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

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Maistry System in Burma

Indentured Servitude and Modern Slavery

While existing literature predominantly focuses on servitude in regions like Ceylon, Africa, Fiji, and Guinea, with extensive exploration of the kangani system or girmitiyas, a notable omission can be observed in the case of the maistry system’s role in colonial Burma. The article sheds light on a significant yet often overlooked aspect of the literary portrayal of the Indian labour diaspora in Burma.

The authors acknowledge the comments made by the reviewers for improvising the article. This article is a part of research carried out under the UGC-UPE-II project (2017–20), entitled, “South East Asia: Colony and Beyond,” at the Department of Comparative Indian Language and Literature, University of Calcutta.

Southeast Asia and India have a long history of extensive political, economic, and cultural exchanges. In the Arakan region of Burma, many Indian languages were patronised, and literature produced in those languages was gradually circulated in parts of South Asia. Sufi influence is also evident in the writings of mediaeval Arakanese Bengalis, such as Syed Alaol and Daulat Kazi. With the advent of colonial rule in Southeast Asia, the old routes of intra-Asian connections were fully exploited to varying degrees by European settlers for economic and political gain. Consequently, following the formal abolition of slavery in the British Empire, a new form of servitude emerged through the indentured labour recruitment system and the migration of labour from Bengal and Madras Presidencies to Burma. This historical migration played a pivotal role in the establishment and development of Indian diasporic communities in Southeast Asia. The indentured labour system not only shaped labour and migration dynamics in the region but also left a lasting impact on the socio-economic landscape of Southeast Asia.

During the colonial era, cross-border migration within South Asia strengthened the British Empire by exploiting the native resources of the colonies. Indian labourers moved to the colonies in Guyana, Trinidad, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The thriving Indian diasporic population and settlement in different Southeast Asian nations are a direct result of the British Raj’s extensive network of indentured labourers, originating from the colonial recruitment system. Owing to the dominion of British colonial rule, individuals, particularly from Bengal and Madras Presidencies, embarked on journeys to Southeast Asian nations. Their migration in the latter half of the 19th century played a pivotal role in shaping the labour movement and history of South Asia.

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Updated On : 6th Dec, 2023
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