The Ameena Gafoor Foundation deserves plaudits for initiating the Inden-tureship Institute to conduct research on the legacies of indentureship (Al Creighton column Sunday Stabroek Oct 25). The generosity of the Gafoors in promoting the arts and now focusing on the indentureship experience must be applauded.
There is a paucity of research on the indentureship experience. Al Creighton’s works are to be emulated, contributing much to understanding the Afro Carib-bean history. He has researched and published extensively on the Afro Guyanese and Afro Caribbean experience including on the Afro indentureds, some 60K of whom came to the Caribbean to work on plantations post emancipation. There is no equivalent Indian academic at UG or in the Caribbean on indentureship. The Ameena Gafoor institute will hopefully fill the vacuum.
Ameena boasts an impressive record of supporting public service, promoting the arts, and scholarly research work. She is highly respected by Guyanese in the diaspora for her work. It is hoped that the Ameena Gafoor Institute on Indentureship will encourage research to fill the void of limited research on indentureship. Such an indentureship institute is long overdue. No such institute exists anywhere in Guyana or the Caribbean. There are state sponsored institutes and research projects on the legacies of slavery but none on indentureship or the Indian experience.
The governments in Guyana and Ministry of Culture have not been very supportive of programmes or activities pertaining to indentureship. Indentured servants from India accounted for 90% of the indentured labourers in Guyana post slavery and 95% in Trinidad. But succeeding governments in Guyana and in the Caribbean have not shown much interest in or been forthcoming on sponsorship of projects relating to indentureship.
A similar research private institute as Ameena’s on Indian indentureship (Global Girmit Institute) was launched in Fiji four years ago by a group of us doing research on indentureship also known as girmitya labour and we organized an international conference in July 2019 but funding has since dried up. A similar private institute is being initiated by a group of us in Sydney, Australia and New York with our own limited funds. And a research centre is being launched at the prestigious Benaras Hindu University in Varanasi, a project being initiated by this writer and Profs C.S Bhatt and Ghanshyam of India. It is indentureship oriented.
The BHU centre plans to publish an Indian Diaspora journal similar to the one conceived for the Gafoor Institute with the first issue scheduled to be out in December. Articles are still being accepted. The first issue focuses on the legacies of Indentureship, and like the Gafoor Institute, the BHU Indian Diaspora Journal would be published semi-annually.
The Gafoors are applauded for conceiving this indentureship Institute. It is fitting to start it now since this year marks the centennial of the official end of indentureship. The recruitment of indentured labourers ended in March 1917 and the inhumane practice of indentured servitude came to an end on January 1, 1920.
The institute is urged to provide college scholarships for underprivileged high school students especially from the neglected rural areas to promote research into the history and culture of Indian indentureds. It is expected that this Gafoor Indentureship project would fund research of the young and that it would help to produce budding scholars on the indentureship experience like the internationally acclaimed David Dabydeen, Clem Seecharran, Baytoram Ramharack, Basdeo Mangru, Ryhaan Shah, Gaiutra Bahadur, and Ameena Gafoor, herself, among others. It is hoped that the Ameena Gafoor Institute on Indentureship would also produce outstanding new scholarship (research) and that it would help to make a make a positive impact on Indo-Carib-bean people.
Dr Vishnu Bisram