Indian Indenture in the British Empire

The Making of the Modern World - Lecture 7

Lecturer: Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, Institute of Commonwealth Studies

March 17, 2021

Between 1834 and 1920, two million men women and children were taken from India, by the British, to labour on sugar colonies across the Empire under temporary contracts called indentures. The majority of these workers never returned to India and the system of indenture, under which they were bound, has all but been erased from British colonial history. In this lecture, I reflect on how and why this silencing took place. I additionally refer to acts and forms of resistance utilised by indentured labourers and share ideas about the important contemporary contributions of the global Jahaji Bhai – the international indentured labour diaspora – who are currently working towards greater public knowledge of the system of indenture and its legacies.



Questions for discussion

  1. The majority of British people are unaware of the system of indenture across the former empire. What do you think accounts for the historical silence around this history?
  2. What do you think was significant about the ways in which labourers managed to organise and resist the system of indenture?
  3. Do you think people have the same lack of awareness in relation to contemporary forms of unfree labour? Do we make connections between the products we consume and the welfare and conditions of the people involved in their production?