Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Special issue: South Asian labor migrations

The March 2021 issue of the Journal of World History features a special forum on South Asian labor migrations, edited by Neilesh Bose (University of Victoria). Here's the line-up for "Indenture and its Afterlives" in vol.32, no.1, with abstracts:

  • Neilesh Bose, "Introduction: South Asian Migrations in Modern Global Histories"
This introduction to the special forum, "Indenture and its Afterlives" offers a snapshot of three articles by Ashutosh Kumar, Riyad Koya, and Andrea Wright, on topics such as contract, legal history and the abolition of indentured labor, and consent. It situates these contributions within a brief historiography of the study of South Asian migrations in global historical frameworks.
  • Ashutosh Kumar, "Subaltern Mobility and Labor Contract: Indian Indenture in New World History"
Recent work in global history has defined the long-distance labor migration of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, following the demise of Trans-Atlantic slavery, as a global phenomenon. Though an important component of migration studies as well as the history of globalization, this framework struggles to consider the significance of indentured migration from India to the sugar plantations overseas. In the view of Adam McKeown, the indentured were insignificant to global historical change, given that they constituted less than ten percent of global migration between 1846 and 1940. In order to establish the significance of indenture, this essay highlights the uniqueness of the indenture system in terms of workers' rights and welfare as well as the legal framework that provided a new language of freedom and contract. Under this system, laborers bargained with colonial authority, a process, which was fulfilled through amendment of legislation. By highlighting this element of the history of indentured labor, this essay aims to inspire further research into the detailed legal history of the process.
  • Andrea Wright, "From Slaves to Contract Workers: Genealogies of Consent and Security in Indian Labor Migration"
This article examines how the mechanisms used by the British Empire to move indentured workers during the nineteenth were implemented in the twentieth century in order to move Indian workers to the oilfields of the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the continuation of this process into the present. Using archival and ethnographic material, this article explores shifting legal engagements with the discourse of consent and how consent is mobilized in regard to the treatment of migrant laborers. The article then considers how the securitization of oil impacted workers' rights and, particularly, issues around worker consent. Examining the continuation of the mechanisms used to move Indian indentured laborers, in conjunction with a rhetoric of security, gives insight into how the rights of workers have been actively curtailed while simultaneously framed as consensual.
  • Riyad Sadiq Koya, "The Regulation, Division, and Multiplication of Emigrant Labor: The Border between Land and Sea in Colonial India, 1834-1922"
In this article, I argue the significance of the border between land and sea for the regulation of labor migration. I identify an early sense of this border in the East India Company's efforts to prohibit the trafficking of slaves overseas by foreign powers. I focus on a shift in the imaginary of the border with the advent of the indentured labor system. New permits, passes, and registration procedures were implemented to materialize the voluntariness of emigration for indentured laborers. Through an examination of Indian emigration legislation, I trace the continuous recalibration of the border through the differential inclusion of new occupational groups and labor migration streams under the umbrella of state regulation. I reevaluate the campaign for the abolition of indentured labor as a further recalibration of the border between land and sea that distinguished discrete rights of mobility for laboring subjects divided and multiplied by the category of skill.

Further information is available here.

--Mitra Sharafi