Indians were also chattel slaves

Dear Editor,
Some commentators are of the view that the horrors suffered by Africans and Indians during their periods of forced labour – slavery and indentureship respectively – can’t be compared. They say slavery is more oppressive than indentureship, and that indentured Indians were not property to be disposed of like chattel African slaves.
But slavery is not unique to Africans. Not many are aware that Indians were also enslaved (not just indentured slavery, but manumitted slavery as well), and there were also indentured Africans who were not chattel slaves. Indians, too, were chattel slaves who were bought and sold as property or commodities.
Anyone who studied slavery would know that all racial groups experienced or were engaged in some form of slavery before the European powers captured people and made them slaves. Indians, too, endured chattel enslavement, though not in the Caribbean. No Caribbean write-up has been done on Indian slavery (as yet). This is mentioned so that historians and social scientists may further explore the subject.
The slavery of Indians is a new phenomenon that is now being investigated by Indian and other historians. Slavery existed long before the Europeans institutionalised and legalised it during their colonisation. Africans enslaved fellow Africans, and Indians enslaved fellow Indians. The Europeans and Chinese (Mongoloids) also had slavery. The Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans also had slavery.
The Europeans not only enslaved Africans – chattel slavery – post Columbus, they enslaved Indians from (South) India long before the introduction of indentureship in 1828, in Reunion Island (French territory). Indian slavery is a relatively new revelation. Indian slavery began in 1500s, and had remained a hidden secret for a long time until a PhD student from Leiden University uncovered it in 2008 while inadvertently examining documents from the Dutch East India Company when writing a dissertation. The number of Indians who were slaves is not known.
Documents on Indian slavery were destroyed in war and by fire. At a minimum, researchers uncovered that tens of thousands of Indians were slaves. Hundreds died during their transportation.
Portugal, Holland, France and Britain all fought wars at sea and on land for control of territories on the Indian sub-continent. At various times, when in control (except the British), they introduced or practised enslavement of Indians. They took Indian slaves to various territories. They induced famine, causing some Indians to prefer slavery (whence they obtained free meals) than starve to death. The British, in particular, were also known to induce famine to cause helpless poor Indians to agree to indentureship during the 1800s.
South Asian (to distinguish from American) Indian slavery is only recently being documented, it is not yet widely known, and has not made its way as yet in Indian curriculum at universities and public schooling. No mass media in the Caribbean carried such news. Newspapers and academic journals recently began carrying articles on the topic.
Articles were published about European Indian slavery in Indian newspapers last August 23, a day celebrated as International Slavery Day. Studies conducted by PhD students and other scholars recently uncovered documents that reveal that it was the Portuguese who introduced slavery of Indians in the 1500s. This was followed by the Dutch in the 1600s and the French (dates not mentioned). Confer the work of Wil O Dijk, a Dutch researcher. An Indian slave was sold at between four and forty guilders (Dutch currency) during the early 1600s. During famine, the availability of Indian slaves was plentiful, and the price of an Indian slave, treated as a commodity to be sold, dropped considerably. The papers stated that “India was the slave trade capital” though the total number of slaves shipped from India is not known.
If one Googles ‘Pulicat’, dozens of articles pertaining to Indian slavery pops up. No research as yet has uncovered British involvement in Indian slavery other than references to “indentureship slavery” that the British began in 1834 in Mauritius, and introduced in Guyana in 1838. The French were the ones who first initiated indentureship from South India to Reunion. But before indentureship, according to researcher Jean Regis, who studied the subject, the French were engaged in Indian slavery – Indian enslavement in Reunion Island. The French recognized the profitability of Indian slavery and indentureship and implemented both. Studies by Mr Jean Regis and other scholars reveal that at one time Reunion had both African and Indian slavery; in addition, Indian indentureship existed side by side with chattel Indian and African slavery.
Over the last few years, more and more articles on Indian slavery have appeared on the internet. It is unnecessary to repeat what can be found on the internet. Indian slaves were sent to several Asian territories and islands in neighbouring territories in Asia. Slavery also existed on board the ships owned by Europeans.
The story of African slavery is still being told, as Eusi Kwayana informs us (Sep 2). Indian slavery, known to exist since the 1500s, is a relatively new subject that is being researched, and much academic investigation needs to be done.

Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram