“The Spirit of Turbulence”: East Indian Political Imaginaries in Early 20th Century British Guiana
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After the abolition of slavery, the Colonial Office instituted an indentured labor scheme that lasted from 1838 to 1917, in which they brought East Indians to the plantation colonies as laborers under five year contracts. Due to the planter class’ desire for permanent sources of labor in British Guiana, the Colonial Government incentivized East Indians to permanently settle. East Indians thus dominated the British Guiana’s agricultural landscape and became the single largest ethnicity in the Colony by 1920. This thesis explores the early negotiations of the meaning of diaspora and diasporic citizenship for East Indians in British Guiana. They comprised a diverse conglomerate of different socio-economic positions: agricultural estate laborers, village residents, and middle-class business professionals. Each socioeconomic group had a different lived experience in the colony and different outlook on what it meant to be a creole-born East Indian. This thesis traces the multiple and contingent ideas of citizenship and nationality that were circulating at the time. Against a backdrop of changing imperial politics that promoted modernity and the discourse of the nation, East Indian visions centered around how to construct permanence, and negotiate belonging. By drawing on colonial documentation–local reports, commission transcripts, personal correspondence–and documentation produced by East Indians–memorandums, speeches, and books–this thesis ultimately argues that East Indians came to view culture as integral to their self-worth and definitions of place within the imperial system. Culture thus became the primary lens to negotiate the various meaning of citizenship and place in the imperial-national moment.
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