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Satendra Nandan, The wounded sea

Mishra, V. (1992) Satendra Nandan, The wounded sea. Span: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, 32 .

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V.S. Naipaul once wrote that Indian indentured labourers to Trinidad came from an 'old and perhaps an ancient India' untouched by 'the great Indian reform movements of the nineteenth century'. The Indian migrants Naipaul referred to were part of a movement of humanity which began soon after the abolition of slavery. In response to a request by white settlers in the sugar growing colonies for labour, the British Government turned to India and began recruiting workers from the populous United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar in the first instance to work in the sugar plantations of British Guiana (Guyana), Dutch Guiana (Surinam), Trinidad, Mauritius, South Africa and, finally, Fiji. This movement of labour spanned some eighty years, from 1840 to 1917, when the 'new system of slavery' was finally abolished. Thus began the saga of indenture, or girmit, as it came to be known by the indentured labourers themselves. The 'agreement' that had to be signed, through a characteristic process of linguistic transformation, became girmit, the contract now representing an entire ethos, a legend, a tyranny, and, finally, a history and an ideology. What V.S. Naipaul referred to was in fact a background which would affect the psychology of these migrant Indians and would become, in years to come, a defining feature of the three million or so Indians of the Indian diaspora. Since these Indians came, on the whole, from a relatively homogeneous part of India, they developed a language (a variant of Bhojpuri and Standard Hindi) which quickly became the language of the indentured labourers regardless of their place of origin. Such was the impact of this language that indentured labourers to these plantations from other linguistic groups (Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam and Bengali for instance) quickly adopted this language. Subsequent free migrants too, notably from Gujerat and the Punjab, acquired this language with a speed that has confounded linguists...

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Murdoch University. Centre for Research in Culture and Communication
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