Class 10 History

Making of a Global World: Indentured Labour from India

Indentured labor is a bonded labor hired on contract for a specific employer for a specific period of time.

Many poor Indians from modern day Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, central India and dry districts of Tamil Nadu became indentured labors. They mostly consisted of landless farmers and marginal farmers who were not in a position pay rents.

These people were mainly sent to the Caribbean Islands, Mauritius and Fiji. Many of them were also sent to Ceylon and Malaya. In India, many indentured labors went to work in tea plantations of Assam.

The agents often gave false promises and gave wrong information about the place they were heading for. The condition in the alien land was quite horrible for the workers. They did not have legal rights and had to work under tortuous conditions.

Abolition of Indentured Labour

From the 1900s, the Indian nationalists began to oppose the system of indentured labor. The practice was finally abolished in 1921.

In modern times, there are is a significant number of people of Indian origin in the Caribbean Islands, Mauritius and Fiji. Many cricket players of West Indies have Indian names because their forefathers came as bonded laborers to these places.

Girmitiya Mazdoor: The indentured labor was coloquially called girmitiya mazdoor. They became indentured labor due to agreement. The term agreement labor metamorphosed into GIRMITIYA MAZDOOR.

Indian Entrepreneurs Abroad

Many Indian entrepreneurs went to different parts of the world along with the colonial traders. Shikaripuri shroffs and Nattukottai Chettiars were among the groups of bankers and traders from India. They financed export agriculture in Southern and Central Asia. They had their own sophisticated system of money transfer to different parts of the world and even in India.

Indian traders and moneylenders also ventured into Africa along with the European colonizers. The Hyderabadi Sindhi traders ventured even beyond European colonies. By 1860s, they established flourishing emporia at busy ports around the world.

Indian Trade and Colonialism

Historically, fine cotton from India was exported to Europe because there was good demand in Europe. After industrialization, the local manufacturers forced the British government to impose a ban on Indian imports. They also pressurized the East India Company to sell finished cotton textiles into Indian market. This resulted in British manufactured cotton textiles flooding the Indian market. The share of cotton textiles in Indian export was 30% in 1800. It declined to 15% by 1815 and to 3% by 1870s. But from 1812 to 1871, the export of raw cotton increased from 5% to 35%. During this period, Indigo emerged as a major export item from India. Opium was the largest exported item from India and it was mainly exported to China.

Thus, from being an exporter of cotton textiles, India became an exporter of raw cotton. With British import growing in India, Britain was having the trade surplus and the Balance of Payment was in Britain’s favor. India became the most profitable colony for Britain. Income from the Indian market was utilized by Britain to serve its other colonies and also to pay home charges for its officials who were posted in India. The home charges also included payment of India’s external debt and pension for retired British officials in India.