To Satish Rai: We SHOULD BE glad that our indentured ancestors left India
Dr. Satish Rai makes reference to his MA and PhD theses on Indian Indentured Labor/Immigration, and he takes the position that being recruited to work in the sugar colonies was a bad idea (“We should not be glad that our Indentured ancestors left India for the Diaspora: The Case of Fiji’).
I was born and raised in Guyana. I shall hold in reserve judgment on whether my ancestors made a good or bad decision to leave India in 1873 and 1892. I tend to think it was a good idea. (My mother who visited India in the 1990s never stopped praising her grandparents (my great grandparents) for signing that indentured contract in the City of Varanasi and boarding that boat in Port Calcutta for British Guiana in 1892).
I take issue with Satish Rai when he wrote: “Anyone who says that they are glad that the Girmityas were transported to the colonies, brutalized, exploited and kept away from their country of birth and their loved ones must rethink what girmit was”.
Brutalised, exploited? Well let’s say indentured labour was not a bed of roses. The record showed that 16% of indentured to Trinidad and 25% to Guyana served out their contract – and returned to India with lots of savings. Many, after a few months visiting relatives in India, re-indentured and returned to the colonies. They did not report being “brutalized” and “exploited?” Let us say the record is mixed – as it is full of descriptions of harsh treatment – being forced to render harsh labor. What did they leave in India? Poverty and frequent famines. Caste oppression. Many single women with children found liberation. Many found new husbands and better life in the sugar colonies.
Most of the recruited labourers signed the contract voluntarily. Some were enticed and pressured and duped into signing. It was a culture of deep-seated prejudices against leaving one’s village – yet despite those prejudices – millions largely of their own free will – volunteered for recruitment. The larger context of labor migration in today’s world is one of people voluntarily moving to countries where jobs are available.
Some facing severe hardships in their native countries take to dinghy boats on the oceans to seek better lives elsewhere. Tens of thousands of folks from desperate lands have braved all odds to make it to European countries in the last decade.
Satish Rai should do an honest and faithful reading of the literature on this subject and look for a reasonable context in which to evaluate the movement of some 5 to 8 million indentured folks from India to sugar colonies in the latter half of the 19th century.
My mother – having visited India and saw what she saw – and upon deep reflection, concluded that her grandmother made a great decision to leave India on an indentured contract.
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