Indian Indentureship: Protests

By Ravi Dev

We must always remember that any if the indentured Indian did not comply with the terms of the “girmit/agreement” – such as being unable to work – it was deemed a criminal act for which he could be prosected under the law that was adjudicated by Stipendiary magistrates who were very friendly to the managers. The jails were expanded exponentially to accommodate convicted indentureds while hospitals were supposed to ensure the indentureds were not malingering. As was explicated stated by one planter to a Commission the indentureds were supposed to be in the fields – or else the jail or hospital.

As stated by Chief Justice Beaumont in 1870 after the inquiry into the protest at Leonora mentioned below: “ Practicaliy an Immigrant is in the hands of the Employer to whom he is bound. He cannot leave him; he cannot live without work; he can only get such work and on such terms as the employer chooses to set him; and all the necessities are enforced not only by the inevitable influence if his isolated and dependent position, but by theterrors of imprisonment and the prospect of losing bith favours and wages.


YEAR                      No. of Cases against Indentured servants

1865-66                     6,280

1866-67                     6,148

1867-68                     6,190

1868-69                     6,388.

1869- mid1870         7,870

5 Years                       32,876

Any act on the plantations in protest over their working conditions could be defined as an “overt rebellion”, in which the police cold be summoned and result in at least onerous fines and increased length of indentureship. At the worse, the “riot Act” could be read and they could be shot and killed. As such immigrants did not lightly enter into such actions; one could only imagine the provocations when they did.

One skeletal outline of notable

protests dring indentureship is

1869                 Leonora; La Jalousie

1872                 Devonshire Castle (5 killed; 7 wounded);

        Hampton Ct; Anna Regina

1873                 Uitvlugt; Success, Mon Repos and Non Pariel

        ;Skeldon; Eliza and Mary

1879                 Skeldon

1888                 Enmore; Versailles

1894                 La Bonne Mere; Success; Leguan; Farm.

1896                 Non Pariel ( 5 killed; 59 wounded}.

1899                 Golden Fleece; Mon Repos:;

        Blairmont; De Kinderen.

1903                 Friends (6 killed, 7 wounded); Peter’s Hall;

        Diamond; Wales.

1912                 Lusignan (1 killed)

1913                 Rose Hall (15 killed, 56 wounded).