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We have now broken new ground and overturned past stagnations

THE news that there will be the Ameena Gafoor Institute for the study of indentureship at the University of Warwick, under the leadership of Dr. David Dabydeen et al, should comfort those who have been trying to bring the study up to standard with other Caribbean Studies Programmes and further afield. Indeed, one premise for the institution is that western-oriented universities “pay little or no little attention to the history, lives, and efforts of indentured labourers and their descendants” according to the institute’s dispatch. We endorse this declaration. Furthermore, the Gafoor Institute intends to hold an annual International Conference, publish a journal of indentureship, create institutional links with other sister universities and educational organisations, invite scholars, and support a scholarship fund for students, among other initiatives. This is no silly talk. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the institution and comment on how the institution will turn out. I am convinced, however, that we are witnessing passionate and ambitious goals that would require the support of those who may or not come under the institution’s sway.

Likewise, it would be remiss of me not to mention other concomitant initiatives to promote the study of indenture across the globe. Banaras Hindu University, Dr. Vishnu Bisram asserts, has launched the International Journal of Studies of Indian Diaspora with a focus on the older Indian diaspora. The editors of the journal have sent out a call for papers to commemorate 100 years of indentured servitude. We support this endeavor. Dr. Farzana Gounder and this writer have proposed a journal named Bonded Labor and the objective is to facilitate discourse on all aspects of the bonded labour trade with a specific focus on the creation of contemporary societies in countries caused by these trades. This trans-disciplinary journal aims to create a dialogue among scholars from different disciplines, on various aspects of post-slavery bonded labour, to explore the historical connections between the displacement of people, to provide a forum for suggestions and solutions to the humanitarian crisis caused by bonded labour migration, and to collaborate as well as strengthen global efforts to challenge and abolish bonded labour migration. We hope that the University of Guyana will latch on to this opportunity.

We here in the Caribbean and other former indentured communities and institutions may do very well if we grab one page from the aforesaid chapter of initiatives and put it to use. Considering the muck and mire we find ourselves in, we can at least use the templates as a springboard to chime into the unfolding Indian academic ecumene. It is not about talent and determination. We have an abundance of that. Rather, it is a lack of resources to further illuminate the field’s significance. Sadly, the field has been buried in the lower depths of importance lacking the spatial framework for understanding where we came from, what we have experienced and where we are going. We are yet, albeit exceptions, to put the sums of parts together to understand the whole humancentric dynamics of the study of Indian indentureship and beyond.

Seems, however, like we have reached a juncture in 2020 where we might soar rather than slide in addressing the lacuna and parochial position of indenture and related fields. We have, 100 years later, broken new ground and overturned past stagnations, but we must be cautious of being powerless in producing new ideas of integration so much so that as the field grows the human relationships of it should not be narrower. We do not expect the study of indenture to be hale and hearty. There will be challenges, such as uniting the neglected and unconnected aspects, but the possibility of moving the field forward is more realistic than ever. Journals of indenture studies, for example, will serve as a platform for rigorous debates, international engagement, openness, the introduction of new modes and models of thoughts and ideas.

I personally believe that, whatever perspectives emerge from the new initiatives, they will deepen our understanding, cast old problems in a new light, and bring to the surface information hitherto obscured. We wish the Gafoor Institute and other initiatives on the study of the indenture, 100 years later, the best of luck (lomarsh.roopnarine@jsums.edu).

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