London: The University of Cambridge has created the first ever visiting fellowship into the study of indentureship, under which a record number of Indians were transported to labour in harsh conditions in British colonies.
Following the abolition of slavery across the British Empire in 1834, Indians travelled from India to the Caribbean, South Africa, Mauritius and Fiji to work on sugar plantations between 1838 and 1917.
While many of them returned home, several thousands remained in those countries, forming the Indian community abroad.
In a bid to understand their lives, the University of Cambridge's Selwyn College has appointed Guyana-born professor Gaiutra Bahadur as the Ramesh and Leela Narain visiting bye-fellow in Indentureship Studies.
A bye-fellow is a position in academia and post-secondary education at several British and Commonwealth universities for a Fellow who is not a member of the foundation of a college.
“I am honoured and delighted to be the inaugural visiting bye-fellow in indentureship studies," said Bahadur, an associate professor in the department of arts, culture and media at Rutgers University in Newark.
“When I first began doing research in this area, the funding just wasn’t there, so it was in many ways a labour of love. That’s why I’m so happy to see there’s now visibility and funding like this to help future researchers,” Bahadur said in a university statement.
Bahadur is the author of 'Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture', which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, and is a major study of the lives of Indian women who became indentured labourers to colonial plantations in the nineteenth century.
For the fellowship, Selwyn College has collaborated with the London-based Ameena Gafoor Institute in setting up the programme which allows a scholar to spend eight weeks at the University, conducting research.
The programme will run for an initial five years. Professor David Dabydeen, director of Ameena Gafoor Institute, said that the "valuable" study and documentation of indentureship has barely been included in the history syllabi of British and European Universities.
According to him, this is a "staggering omission" considering the millions of individuals, and indeed entire cultures, irrevocably shaped by indentureship and its legacies.
“That is why this fellowship, and hopefully eventually establishing a professorship, is so important. Cambridge has created an academic subject, bringing it from the margins to the very centre," Dabydeen said. The study of indentureship and its legacies was one of the recommendations made in the report of the Legacies of Enslavement at Cambridge Advisory Group.
The University said in a statement that it hopes that enough funding will eventually be raised to establish a permanent professorship in the subject, based at the University.