iLocal News Archives

My upcoming book: The Indian Caribbean: migration and identity

By [email protected] From Guyana Times

My book seeks to address the under-researched theme of Indian migration and identity formation in the Caribbean. The reason for this declaration is that Caribbean migration studies tend to focus on the larger and more visible ethnic groups, as well as on a few specific islands.

The result is that we know very little of Indian migration since settlement in the Caribbean, and how this migration has shaped Indian identity. We also know very little of the challenges Indians face in order to migrate their respective communities, and their migratory experience in their new environment.

This scholarly omission of Indian migration is rather unfortunate, and it has arguably led to a poor understanding of who Indians are in the region. For instance, some sections of the Caribbean believe that Indians are non-migratory people who stick to their families and locations, primarily rural; and that when Indian migration occurs between destinations in and out of the Caribbean, the movement is fluid.

I argue that a study is surely needed to investigate these claims, among others. Moreover, although their movement is not as large as other ethnic groups in the region, Indian migration is important, because they are the product of the same global forces that have helped to shape the Caribbean and further afield.

Do not under-rate or underestimate the contributions of Indian entrepreneurship in the Caribbean and in Europe and North America. My book shows that Indians in the Caribbean have always been on the move in an attempt to improve their lives. They are not non-migratory people who are content with a static rural lifestyle. After all, the mere fact that they left their homeland to work far away in the Caribbean testifies to their willingness to migrate. It would seem logical that they would continue this lifestyle in the Caribbean, even if the odds were stacked against them.

I wrote this: “For the majority of Indian Caribbean people, especially the large working class, migration is really a product of the interplay between constraints and thought, will, and eventual action. Migration has always been dictated by occupation, education, income, and religion, which gives the movement across boundaries a distinct and divisive character. Yet, amid aspirations toward modernity, Indians do not necessarily dismiss their pre-existing values — education, gender relations, and family cohesion and connection — when they migrate. Migration is also associated with ridicule…”

Moreover, I argue that migration has led to the formation of new Indian identities in the Caribbean which separate them from other ethnic groups; it can be conceptualized into six broad overlapping time periods. The first is the migration from India to the Caribbean. This movement occurred between 1838 and 1917, and revolved around the imperial indentured contract. The second occurred during the restrictive indentured period, when Indian challenged their indentured contracts and escaped from the plantations to urban areas and nearby Caribbean countries. Others waited until their contracts expired to migrate legally from the plantations to village settlement, a plan encouraged by the colonial Government to have Indians swap their return passages for small parcels of land.

The third movement occurred when some Indians returned to their homeland when their contracts expired, taking large sums of money with them. Some, however, went back penniless. This movement coincided with the influx of Indians from India.

The fourth movement was from one Caribbean island to another. Although it started during indenture, it was most noticeable from the post-indenture (1920) to the modern period. The movement has created Indian communities where Indians were not seen before in substantial numbers. Antigua and St. Maarten are two places that have large Indian populations because of the intra-regional movement.
The fifth has been the continuous movement of Caribbean Indians to Europe and North America, from the Second World War onwards to the present period. The sixth is the movement of non-indentured from India to the Caribbean since the Second World War.

I have also argued that Indian identity cannot be analyzed in the binary opposite of cultural retention and cultural loss; and propose that Indian identity can be conceptualized into the multipartite structure of local, national, trans-Caribbean and universal.

I argue that this multipartite structure approach is convincing because Indian identity has been shaped by geography, history, politics, migration, leadership, technology and globalization.

The following is a paragraph from the conclusion: “Caribbean Indians will continue to migrate, because of inequities in the global system as well as political, economic, and social instabilities and tensions within each nation-state where Indians have migrated and settled—Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, and in the European and North American Diasporas. Migration will also continue, because a culture of migration has now formed among Indians that is predicated on the belief that in order to grow and develop one has to migrate, despite how temporally. Half of the Indian population in Guyana and Suriname live outside of these countries. What will also happen in the future is that certain patterns of migration will dominate. The preferred destination will be to developed countries, and less so within the Caribbean, reflecting a hierarchy of migration. Vertical rather than horizontal forms of migration will be the preferences. The latter will occur when the first preference is denied, particularly among economically deprived Indo-Guyanese who tend to migrate almost anywhere in the Caribbean. Some trends of migration will continue….”

The book will be published by University Press of Mississippi in January 2018. ([email protected]).

For more on this story go to:

IMAGE: The Rajkumari Cultural Center


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *