North American Conference on British Studies 2
Sundar Vadlamudi examines the migration and settlement of Tamil Muslims in Penang in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Vadlamudi’s study explains the origins of a diverse society of migrants that developed in Penang and argues that EIC settlements, such as Penang and Singapore, cannot be understood without reference to pre-colonial patterns of trade and movement. Similarly challenging colonial narratives, Ahmed Almaazmi centers Baloch migrants in the story of exploration in Australia and East Africa. In so doing, Almaazmi breaks down Victorian colonial stereotypes such as the leitmotif of the ‘martial Baloch’ and the ‘fanatic Afghan.’ Moving into the twentieth century, Matthew Bowser and Emma Meyer explore the life and mobility of diasporic Indian communities in colonial Burma. Bowser examines how the large Indian population making a “home-away-from-home” in Burma led to intense anti-immigrant nationalism spread by opportunistic populist politicians. In examining anti-Muslim riots in 1938, Bowser argues that diasporic immigrant communities often serve as a scapegoat for the deep-seated socioeconomic issues caused by colonial rule. Meyer looks at what happened to these same diasporic communities after the anti-immigrant outbursts of the 1930s by studying the dislocation and exodus of large swathes of the Indian population from Burma during the Japanese invasion in World War II. By focusing on the Evacuee Identity Card, a travel and identification document meant to manage India-Burma migration following World War II, Meyer argues that the colonial and post-colonial administrations of India and Burma used such documents to control and shape cross-border mobility by restricting movement primarily to “stable,” often male, migrants.
As a whole, this panel provides two key interventions. First, it challenges European narratives of Indian Ocean history by demonstrating the continuity of pre-colonial connections and the often-invisible influence of colonized peoples on seemingly colonial enterprises. And second, it provides greater complexity in understanding diasporic communities’ interactions with colonial states and the indigenous peoples of those states.