100 YEARS POST INDIAN INDENTURE-SHIP SYSTEM
| Dr. Radica Mahase, Thought Leader, Trinidad and Tobago - 31 Aug 2020

World Indian Diaspora Conference 2020

Dr. Radica Mahase, Trinidad and Tobago

The National Council of Indian Culture of Trinidad and Tobago (NCIC) in collaboration with the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the UNESCO Indentured Labour Route Project held its virtual World Indian Diaspora Conference 2020 on August 22 to 23, 2020 via the zoom platform.

This conference was held in celebration of the formal end of the Indian Indentureship system. The theme was “Post Indentureship Movements and Trends” and it focused on the economic, socio-cultural and political contribution and development in post-indentured societies.

The conference opening ceremony took place on Saturday August 22, 2020 and the feature address will be delivered by distinguished Historian, Professor Brij Vilash Lal, Emeritus Professor of The Australian National University and an Honorary Professor of the University of Queensland.

January 1, 2020 marked 100 years since the complete end of the Indian indentureship system in Trinidad and other colonies such as Jamaica, Guyana and Fiji. When indentureship ended those Indian labourers who chose to stay in the countries where they were indentured, were then compelled to find ways to establish themselves in the society as non-contract labourers.

They were forced to adopt these countries as their homes. There were left to find educational opportunities for themselves and to establish political alliances. They engaged in economic competition with other ethnic groups in the society and underwent a process of socio-cultural rejuvenation all in the interest of self-preservation. They made these countries their homes and they contributed in all aspects, to their development.

Both the NCIC and the UWI St. Augustine has adopted a very active role over the years, in the organisations of  conferences, seminars, etc. This conference was organised so as to present opportunities for diasporic researchers and  scholars to engage in global dialogue.

One of its aims was to advance the achievement of a progressive Indian diasporic world community through collaboration and dialogue on various issues through the exchange of ideas, concerns, solutions, problems, person-to-person contacts and professional relationships. It provided a forum for constructive international dialogue among diasporic scholars/researchers.

It allowed scholars and researchers to interact and share major concerns with each other while discussing matters relating to their respective communities. Generally, it encouraged inquiry by diasporic scholars, researchers and others into the challenges and practical possibilities for the Indian Diaspora in charting and sharing a common future. It focused on new research on the post-indentureship/ post-20th century period as well as on contemporary trends.

In 1898, the year that the above scene took place, when Munshi Rahman Khan was approached by the arkatias, 1,390 labourers immigrated to Natal and 567 went to Fiji, while 618 crossed the Kala Pani bound for the Dutch colony of Surinam, 1,268 went to Trinidad and 2,380 left for British Guiana.

Munshi Rahaman Khan was just one out of 6,223 labourers who emigrated from India to territories in other parts of the world in 1898 (Banks, 1898). In fact, in 1907, almost ten years after Munshiji had settled in the colony, the Indian population in British Guiana was 127,000; in Trinidad it was 103,000; in Mauritius it was 264,000, in Natal it was 115,000 while there were 13,000 Indians in Jamaica and 31,000 Indians in Fiji. (CD. 5192) By 1901, when Munshiji became a Sardar on the Skerpi plantation in Suriname, the roots of an anti-indenture agitation movement had already been planted in India.

Activists in India were attempting to discourage individuals from registering for the system in the districts of recruitment, while Indians from the middle classes were protesting against racial discrimination in South Africa. Fifteen years later, when Munshiji had established himself as a landowner and was able to help his sons to purchase land so that they could settle as independent cultivators, the “abolish indenture” movement had been firmly established by Indian nationalists in India.

In fact, only two years later, in 1917, Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India, announced that “No native of India shall depart by sea out of British India for the purpose of or with the intention of labouring for hire in any country beyond the limits of India, provided that the prohibition imposed by this rule shall not extend to any person or class of persons permitted so to depart by general or special license granted by such authority as the Governor General may appoint on this behalf.” (CO 571/5)

A few years later, on January 01, 1920 all contractual obligations of all labourers were terminated and the Indian indentureship system was abolished in Jamaica, Trinidad, British Guiana (Guyana) and Fiji.

When indentureship ended those Indian labourers who chose to stay in the countries where they were indentured, were then compelled to find ways to establish themselves in the society as non-contract labourers. To some extent they were forced to adopt these societies as their homes.

There were left to find educational opportunities for themselves and to establish political alliances. They engaged in economic competition with other ethnic groups in the society and underwent a process of socio-cultural rejuvenation all in the interest of self-preservation.

They made these countries their homes and they contributed in all aspects, to their development. This conference focuses on the economic, socio-cultural and political contribution and development in postindentured societies; it examines movements and trends in the post-indentureship period.

Both the NCIC and the UWI St. Augustine has adopted a very active role over the years, in the organisations of conferences, seminars, etc. This conference was organised so as to present opportunities for diasporic researchers and scholars to engage in global dialogue.

It was meant to advance the achievement of a progressive Indian diasporic world community through collaboration and dialogue on various issues through the exchange of ideas, concerns, solutions, problems, person-to-person contacts and professional relationships.

It provided a forum for constructive international dialogue among diasporic scholars/researchers. Scholars and researchers interacted and share major concerns with each other while discussing matters relating to their respective communities.

The conference theme and areas of discussions were certainly not conclusive. The existing historiography on the post-indentureship period is a very rich one and in recent years there have been new themes, topics and perspectives emerging. This conference built on this existing historiography and covered a range of topics such as:

  • Historical Perspectives
  • The Emergence of multi-ethnic Nations and Societies
  • Labour in the Indian Diaspora.
  • Gender Issues and Diasporic Youths
  • Diasporic Heritage, Culture and Archives
  • Technology and Entrepreneurship
  • Ecology and the Environment.
  • Diasporic Biographies and Publications
  • Sports, Performative and Visual Arts
  • Politics in the Indian Diaspora.

This WIDC 2020 brought together scholars, experts and researchers from across the Indian Diaspora. More than 75 presenters made up fourteen panels over a two-days period. There were two days of lively discussions and interactions and it definitely achieved its aim of bringing members of the Indian Diaspora closer to each other.

Dr. Radica Mahase, Thought Leader, Trinidad and Tobago

Senior Lecturer, History, College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago since last 10 years; MA in the Modern Indian History from Jawaharlal Nehru University; PhD in History from University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus; Commonwealth Visiting Scholar in The University of Manchester; Founder/Director -Support Autism T&T, a non-profit organization established to finally support children diagnosed with ASD in Trinidad and Tobago since 2014; rmahase@costatt.edu.tt 

Photo Caption 

Photo 1: World Indian Diaspora Conference 2020 on August 22 to 23

Photo 2 - Indian indentured labourers at Nelson Island Courtesy - NCIC

Photo 3 - Professor Brij Vilash Lal – Feature Speaker Courtesy - https://fijipundit.blogspot.com/ 


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