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Invisible Windrush: how the stories of Indian indentured labourers from the Caribbean were forgotten

When people think about the Windrush generation, they are unlikely to imagine someone like my father, who was not black but a person of Indian-Caribbean…



Labourers and children of Indian heritage walking down a street in Guyana in the early 1920s. The Field Museum Library, CC BY-SA

My father never spoke to us about Guyana, the country of his birth, when we were growing up because he believed that his history had no value to his children. In doing this, he was unconsciously copying his grandparents, as well as others in his community, who had collectively chosen not to talk about their past.

Sadly, in our case, this familial silence was like a bullet that ricocheted down the generations. It was fired in 1886 when my 22-year-old great-grandfather was recruited from India as an indentured labourer to travel to British Guiana (the spelling changed to Guyana in 1966 after independence) on a ship called the Foyle. It went on to the vessel that carried my father to Britain from Guyana in 1961, before taking aim at my brothers and I – a group of disaffected and confused children who had no real understanding of what our cultural heritage was.

When my father, Surujpaul Kaladeen, left Guyana, aged 23, he joined half a million other people from the Caribbean who made the journey to a new life in the UK between 1948 and 1971. This group of people became known as the Windrush generation.

When people think about the Windrush generation the images they tend to associate with this period are the black and white photos taken of African-Caribbean people at Tilbury Docks or Waterloo train station.

They are unlikely to imagine someone like my father, who was not black but a person of Indian-Caribbean heritage. It took me many years to unpick my family history and to understand that we were not the only ones to experience this kind of cultural amnesia growing up.

When my son was born in 2013, I began to understand myself in the context of being an “invisible passenger in two imperial migrations”. Because, not only was the system of indenture generally unknown to the wider public, but as a consequence, the presence of Indian people in the Caribbean was also unknown. So, we were never recognised as part of the Windrush generation.

The fact that we did not look like we were part of a discernible community and that we were constantly faced with questions about our origins, was difficult for us growing up. I believe it was a contributory factor to the tragic outcomes that followed for my brothers.

The system of indenture was started in Mauritius in 1834 so that the British could cheaply replace enslaved Africans following the abolition of slavery in the British empire.

Under the British empire over two million people of Indian heritage were transported, through the indenture system, to countries on five different continents. While you will encounter British people of Indian-Mauritian, Indian-South African and Indian-Fijian heritage in the UK, the system of indenture that brought their ancestors to those countries is entirely absent from school curriculums and until recently, university syllabuses too.

This article is part of Conversation Insights
The Insights team generates long-form journalism derived from interdisciplinary research. The team is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects aimed at tackling societal and scientific challenges.

But what has also helped Britain “forget” the creation and maintenance of the system of indenture across the 19th and early 20th centuries is the community’s own attitude to its past. Many of my great-grandparent’s generation connected their poverty and their departure from India – with its associated rupture of family ties – to feelings of shame.

Caribbean heritage, but not black

In some ways, I now look at my life as an academic as one long love letter to my older brothers. I wanted to understand the role that the absence of knowing our father’s history had played in shaping us as children, before we ever really had a chance to form questions about who we were.

Black and white image of a ship in a harbour.
In 1886 the iron ship, Foyle, carried people from India to British Guiana where they would work as indentured labourers on plantations. State Library of South Australia, CC BY-SA

I have dedicated my academic career to an exploration of the history and literature of indenture and my book, The Other Windrush, edited with the academic and author David Dabydeen, is about the lives of people who grew up like me: descendants of the system of indenture whose history was unknown to the wider world.

In the early 2000s I embarked on archival research for my MA and subsequent PhD on colonial writing on indentured Indians in Guyana, which sits between Venezuela and Suriname, and is the only English-speaking country in South America. Guyana is part of the mainland Caribbean region.

I was convinced that in understanding the series of events that had led my ancestors from India to the Caribbean in the 19th century, I would in turn be able to work out what had happened to my brothers: gifted, bright, and beautiful boys who had stumbled catastrophically into adulthood.

Whether expressed through prison sentences, addiction or homelessness, their existence seemed to be a rejection of anything that resembled a normal life.

We were of Caribbean heritage, but not black. We were further of mixed heritage as our mum was white, but nobody used these labels in those days and to the world outside we were simply “pakis” – the word British racists used as a pejorative slur for anyone of South Asian heritage.

What I did not understand then, and what I have come to understand only recently, is that any comprehension of the role that indenture played in our lives was incomplete without understanding my father’s journey from the Caribbean to the UK as part of the Windrush generation.

What was indenture?

Indians were taken from India to work on colonial sugar, rubber, tea and cocoa plantations in the 19th and early 20th century. By the time indenture was abolished in 1917, the system had spread from Mauritius and the Caribbean to Fiji, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and beyond.

Considering the enormity of the system of indenture, which transported over two million men, women and children from India to parts of the British empire across the globe, it is surprising that it is so rarely acknowledged in public institutions in the UK. Indeed, the silence that surrounds it perhaps indicates how troubling its presence is in British imperial history as it disrupts the idea of the British empire as an institution that did not profit from exploitative systems of unfree labour after the abolition of slavery.

When indenture was abolished it left an overseas Indian community scattered across the world.

This article is part of our Windrush 75 series, which marks the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush arriving in Britain. The stories in this series explore the history and impact of the hundreds of passengers who disembarked to help rebuild after the second world war.

A few facts unite the stories of those Indian communities: most never returned to India, despite their right to a free passage on completion of their indenture and a period of residence in the colony; and they spoke rarely or selectively about the past and what had led them to agree to travel so far.

Undoubtedly, many Indian indentured immigrants were duped into making the journey. It was common, for example, for recruiters to lie about the type of work and the amount of pay involved. But we also know that others made decisions to indenture based on an understanding that it could offer an escape from familial or societal pressures, famine and poverty.

In Guyana and Trinidad, the system itself sought to encourage Indian workers to remain in the country by offering a bounty or a plot of land to those that re-indentured. When considering the power of the plantation economy in individual countries and its ability to encircle workers, it is perhaps unsurprising that people made the decision to stay in their new homes, particularly in cases where they had left challenging family circumstances.

The population of the Caribbean was transformed by the system of indenture and not only from Indian labourers. Chinese indentured labourers arrived in Guyana and Trinidad in 1853 and to Jamaica in 1854. By the time the indenture system had been abolished in 1917, close to 18,000 Chinese and almost 450,000 Indians had been brought to the British Caribbean.

‘Collective amnesia’

I remember a scene in a BBC documentary about indenture, from 2002, called Coolies: How Britain Reinvented Slavery. In that scene my colleague, David Dabydeen, is standing among paper fragments and neglected records in an old post office in Guyana.

Whispering, so that no one will hear him and be offended, he speaks to the camera in his beautiful Berbice-to-Tooting-to-Cambridge drawl: “I believe that people don’t want to remember the past,” he says.

It’s a past of shame it’s not something they want to preserve in the way that in England you would preserve castles or Arthurian legend.

In this he is supported by the Guyanese historian, Clem Seecharan, who frequently refers to a type of “collective amnesia” affecting the first generation of Indian indentured immigrants to the Caribbean, who internalised both the shame of being part of a system that subjugated them and, in many cases, also carried the burden of a complicated past in India.

When I was growing up the term Windrush generation had not yet been coined and work in universities on the idea of “Indian-Caribbean” as an identity and a diaspora, had not yet begun. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there was no vocabulary to express who we were.

David, the ‘true child of Windrush’

My oldest brother David was born in 1965 and was a true child of Windrush and when I say that I mean it in the sense that he experienced the worst of the prejudice of this period. Born when my parents were living in a rented room that they had struggled to find, he accompanied them on their journey to flat rental and eventual home ownership.

There is a photo of David standing outside our family home around 1974, he is just about smiling I think, and squinting because the sun is in his eyes. To me, he appears to be looking out at an unknown future that perhaps, because of this new house, seems a little brighter than before.

When David died in his early forties in 2008, having lived much of his adult life as a rough sleeper, my father was haunted by the decisions that he had made when we were children, believing that if he had just acted at a particular moment, David’s life could have been completely different.

He focused particularly on an occasion when David was racially attacked at school and another boy had hit him with a cricket bat. The incident had been serious enough to cause his head to bleed badly and my dad lamented that he had not immediately removed him from this school, which was famous in our area for being somewhere you survived rather than attended. Each of us have stories about David like this.

For my mum it was the night that David was stopped by the police and subjected to a humiliating strip search in a police van, despite explaining to the police that his house was 100 metres away and that if they knocked on the door, my mother would happily explain that the bike he was wheeling was not stolen: it was his.

I was a little girl at this time, perhaps only nine or ten years old, but I remember that even my mum, who famously “didn’t get” why we had a problem with racism, was angry. Like a million white women before her she had crossed the colour bar with certain misconceptions intact – the justice and the fairness of the British police was one of them.

Nobody asked us initially to identify his body because in typical David fashion he had always slept with his birth certificate on his person, in a plastic wallet, safe from the elements. My youngest brother, Eddie, who was born in 1973, refused to believe that the body in the hospital mortuary was David’s. As my father and I stood at the edges of the room, Eddie broke free and ran to his brother, touching his face as he repeated his name in disbelief.

Eddie, ‘the centre of my life growing up’

Two years ago, I cradled the scatter tube that held Eddie’s ashes in my arms as my husband drove me to the crematorium where we had left David 13 years before. Found dead in his flat in the middle of the pandemic, he had survived longer than anyone who loved him thought that he might.

In my eyes, his life since adolescence had been a long flirtation with death and each of us had made dashes across London to various hospitals where he had been taken after overdoses or as a result of being sectioned. In my mind, when I enter our childhood house and wander around the rooms looking for pieces of our story, I inevitably find Eddie, who was the centre of my life growing up.

Two years older than me, Eddie was the person in my childhood who I admired most. He was a strong, athletic boy who could draw, programme computers, skateboard like a demon and write incredible stories. I looked up to him enormously and refused to consider any of the accumulating evidence that he was lying to me regularly, right up until the point that a local drug dealer arrived on our doorstep demanding to see him.

Perhaps there is no intimacy like that of a sibling relationship. There are parts of ourselves that are known exclusively to the people who watched us when we were in formation. I am aware that in losing David and Eddie, I have also lost parts of myself; memories that are irretrievable without them.

It is of course impossible to know if my brothers’ lives would have been different if they had a better sense of our father’s history and heritage. But the void we felt as children and the way in which this absence of familial history affected them, motivated my studies.

Who was my father?

As I progressed through my PhD my father, and his siblings who had moved to Canada after his migration to the UK, shared what they knew about their parents and grandparents with me. My father, who was born in 1938, in particular remembered his maternal grandfather, who unlike his paternal grandfather had come from the south of India and with whom he spent every summer growing up. Among the stories about this grandfather that he and his older brother shared with me were those of the Kali Mai Puja, an important religious celebration for South Indians in Guyana.

I understood that much of my father’s reluctance to speak about the past was connected not only to his parents’ and grandparents’ omissions, but also the ideas he had garnered throughout his childhood that his history did not have the same value as that of his colonisers.

The superiority of everything British was an idea that had been absorbed throughout his boyhood in Guyana which remained a colony until 1966. Every aspect of his education was connected to Britain, and he spoke to me often, after he had retired, about a textbook that he remembered with great affection called the Royal Reader. It was in this book that he had encountered one of his favourite poems by Tennyson called The Brook.

In an echo of the silence of our childhood, I discovered, after my mother’s death in 2019, that he had managed to hide an early diagnosis of dementia from both her and us for over four years. In the remaining time we had left, as his illness worsened, he would share a story with me about his daily journey to Peter’s Hall primary school, the school that served the children of the sugar estate of the same name. In this tale he would recall his first teacher and the walk home from school where he would pass his uncles who were working as canecutters on the sugar estate.

He spoke often of his South Indian grandfather, Swantimala, and I remembered a story that his older brother had told me many years before, about how my father had nearly died as a toddler, but that Swantimala had come to the house and asked his daughter, my grandmother, for permission to take care of him during his illness. He returned with him only once he had recovered.

To me this story represented everything that we had lacked growing up in London: the wonder of an extended family and the security of being born into a community of others like you.

I imagined this handsome, dark-skinned, grey-haired man striding off down the road with my dad in his arms and his daughter, looking on, safe in the knowledge that he could make everything right.

I hoped that if my father, who died earlier this year, lost other memories, some trace of this sensation he would have had as a toddler could remain. That he was the beloved grandson of a man who loved his daughter, and a daughter who in turn trusted her father. A child who was in that moment safe in the land of his birth – peaceful and unaware of all that he would one day leave behind.

Any sound is better than silence

I was in the middle of my doctorate when David died in 2008. For over a year I was unable to write or do any research. In the face of his death the recovery of our history seemed a pointless practice that would change nothing for him. I revisited these emotions in 2021 when Eddie died in the build-up to the launch of The Other Windrush.

In the same documentary that features David Dabydeen’s search for his great-grandfather’s indenture records in Guyana, the late Indian-Fijian historian Brij Lal speaks of the dedication of his entire adult life, to the study of indenture. He says he is “haunted” by the “ghosts of the past”. He adds: “It’s very emotional because I am not talking about a group of people in the abstract, I’m talking about people from whom I’m descended.”

I am unable to give these memories of Swantimala and the comforting roots they provide to my brothers. It is of course too late for that.

But in those moments where it has felt nothing can counter the pain of their loss, that this work does not matter, I am reminded that the research itself is an act of resistance and that in advocating for the history of the “ghosts of the past”, any sound I can make is better than silence.

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María del Pilar Kaladeen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Saudi Arabia Sentences Schoolgirl To 18 Years In Prison Over Tweets

Saudi Arabia Sentences Schoolgirl To 18 Years In Prison Over Tweets

Via Middle East Eye,

Saudi Arabia has sentenced a secondary schoolgirl…



Saudi Arabia Sentences Schoolgirl To 18 Years In Prison Over Tweets

Via Middle East Eye,

Saudi Arabia has sentenced a secondary schoolgirl to 18 years in jail and a travel ban for posting tweets in support of political prisoners, according to a rights group.

On Friday, ALQST rights group, which documents human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, revealed that the Saudi Specialised Criminal Court handed out the sentence in August to 18-year-old Manal al-Gafiri, who was only 17 at the time of her arrest.

Via Reuters

The Saudi judiciary, under the de facto rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has issued several extreme prison sentences over cyber activism and the use of social media for criticising the government.

They include the recent death penalty against Mohammed al-Ghamdi, a retired teacher, for comments made on Twitter and YouTube, and the 34-year sentence of Leeds University doctoral candidate Salma al-Shehab over tweets last year.

The crown prince confirmed Ghamdi's sentence during a wide-ranging interview with Fox News on Wednesday. He blamed it on "bad laws" that he cannot change

"We are not happy with that. We are ashamed of that. But [under] the jury system, you have to follow the laws, and I cannot tell a judge [to] do that and ignore the law, because... that's against the rule of law," he said.

Saudi human rights defenders and lawyers, however, disputed Mohammed bin Salman's allegations and said the crackdown on social media users is correlated with his ascent to power and the introduction of new judicial bodies that have since overseen a crackdown on his critics. 

"He is able, with one word or the stroke of a pen, in seconds, to change the laws if he wants," Taha al-Hajji, a Saudi lawyer and legal consultant with the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights, told Middle East Eye this week.

According to Joey Shea, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch, Ghamdi was sentenced under a counterterrorism law passed in 2017, shortly after Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince. The law has been criticised for its broad definition of terrorism.

Similarly, two new bodies - the Presidency of State Security and the Public Prosecution Office - were established by royal decrees in the same year.

Rights groups have said that the 2017 overhaul of the kingdom's security apparatus has significantly enabled the repression of Saudi opposition voices, including those of women rights defenders and opposition activists. 

"These violations are new under MBS, and it's ridiculous that he is blaming this on the prosecution when he and senior Saudi authorities wield so much power over the prosecution services and the political apparatus more broadly," Shea said, using a common term for the prince.

Tyler Durden Sun, 09/24/2023 - 11:30

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Biden To Join UAW Picket Line As Strike Expands, Good Luck Getting Repairs

Biden To Join UAW Picket Line As Strike Expands, Good Luck Getting Repairs

Authored by Mike Shedlock via,

In a symbolic, photo-op…



Biden To Join UAW Picket Line As Strike Expands, Good Luck Getting Repairs

Authored by Mike Shedlock via,

In a symbolic, photo-op gesture to win union votes, Biden will head to Michigan for a token visit.

Biden to Walk the Picket Line

Taking Sides

CNN had some Interesting comments on Biden Talking Sides.

Jeremi Suri, a presidential historian and professor at University of Texas at Austin, said he doesn’t believe any president has ever visited a picket line during a strike.

Presidents, including Biden, have previously declined to wade into union disputes to avoid the perception of taking sides on issues where the negotiating parties are often engaged in litigation.

On September 15, the day the strike started, Biden said that the automakers “should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.”

Some Democratic politicians have been urging Biden to do more. California Rep. Ro Khanna on Monday told CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich that Biden and other Democrats should join him on the picket line.

“I’d love to see the president out here,” he said, arguing the Democratic Party needs to demonstrate it’s “the party of the working class.”

UAW Announces New Strike Locations

As the strike enters a second week, UAW Announces New Strike Locations

UAW President Shawn Fain called for union members to strike at noon ET Friday at 38 General Motors and Stellantis facilities across 20 states. He said the strike call covers all of GM and Stellantis’ parts distribution facilities.

The strike call notably excludes Ford, the third member of Detroit’s Big Three, suggesting the UAW is more satisfied with the progress it has made on a new contract with that company.

General Motors plants being told to strike are in Pontiac, Belleville, Ypsilanti, Burton, Swartz Creek and Lansing, Michigan; West Chester, Ohio; Aurora, Colorado; Hudson, Wisconsin; Bolingbrook, Illinois; Reno, Nevada; Rancho Cucamonga, California; Roanoke, Texas; Martinsburg, West Virginia; Brandon, Mississippi; Charlotte, North Carolina; Memphis, Tennessee; and Lang Horne, Pennsylvania.

The Stellantis facilities going on strike are in Marysville, Center Line, Warren, Auburn Hills, Romulus and Streetsboro, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Plymouth, Minnesota; Commerce City, Colorado; Naperville, Illinois; Ontario, California; Beaverton, Oregon; Morrow, Georgia; Winchester, Virginia; Carrollton, Texas; Tappan, New York; and Mansfield, Massachusetts.

Contract Negotiations Are Not Close

Good Luck Getting Repairs

Party of the Working Cass, Really?

Let’s discuss the nonsensical notion that Democrats are the party of the “working class”.

Unnecessary stimulus, reckless expansion of social services, student debt cancellation, eviction moratoriums, earned income credits, immigration policy, and forcing higher prices for all, to benefit the few, are geared towards the “unworking class”.

On top of it, Biden wants to take away your gas stove, end charter schools to protect incompetent union teachers, and force you into an EV that you do not want and for which infrastructure is not in place.

All of this increases inflation across the board as do sanctions and clean energy madness.

Exploring the Working Class Idea

If you don’t work and have no income, Biden may make your healthcare cheaper. If you do work, he seeks to take your healthcare options away.

If you want to pay higher prices for cars, give up your gas stove, be forced into an EV, subsidize wind energy then pay more for electricity on top of it, you have a clear choice. If you support those efforts, by all means, please join him on the picket line for a token photo-op (not that you will be able to get within miles for the staged charade).

But if you can think at all, you understand Biden does not support the working class, he supports the unworking class.

Tyler Durden Sun, 09/24/2023 - 10:30

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UK Quietly Passes “Online Safety Bill” Into Law

UK Quietly Passes "Online Safety Bill" Into Law

Authored by Kit Knightly via,

Buried behind the Brand-related headlines…



UK Quietly Passes "Online Safety Bill" Into Law

Authored by Kit Knightly via,

Buried behind the Brand-related headlines yesterday, the British House of Lords voted to pass the controversial “Online Safety Bill” into law. All that’s needed now is Royal assent, which Charles will obviously provide.

The bill’s (very catchy) long-form title is…

A Bill to make provision for and in connection with the regulation by OFCOM of certain internet services; for and in connection with communications offences; and for connected purposes.

…and that’s essentially it, it hands the duty of “regulating” certain online content to the UK’s Office of Communications (OfCom).

Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes could barely contain her excitement in a statement to the press:

“Today is a major milestone in the mission to create a safer life online for children and adults in the UK. Everyone at Ofcom feels privileged to be entrusted with this important role, and we’re ready to start implementing these new laws.”

As always with these things, the bill’s text is a challenging and rather dull read, deliberately obscure in its language and difficult to navigate.

Of some note is the “information offenses” clause, which empowers OfCom to demand “information” from users, companies and employees, and makes it a crime to withhold it. The nature of this “information” is never specified, nor does it appear to be qualified. Meaning it could be anything, and will most likely be used to get private account information about users from social media platforms.

In one of the more worrying clauses, the Bill outlines what they call “communications offenses”. Section 10 details crimes of transmitting “Harmful, false and threatening communications”.

It should be noted that sending threats is already illegal in the UK, so the only new ground covered here is “harmful” and/or “false” information, and the fact they feel the need to differentiate between those two things should worry you.

After all, the truth can definitely be “harmful”…Especially to a power-hungry elite barely controlling an angry populace through dishonest propaganda.

Rather amusingly, the bill makes it a crime to “send a message” containing false information in clause 156…then immediately grants immunity to every newspaper, television channel and streaming service in clause 157.

Apparently it’s OK for the mainstream media to be harmful and dishonest.

But the primary purpose of the new law is a transfer of responsibility to enable and incentivize censorship.

Search engines (“regulated search services”, to quote the bill) and social media companies (“regulated user-to-user services”) will now be held accountable for how people use their platform.

For example: If I were to google “Is it safe to drink bleach?”, find some website that says yes, and then drink bleach, OfCom would not hold me responsible. They would hold Google responsible for letting me read that website. Likewise, if someone tweets @ me telling me to drink bleach, and I do so, Twitter would be held responsible for permitting that communication to take place.

This could result in hefty fines, or even potentially criminal charges, to companies and/or executives of those companies. It could even open them up to massively expensive civil suits (don’t be surprised if such a legal drama hits the headlines soon).

Unsurprisingly the mainstream coverage of the new laws barely mentions any of these concerns, instead opting to put child pornography front and centre. Because the Mrs Lovejoy argument always works.

That’s all window dressing, of course, what this is really about is “misinformation” and “hate speech”. Which is to say, fact-checking mainstream lies and calling out mainstream liars.

Section 7(135) is entirely dedicated to the creation of a new “Advisory committee on disinformation and misinformation”, which will be expected to submit regular reports to OfCom and the Secretary of State on how best to “counter misinformation on regulated services“.

This is clearly a response to Covid, or rather the failure of Covid.

Essentially, the pandemic narrative broke because the current mechanisms of censorship didn’t work well enough. In response, the government has just legalised and out-sourced their silencing of dissent.

See, the government isn’t going to actually censor anyone themselves, protecting it from pro-free speech criticism. Rather, huge financial pressure will be applied on tech giants to be “responsible” and “protect the vulnerable”. Meaning de-platforming and cancelling independent media via increasingly opaque “terms of service violations”

These companies will be cheered on by the vast crowd of jabbed-and-masked NPCs who have been so successfully brainwashed into believing the “they are a private company and can do that they want” argument.

This has been going on for years already, of course, but that was covert stuff. Now it’s legal in the UK, and is about to get a lot worse.

It won’t be just the UK either, considering the messaging on “misinformation” being seen at the UN in the last few days, we should expect something similar on a global scale.

You can read the full text of the Online Safety Bill here.

Tyler Durden Sun, 09/24/2023 - 08:10

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