|Indian servants ,British Raj.www.hinduwebsite.com|
The solution came in the form of a new system of forced labor, which in many ways resembled
enslavement. Indians, under an 'indentured' or
contract labor scheme - a new
of avatar of slavery
to replace enslaved Africans on plantations across the British empire
in Fiji, Natal, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, British Guiana, Jamaica and
Trinidad. This new scheme was a
panacea for them, but in reality, it was a subtle enslavement of
Indians - way of putting them on leash.
|East India co. sugar can. made by Indian slaves?www.bbc.co.uk|
Arrogant British masters - plantation owners poorly treated the gullible Indian workers in the colonies of Jamaica and Trinidad and made them work like slaves in the galley.
In 1836, the first Indians arrived in British Guiana. Under a scheme ordered by Lord Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies, a civil contract between Britain and Indian workers was drawn up for an initial period of five years. In the early phase, Indians were treated as inhumanely as the enslaved Africans had been for a few generations before. They were confined to their estates and paid a small sum of 1 shilling per day - just peanuts. The hours of work stretched almost dawn to dusk. Any breach of labor contract by the workers meant automatic criminal penalties of two months' imprisonment or a fine of £5.
In 1838 a special Magistrate, Charles Anderson, wrote to the Colonial Secretary declaring that 'with few exceptions they [the Indians] are treated with great and unjust severity, by overwork and by 'personal chastisement.' Plantation owners enforced the regulations so harshly that, according to historian Hugh Tinker, 'the decaying remains of immigrants were frequently discovered in cane fields...'. If laborers did not work, they were not either paid or fed and simply left on the field to be starved to death.It was a slow and painful death for the workers. This kind of inhuman treatment was a warning to other workers so that they could work like galley slaves. Literally the British masters never considered them as humans. Rather they were classified as creatures just out of jungles. As the atrocities and abuse of Indian workers became worst, mporting contract labor from India was suspended in 1840.
The authority from London, engaged agents to recruit indentured laborers. The first recruiting agents were described as 'generally people of bad character'. They fully utilized the harsh economic and social conditions in India to lure the dispossessed into their trap. The recruiters selected the so-called 'hill coolies', who were generally employed as laborers on Indigo plantations. During the low season, they came into the towns to seek work. From 1844, certain towns in the northern provinces - Delhi, Bihar, Oudh and Bengal - were recognized as potential places for fresh recruits.
East Indian workers also came from other castes, and had a wide variety of skills. A report, investigating conditions in the colonies listed arrivals of labor force that included artisans, coolies, dancers, Brahmans and even landlords. They were in a precarious position with bleak future caused by the recent invasion of foreigners - British Bobs in India who bought their small holdings for rock-bottom rates. The British fixed higher taxes for Indian products and this very much affected the Indian business, and the Indians were unhappy over the way they treated the Indian traders.
For new Indians immigrants workers, provision was made for basic housing, food rations, clothing and wages, on a task basis. Before hand, they were neither informed of their 4 month long, arduous sea journey in a ship nor of their destination-where they were going and details of job they were going to do. Despite strict labor laws, they were treated shabbily and forced to live in depots. Indian workers including Muslims and women arrived in West Indies in 1844 and later period and their working condition continued to be pathetic for a long time. William Gladstone, briefly Secretary of State for the Colonies, who also imported East Indian laborers for his estate in British Guiana, was informed by officials that 'the natives were perfectly ignorant of the place they agreed to go to, or the length of the voyage they were undertaking.' In an attempt to lessen malpractice, the Indian government insisted that agents had to be licensed. With time the number of female indentured laborers also rose an plantation owners gradually became convinced that they could be economically productive, and the British government was keen to address the male-female ratio imbalance, to prevent disorder among the male population in the colonies.
Despite the safeguards put in place by Parliament to prevent indentured workers suffering a new form of enslavement, plantation owners continued to abuse their Indian workers. At the end of the 19th century, Mahatma Gandhi argued with the colonial government in Natal, South Africa, for Indian rights.
That had a good impact on the labor- related matters in South Africa.
Through Gandhi's efforts and intervention by the Indian government, the indenture scheme finally came to an end in 1917. By then, the number of East Indians shipped to British colonies around the world is estimated to have reached 2.5 million.
As migrant workers, Indians were responsible for maintaining the high profits of the bankers and merchants in London, Glasgow and Liverpool. In later years, Indian laborers also built the railways in Natal and Uganda.
References and Further Reading
Fryer, P., Black People in the British Empire, London and Colorado, 1988
Laurence, K. O., A Question of Labour: Indentured Immigration into Trinidad and British Guiana, New York, 1994
Tinker, H., A New System of Slavery, London, 1973.