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Labour Migration From India

In the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Indian and Chinese labourers went to work in plantations, in mines, and in road and railway construction projects around the world. From India, indentured labourers were hired under a contract of five years on their employers’ plantation. Most Indian indentured workers came from the present-day regions of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Central India and the dry districts of Tamil Nadu.

The Indians migrated to the Caribbean islands (mainly Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam), Mauritius and Fiji. Closer home, Tamil migrants went to Ceylon and Malaya.

Indentured workers were recruited. The recruitment was done by agents engaged by employers and they were paid a small commission. The condition of the migrant labourers was harsh. They had a few legal rights and many tried to escape into the wilds, but if caught, they faced severe punishment.

There was collective self-expression, blending different cultural forms, old and new like the annual Muharram procession which changed into a riotous carnival called ‘Hosay’ (for Imam Hussain). The protest religion of Rastafarianism popularised by Bob Marley reflects social and cultural links with Indian migrants to the Caribbean. The Caribbean ‘chutney music’ became popular in Trinidad.

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