A list for Sanjay Persaud: some suggested readings on the Indian indenture

October 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (8)



Dear Sanjay Persaud,

You may remember that we had a brief talk after my reading at ‘Politics and Prose‘ in Washington DC on Sept 27 (that was when I took this picture). Earlier, during the Q&A, you had introduced yourself as a Guyanese of Indian descent who had grown up in the US.


You confessed, rather disarmingly, that you had never read any of my books but said that you were curious about your Indian roots and would be glad if I could recommend some  readings on the history of the indentured migration from India. At the time the only recommendation I could think of was Rahul Bhattacharya’s excellent travelogue The Sly Company of People Who Care (see my blog post of Sept 6).









But I did not forget your request (nor indeed were you the first to pose this question to me). Over the last few weeks, I’ve been jotting down some suggestions for you. The list has grown longer than I had expected but please note that it is not, by any means, intended to be exhaustive. There are many glaring omissions – no fiction for example, and very little on South Africa and South-East Asia. But keeping all that in mind, I hope it will be of some use to you and those who share your interests.

Unfortunately I’ve lost your email address: I am posting the list here in the hope that it will reach you somehow.

With my best wishes


Amitav Ghosh




Anderson, Clare: Convicts and Coolies: Rethinking Indentured Labour in the Nineteenth Century, Slavery and Abolition, Vol 30/1, 93-109, 2009.

Archer, W.G. & Sankta Prasad: Bhojpuri Village Songs, Jrnl of Bihar and Orissa Research Soc., pp. 1-48, 1942.

Archer, W.G.: Songs for the Bride: Wedding Rites of Rural India, ed. B. Stoler Miller & Milfred Archer, Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1985.

Arya, U.: Ritual Songs and Folksongs of the Hindus of Surinam, E.J.Brill, Leiden, 1968.

Bhana, Surendra (ed.): Essays on Indentured Indians in Natal, Peepal Tree, Leeds, 1991

Bissoondoyal, Basdeo: The Truth about Mauritius, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1968.

Bissoondoyal, U: Promises to Keep, Wiley Eastern, New Delhi, 1990.

Bissoondoyal U.& S.B.C. Servansing (eds.): Indian Labour Immigration, Mahatma Gandhi Instt., Moka, Mauritius, 1986.

Bissoondoyal U. & S.B.C. Servansing (eds.): Slavery in South West Indian Ocean, Mahatma Gandhi Instt., Moka, Mauritius, 1989.

Boodhoo, Sarita: Bhojpuri Traditions in Mauritius, Mauritius Bhojpuri Instt., Port Louis.

Brenneis, Don & Ram Padarath: About those Scoundrels I’ll let Everyone Know: Challenge Singing in a Fiji Indian Community, Jrnl of American Folklore, 88: pp. 283-291, 1975.

Brown, Laurence & Radica Mahase: Medical Encounters on the Kala Pani: Regulation and Resistance in the Passages of Indentured Indian Migrants, 1834-1900.

Carter, Marina: The Transition from Apprenticeship to Indentured Labour in Mauritius, Slavery and Abolition, 14: 1, 1993.

Carter, Marina: Voices from Indenture: Experience of Indian Migrants in the British Empire, Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1996.

Carter, Marina: Servants, Sirdars and Settlers: Indians in Mauritius 1834-1874, OUP, Delhi 1995.

Carter, Marina: Voices from Indenture: Experiences of Indian Migrants in the British Empire, Leicester University Press, London, 1996.

Carter, Marina: Lakshmi’s Legacy: The Testimonies of Indian Women in 19th Century Mauritius, Editions de l’Ocean Indien, Mauritius, 1996.

Carter, Marina (ed.): Across the Kalapani: The Bihari Presence in Mauritius, Centre for Research on Indian Ocean Societies, Port Louis, 1999.

Carter, Marina & Khal Torabully: Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora, Anthem Press, London, 2002.

Dabydeen, David: Coolie Odyssey, 1988.

Deerpalsingh, Saloni & Marina Carter: Select Documents on Indian Immigration, Mauritius, 1834-1926 (Vol II: The Despatch and Allocation of Indentured Labour), Mahatma Gandhi Institute, Moka, 1996.

Dookhan, I: The Gladstone Experiment: The Experiences of the First Indian Immigrants to Guyana, 1838-43, Revista Interamericana VI, 1976-7.

Ewald, Janet J.: Crossers of the Sea: Slaves, Freedmen and other Migrants in the Northwestern Indian Ocean c. 1750-1914, American Historical Review, Vol 105/1, pp. 69-91, 2000.

Gillion, K.: Sources of Indian Emigration to Fiji, Population Studies X: 139-57, 1956.

Gillion, K.: The Fiji Indians: Challenge to European Dominance, 1920-1946, ANU, Canberra, 1977.

Grierson, G.: Report on Colonial Emigration from the Bengal Presidency, 1883.

Holden, Edgar: A Voyage in the Coolie Trade, Gloucester Ma, 1865.

Hollingworth, Derek: They Came to Mauritius. Portraits of the 18th and 19th centuries, OUP, Nairobi, 1965.

Journal of a Voyage with Coolie Emigrants from Calcutta to Trinidad, by Captain and Mrs. Swinton, ed. James Carlile, London, 1859.

Kelly, John D.: A Politics of Virtue: Hinduism, Sexuality and Countercolonial Discourse in Fiji, Chicago, 1991.

Kelly, John D. (et al): My Twenty One Years in the Fiji Islands and the Story of the Haunted Line by Totaram Sanadhya, Suva Museum, Canberra, 1991.

Lal, B.V.: Fiji Yatra: Aadhi Raat Se Aage, National Book Trust, New Delhi, 2005.

Lal, B.V. (ed.): Bitter Sweet: The Indo-Fijian Experience, Pandanus Books, Australian National University, Canberra, 2004.*

Lal, B.V.: Girmitiyas: The Origins of Fiji Indians, Canberra, 1983 (Reprint, (Lautoka: Fiji Institute of Applied Science, 2004.)*

Lal, B.V.: On the Other side of Midnight: A Fijian Journey, National Book Trust, New Delhi, 2003.

Lal, B.V.: Mr. Tulsi’s Store: A Fijian Journey, Pandanus Books, Australian National University,  Canberra: 2001.

Lal, B.V.: Chalo Jahaji: On a Journey Through Indenture in Fiji, Fiji Museum, Suva, 2000.

Lal, B.V.: Broken Waves: A History of the Fiji Islands in the 20th Century, Honolulu, 1992.

Lal, B.V.:  Approaches to the Study of Indian Indentured Emigration with Special Reference to Fiji, Journal of Pacific History, XV, Nos. 1-2, 1980.

Mishra, Vijay: Rama’s Banishment, A Centenary Tribute to the Fiji Indians 1879-1979, Heinemann, London, 1979.

Mohapatra, P.P.: “Following Custom”? Representations of Community among Indian Immigrants Labour in the West Indies, 1880-1920, International Review of Social History, 51 Supplement, pp. 173-202, 2006.

Mohapatra, P.P.: Regulating Informality: Legal Construction of Labour Relations in Colonial India, in Sabyasachi Bhattacharya et al, Workers in the Informal Sector Studies in Labour History 1800-2000, Macmillan, Delhi: 2001.

Mohapatra, P.P.: Longing and Belonging: The dilemma of return among Indian Immigrants in the West Indies 1850-1950, International Institute Asian studies, 134-155, 1995.

Mohapatra, P.P.:  Coolies and Colliers: A Study of the Agrarian context of Labour Migration from Chotanagpur, 1880-1920, Study in History, 1: 2, 1985.

Myers, Helen: Music of Hindu Trinidad: Songs from the Indian Diaspora, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998.

Omvedt, Gail: Migration in Colonial India: The articulation of Feudalism and Capitalism by the Colonial state, Journal of Peasant Studies, 1979-80.

Satyanarayana, A.: Birds of Passage: Migration of South Indian Labour to South East Asia, Critical Asian Studies, 34: 1, 89-115.

Saunders, K. (ed.): Indentured Labour in the British Empire, 1834-1920, London, 1984.

Scoble, J: Hill Coolies: A Brief Exposure of the Deplorable Conditions of the Hill Coolies in British Guiana and Mauritius and of the Nefarious Means by Which they Were induced to Resort to These Colonies, London, 1840.

Subramani (ed.) Dauka Puraan (in Fiji Hindi) Star Publication, New Delhi, 2001.

Subramani (ed.): The Indo-Fijian Experience, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1979.

Teelock, Vijaya: A select guide to sources on slavery in Mauritius; And, Slaves speak out : the testimony of slaves in the era of sugar, African Cultural Centre, 1995.

Teelock, Vijaya: Bitter sugar: Sugar and slavery in 19th century Mauritius, Mahatma Gandhi Instt., 1998.

Teelock, Vijaya: Mauritian History: From its Beginning to Modern Times, Mahatma Gandhi Instt, 2001.

Tinker, Hugh: The Banyan Tree: Overseas Emigrants from Indian, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1977.

Tinker, Hugh: A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1830-1920, London, 1974.

Tinker, Hugh: Leadership without a Name: The Emergence of Estate Leaders among Indentured Labourers Overseas, Paper, School of Oriental and African Studies, Dec. 7, 1972.

Totaram Sanadhya: Fijidwip me Mere Ikkis Varsh, Pt. Banarasi Das Chaturvedi, Varanasi, 1972.

Totaram Sanadhya: Bhoot Len Ki Katha: Totaram Sanadhya Ka Fiji (ed. Brij V. Lal), Saraswati press, New Delhi, 1994.

Unnuth, Abhimanyu: A Portrait of Professor Basdeo Bissoondoyal, Edns de Océan Indien, Mauritius, 1988.

8 Responses to “A list for Sanjay Persaud: some suggested readings on the Indian indenture”

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  1. Comment by PNSV NarasimhamOctober 31, 2011 at 7:33 am   Reply

    Dear Amitav,
    Your list for those interested in the subject is clearly a treasured one. May i add two names to this list:
    1. From Bondage to Deliverance: Indentured Labour, by Saroja Sunderajan. This is a concise account by an academic, and covers the important milestones including historical highlights. Guyana is one of the highlighted sections (Allied Publishers, 2006).
    2. That Others Might Live. written as fiction, but clearly far from it, in the narrative. Authored by Deepchand Beeharry, who was a leading figure in Mauritius- descendant of immigrants and studied in India. Published in India, originally by Orient some 30 years ago.. not sure who the international publisher is.

    if Sanjay Persaud is keen on related documents/narratives, the fijigirmit.org is putting up some interesting documents on their site (like the emigration forms) used to transfer the labourers from the ships to the shore…

    best regards

    • Comment by Amitav Ghosh — October 31, 2011 at 11:05 am   Reply

      Dear Narasimham
      Thank you very much indeed for these suggestions. It’s great to know about the website. I really appreciate your taking the time to add to the list, and I am sure many others will as well.
      best wishes

    • Comment by Sanjay Persaud — October 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm   Reply

      Dear Mr. Narasimham:

      Thank so very much for your additions to Mr. Ghosh’s bibliography.

  2. Comment by Sanjay Persaud — October 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm   Reply

    Dear Mr. Ghosh:

    Talk about karma! Today, I inadvertently googled myself, et voila: your blog entry shows up! Soon after our meeting, I visited your site a few times to see if perchance you had taken my little request seriously, but finding nothing, I soon filed away the encounter in memory. I had assumed that you had just forgotten.

    I am familiar with the works of Carter, Lal, Tinker, etc, but there are many entries here new to me. Thank you so very much for taking the time and effort to compile and post this bibliography; it is indeed a little treasure, as Mr. Narasimham points out. So much to read; so much to learn! Between Dasgupta’s magisterial History of Indian Philosophy, Buddhist texts, and now this bibliography, I will be learning well past the grave!

    Again, thank you so very much, and, by the way, I have now read a few of you books, as well!

    • Comment by Chrestomather — October 30, 2012 at 6:14 am   Reply

      Dear Sanjay

      Thanks very much! I’m glad you found the list useful.

      Good luck with your reading.


  3. Comment by Faizal Hossen — September 3, 2018 at 3:48 am   Reply

    Melbourne, Australia. Hi everyone. My ancestors came to Mauritius in June 1858 from Bihar as indentured labourer. As recorded in Mauritius in 1858, he was from Village of Nuremjempore, Pergunnah of Bhojepore and Zillah of Arrah. Someone (A Bihari) told me that now Nuremjempore is written as Niranjanpur. From my understanding now and since many years, the old district of Arrah is divided in the current District of Buxar, Rohtas, Kaimur and Bhojpur. Could anyone help me to locate my ancestral village? With kind regards and thanks. Faizal (Mr)

  4. Comment by Janet H — April 19, 2020 at 12:03 pm   Reply

    Hello Amitav Ghosh

    I was pleased to learn about you via Irmi Basu from Calcutta. By way of introduction, I was born in Jamaica, raised in the USA with ancestors from India so I am hoping to adopt a baby from India. However, I don’t have any documentation that I have Indian Heritage.

    Yesterday, I had a beautiful experience talking to family members that I have never spoken to or have not been in contact with in decades. My mission was to get reacquainted and to learn more about our ancestors. Yes, one positive thing as a result of the corona virus – perfect timing, everyone was at home. I heard lovely stories but sadly, I was not able to get any documentations from India, only photos taken in Jamaica.

    My grandmother came on the ship from India to West Indies as a baby with her parents. She was almost thrown overboard by the sailor because she was crying consistently. Luckily, she was saved after much begging, said my 82 years old uncle. Stories were entertaining but no documents to prove my heritage. I later learned of a metal box with the Indian documents that was later burned by a late cousin who converted to Christianity and did not want anything to do with India. As this as nothing to do with religion, I forgave him.

    I have a few last names by pronunciations but no proper spelling. Apparently, our names were changed to a shorter and more understandable name in Jamaica.

    Is there a way to find my ancestors in India that you could recommend or to get documents? I have also visited India a few times with the hope that the wind would blow me in the right direction but no luck. Hopefully one day as I really hope to adopt from India as an Indian living abroad and start an NGO in India.

    Do let me know if you could recommend books, websites, email, phone numbers, etc. as I would love to pursue this.

    Stay safe,
    Best regards, Janet

  5. Comment by Vinita — February 3, 2022 at 11:19 am   Reply

    Such an interesting bibliography.
    I am researching a poem on Jatayu by a
    Trinidadian woman poet and need insights
    on choice of Jatayu as a metaphor for
    indentured labour as well as the experiences
    of women indentured labourers.

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