The historical relationship between India and the Netherlands goes back as far as the 17th Century, originating with the presence and trading activities of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Portuguese were the biggest rivals to VOC supremacy in Asian maritime trade, and had already established themselves at ports around the Indian coast. The first Dutchman to arrive in India was Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563-1611), when he was working as a secretary to the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, gaining him access to secret maps of the spice routes. Van Linschoten wrote down his experiences in Itinerario, which then opened up India to the Dutch, thanks to his inside information.
The VOC began establishing trading posts at various locations in India, including Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and especially along the Malabar Coast to trade in pepper and cardamom, as well as the eastern area for indigo. The VOC sailors and merchants voyaged to and from the Indonesian archipelago to gather these spices to trade in Europe and Asia.
Once the VOC also acquired a number of Portuguese assets, primarily forts, the company was able to operate along the Coromandel Coast, trading textiles, raw silk and opium. This area, known for its cotton production, became an asset to the Dutch ambitions, as cotton was an essential commodity within inter-Asian trading.
Following the abolition of the Slave Trade, the Dutch needed labour for the plantations in Suriname. They began recruiting contract labourers in India, and the first 399 Indians to sail over arrived on the 5th June 1873. In total around 34,000 Indians made the journey to Suriname. Many decided to return to their homeland following the expiration of their contracts, however a large portion of these labourers remained in Suriname to make a life here. When Suriname became independant in 1975, many Surinamese of Indian descent once again made a journey across the waters, to settle in the Netherlands. Therefore the heritage of migration is a central factor in the history and heritage of Dutch-Indian-Surinamese pasts, and is a focal point for bilateral heritage cooperation.
In 1795 the British took possession of the Dutch settlements, and in 1825 all of the Dutch posts and trading territories in India were officially turned over to them. However, there are still many remains attesting to the Dutch presence in India, built heritage such as cemeteries, forts and warehouses as well as artefacts in museum collections and preserved VOC archives. The care for these Dutch monuments comes under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), in charge of their maintenance, preservation and restoration.
In recognition of the importance of this joint heritage, India was made a priority country for the Netherlands, to focus upon co-creative and collaborative heritage activities in line with the Dutch Mutual Cultural Heritage Policy.
The heritage activities beween CIE and India have mainly been focused upon; maritime heritage, migration, archiveal resources and exhibitions, under the themes of: