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“The Indentured and Their Route” by Amb Bhaswati Mukherjee

by Diplomatist Bureau - 13 March, 2024, 12:00 155 Views 0 Comment

The Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) on 12th March 2024 hosted a thought-provoking book discussion at Sapru House, focussing on “The Indentured and Their Route: A Relentless Quest for Identity” authored by Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee. The discussion shed light on the poignant story of indentured labour from India forced into exile in various parts of the world due to famine, poverty, and colonial exploitation.

Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee’s book delves into the harrowing journey of indentured labourers from India to regions like the West Indies, Mauritius, Suriname, Reunion, and Fiji islands during the period from 1834 to 1917. The author elucidates the reasons behind writing this book, emphasising the need to document the untold stories of India’s lost children and their relentless struggle for identity.

Key Findings and Insights:

  1. The End of Mughal Empire and Rise of British Colonialism: The transition from the Mughal empire to British colonial rule drastically altered living conditions in the subcontinent. British exploitation, coupled with oppressive revenue shares, led to millions of famine deaths and widespread poverty, prompting many to seek better prospects abroad.
  2. Indenture System and Exploitation: The indenture system, termed “girmit,” exploited helpless and illiterate labourers who were promised relief from poverty but were instead subjected to harsh conditions and meager rations. Middlemen facilitated their recruitment and transportation to distant lands, where they served as cheap labour on plantations.
  3. Emergence of Political Movement: Mahatma Gandhi and leaders of the Indian National Congress supported the political movement against indenture, advocating for the rights and welfare of indentured labourers and their families.
  4. Assimilation and Cultural Influence: Descendants of the girmitiyas eventually assimilated into the culture and politics of their adopted countries, retaining their affinity towards India. UNESCO’s Indentured Labour Route Project, supported by India, recognises their historical significance and cultural heritage.

During the book discussion, Ambassador Amitava Tripathi, Former Ambassador of India to Switzerland and Brazil, Amb Veena Sikri, former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and Malaysia and Amb Skand Tayal, former Ambassador to Korea and Uzbekistan, lauded Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee’s work and shared their perspectives on the book. They emphasised the importance of documenting and commemorating the journey of indentured labourers and their enduring impact on global history and culture.

Ambassador Vijay Singh Thakur, DG of ICWA, moderated the question and answer session, providing attendees with the opportunity to engage with the speakers and delve deeper into the themes explored in the book.

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