Indentured labour was a system of bonded labour that emerged following the abolition of slavery. Indentured labourers were recruited to work under a restrictive contract of employment for a fixed period in a foreign country in exchange for payment of passage, accommodation, and food. In the case of British India, indentured labourers were taken to various British colonies as a source of cheap and mobile labour.
Reasons for the use of indentured labour by the British included:
- Industrial demand: The industrialisation of Britain, followed by other European countries, accelerated the flow of trade, labour, and capital across the world, creating a need for cheap labour in the colonies.
- Cheap source of labour: After the abolition of slavery, Indian indentured labourers provided a cheap source of labour to the government.
- Freed slaves refused to work for low wages: Plantation owners in colonies that had imported Indian workers had a large number of freed slaves who refused to work for low wages, making importing indentured labour a viable option.
Regarding the preservation of cultural identity of Indian indentured labourers in the colonies, the situation varied depending on the location and time period. However, some general observations can be made:
- In some cases, Indian indentured labourers were able to preserve their cultural identity through the maintenance of their traditions, language, religion, and food. For example, Indian workers in Trinidad and Tobago established a vibrant Indian community that has continued to this day.
- In other cases, indentured labourers faced pressure to assimilate into the dominant culture of their new home, leading to the loss of their cultural identity.
- Over time, the descendants of Indian indentured labourers have formed their own unique identities, blending Indian culture with local customs and traditions.
In conclusion, the use of indentured labour by the British in their colonies was motivated by the need for cheap and mobile labour. The preservation of cultural identity of Indian indentured labourers varied depending on location and time period, with some communities maintaining their traditions while others assimilated into the dominant culture of their new home. However, the descendants of Indian indentured labourers have formed their own unique identities, blending Indian culture with local customs and traditions.