Big­ger, bolder spirit of free­dom is some­thing to cel­e­brate!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

The UWI Vice-Chan­cel­lor, Pro­fes­sor Sir Hi­lary Beck­les is­sues the fol­low­ing state­ment in recog­ni­tion of the cen­te­nary of the abo­li­tion of the In­den­ture Act.

This year the Caribbean Com­mu­nity is ris­ing to cel­e­brate the Cen­ten­nial of the de­feat of post-slav­ery In­den­tured Servi­tude and the fi­nal Eman­ci­pa­tion of the In­dian Com­mu­nity from labour bondage. The Abo­li­tion of In­den­ture Act of 1917, fol­low­ing the Eman­ci­pa­tion of Slav­ery Act in 1838, brought to clo­sure, the process of vi­o­lent so­cial sub­ju­ga­tion of an­ces­tors in the crim­i­nal plan­ta­tion com­plex that served to en­rich Euro­peans while un­leash­ing hell upon Africans and Asians.

The colo­nial en­ter­prise in the Caribbean had evolved through three dis­tinct but in­ter­acted stages. The in­te­gra­tion of in­dige­nous peo­ple into the slave labour mar­ket, sub­se­quent to their land dis­pos­ses­sion, in short time led to a geno­ci­dal cir­cum­stance. The im­por­ta­tion into the re­gion of over five mil­lion en­chained Africans over 300 hun­dred years; of which less than a mil­lion were ac­counted for when slav­ery ul­ti­mately ended. Fi­nally, the im­por­ta­tion of near 500,000 In­di­ans un­der de­cep­tive and vi­o­lently en­forced in­den­ture, led to the cre­ation of a kind of neo-slav­ery regime in the re­gion that ig­nited in the In­di­ans an en­demic cul­ture of re­sis­tance and re­bel­lion.

These phases were in fact the three acts of a sin­gle play that con­sti­tuted the Crime against Hu­man­ity per­pe­trated against op­pressed and col­o­nized per­sons in the Caribbean by Euro­pean gov­ern­ments and their colo­nial rep­re­sen­ta­tives. For these crimes the descen­dants of these vi­o­lently op­pressed an­ces­tors are en­ti­tled to Repara­tory Jus­tice.

In or­der to sus­tain the po­lit­i­cally dis­cred­ited plan­ta­tion sys­tem, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment led the way in Europe with the im­por­ta­tion of some 3.5 mil­lion In­den­tured In­di­ans into their global em­pires dur­ing the decades af­ter the de­feat of chat­tel slav­ery. From Cal­cutta to Madras these col­o­nized and largely dis­placed In­di­ans were shipped out to the plan­ta­tions while colo­nial in­vestors imag­ined cre­ative ways to greet them with an up­dated and mod­ern­ized kind of slav­ery.

Guyana, with its enor­mous sugar and rice plan­ta­tions, took the lion’s share of 238,909 while Trinidad and Tobago fol­lowed with 143,939. Ev­ery sugar planter who had lost bru­tal con­trol over their en­slaved Africans wanted a piece of the In­dian ac­tion. Ja­maica took in 36,412, St Lu­cia 4,350, Grenada 3,200 and St Vin­cent 2,472. St Kitts, one of the old­est sugar kids on the block, not to be de­nied, im­ported 337. Fi­nally, the Ba­jans, see­ing no need to reach into In­dia as their eman­ci­pated Africans re­mained suf­fi­ciently en­trapped for sugar to be sus­tained, took not one.

The de­cep­tion em­bed­ded in the in­den­ture led to vi­o­lent and non-vi­o­lent re­sis­tance and re­bel­lion within the In­dian com­mu­nity. The terms and con­di­tions of work promised in In­dia, and the texts of In­den­tured con­tracts, var­ied dra­mat­i­cally from the re­al­ity of work and gen­eral liv­ing. Work­ers were com­monly crim­i­nal­ized on es­tates for mi­nor mat­ters and forced to pay oner­ous penal­ties. Women were not spared within the bru­tal labour regime and, de­spite tes­ti­monies to the con­trary, were treated equally un­der the plan­ta­tion driver’s di­rec­tions.

By 1900 it was clear to the In­dian com­mu­nity that they had been de­ceived by their em­ploy­ers and colo­nial pow­ers, and that they were sub­or­di­nated un­der a racial­ized so­cial sys­tem that was more than a labour regime. In some places their re­bel­lion was based on an ac­cu­rate read­ing of the struc­tures of op­pres­sion, and in­volved col­lab­o­ra­tion with the African com­mu­nity. In other places they struck out alone to ad­dress their spe­cific and pe­cu­liar cir­cum­stances. But al­to­gether they con­trib­uted to a cul­ture of col­lec­tive mo­bi­liza­tion and op­po­si­tion to colo­nial­ism that was long in place. In this re­gard they con­sol­i­dated and en­hanced the broader strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion and so­cial jus­tice.

The colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tors struck back by of­fer­ing them cash, land, and more hu­mane labour terms with a view to en­tic­ing those bent on re­turn­ing to In­dia to stay. Many ac­cepted these pack­ages but the dam­age done to the cred­i­bil­ity of in­den­ture, and the mo­men­tum of move­ments of re­sis­tance, could not save the in­sti­tu­tion from a fi­nal demise. By March 1917, the In­dian peo­ple had turned their backs on the in­den­ture sys­tem, and bro­ken the spine of the last ves­tige of Caribbean servi­tude. This devel­op­ment led to the forg­ing of a col­lec­tive labour strug­gle for de­col­o­niza­tion and in­de­pen­dence in the Caribbean.

A full cen­tury has now passed. The In­dian com­mu­nity has ef­fec­tively shaken off the shack­les of servi­tude and has joined with Africans and other eth­nic­i­ties in craft­ing and forg­ing a de­moc­ra­tiz­ing Caribbean civ­i­liza­tion, fash­ioned upon the prin­ci­ples of plu­ral par­tic­i­pa­tion and so­cial equal­ity.

The neg­a­tive lega­cies of In­den­ture con­tinue to be dis­cernible in some places and still shape as­pects of so­ci­etal norms and na­tional sen­si­bil­i­ties. But the big­ger, bolder spirit of free­dom re­sides ev­ery­where in the ro­bust re­jec­tion of op­pres­sion. Caribbean so­ci­ety is thus en­riched and en­light­ened at this cen­ten­nial mo­ment by the Di­wali of mul­ti­ple In­dian con­tri­bu­tions to our com­mon civ­i­liza­tion. We all have good rea­sons to re­joice.”

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