Indenture and Beyond: Comparative Perspectives on South Asian Migration
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 1
Riyad S. Koya, University of California, Berkeley
Mrinalini Sinha, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Migrations of South Asian populations in the modern world, whether in the Indian Ocean arena at the highpoint of indentured labor migrations, the post-World War II Atlantic Ocean context, or the contemporary context in the age of oil and contract labor in Gulf states or in Southeast Asia, tend to be studied either within particular national frames with a focus on the local points of arrival or divided by socio-economic classes ("indentured," "middle-class," "professional") as separate units. This panel aims to broaden current analysis of South Asian migration histories by focusing on thematic historical experiences that cut across space, socio-economic class, and religion, such as family networks, marriage patterns and restrictions, and the global politics of abolition. Individual speakers will contribute to a broad discussion about the role of South Asian migrations in an imperial context, with an emphasis on situating relationships between indentured and "free" migrations, relationships between indentured migrations and Indian marriage law in the British Empire, and the impacts of abolition on Indian nationalism. Thematically, the panel seeks to explore the current state of Indian indentured migration studies by situating South Asian migrations in light of recent interventions in imperial history. Recent scholarship on East Africa, the Caribbean, and North America as sites for South Asian migrants points to the need to merge the field of Indian indentured labor studies, often seen as an adjunct to British imperial history, with broader debates about the role of South Asian migrations within diverse political forms and creating new spaces of legal, cultural, and social change. Furthermore, the roundtable will ask whether the experiences of South Asian indentured labor migration - pivotal in global history for its replacement of slavery in many cases - form a precedent to later mobilizations of laborers from South Asia in the post-imperial age.