Reparations for Forced Labour must include all races
Reparation for slavery is in the news again – brought to the fore by the visit of the Prince of England to Jamaica and other Caribbean islands. Africanists and Black political leaders are demanding reparations for slavery which was only one form of forced labour. Indentureship of Indians, Portuguese, Chinese, and Blacks was also a form of forced labour. The native Caribs or and Amerindians were also forced into labour for the European colonialists, enriching their empires and businesses. Yet, reparations for indentureship and natives have not been part of the vocabulary of Africanists or Black leaders in the Caribbean. Forced labor violated the human rights of all groups and they are all entitled to some form of compensation for the violation of their human rights and for encountering humiliation. Governments must champion reparations (compensation) for all groups and not just one group.
Slavery and indentureship were among the most heinous and inhumane crimes committed against African and Indian peoples in the diaspora. The Portuguese and Chinese did not suffer the same degree of humiliations and rights violations as Indians who were flogged and often starved not much different from slaves. Slavery was similar to Indian indentureship in more ways than one. In “A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas (1830-1920)”. In this seminal and comprehensive book, Professor Hugh Tinker gave details of the many similarities that two systems shared in common as it related to Indians as opposed to indentureship of Portuguese and Chinese.
A research paper entitled “Cheaper than a slave: Indentured labor, colonialism and capitalism” also makes interesting reading. It was written by Dr. Tayyab Mahmud, a professor of law and director of the Center for Global Justice at Seattle University.
As an epigraph, Mahmud quoted a passage from Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies (2008): “‘Do you mean slaves, sir?’ Mr. Burnham winced. ‘Why no, Reid. Not slaves – coolies. Have you not heard it said that when God closes one door he opens another? When the doors of freedom were closed to the African, the Lord opened them to a tribe that was yet more needful of it – the Asiatick.’”
On page 15 of his research paper on indentureship, Mahmud wrote: “The main successor to modern slavery was the institution of indentured labor, which is often portrayed as a bridge between slavery and modern forms of contract labor. This switch in the form of labor also involved a switch in the source of the labor supply from Africa to Asia.”
African historians have been given recognition and support by CARICOM governments to champion reparations for slavery. But there is no similar advocacy for Indians or other groups. In 2013, CARICOM established a reparations commission (CRC) to pursue the path to reconciliation, truth and justice for the victims of slavery and their descendants. CARICOM funds this body which has a chairman and several members — all of whom are compensated and are receiving stipends for their work and travel. No funding is available to any Indian group to champion reparations for indentureship.
Indian community leaders and scholars feel that there should also be reparatory justice for the descendants of the victims of indentureship as well as the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the New World. They also believe that Chinese, Madeirans and Portuguese, and indigenous people should also be part of the CARICOM Reparations Commission. African leaders and CARICOM governments cannot agitate for compensation for only Blacks in the Caribbean.
Paradoxically, CARICOM is violating the very concept of fairness, equity and justice by excluding non-Africans in the Commission. There is not a single Indian or Chinese or Madeiran or Portuguese or indigenous Indian in the CARICOM Reparations Commission. The Chairman is Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles from UWI, Mona Campus. Prof Kumar Mahabir’s attempt to become a member of the commission has been rejected.
After consultation with Indian historians and rights activists, I would like to recommend the following persons be included in the CARICOM Reparations Commission unless the regional organization suggests a separate commission: Suriname should be represented by Professor Maurits Hassankhan and Dr. Narinder Mohkamsingh, Guyana by Dr. Lomarsh Roopnarine, Ms. Ryhaan Shah and Mr. Ravi Dev, Trinidad by Dr. Kumar Mahabir and Mr. Kamal Persad, St. Vincent and the Grenadines by Dr. Arnold Thomas, Grenada by Mr. Jai Sears, Jamaica by Dr. Winston Tolan, and Belize by Ms. Sylvia Gildharry-Perez. There should also be an Indian rep from other territories that experienced indentureship. These appointees should be compensated. If the slavery reparation commission does not wish to include indentureship as part of its advocacy, then a separate Indian indentureship Commission should be established with funding from Caricom.
There should be compensation to the descendants of Indian indentured for crimes committed against their forebears who were duped into leaving India, underpaid and cheated for their labor, jailed and beaten wrongfully, and robbed of the land that they were promised.
There is a compelling argument for reparations for Indians in the book entitled “Sat Maharaj: Hindu Civil Rights Leader of Trinidad and Tobago” by biographer Dr. Kumar Mahabir.
On page 147, Mahabir wrote: “During the hundred-year period of 1845 to 1945, all marriages not performed by the Christian church or at a warden’s office were not legally recognized by the State. Thus, widows and children of Hindu and Muslim land owners were unable to claim their relative’s estates after they had died. Children of Hindu and Muslim marriages were considered to be illegitimate and thus the land that they should have inherited was given over, once again, to the State.”
The advocacy for reparations for forced labour should include all groups – everyone must be treated fairly and equitably regardless of race.
Read More Articles From Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Please send your letters, articles, photos and short videos to this free online Indo-Caribbean paper: firstname.lastname@example.org