[Answered] Why indentured labour was taken by the British from India to their colonies? Have they been able to preserve their cultural identity over there?

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Mention various reasons for indentured labour being taken by the British to their colonies. Discuss whether indentured labour been able to preserve their cultural identity or not?
Conclusion. Way forward.

Indentured labour was a bonded labour under contract to work for an employer for a specific amount of time, to pay off his passage to a new country. It was instituted following the abolition of slavery throughout British Empire in 1833 as newly free men and women refused to work for low wages on sugar, tea plantations and rail construction projects in British colonies of West Indies, Fiji, Mauritius and Ceylon. Indians were recruited and transported to many labour-importing colonies of Africa and Asia.

Reasons for indentured labour being taken by the British to their colonies:

  1. Industrial Demand: The industrialisation of Britain followed by the other European countries accelerated the flow of trade, labour and capital across the world. The growing urbanism in Europe especially in Britain increased the demand for food and agricultural goods since most of the labour force was consumed by the factories and firms. Colonies in Africa and Asia became the lucrative destinations for investing in agricultural and raw commodities.
  2. End of slavery: This provided for the immediate background for the Indentured labour system all over the world. British needed the labour to work in the plantation fields of African colonies. Hundreds of thousands of Indian and Chinese labourers went to work on plantations, in mines, and in road and railway construction projects around the world.
  3. African worker reluctance: The natives of African countries were self sufficient and completely relying on cattle farming. They were reluctant to work in the British factories and farms, so Indians became the obvious choice. The main destinations of Indian indentured migrants were the Caribbean islands (mainly Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam), Mauritius and Fiji. Closer to home, Tamil migrants went to Ceylon and Malaya. Indentured workers were also recruited for tea plantations in Assam.
  4. Availability of labour: Most Indian indentured workers came from the present-day regions of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, central India and the dry districts of Tamil Nadu. In the mid-nineteenth century these regions experienced many changes – cottage industries declined, land rents rose, lands were cleared for mines and plantations. All this affected the lives of the poor. They failed to pay their rents, became deeply indebted and were forced to migrate in search of work.
  5. Escape from poverty: Many migrants agreed to take up work hoping to escape poverty or oppression in their home villages. Agents also tempted the prospective migrants by providing false information about final destinations, modes of travel, the nature of the work, and living and working conditions. Often migrants were not even told that they were to embark on a long sea voyage. Sometimes agents even forcibly abducted less willing migrants. Nineteenth-century indenture has been described as a ‘new system of slavery’.
  6. Indian labour suitability: Indian workers were perceived as being quiet, docile and industrious by colonists and suitable for working in many plantation and construction works in different colonies of Britain. The recruitment and arrival were done by private parties initially later British government regulated the recruitment of indentured labour.

Have they been able to preserve their cultural identities?

  1. Many of the indentured labourers did not return to their native countries and settled back in the colonies. They came to these colonies with hope and expectations. On arrival at the plantations, labourers found conditions to be different from what they had imagined. Living and working conditions were harsh, and there were few legal rights. But workers discovered their own ways of surviving.
  2. Many of them escaped into the wilds, though if caught they faced severe punishment. Others developed new forms of individual and collective self expression, blending different cultural forms, old and new.
  3. In Trinidad the annual Muharram procession was transformed into a riotous carnival called ‘Hosay’ (for Imam Hussain) in which workers of all races and religions joined.
  4. The protest religion of Rastafarianism (made famous by the Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley) is also said to reflect social and cultural links with Indian migrants to the Caribbean.
  5. ‘Chutney music’, popular in Trinidad and Guyana, is another creative contemporary expression of the post-indenture experience.

These forms of cultural fusion are part of the making of the global world, where things from different places get mixed, lose their original characteristics and become something entirely new. Most indentured workers stayed on after their contracts ended, or returned to their new homes after a short spell in India. Consequently, there are large communities of people of Indian descent in these countries. For example V.S Naipaul, Noble Prize winner writer had Indian roots. At the same time many of those who stayed back in the colonies elevated to highest positions after the process of decolonisation.

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