FOR over three-quarters of a century (mainly from 1834-1917), British, Danish, Dutch, and French governments transported an estimated two million indentured Indian
labourers from the Indian subcontinent to Mauritius, South Africa, Natal, and the Caribbean.
The arrival of indentured labourers corresponded with a labour shortage arising from the abolition of slavery in the 19th Century European-controlled colonies and disjunctive colonial capitalist development in India.
The indentured labourers were drawn principally from north and south India, and varied in age, gender, religion, and language. The largest group was that of single young males between the ages of 20 and 30, while families, children, and single women made up the minority.
The female-male ratio of Indian migrants was as low as three to 100, but climbed gradually to 40 to 100 towards the end of the indentured service. The religious composition of the migrant group mirrored the religious distribution in India: 84 per cent were Hindus, while 16 per cent were Muslims and other religions.
Until recently, the academic attention of these people was limited. Their stories were mainly relegated to footnotes in the larger history and places where they have been a majority like in Guyana. They have not been robustly included in the school curriculum, from nursery to university.
I have addressed this unfortunate academic marginalisation for decades at various physical and paper venues.
In one of my articles in the journal of Labour History (July 2014), I declared the following: “A journal of indenture based in the Caribbean would likely resolve the problems of indenture studies dispersed in various journals around the globe, which has become a nightmare for researchers and doctoral students even in the age of globalisation.
Additionally, the journal will have a clear focus on indenture, and thereby, perhaps, relieve the burden of journal editors to reject submissions of articles on indenture on the basis that they are unsuitable for their journals.” Moreover, it might also reduce the disappointment among indentured writers who cannot find a suitable place for their work.
I ended my frustration by saying that until there is a journal of indenture studies, the field of indenture studies will most likely remain loose and uncoordinated, searching for a home. Then something happened.
In March 2017, to mark the 100th year of the end of Indian Indenture, the Fiji Institute of Applied Studies hosted a conference, and one resolution of the conference was as follows: To support the establishment of the Global Girmit Research Institute- Centre for the Study and Advancement of Girmit Diaspora to provide continuity and sustainability in all areas of research, publication, documentation, educational and awareness material development, community outreach, and advancement of the Girmit Diaspora globally. As a part of the resolution, work commenced in 2018 on setting up a journal.
The late Professor Brij Lal was appointed the Editor of the journal, and he established an Editorial Advisory Committee, made up of scholars from across the globe. Unfortunately, he could not advance the project to the publication stage due to his circumstances.
In 2021, the Global Girmit Institute invited selected institutions to enter into a partnership to publish the journal Indenture Papers: Studies on Girmitiyas. The following institutions formed the Girmit Partners to publish the journal: Global Girmit Institute, the NCIC-Heritage Centre (Trinidad), Banaras Hindu University (India), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (India), the IIT (Patna, India), and the University of the South Pacific (Fiji).
This year, I am the Editor-in-Chief, along with Professor Ganesh Chand. I am attaching a copy of the free-access online journal. www.girmit.ac.fj