LETTER: Guyanese at Indian Diaspora Conference in Mauritius

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Dear Editor,

An international conference marking the 100th Anniversary of the end of indentureship will be held in Mauritius from August 18 to 20. Several delegates from the Caribbean and North America, including this writer, will present papers at the conference.

Organisers strongly feel that studies on indenture have not adequately addressed the subject. They are of the view that academic studies must reflect more comprehensively the full extent of the indenture experience, the emergence of communities of descendants of indentureds across the world, and their role in India’s struggle for independence.

Historical records reveal that several indentureds from Guyana and Trinidad assisted in the struggle for India’s independence. Some even left Guyana and Trinidad and returned to India to join the struggle led by Gandhi, Nehru, and others.

The indentured conference will be held at several locations, including at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, University of Mauritius, Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, Viola Bagatelle Hotel, and the French Embassy.

This writer will present a paper on Indian cultural retention in Guyana and Trinidad

This historic international conference is being initiated by GOPIO-International, the Girmitya Foundation, and the Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad (Indian Council for International Cooperation, New Delhi, India) with the aim of bringing together scholars, government officials, public figures, community leaders, and NGOs who are carrying out research on the history of indentured labour, the Indian global diaspora, the modern history of India, and India’s independence. The proceedings of the conference will be published.

The modern indentured labour system, according to the organisers, remains a topic of abiding scholarly interest, and hence the reason for this conference. The indenture system began in Reunion Island (1828) and Mauritius (1834) and subsequently became a prominent — if not the dominant — feature of social, economic, cultural, and political life in many parts of the European colonial plantation world and beyond during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Altogether, more than five million Indians were sent overseas to work on plantations as indentured labourers around the globe. Some 500,000 Indians were brought to the Caribbean (with 239 thousand in Guyana) to rescue the sugar plantations that collapsed after the end of slavery.

The last 70 years have witnessed the publication of substantial monographs on various aspects of the indenture experience, and descendants of the indentureds who have now made their homes in Australasia, the Caribbean basin, the Indian Ocean, North America, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
But organisers note that disciplinary barriers on the subject have been maintained in the academic world “despite advances in disciplinary collaboration in other themes.

“The works in archaeology, oral history, demography, anthropology and ethnography have made important contributions to indentured studies, the settlement of Indians in different parts of the world, and the history of modern India; but these remain largely known in a limited way to the wider academic world, despite some progress (being made) in recent years”.

The conference organisers contend that “the history of indentured labour, the Indian global diaspora, and modern Indian history and independence remains a topic of limited research interest at the annual meetings of professional scholarly and international academic organisations in North America, Europe and elsewhere. There is need to expand the conceptual and disciplinary parameters of studies on indentured labour, the emergence of Girmitya communities across the world, the modern history of India, and Indian independence”.

This feeling highlights the urgent need for the Mauritius conference, which will be held from August 18 to 20.
The conference participants will discuss and explore the history of indentured labour, the Indian global diaspora, and modern history of India with the specific purpose of fostering new perspectives on these important issues of modern world history, and deepen our understanding of these important themes.

Yours truly,
Dr. Vishnu Bisram

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