Rape of indentured Indian women on board ships to the Caribbean
This article deals briefly with the sexual exploitation of indentured Indian women recruits on transport ships from India to British Guiana (Guyana) and the Caribbean. The experience of one 16-yr old, tiny ‘Brahmin’ girl, Maharani is presented as typical. Its source is UWI’s Prof. Verene Shepherd’s book Maharani’ Misery -Narratives of a Passage from India to the Caribbean (2002).
Prof. Shepherd observed, inter alia, that the ship’s (Allanshaw) “crew, mainly White and Black, maintained an ideology of racial, caste and gender superiority that clearly determined their lack of regard for the rights of Indian women on the ship” (p. xxvii). As result of which, women were sex-exploited as they were deemed “promiscuous” and “easy”- lacking moral compass. After Maharani was brutally despoiled, ashamedly – as she deemed it a private matter not to be discussed, she relented and confided to her two closest friends that she was gang-raped by two men, who alternately they held her down and stuffed her sari (“kapra”) in her mouth so she couldn’t cry out. One assailant was White. But the lead she identified as a Black man who next morning boasted and showed private bodily (euphemism) evidence to prove what he had done. He was a well-known trouble maker, known for bullying and brutalizing Indians, men and women, whom he saw a ‘cultural alien’ “human “cargo” throughout the 3 ½ months, 10,000 miles trip.
Maharani died three days after being raped
As a result, Maharani died three days later: The ship’s doctor, who didn’t examine Maharani immediately after the brutal rapes and was found lying on the deck the next morning, in an attempt to play down the rapes and to blame 16-year-old Maharani vacillated from post-mortem evidence that could have died from “shock of the nervous system”, “peritonitis” and even the incongruous “SHOCK FROM SHAME”! This occurrence of sexually assaulting an Indian woman by a Black sailor leading to a mutiny on ship, The Main, was far from being isolated; more like the norm. Gaiutra Bahadur writes:
“There have been several reports of black sailors molesting women on indenture ships to the West Indies. There was even an incident much like the one on The Main. On another ship –The Bann in 1984 – another surgeon saw another set of black sailors hanging around another female toilet; and another captain tried to stop them, leading ultimately to handcuffs brandished and resisted, blows exchanged and cries of mutiny. The attitude of seamen of African origin at the time was best captured by Jamaica’s protector of immigrants, who wrote in 1891: “On account of their generally incorrigible addictedness to sexual intercourse, Negroes, if employed, should be in a minority in a coolie emigrant ship”(p. 56). Bahadur reveals the concern of ship’s surgeons [likely because they had to treat the raped and sexually assaulted women]:
Twice at annual conferences, ship surgeons passed resolutions declaring that “employment of Negroes and Mulattoes in any capacity on board coolie ships is most undesirable”. The surgeons pushed for a ban (Coolie Woman, p. 56). Bahadur explains that the surgeons’ resolutions never came into force because there were not enough white sailors to keep the ships moving briskly. Thus, unfortunately because of “pragmatic business interest”, the indentured migrants, most especially the women, had to tolerate “sexploitation” and from repeat black ‘sexploiters’.
Professor, Shepherd has done a fine, fair job. As a Jamaican, she can display unbiased and honest scholarship because there is no other ‘ethnic threat/competitor’ as in Guyana and Trinidad. I won’t expect the likes of Prof. Kean Gibson (knowing her anti-Hindu and anti-Indian writings) and Prof. Alissa Trotz (who was silent on the PNC’s attempt to steal the 2020 Guyana elections and being a supporter of the Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH) Sept 10-12, 2021 Conference) to be so objective and fair-minded.
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