IN 2014, at an Indian conference in Trinidad, I delivered a paper to a packed audience on the dynamics of Indian immigration to the Caribbean, and, midway during the presentation, I switched gears, without any particular reasons, and embarked on the unclaimed remittances deceased indentured Indians left in the colonial banks to transfer to their heirs in India. I said I have evidence that deceased indentured immigrants, in the case of British Guiana, left thousands of pounds which is equivalent to millions of dollars today, in the colonial banks that were never remitted to their heirs in India. There was a distinct grovel in the audience, suggesting something like this: OMG. I was taken aback since I thought this was common knowledge. I was wrong. I have since repeated my evidence in Suriname, Mauritius, and at various Zoom conferences. Up to that time, and even in the contemporary period, a few, if any, have addressed this wrong. I wonder why.
Recently, a discussion has resurfaced on the immigration fund Forbes Burnham used to build the National Cultural Centre. The unclaimed remittances and immigration funds are not the same things other than in principle. It is wrong to use or misuse any funds associated with any ethnic group without some input and approval from them. In practice, there is confusion. The immigration fund, as I understand it, was drawn from the planter class, indentured Indian servants, and taxes from the colony, which meant that anyone who paid taxes contributed to the immigration fund. This was one major argument forwarded by those (mainly Africans) who opposed indentured immigration on the basis that their money was going to finance immigration that did not benefit them. I suspect that Burnham might have used this argument to support his desire to build a national rather than Indian cultural culture. Where is the curious researcher?
The unclaimed remittances are altogether a different animal. No other group contributed to unclaimed remittances but Indians themselves either individually or collectively through hard labour earning a shilling per day. Women earned 10 pence per day. I need to take you through a quick journey to show you how this remittance thing worked. To wit, from the 1860s, and after almost two decades of suspension and resumption of the indenture system, the regulations for remitting savings from British Guiana to India were formally established. In the appendix of No. 32 of the Twenty-eight General Report of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (1868) elaborated instructions advised Indians on how to remit their savings from British Guiana to India. The instructions stated that savings remitted to India were to be deposited in sums of no less than 10 dollars and not more than 100 dollars to the Colonial Treasurer. Each deposit was to be accompanied by a printed form specifying the name, age, occupation, and address of the remitter and similar information on the payee in India (see below).
Year of Arrival___________________________
Relationship to the Payee___________________
The instructions also informed indentured Indians that their payees would then receive remittances or savings for their money order from the Government of India at a local treasury nearest to the domicile of the payees. The money order was written in English and in a local language (Nagri, for example) most familiar to the payees. The payees received an exchange or a computed rate of two rupees one anna and four pies per dollar. A notice was posted to inform indentured Indians on how and when to remit money back to India. The notice was as follows:
1. The Government of India will pay to the person in whose favour the order is drawn, the sum mentioned in the order, viz: Rs ____ Annas ____ Rais, without any deduction, at the Government treasury nearest to his house, within two months from the presentation of the order, or when the Government advises arriving, then payment will be made at once.
2. Before payment of the money the Government officer will ask the person making the claim to state the name, the address, and such information in regard to the remitter and also the payee as may be necessary to satisfy him that he is the person entitled to the same.
3. If within twelve months from the date of the issue of the order in the colony it has not been presented at the Treasury of the Zila in India for payment it will not afterward be paid.
4. If such money order is once paid to the party presenting it no further claim can be made either on the Government of India or of the Colony.
The language was obviously too bureaucratic for indentured peasants, and as a consequence, inconsistencies emerged in India and in British Guiana. Indentured Indians were non-literate people who were incapable of interpreting the written procedures and policies of remitting savings to their homeland. Indentured Indians tried to resolve this challenge by drawing support from other literate Indians as well as members from the planter class to assist them to communicate with their relatives in India. Later, the colonial government provided every estate with one writer who was capable of writing and reading in Hindustani, Urdu, or Hindi for indentured Indians. There was a travelling writer/reader assisting non-literate indentured Indians on every estate. To be continued (email@example.com)