Question: Why indentured labour was taken by the British from India to their colonies? Have they been able to preserve their cultural identity over there?
Answer: Indentured labour migration is one of the many colonial era practice that has had major impact on various parts of the world. The poorer sections from India were taken to various British colonies across the globe for working on commercial farm. These people were termed ‘girmitiyas’.
Reasons for indentured labour
- Cheap manual labour
British colonies housed large estates for cultivation of various crops that required manual labours. Lack of native workers and high cost of European workers meant that Indians were is high demand.
- Security purposes
In addition to labour forces there was also need for supervisors and soldiers for providing security. Indian people were better suited for following British way of life than others and could be incorporated in armies.
- Easy acclimatization
The greatest benefit for Indian labours was that they were acclimated to work in hot and humid condition of equatorial climates found in British colonies. This feature created demand for more number of Indians to work in farms.
Cultural and identity preservation by indentured labourer families
- Food culture
The people who migrated to these areas may have adopted the living ways of new land but they did not forget their ancient cultural roots. The food culture has evolved into newer forms by interacting with local land but the traces lead back to India.
Ex: Bunny chow of South Africa.
- Music and dance
Native Indian folk and traditional music has blend with foreign music to form one of the unique aspects of fusion culture. This form has grown in popularity especially in Caribbean islands.
Ex: Chutney music has gained popularity in Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica etc.
- Religious practices
The migrated Indian labourer families still follow cultural and religious practices from native country with some modifications. These have helped them to stay attached to their roots.
Ex: Phagwah festival in Jamaica.
Thus, indentured migration allowed poorer sections to seek better living conditions abroad and the benefits have been observed. The culture and practices have been preserved eventhough they have undergone modifications.