British universities to mark abolition of Indian indentureship


…2-day conference opens Friday

The University of Warwick’s Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies and the University of London will be commemorating the centenary of the abolition of Indian indentureship in a two-day International Conference on the history and culture of Indian workers from 1838 to 1917, and the contemporary reality of migration to the Americas.

Some 45 scholars and writers from all parts of the world will gather at Senate House on October 6 and 7 to present papers on a variety of subjects, including the situation of Bhojpuri women in Mauritius and Suriname; Mauritian Hindi poetry and drama; Land issues in Fiji; the statutes of colonial Natal; the Indo-Caribbean Diaspora in the USA; Post-Indenture Trinidad and Tobago and Indian settlements in Guyana.

Professor David Dabydeen

An original aspect of the Conference will be comparative studies of Chinese migration to the Region, including to Cuba and other Spanish colonies. Two volumes of scholarship will be published from a selection of the papers given, and the Commonwealth Foundation will be funding the publication of an anthology of creative writing by descendants of Indian indentured workers, with poetry and prose from nearly 50 writers from South Africa, Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, Canada, Trinidad, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the USA and Canada.
“There are two distinctive aspects of the Conference,” says co-organiser Professor David Dabydeen.

“Firstly, the scope of the enquiry, covering practically all countries affected by Indian indentureship. Secondly, the majority of papers are being presented by young female scholars, many of whom will place women at the centre of the indentureship experience, whereas before they were largely omitted in historical accounts. My co-organisers, Dr Maria Kaladeen (School of Advanced Studies, London University) and Professor Tina Ramnaraine (Royal Holloway College, London University) are to be thanked abundantly for the Conference’s emphasis on women, and for the enormous effort they have put in to ensure the presence of women scholars and writers globally.”

A highlight of the Conference will be the inaugural Gafoor Lecture in Indian Indentureship, which will be given by the doyen of Indo-Caribbean Studies, the Trinidadian scholar, Professor Brinsley Samaroo. Funded by the Gafoor Foundation, the lecture will be on Islam in the Caribbean, and will reveal how the Holy Koran was first brought to the Caribbean by enslaved Africans who were Muslims, and Islam practised in the Region by Africans before Indian arrival.

According to Dabydeen, the Universities of Warwick and London will be organising annual Gafoor Lectures for the next 15 years.

“The Gafoor Lecture and the following Gafoor Lectures will be filmed and put on the social media so that anyone anywhere can access them free of charge. The International Conference itself will be similarly filmed and made available on the Internet. Our future plans are to organise joint scholarly events in all the countries affected by indentureship,” Professor Dabydeen said.

Britain is an appropriate place to begin this global outreach since Britain was responsible for what has been called the “new system of slavery”, Dabydeen added.


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