Slavery was an accepted feature of all ancient civilisations.Slaves were treated as legitimate personal possessions of their masters and they were treated as human cargo to be traded in the markets.Slaves in the early times were mostly prisoners of war.The victories of ancient Greece and Rome provided them with continuous flow of labour.The treatment of the slaves both in early times and the modern era,was cruel and inhuman.Down the ages this system,continued with the approval of both Islam and Christianity.Later on,it was in the United States of America that the system was institutionalised and brutalised.Forced emigration from different parts of Africa continued and nearly 15-20 million Africans were brought in to toil in the cotton fields,sugar plantations etc.It was the Spaniards,Portugese,Dutch,French and British who exploited the slave labour extensively for the development of their colonies.
The barbarous treatment of the slave labour and the practice of Apartheid rouse the conscience of the world.The American Civil War was fought on this issue.The emanicipation of slaves in America and the abolition of slavery in Britain brought about a sea change in the international labour situation.
The British government,to meet their labour demands,naturally turned to their colonies.They evolved the indenture system or the contract labour and Kangani system to organise the inflow of labour in their colonies.The countries that were supplied labour under indenture system included British Guyana,Trinidad,Surinam,South Africa,Fiji,Mauritius.
Kangani procurement was practiced in Burma,Malaysia,Fiji,Kenya,Uganda,Tanzania etc.
Thus depending on the economic condition at home and the demand for labour in the host countries,there emerged five distinctly different patterns of emigration-
1.Indentured labour emigration
3.Free passage emigration
4.Brain drain emigration of qualified and skilled labour to developed nations of Europe,Canada,USA,Australia and so on.
5.Emigration of both skilled and semi skilled labour to the Middle East to the share of the petrodollars.
The first three systems were employed to meet the demand from expanding colonial empires. Indenture entailed a contract for three or five years. This system began officially in the year 1834 and ended in the year 1920.The main countries who were recipients of Indian labour were West Indian colonies,Fiji,South Africa,Malaysia and Ceylon.
This writeup will deal mainly with Mauritius and Fiji,the two places that have more than 45% of Indian settlers.They participate in political activity and their experiences offer us an interesting scope for study
The indenture system,institutionalised by the colonial agencies gradually ended up creating settlements of emmigrants in the host countries.After the completion of their contract period,the workers were denied return fare and were offered small plots of land for cultivation.The colonial government started this practice as they did not wish to lose the trained labour force.This eventually led to their settling down in the colonies.This was the nucleus from which settlements grew to evolve as distinct communties in alien land.