How did the British Empire exploit Indian labor through the system of indentured labor in various colonies, especially in Sri Lanka, and what were the consequences of this exploitation on the lives of the laborers? Discuss the challenges faced by Plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka and their struggle for identity and integration. (250 words)

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Introduction: The British Empire, in its quest for economic gain, transitioned from slavery to indentured labor, subjecting millions of Indians to bonded servitude across its colonies. This practice had a profound impact on the lives of these indentured laborers, particularly the Plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Exploitation of Indian Labor:

  1. Transition from Slavery: The British Empire banned slavery but replaced it with indentured labor, exploiting Indians as a cheap workforce for plantations and infrastructure projects in colonies.
  2. Deceptive Recruitment: Indian laborers were often misled about the nature of work, wages, and their destinations, resulting in them arriving heavily indebted.
  3. Inhumane Living Conditions: Indentured laborers endured squalid living conditions without access to sanitation, healthcare, or education for their children.
  4. Kangani System: Sub-contractors known as kanganies controlled and exploited laborers, keeping them in perpetual debt and lacking autonomy.
  5. Land Restrictions: Colonial laws restricted landownership to those “domiciled” in the colony, excluding Plantation Tamils from buying land and building houses.

Struggle of Plantation Tamils:

  1. Identity Formation: Despite discrimination, Plantation Tamils forged an identity rooted in Tamil language, culture, and values.
  2. Integration Efforts: Over generations, they worked towards greater integration with Sri Lankan society.
  3. Citizenship Struggle: The Citizenship Act of 1948 rendered them stateless, but efforts by democratic parties like the Ceylon Workers’ Congress led to citizenship and voting rights.
  4. Land Ownership: There are plans to divide plantations, allowing workers to become landowners, although this project is still in progress.

Conclusion: The British Empire’s exploitation of Indian labor through indentured servitude left a lasting impact on the lives of Plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka. Despite numerous challenges, they have strived for integration and identity, and their journey highlights the importance of decolonization in post-colonial nations.

Reference: The Hindu – An under-discussed facet of colonial history

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