Int’l Indian Diaspora Conference in Mauritius

Int’l Indian Diaspora Conference in Mauritius

Photo : Sat Maharaj

An international conference marking the 100th Anniversary of the end of indenture will be held in Mauritius from August 18 to 20. Several delegates from the Caribbean and North America, including this writer, will present papers at the conference. It is strongly felt that studies on indenture have not adequately addressed the subject. Organizers of the conference are of the view that academic studies must reflect more comprehensively the full extent of the indentured experience, the emergence of communities of descendants of indentureds across the world, and the struggle of Indian independence.

The conference will be held at several locations including at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, University of Mauritius, Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, Voila Bagatelle Hotel, and the French Embassy.

This historic international conference is being initiated by GOPIO-International, the Girmitya Foundation, and the Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad (Indian Council for International Cooperation-New Delhi-India) with the aim of bringing together scholars, government officials, public figures, community leaders and NGOs who are carrying out research on the history of indentured labour, the Indian global diaspora, the modern history of India and India’s independence. The proceedings of the conference will be published.

The modern indentured labour system, according to the organizers remains a topic of abiding scholarly interest, and, hence, the reason for this conference. The indenture system began in Reunion Island and Mauritius and subsequently became a prominent, if not the dominant, feature of social, economic, cultural, and political life in many parts of the European colonial plantation world and beyond, during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Altogether, over five million Indians were sent overseas to work on plantations as indentured labourers around the globe. Some 500,000 Indians were brought to the Caribbean to work on plantations.

The indentured system has been a topic of several publications. The conference organizers note that “the last 70 years have witnessed the publication of substantial monographs on various aspects of the indentured experience in Australasia, the Caribbean basin, the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific”.

But it is noted that disciplinary barriers on the subject have been maintained in the academic world “despite advances in disciplinary collaboration in other themes. The works in archaeology, oral history, demography, anthropology and ethnography have made important contributions to indentured studies, the settlement of Indians in different parts of the world, and the history of modern India. But these remain largely known in a limited way to the wider academic world despite some progress in recent years.”

The conference organizers contend that “the history of indentured labour, the Indian global diaspora, and modern Indian history and independence remains a topic of limited research interest at the annual meetings of professional scholarly and international academic organizations in North America, Europe and elsewhere. This general state of affairs, coupled with a growing awareness among some senior scholars and writers in the field feel there is a need to expand the conceptual and disciplinary parameters of studies on indentured labour, the emergence of Girmitya communities across the world, the modern history of India and Indian independence.” This feeling highlights the urgent need for a conference such as the one that will be held from August 18 to 20 in Mauritius.

The aforementioned international conference will draw together scholars, writers, well known public figures, government officials, social activists, descendants of indentured workers, and members of the Indian overseas diaspora as well as Indian nationals. The conference participants and attendees will discuss and explore the history of indentured labour, the Indian global diaspora, and modern history of India with the specific purpose of fostering new perspectives on these important issues of modern world history and to deepen our understanding of these important themes in all of its complexity. The Conference also aims to give scholars, community leaders, government officials, and NGOs in the indentured labour world an opportunity to present their views and their experience.