Circulation and Migration

Authored by: Michael Mann

The Ashgate Research Companion to Modern Imperial Histories

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754664154
eBook ISBN: 9781315613277
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042525


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The migration of Indian ‘coolies’ (kuli) 1 1

It may be noted here that the term kuli originates most probably from the Tamil word ‘kuli’ designating a hired or wage labourer. It also indicates that the colonial system of indentured labour was developed in the Tamilnad region of southern India: Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical and Discursive (London 1889), new edn by William Crooke (London, 1903), reprint (London, 1989), ‘cooly’, pp. 249–50.

has been at the top of the economic, social and lately also labour agenda of South Asian historians since the last decade of the twentieth century. Scholars from around the world have contributed to the emerging field of mobility and migration with special reference to the ‘indentured labourer’, as the Indian kuli was judicially termed. 2 2

Marina Carter, Servants, Sirdars and Settlers: Indians in Mauritius 1834–1874 (Oxford, 1995); Crispin Bates (ed.), Community, Empire and Migration: South Asians in Diaspora (Basingstoke, 2001).

Some books on Indian migration had appeared on the academic market in the 1970s and early 1980s and yet were hardly noticed. 3 3

Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (Bombay, 1974), and Tinker, Separate and Unequal: India and the Indians in the British Commonwealth, 1920–1950 (London, 1976); Kay Saunders (ed.), Indentured Labour in the British Empire, 1834–1920 (London, 1984).

Two reasons may be responsible for this. First, as an academic subject migration remained restricted to the trans-Atlantic world until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War in 1992. Second, the Indian government’s politics of economic liberalisation introduced by Rajiv Gandhi at the end of the 1980s encouraged Indian migration overseas with a consequent increase in remittances sent back home. These remittances became an important factor in the country’s economic and fiscal system amounting up to 3 per cent of annual GDP at the end of the twentieth century. The same is true for other South Asian countries, particularly Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. 4 4

International Monetary Fund, Balance of Payments Statistics, calculated by Samuel M. Maimbo et al. (eds), Migrant Labor Remittances in South Asia (Washington, DC, 2005), p. ix and p. 13. In Sri Lanka, for example, the rate ranged from 6.8 to 7.9 per cent of the GDP between 1999 and 2003.

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