ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Migration and Politics

South Indian Labour in Burma (1900–1940)

The early 20th-century nationalist discourse in India held the colonial state and the middlemen (maistry) responsible for the exploitation of the migrant labourers. The issue of their miserable condition eventually merged within the nationalist movement. This paper studies the experiences and perspectives of Dalit migrants in Burma and their role in the social and political movements in that period. The paper argues that the caste oppression, enmeshed in the labour exploitation, was the defining factor in their migration overseas. Dalits who migrated to Burma primarily struggled against caste oppression in their immediate socio-economic and spatial context, a fact that was hardly acknowledged in the nationalist discourse. Hence, the Dalit migrants were critiques of the upper-caste nationalist discourse.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale, in his speech at the Imperial Legislative Council in 1912, called the emigrant labou­rers, “The victims of the system” (Hoyland 1933: 174). By system he meant the colonial and the plantation economy. He argued that the migrant labourers,

are generally simple, ignorant, illiterate, resourceless people belonging to the poorest classes of this country, and that they are induced to enter or it would be more correct to say, are entrapped into entering-into these agreements by the unscrupulous representations of wily, professional recruiters, who are paid so much a head for the labour they supply, and whose interest in them ceases the moment they are handed over to the emigration agents, no fair minded man will, I think, hesitate to say that the system is a monstrous system, iniquitous in itself, based on fraud, and maintained by force; nor will he, I think, demur to the statements of Justice and humanity is a grave blot on the civilisation of any country that tolerated it. (Hoyland 1933: 174)

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Updated On : 17th Apr, 2023
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