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The Global Impact of Indentured-Contract Labour on Modern World History (1826-1946)

Indentured migration is a major milestone in the modern history of the Indian Ocean and the wider European colonial plantation world during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Furthermore, indentured labour was part of a new international circulation of labor which evolved after the British Parliament through the Act for the Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Colonies in August 1833 which was subsequently enforced in different parts of the British Empire between August 1834 and February 1835.

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Between 1834 and 1839, the gradual liberation of more than 780,9993 former slaves, who then became apprentices, created a labor shortage in most of the 19 former British slave plantation colonies where huge sums of money had been invested in the production of raw materials such as sugar and other commodities. In order to meet the capitalist demand for sustainable labour in the post-emancipation former plantation world, the indentured system was introduced in the sugar colonies and spread to other parts of the former plantation world.

In total, between the 1830s and the 1910s, around 3.3 to 3.6 million Indian indentured/contract laborers were sent to Mauritius, Reunion Island, Assam, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Jamaica, British Guiana, Trinidad, Suriname, Fiji, Natal in South Africa, Malaya, Burma, and around 12 other countries, former colonies, and territories to satisfy the demand for cheap labor mostly for the sugarcane plantations and in other industries. After all, it should be noted that an important number of these indentured and contract workers also laboured on the tea, coffee, coffee, rice, cotton, cash crops, rubber, spice and indigo plantations, in the mines, on the building of railways, and the public works in different parts of the world.

During the 19th century, the defining feature of labour in the European colonial plantation world was the indenture system. Central to this labour system was the indenture contract which was a written contract entered into by a person or a worker/labourer who agreed to work for another person or an employer for a given period of time. In addition, it differed from other and earlier forms of contractual labour that existed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the European colonial plantation world, because it included a penal clause for non-fulfillment or violation of the contract by the indentured labourer. A fundamental condition of plantation life was that the indenture contract regulated the terms of employment of labourers and it defined the general standard of living since it specified wage rates, working hours and the type of work, rations, housing, and medical treatment.

The Emblematic 16 Steps of the Aapravasi Ghat

Between the 1840s and early 1900s, one of the major hallmarks of the modern contractual or the indentured labour system in the former plantation world is that the indentured labourers also had the right by law to lodge a complaint or complaints against their employer or employers with a stipendiary magistrate/magistrate, the Protector of Immigrant, the Colonial Resident Agent, and the Agent General of Immigration. This was done for non-payment or delays in paying wages, mistreatment/corporal punishment, poor quality of food, lodgings and health care and refusal of return passage which were clear breaches of his/her indenture contract or agreement.

At this stage, it is important to know many men, women, and children labourers were involved in this mass human and labour migration between the mid-1820s and the mid-1940s? Table 1 provides an indication.

Over the past five years, a careful and detailed survey of around 650 archival sources, books, articles, monographs, dissertations, theses, and unpublished papers and other works from 24 countries from different parts of the world and regular exchanges with more than 70 scholars of indentured labour in more than 20 different countries indicate that millions of indentured and contract labourers were taken to work in dozens of countries and former colonies around the world.

In fact, they show that between 1826 and 1946, over a 120-year period, around 5.26 million, or more precisely 5,263,627, indentured/contract labourers left India, China, South East Asia, the Middle East, Japan, China, Korea, other parts of Asia, Europe, Africa, Java, parts of the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Worlds and were taken to an estimated 69 countries, former colonies, and territories. Therefore, a truly global mass movement of labourers who helped to shape the history, demography, economy, society, and politics of all those countries including Mauritius.

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