Monday, July 21, 2008

Reference: The high seas, Bangkok Post, July 21, 2008

There was a great migration of indentured plantation workers from India to the Mauritius, the Fiji Islands and the Caribbean as the slave trade subsided in the 19th century. This emigration has been romanticized in these terms: "India is one of those countries where for people to leave is not an easy thing. There was this fear of crossing the waters. What did it mean for farmers living in deep interior of the country who had never seen the sea? For them to get into a ship and cross the ocean, it's a kind of heroism" (The high seas, Bangkok Post, July 21, 2008). Sadly, it was not heroism but desperation. Now, as then, a social class and caste system cuts a deep gulf between the haves and the havenots in the Sub-continent; and now, as then, the havenots go to extreme measures to leave their pathetic condition. To the upper classes these ventures may seem like heroism but to the lower classes it is their escape from a poverty trap. There was no adventure and no heroism in the mass emigration of Indian indentured workers to Mauritius in the 19th century just as there is none today in a similar emigration of indentured laborers from the Sub-continent to the Middle East, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Cha-am Jamal

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