Many left India in indenture to various colonies. A number went out, mainly from South India, according to the kangani/maistry system, a different labour contract, to Malaysia, Burma (now Myanmar), Singapore and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Many went on their own, if not out of confusion, while others were forced or coaxed by the hired recruiters. Indian free migrants, traders and artisans, went abroad, mostly to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, in the 1920s. After World War II (1939-1945), Indian professionals, technocrats, businessmen and skilled or semi-skilled workers left for Europe, North America and the Gulf countries. Later, many disembarked in Australia and New Zealand. The post-independence exodus of professionals started in the 1960s and continues unabated. This paper focuses on the spread of Indian indentured workers wordwide.
To Mauritius 1834
On 9 September 1834, J.G. C. Artbuthnot, representing the Mauritius-based Hunter, Artbuthnot and Co, signed an agreement in Calcutta (Kolkata) to bring labourers. Thus arrived 36 dangurs (tribals or hill coolies), all illiterate men, on a five-year contract to work on its sugar estate. Their expedition marked the start of systematic indenture.
First Laws for Emigration
The first colonial law, in force on 1 June 1838, for the migration of Indian labourers from the Presidency of Bengal, governed the (a) contracts of migrants, masters of vessels and agents; (b) labourers’ acceptance to migrate and return free passages; (c) control by the superintendent of police; (d) five-year agreement; (e) the fixed wages, paid regularly; and (f) labourers’ grant of free lodging, medical assistance and other facilities.
The next law (of 1855) allowed migration from Calcutta, Madras and Bombay to the two British colonies, Saint Lucia and Grenada, with better conditions for the migrants’ voyage and work. Migration after the 1857 Mutiny/First Indian War of Independence, which put an end to the English East India Company’s rule, continued. The 26 April 1860 Act made Saint Vincent another such destination.
Natal, in South Africa, was included, in 1860, for the indentured. Another law of 1860 extended it to Saint Kitts. Moreover, the 1862 Act enabled a similar labour movement to the Seychelles, then a dependency of British Mauritius.
 Other Laws for Departure 1860s-1908
Between 1860 and 1877, various new laws governed the Indian labourers’ migration to French colonies. Those of Chandernagore and Pondicherry could embark from a British or French harbour in India. Not less than 31 sections focused their conditions of voyage and work. The projected length of voyage was thus stipulated: (a) Calcutta- Reunion : ten weeks (April-October) and eight weeks (November-March); (b) Madras-Reunion : seven weeks (April-October) and five weeks (November-March); (c) Bombay-Reunion: five weeks (April-September) and six weeks (October-March); (d) Calcutta-Guadeloupe and its dependencies: 20 weeks; (e) Madras/Bombay-Guadeloupe: 19 weeks; (f) Calcutta-French Guyana : 26 weeks; and (g) Madras and Bombay to French Guyana – 19 weeks. An Act of 1863 allowed a shipment of Indian labourers to the Danish Saint Croix.
The 1871 Indian Emigration Act covered the whole of British India, consolidating the laws for the labourers’ migration. The receiving colonies were now listed together: (a) British – Mauritius, Jamaica, British Guyana, Trinidad, St Lucia, St Vincent, Natal, St Kitts and the Seychelles, (b) French – Reunion, Martinique, Guyana and Guadeloupe and (c) St Croix (Danish). Ceylon, regarded as part of British India, was not included.
The 1877 law enabled the departure from Madras to the huge, British Straits Settlements, having Singapore as capital. In 1883 was enacted the longest such statute, proclaimed in 1886. Four Indians had participated in the deliberations of Viceroy Lord Ripon-chaired 18-member Council – the first time Indian legislators had their say on indenture.
The 1908 law was intended “to consolidate the enactments relating to the emigration of natives of India.” Karachi, after Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, became a departing port. The countries, to which Indian workers could go, now also included the Netherlands and Denmark’s colonies.
The 1922 Act provided for unskilled workers to migrate from Nagapatnam, Tuticorin and Dhanuskodi, besides Karachi, Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. It also applied to artisans, clerks and shop assistants, as well as those working for/in exhibitions, entertainment, restaurants, tea-houses, other places of public resort, or domestic service.
Global Presence of PIOs and NRIs
The Indian Diaspora is the third largest in numerical strength, next to that of Europeans and Chinese. It is geographically more spread than that of the Chinese. Around 25 millions of Indians’ descendents are scattered in about 135 countries.
The PIOs (People of Indian Origin) and the NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) are proud of India, the world’s “oldest and most influential civilisation” that prevailed (7000-5500 BC) in Mehrgahr, Baluchistan, now in Pakistan (Wood, Michael. The Story of India, BBC Books, 2007) Most of the PIOs live in Africa, the Caribbean Islands and Oceania. The NRIs, who went out mostly as businessmen, skilled workers and professionals, are found in, among other places, Europe, North America and the Arabic countries.
Even before 1857, a number of Indians were taken away by the British elite, including the East India Company’s officers, on their return home. They worked as domestics in London and other places in the UK, especially in its port towns. Later, Indians came to shine in British politics. Back in 1892, Dadabhai Naoroji, famous for supporting Indian self-rule, was the first Indian to be UK’s MP. As from 1997, several Indians sit in the House of Lords. Lord Meghnad Desai (Labour) was the first to occupy such a seat. A number of NRIs and PIOs have been serving the British municipal councils. A few were/are mayors. Though a majority are skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled, many shine in economic and professional circles. They contribute to the national cultural and educational life. Yet, they cling to, or promote, their ancestral heritage. In a few countries of adoption by girmitiyas (indentured), their children, of first, second, or third generation, formed/form part of the national governments, if not heading them.
Thanks to India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Bajpayee, whose Bhartiya Janata Party’s government, a PIO Department was created in 2001. PIO cards began to be issued to eligible persons, giving them the same privileges as Indian citizens, except not to vote in elections and buy agricultural property. In 2004, the Government of India, under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, set up the Ministry of Non-Resident Indians’ Affairs, renamed, after four months, that of Overseas Indian Affairs. Beekrumsing Ramlallah, champion of Indianness and free press in Mauritius, considered as the Father of Aapravasi Ghat, had pressed for the creation of this body in Delhi in his Mauritius Times back in the 1970s.
The Global Organisation for People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) was set up after the Global Convention of People of Indian Origin convened in New York in 1989 by, among others, Dr Thomas Abraham who first chaired it (1989-2004). Attended by delegates from 26 countries, Mauritius was represented by Dhundev Bauhadoor.
Mauritius : Particular Home of Indian Diaspora
The indentured in Mauritius, unlike a few countries such as South Africa and British Guyana, could buy property and carry out trade, though at times they were confronted with legal obstacles. Their counterparts of South Africa were prevented from settling.
The bulk (around 80%) of Mauritians are of Indian origin, wholly or partly, reflecting the ethnic, religious, regional and linguistic diversity of secular India, the world’s largest and most populated country before being partitioned in 1947. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (1900-1985), Father of the Nation and first Prime Minister of Mauritius (1967-1982), was the world’s first PIO Prime Minister, whose father was an indentured worker from Bihar. Mauritius, without mineral resources, is well ahead of third world countries on all fronts.
The world’s first batch of the indentured, sailing from Calcutta (Kolkata), disembarked in Mauritius on 2 November 1834. In early January 2011, Leela Gujadhur-Sarup’s Global Indo-Diaspora Heritage Society inaugurated the Kolkata Memorial, honouring the first labourers, and subsequent ones, who left Calcutta. Mauritius-born and settled in India after her marriage, she is an authority on the history of the Indian Diaspora.
In 1996, the late Dhundev Bauhadoor opened a chapter of GOPIO in Mauritius where took place its 4th International Convention. At the 7th such Convention held in Mauritius in 2003, the Island was made the World’s PIO capital. Elected GOPIO International’s president in 1996 and in 2001, Dhundev chaired GOPIO Mauritius until 2003.
Mahen Utchanah served as secretary and then chairman since 2005 of GOPIO Mauritius before becoming its dynamic international president/chairman. He founded GOPIO’s chapters in Fracophone countries and organised, in Mauritius, international events, including visits of eminent Indians including Chief Ministers. Largely thanks to him, the present Regional PBD (26-28 October 2012) is held in Mauritius.
* Multi-disciplinary researcher and writer, the author has social, professional and family ties in India which he first visited in 1969. His latest work, large formatted and of 570 pages, is entitled “INDIANS: In India, Mauritius and South Africa.”