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Title: Situating the 'coolie question' : indentured labour and post-slavery debates in mid-nineteenth century Calcutta
Author: Hossain, Purba
ISNI:       0000 0004 9358 3099
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis explores how voices from Calcutta—the colonial capital of British India—contributed to debates on the use of Indian indentured labour in British sugar plantations. The abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833 had led to an immediate need for plantation workers. Indian indentured migrants filled this need through a standardised, government-sanctioned movement of labourers based on contracts or indentures. Between 1837 and 1920, around 1.3 million Indian indentured labourers migrated to overseas plantation colonies. As the site of embarkation and disembarkation, Calcutta occupied a unique position in the global indenture networks—where local personages and periodicals participated in discussions on indenture. However, in spite of its significance within these networks, Calcutta has remained an unexplored node. This thesis addresses this lacuna. Instead of focusing on plantation colonies that indentured migrants immigrated to, it refocuses literature on a port-city that labourers embarked from. In doing so, it explores how pro- and anti-indenture voices from Calcutta framed the indenture trade, contributed to emigration regulations, and impacted upon post-Abolition understanding of ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labour. The main research outcomes of the thesis are three-fold. Firstly, it explores the role of Calcutta within global debates on indenture, thus centring Calcutta in indenture historiography. Secondly, it analyses the importance of the ‘post-slavery’ moment in defining ideas of servitude in the British Empire, and in framing the indenture debates. Thirdly, it uses the debates at Calcutta to comment on the nature of the British Empire, and to explore how metropolitan decisions and ideas of labour servitude were affected by inputs from geographically-disparate parts of the empire. In doing so, it contributes to a more multifaceted understanding of the British Empire, and helps highlight Calcutta’s position within it.
Supervisor: Major, Andrea ; Gould, William Sponsor: University of Leeds ; Royal Historical Society
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available