Organized Panel Session
Between 1834 and 1900, more than one million Indian indentured immigrants left India to labor on plantations across the globe. The largest contingent reached Mauritius and by 1900, Indian workers were the largest demographic group of the colony. Though indentured workers faced innumerable trials, many did not return to India and stayed in Mauritius. Years of residence on the island and demographic majority did not equate to greater rights. Rather by the late nineteenth century, languages of citizenship – often unnoticed by the local colonial apparatus – emerged from below and within the ranks of indentured immigrants. By 1937 various labor movements, changes in social stratifications and the global political economy of sugar coalesced to place citizenship rights of Indian immigrants on the center stage of various colonial governments in Mauritius, India and Britain. The debates on citizenship demonstrated the confusion of these governments about the categorization of these Indians and rights they should obtain. More broadly, the debates showed how mobility of Indians in the nineteenth century translated in a more diffuse understanding of citizenship in the twentieth century. This paper uses the case study of Mauritius to elaborate on the intertwining of various kinds of citizenships: imperial citizenship within the British empire, citizenship as ‘Indians overseas’ and languages of citizenship from below (crafted by indentured immigrants and their descendants and preceding the other two types of citizenships). The paper argues that the interlinking of these three types of citizenships often ignored languages of citizenship from below.