The University of Cambridge has taken a significant step by establishing the first-ever visiting fellowship dedicated to the study of indentured labor, a controversial system that replaced slavery during British colonization and involved millions of Indians. Guyanese-American Professor Gaiutra Bahadur was appointed as the inaugural “Ramesh and Leela Narain visiting bye-fellow in Indentureship Studies” at Selwyn College.
Cambridge University’s Launch
Bahadur, the author of ‘Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture,’ has extensively researched the lives of Indian women who became indentured laborers in colonial plantations during the 19th century. She expressed her delight and honor to be part of this fellowship, which provides much-needed visibility and funding for future researchers in this field.
The program, a collaboration between Selwyn College and the Ameena Gafoor Institute, enables a scholar to spend eight weeks at Cambridge conducting research. The study and documentation of indentureship have been notably absent from the history syllabi of British and European universities, despite its profound impact on millions of individuals and cultures. This fellowship and the hope for a future Professorship in the subject aim to rectify this omission and bring indentureship studies to the forefront of academic research.
Indentureship, a temporary contract between employer and laborer, saw its largest expression during 1834-1920 when 2 million Indians and thousands from other regions were exploited to replace enslaved African labor in the Caribbean and Mauritius. The system often involved abuse and exploitation, with workers having little recourse to justice.
The initiative to study indentureship by Cambridge and its legacies is part of the broader discussion in the UK on decolonizing history and presenting diverse perspectives. The establishment of this fellowship marks a significant milestone in acknowledging and studying this important aspect of history.