A repository of things Indian in the Caribbean
"Girmitiyas” (derived from the Bhojpuri word "girmit" for “agreement”) refers to the generations of Indians who were taken from India by the Europeans to work as indentured laborers in the sugar plantations around the world during the middle and late 19th century. These areas include Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, South Africa, East Africa, Malay Peninsula, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, Danish West Indies, St Croix, and other Caribbean islands. The girmitiyas signed a contract that guaranteed bounded labor for five years (with option to renew for another 5 years), after which they could return to India. If they renewed their contract after 5 years, they could return to India at the expense of the British Colonial government. Many girmitiyas chose to remain in the diasporic colonies and chose to settle in exchange for return passages and a some received small plots of land.
Approximately 1.2 million girmitiyas were transported from India in a span of over eighty years, with more than half of them taken to the Caribbean. Descendants of the original girmitiyas can be found in large communities in Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname, and in other island nations in the Caribbean. The girmitiyas, as well as their descendants, have made progress in various areas, while overcoming difficult challenges. Some of those challenges, and new ones, continue to plague the children of the original girmitiyas today.
In many ways, the history of the girmitiyas who crossed the kala pani (“black water”) remains silent, or was silenced by colonial hegemony. This site is an attempt to give recognition to the presence of girmitiyas in the Caribbean. While our focus is primarily on Indians in the Caribbean, we will strive to encourage communication, cooperation and interaction with girmitiyas outside the region. We recognize that many scholars are engaged in researching, documenting and archiving our history so that we can have a common narrative. It is important that this narrative gets filtered down to members of our community so that they can connect with the past and define our proper role in our respective Caribbean societies.
"Cooliness", Coolitude and Pan-indenturism
The narrative on Indians in and from the Caribbean forms an undeniable addition to Khal Torabully’s concept of COOLITUDE. Girmitiyas who have settled in various parts of the Caribbean have made significant contributions to the societies in which they permanently reside. There are two distinct features that connect the Caribbean girmitiyas with the Indian diaspora, and India, spiritually and emotionally, namely a) the trans-oceanic and geographic crossing, and b) the shadow of Mother India to which many still share a cultural connection. The commonality shared by diasporic communities, the evidence of a flourishing multi-discipline research designed to construct a "lost" narrative and the frequent interaction among global girmitiyas have created an international bond that promises to unite this community across national borders in ways that were non-existent before. Moreover, globalization and a renaissance in cultural awakening has facilitated a desire to establish closer relations with Indians in the diaspora. Girmitiyas across the world are taking the initiative to document their history. Given the scope of bigger things to come, our goal of promoting interactions with the diasporic Indians will be limited to the Caribbean region. We, of course, will gladly work closely with girmitiyas and Indians outside the Caribbean region, particularly since we share similar historical experiences and legacies, as well as common challenges.
Oral History: "On Being Indian"
Voices from the Caribbean Indian Diaspora (and others)
History comes "alive” through visual presentations. Making connections with the past, in order to understand the present, is an important process in defining our identity and our being. We will strive to do so via oral narratives from Indians in the Caribbean who in their unique accomplishments have created “cross-national echoes” from their coolitude experiences. Caribbean girmitiyas will share their experiences “on being Indian” through short videos. Oral narratives will seek to focus on contemporary issues and challenges facing the Indian diaspora in the Caribbean.
Discovering Indian History in the Caribbean
The Haitian academic and anthropologist, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, noted that history essentially is silenced (if not silent) when our life experiences are disconnected from four critical areas of expressing our history: SOURCES (the moment of fact creation), ARCHIVES (preserving the facts), NARRATIVES (retelling historical events from facts) and HISTORY (using facts to reconstruct a “lost” history). Archival materials documenting the history of the girmitiyas is a crucial component of making our history come alive. This section will enable researchers to participate in reconstructing the history of Indians (which was largely told from the perspective of the power centers and individuals who controlled the system of indentureship) through available artifacts, documents and records held as repositories in the Caribbean (and other places).
MAN'S Emigration Pass of Indentured Indian assigned to Jamaica. Source: Pinterest
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi, 2018.
Narratives of Caribbean Indians
A review of publications (books, articles, magazines or otherwise) dealing with the girmitiyas from the Caribbean will be included here.
Audio Recording of Caribbean Indians
Episodic digital audio files are common mediums by which speakers transfer and share educational information which can be easily accessible. This is the place to tune in.
President Santokhi of Suriname (third from left) hosts President Ali of Guyana (second from left) marking Suriname's 45th independence anniversary, November 25, 2020, Guyana Times newspaper.
Becoming Regionally and Globally Aware
This is a good place to look for news, events and announcements from other sources affecting the Caribbean girmitiyas (newsfeed, zoom links, conferences, workshops, etc) will be posted and shared here.
Young people share a "mixture" of opinions
Young people represents the bridge between the historical past and the future. The girmitiya experience of previous generations is filtered through them and it is through this generation that a legacy is offered to the next generation. Their experience will be highlighted here.
Weekly Zoom meetings, organized by Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre (ICC). Courtesy: Dr Kumar Mahabir
There are various social media platforms through which members of the Indian Caribbean community interact and share information, including newsfeed, zoom links, google meets, conferences, workshops, etc). Become part of the multiple conversations of interests to the girmitiya community.