In Hindustani music, a musical form based on a Hindi song in two parts that recur between expanding cycles of melodic and rhythmic improvisation is known as a khayal.

16 Prewien Pandohi-Mishre, the son of a Hindu priest or pujari, was raised with several Hindu religious influences, among them being the singing of mantras and bhajans. He remembers that kirtans (devotional group singing) were organised at his home. The familiarity with singing, therefore, developed at an early age. Born in Nikkeri in Suriname, Pandohi-Mishre came to live in Rotterdam in the Netherlands when he was 11 years old. Rotterdam is a one of the major nerve centers of the Dutch Hindustani milieu in the Netherlands. There are a large number of Hindu temples, one of the reasons why Pandohi-Mishre gravitated towards music. At the Satya Sai Baba Mandir, the focus was kirtan singing and not so much on the puja (rituals) or the pravachan (religious discourses). The weekly trips to the temple ignited interest in the musician for traditional, spiritual, and classical forms of music. After singing in temples for many years, the performer was encouraged by those around him to do more. Along with a friend and a cousin, he started looking into old Sarnami folk songs. The baithak gaana, for example, is the holding term, within which exists a semi classical subgenre – a light, folksy form that one normally encounters at parties – the chutney songs.

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