November 2019 \ News \
Relevance of Kolkata Memorial with Voluntary Indian Emigration

In 1834 slavery was abolished and that ended ...

By Inder Singh
  • Inder Singh

In 1834 slavery was abolished and that ended the supply of free labor for sugar plantations. The British plantation owners could not imagine terminating their primary source of income—sugar plantations—for lack of free or cheap labor. They needed sustained supply of manual workers and came up with a plan to hire poor rural Indians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to fill that gap. During the 19th and 20th centuries, about 1.2 million Indian citizens were contracted and transported in cramped ships to British colonies in Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and the Caribbean islands. The vast majority were lured by false promises while many did not even know that they were going to faraway lands for hard labor. In the new countries, they worked on starvation wages and lived in unimaginable state of grinding poverty, humiliation and inhuman conditions. Indentured servitude proved no better than the condemned system of slavery. After the end of their initial agreement, several opted out and returned to India while many decided to remain in those colonies with or without renewed agreement.

The economic condition of some Punjabi peasants was no different than that of Indians in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Punjabis too were forced to seek employment overseas. So a small number of Indians from Punjab also went as indentured workers. Per K. L. Gillian, as few as 369 Punjabis out of total of 21,368 indentured laborers went to Fiji from 1879 to 1900. Out of 369 Punjabis, the majority of them went to Fiji during the three year period from 1882-85. In other British colonies, the number of Indians from Punjab was also comparatively small.

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