Book Review: ‘The Indentured and Their Route’ by Bhaswati Mukherjee

Rediscover the Forgotten Journey


Book Title: The Indentured and Their Route: A Relentless Quest for Identity
Author: Bhaswati Mukherjee
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Number of Pages: 232
ISBN: 978-9357025669
Date Published: Oct. 12, 2023
Price: INR 485

The Indentured and Their Route by Bhaswati Mukherjee Book Cover

Book Review

The centenary of the Indian indentured trade (1837-1920) is celebrated by examining the historical significance of the voyage of Indian labourers to British Guiana in 1838. This event initiated a centralised system of labour migration from British India to colonial sugar plantations, introducing Indian indentured labour as the most popular post-slavery labour system. The trade sustained the sugar trade for decades, creating Indian diaspora communities worldwide. Indian migration for trade and labour became an organised system with John Gladstone’s intervention. The Hesperus’ journey in 1838 marked the birth of the Indian indentured trade, sustaining the sugar industry and creating diaspora communities. By the end of the 19th century, 1.3 million Indian indentured labourers migrated to various colonies.

Bhaswati Mukherjee’s “The Indentured and Their Route: A Relentless Quest for Identity” explores the indentured system, a form of forced labour that replaced slavery in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a diplomat, public affairs speaker, writer, and president of the India Habitat Centre, Mukherjee’s work is a tribute to India’s forgotten children.

The book focuses on the experiences and struggles of indentured workers, mostly Indians and their descendants, in various parts of the world, such as Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and South Africa. The book argues that the indentured system was not only a source of exploitation and oppression but also a catalyst for identity formation and resistance. The book traces the origins and evolution of the indentured system, its impact on the socio-economic and political conditions of the colonies, and its legacy on the post-colonial societies. The book also examines the role of India and its diaspora in preserving and promoting the memory and heritage of the indentured workers.

The book is based on extensive research and analysis of primary and secondary sources, such as archival documents, oral histories, literary works, and academic studies. The book is written in an engaging and accessible style, with a clear structure and organisation. Maps, photographs, tables, charts, and appendices enrich the book. The book is not only informative but also reflective and critical. It challenges some myths and stereotypes about indentured workers and their descendants and offers a balanced and nuanced perspective on their history and culture.

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The Indentured and Their Route” is a valuable contribution to the field of Indian diaspora studies and the understanding of the global history of labour migration and human rights. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history and culture of India and its diaspora and the issues of identity, diversity, and belonging in the contemporary world.

A few months back, books like “Nairobi: A Rags to Riches Colonial Story” by Nitin Nanji and “Viriah” by Krishna Gubbili opened up a new world of reading for me as they shared the experiences of Indians who migrated from British Gujarat and British South India. It fueled my curiosity, prompting me to seek out more stories. I stumbled upon YouTube channels featuring interviews with migrants from British India who had journeyed to the Fiji Islands. Now, as I read “The Indentured and Their Route: A Relentless Quest for Identity,” the experience feels almost surreal.

A must-read!

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