The best way to gain knowledge on this topic would be to read the works of Professor Kapil Kumar from Indira Gandhi Open University in Delhi and of Dr. S.Maharaj-Ramdial from Trinidad.
Professor Kumar is India’s most senior professor of history, specialising in the colonial period which saw the indentureship of Indians from India to the Caribbean and elsewhere. His own doctoral work as a young man was on the first hand records of an Indentured labourer returning to India to fight the British. He has also lived in, taught, lectured and visited many of those countries, arranged visits on both sides, as well as interviewed Indians in India from the places of origin , and researched archival records in Delhi, Calcutta and the Caribbean countries (and elsewhere such as South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius etc.) So his expertise as an Indian citizen, a historian, also as an Indian in contact with not one or two, but many Indian descendants in the Caribbean, and his work in highlighting the history and needs of Indo-Caribbean people, through conferences, books, radio and television programmes, posts etc., make him the foremost authority on this field.
Dr. Maharaj-Ramdial has written and researched on the linkages between India and PIO’s (or People of Indian Origin), and has used her work as a psychologist to analyse information from a psychological perspective, not just social or economic etc. She also comes from the same country as VS Naipaul and even after decades, you’d find that his writings on how it feels to be an Indian in the West Indies, still remains true to a large extent when compared to Dr. Maharaj-Ramdial’s research today. Because she is not linked to academia, her work is not tainted in following the established colonial era theories taught about India and Indians etc in those countries.
For now though, some points:
- Most Indians do not know much about Indo-Caribbean people, if anything at all. They are mostly surprised that Indians live there, other than a few who play for the West Indies Cricket Team, and generally feel that they must be recent migrants or first generation Indians. This is because the history of indentureship is not taught in Indian schools etc.
- Being colonial countries, the West Indies faced the same sort of divide and rule that Britain practiced in India.The role of the Church played a strong part in converting and these new converts gained new posts(including in the field of education), in the newly independent countries. This meant that on the West Indies’s side, the history of India was not taught.
- Indian descendants in the region do not know that much of what they were told by their leading academics were untrue. Such as : Most of the Indians were ‘low caste’; India was poor and people were happy to flee from her; early Indians did not want to return to India; once an Indian Hindu crossed sea water, his caste was broken and he could not return; only poor people left India; people left because of casteism, fatalism, and Hindu beliefs; it was good they left since only backward people live there; and all pundits who came to the colonies are not really from brahmin families and are therefore fake, so no need to follow Hinduism etc.
- If you manage to read the works of those above, you would find that in actuality, many of the Indians who left India for those countries, were not landless vagrants, but were those who fought the British in the great 1857 so called “Sepoy Munity” (sepoy meaning soldier) which shows that Indians even in the British army in India, did not consider British rule as beneficial or benevolent and fought against it at the highest levels long before India finally got her independence in 1947. It also explains why the British became even more aggressive in prosecuting Indians suspected as freedom fighters, and of dividing Indians further by shipping them overseas. West Indian academics teach that Indians willingly came to work on plantations in the Caribbean region, but British administrative records in India herself and in England demonstrate that the primary underlying reason after 1857 was to ship and incarcerate Indians away from India, starting in the islands of the Andamans to the east of India, and to Mauritius and elsewhere etc. This was the exact practice they followed with law breakers in Britain itself, by shipping them, as is well-known, to Australia. In fact, even today, far from the Caribbean region, the strait of water in the Bay of Bengal between India and the Andaman islands is still referred to by Indians as the kala pani, signifying that once one crossed it, there was no return, since it meant life imprisonment. Indian indentureship then, was not solely to transport for cheap labour following the collapse of slavery or a willing decision by Indians as Caribbean academics teach, but a deliberate political decision by Britain to crush any future united Indian popular revolt.
- This meant that Indians often had to change caste and name to escape death by the British. Brahmins and kshatriyas were most targeted since as Hindu leaders and as warriors, they formed a natural opposition to British rule, which used missionary work as a tool to destroy the the indigenous culture and religions of India. Consequently all castes suffered under the British, and were united against them. It means too that the theory that all who became labourers in the colonies were ‘’low caste’ or fleeing Hindu persecution, was untrue. The British further CREATED the hundreds of castes that show up in records, (the original is just 4) when many of these were never castes at all, such as someone selling oil or cloth or jewelry or produce etc. All these were just vaisya or merchants. Britain wanted to identify everyone after the series of rebellions for freedom, and placing everyone on a different ‘caste’ was considered a good way of diving them from uniting too. This is also why in the Caribbean all these caste variations never came up: they just didn’t exist long enough in India by the time the British were sending Indians overseas.
- Indo-Caribbean people also don’t know that Britain practiced a scourch earth policy in retaliation against those regions in North India which was fighting for freedom, which caused the poverty in India (India was always rich, but looted by the British: hence the reference to India as “The Crown Jewel” or “The Jewel of the British Empire.” etc. Such a term could only be used for a wealthy country whose riches were the pride of the colonial empire.)
- Also, Indians in the villages today still sing songs grieving for those who left (which goes against what was told about breaking caste and unwanted and unable to return to India). In addition, those Indians who went to those countries to earn money to remit to India after those British policies, only to find their return contracts revoked time and again by Britain and thus forced to remain under ever changing regulations in the new countries, so Britain would always have a supply of labour. Britain also prevented letters and money from returning so families lost contact. This is why after some time, Indians still loved India, but had formed families in the new countries, and didn’t have contact with their loved ones back home. This led to the feeling that they could no longer return since there was no knowledge of the existence or even whereabouts of their families in India (there was a lot of forced internal migration in India thanks to the British pursuit and punishment of anyone even suspected of acting against them.) On the Indians’ side, in India, some also forgot about who left and where they went. This wasn’t the same as not missing each other. Policies inflicted over time, caused a lot of damage.
Indians (in India) mostly therefore don’t know about these aspects of Indo-Caribbean people and can be somewhat unkind in their reactions as to why Indo-Caribbean people from former British colonies, no longer speak Hindi, Avadhi, Brij Basha, Bhojpuri, Urdu etc. They don’t know that the British and later ‘independent’ Caribbean governments did their best to suppress Indian languages, culture and religion. Regarding this latter point, Indians also find the practice of Hinduism by those in the Caribbean to be very traditional ( since the practices are based on traditions of approximately 170 years ago). Indians also cannot conceive why there is little caste discrimination, and feel this is due to caste homogeny among the Indo-Caribbean population, which is untrue.
Other differences which also affect how Indians perceive Indo-Caribbean people are that there is also no system of dowry at all; arranged marriages do not exist; daughters are equally regarded as are sons; and are even better educated etc etc. Ironically, these are seen by Indians are ‘too western’, although many in India would like the adoption of these more into Indian society. Because there is less emphasis on marrying for wealth, or based on caste and skin colour, Indians also believe Indo-Caribbean people to be poor and unattractive: not understanding that is is usually considered boastful and in bad taste to speak of income and wealth; that variations of skin colours do exist, even in a hot sunny tropical region, and marrying just based on caste is seen as less relevant compared to education, character and personality.
There is a lot about this topic and how both sides feel about the other. So do read the above since the work is based on accounts of many people from both sides plus historical research.
I agree with those below, that Indo-Caribbean people see India as a motherland and wish India had done more or would still do more for the diaspora. It is also worsened by the fact that ‘independent’ West Indian governments whose countries contain even a sizable Indian diaspora like Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Jamaica, either do not, or very rarely showcase this population and or their culture at a state or international level. It is left to the diaspora itself to project their existence privately, and consequently on a smaller scale, since governments consider this population and their culture as being Indian and not creole or Afro-Caribbean, which is image projected instead.
As a result, if younger generations feel more distant from India, is has a lot to do with the fact that many of them are forced to migrate from these Caribbean countries particularly to North America or Europe, in order to escape the racism Indian descendants experience. This also explains why some have converted or distanced themselves from India, just to adapt either in the Caribbean countries or abroad, without prejudicial treatment.
Indians really need to learn more about this diaspora, who despite everything, has still tried to maintain their Indian culture as much as possible.