No free land for Indians during indentureship

No free land for Indians during indentureship

Ultra-nationalistic Africans, including Eric Phillips of the Caricom Repatriation Commission, asserts that Indians received free land and Africans bought land during the period of indentured servitude. Some history books also make that erroneous statement. That conclusion is not supported by facts. It is a misnomer that Indians were “given” land during indentureship. Indians were due money and in lieu of that large amount of money, they were given worthless land as compensation, and as such not free.

In effect, Indians paid for land just as the freed slaves did with the exception being that Africans bought cleared estate land (ready for cultivation) whereas Indians bought “uncleared” swamp land or forests that they had to prepare for tillage. The historical record showed that almost anytime during indentureship in British Guiana, Africans and Portuguese owned more land than Indians. Indians bought or leased land from Africans, Portuguese, and British; that in itself suggests that Indians owed less land than others.

When slavery ended in 1838, British Whites abandoned the estates that became valueless. It is asserted that the White Christian missionaries induced the freed slaves to purchase the abandoned land that remained fallow. The freed slaves pooled their meagre savings from their four years of paid apprenticeship to purchase villages on the estates. It could not be determined if the Africans got fair value for their money. The value of the land could not be resolved as land was not being bought and sold at the time. Land was free and only the British owned land given to them by the crown. The British bought and or sold the land. Cost per acre of land was not known. Different areas (and fertility, among other factors) would have a different value of land. Cleared estate land (where Africans settled) would be more valuable than swamp land with thick vegetation or plain barren land or mud land that Indians were provided in exchange for their money owed. Indians were given a little piece of land as compared with Africans who bought entire villages (or estates). It can be safely argued that the estate land was worthless since they were abandoned post slavery with most of the owners leaving or already left for UK.

Some of the owners handed over their estates to the two Bookers brothers, both lawyers, to look after their land interest. Land was available for purchase dirt cheap. The Bookers brothers bought out several estates at a bargain. The Tinne family from Liverpool, that owned Diamond Estate, also bought cheaply a few estates that came to be known as Sandbach Parker. The ex-slaves bought a handful of villages for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars at that time. It is estimated that the land was sold for between one and two dollars per acre.

Land transfer occurred around 1840s. Both Portuguese and Africans bought land like the British. Indians would start buying (exchange money owed for land) land much later during the 1860s. Africans and Portuguese owned much more land than Indians. By the 1880s, over a third of the Indians had returned to India. The others were owed a return passage of around US $50 at that time. Instead of paying the money, the planters cried they had no funds and offered land for money owed. The Indians were duped into accepting the worthless land. As done to Africans, Indians were induced to exchange money for land. As Prof. Lomarsh Roopnarine tells us, just over two thousand Indians (of less than 1% of the indentureds) obtained a plot of land varying in size of up to five acres (a few received ten acres) in lieu of money owed. Some of the Indians received a cash incentive for re-indenturing of $50 (passage money) and later up to $200 was offered as an incentive to stay back on the colony because of the costs of recruiting Indian labourers in India and opposition of the indenture system, which was described as another form of slavery. Considering that land was going for between one and two dollars an acre, it can be deduced that each Indian should have received (entitled to) a minimum of between 25 and 50 acres of land for the fifty dollars or even up to 200 acres of land for the promised $200 incentive to re-indenture. But Indians got five or in some cases ten acres – suggesting they were cheated of their hard earned money and or land.

During the 1880s, Prof Basdeo Mangru tells us that some 38,000 Indians were entitled to a free return passage. Had they stayed back, they would have been entitled to over $4 million. Had the Indians pooled their money together as the Africans did, the Indians would have been able to purchase many estates because the going price for some estates was around a thousand dollars – each estate was about 500 acres with a price per acre around $2.

Indians were cheated of land. Useless un-cleared land (thick vegetation) was sold (exchanged) to them at a very high price. Some of the land was barren and the Indians abandoned them losing their money. At no time did the Indians receive free land – land was obtained in exchange for money owed.