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“Free” labor was not to replace slave labor, because the planters refused to hire Africans in the Caribbean on negotiable terms and the Africans refused to be hired to work in slave conditions.
“No trick of sophistry or twist of logic,” wrote a nineteenth-century Creole writer, “can ever avail to defend the system of semi-slavery paraded under the guise of indentured immigration.” [note 5] Low wages, poor living conditions (treatment transferred from the African slave to the indentured desi), terrible oppression by the overseers, disdain from the managers, and no avenues of redress combined with unhappy futures made the plantation a very bleak place.
The daily struggles gave rise to an ideology, igniting a series of events in the diaspora in 1913-14.
The various movements led by indentured laborers in different colonies during that period offer us some indication of the laborers’ self-consciousness of their common condition.
Prior to nationalism’s birth in the 19th century, people moved routinely.
They traveled from their local places of birth and social sustenance to territories so far that they lost touch with their early homes.
The gathering succeeded in reestablishing “India” in the central consciousness, but the orthodox leadership referred to culture as the old customs of spirituality and domesticity, not the actual life experiences of the people.
The actual lives of the desis included the brutality of indenture, the monotony of work life on a plantation, the attempt to find solace in religious and spiritual traditions, the divisions between the Africans and the Asians, the difficulty of forming family and other social networks in the midst of the plantation, and the attempt to make the landscape both familiar and sacred.
Clerics of Islam also traveled to the far-flung colonies, and they too attempted to “reclaim the lost brethren” for the homeland’s Islam.
Against the aggressive and state-sponsored Christian missionaries and the richly textured unorthodox popular cultures of indenture, the Hindu and Muslim orthodoxy fought to repatriate them into their native religions.
Most of these migrants did not think of themselves as part of a coherent diaspora, mainly because they did not see their places of origin as part of a national project.
When people of the Indian subcontinent (desis, or those from the desh, homeland), for instance, commonly traveled to Southeast Asia or to Africa as part of the world of the Indian Ocean (that has been called the Afrasian Sea), there is no evidence that they saw themselves as part of a desi diaspora.
The first non-Europeans to consider the indentured laborers as a community were the Indian missionaries (Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh).