Coolitude meets indianité

Postcolonial kala pani writings in French

Authored by: Brinda J. Mehta

Routledge Handbook of the Indian Diaspora

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138942899
eBook ISBN: 9781315672571
Adobe ISBN:


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Postcolonial Indian writings in French have their roots in the history of colonization, the institution of indenture, and the pre-and post-capitalist plantation economies of the French-dominated islands of the Indian Ocean (Mauritius, Réunion, Seychelles, Madagascar) and the Caribbean (Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Saint Lucia). These writings have received marginal attention in the overall corpus of postcolonial literature, particularly in the South Asian and South Asian diasporic contexts. The term kala pani or black water refers to the crossing of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean Sea by thousands of economically disempowered rural workers from India, pejoratively termed coolies, under a nefarious system of indentured labour that lasted from 1838 to 1917. These labourers, the majority of whom were Hindu, were lured to foreign lands under the guise of enhanced social and economic prospects. They comprised an agricultural underclass. Unable to read, write, and interpret the terms of their contracts, many of them were duped by unscrupulous immigration officers and agents or maistrys working for the British and French. In collusion with the colonial powers, these agents of the Empire perpetuated an inhumane system of contracted labour exploitation as a disguised form of enslavement, even though the British ‘officially’ abolished slavery in 1838, followed by the French in 1848. The beginning of Indian indenture ironically coincided with the end of African slavery. The European sugar industry and a transnational system of capitalist profit still needed a cheap and hardworking labour force on plantations in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean (Mehta, B. J., 2010, 1).

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