Time and Girmit

At some point between March 1879, when the fi rst cargo of 463 recruits was shipped off to the South Seas, and January 1920, when the last of the bonded servants saw freedom, girmit entered the idiom of Indian workers transported to Fiji. The appearance of this noun among the Fiji-based recruits marked a watershed moment in the history of indentured labor. For the fi rst time since the system’s inception in 1838, Indian agricultural workers had performed an act of self-appellation by permanently assigning a name, a neologism, to a historical event in which they were notable actors.1 The upshot was a subaltern perspective on a migratory experience that was differently phrased in colonial and archival documents. In all likelihood, girmit was a term circulating among Indian coolies serving their contracts in many of Britain’s far-flung colonies—Trinidad, British Guiana, Mauritius, and Natal—but it appears to have had no more than an ephemeral presence in these places. (Writing about his experiences in South Africa between 1893 and 1915, M. K. Gandhi, for instance, makes a passing reference to the term in the context of Natal-based laborers: “The indentured laborers were those who went to Natal on an agreement for five years, and came to be known there as girmitiyas from girmit, which was the corrupt form of the English word ‘agreement.’ ”)2 Among the Fiji-based recruits, on the other hand, girmit became charged with a surplus eventfulness that rendered it a memorable subaltern category. No communal memory of girmit survives among the descendants of recruits based in Natal, Mauritius, or Trinidad, while the term resonates strongly among Fiji’s Indians to this day. This article does not intend to account for what is doubtless a tantalizing anomaly. Instead, it seeks to demonstrate how the Fiji-based recruits transformed a neologism into a subaltern knowledge category, into a shorthand signifier for an unofficial discursive regime. In so doing, they left for posterity a divergent, supplementary, 3 heterological4 account of one of the major episodes in the history of plantation capital and, by extension, in the story of modernity. Girmit derives from the root noun agreement and refers to the labor contract the workers assented to (usually via the thumbprint signature) at the recruiting depot and then undertook to fulfi ll in the colony. That is, at least, the opinion of most commentators on the subject. In a seminal work,

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Social Text 82, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring 2005. Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press.

Ahmed Ali suggests that girmit refers specifically to “the days of . . . [the labor] contract.”5 Writing in 1979—the same year of the centenary of the Indian presence in Fiji—Brij Lal thinks of it as “the Fiji Indian variant” of agreement.6 The linguist Rodney Moag points out that it is “the word for indenture itself, girmit, from English agreement” 7—an observation echoed by Shireen Lateef, who understands it as “the agreement under which . . . indentured laborers emigrated to Fiji.” 8 In a critical monograph on South Pacific literature, Subramani glosses the neologism as the “indenture of Indian workers,” 9 while Satendra Nandan, in the glossary to his second volume of verse, Voices in the River, defi nes it as “a telling term for Indenture agreement.”10 Extending Lal’s “variant” hypothesis, Vijay Mishra calls girmit “the vernacularized form of ‘agreement,’”11 thereby correcting Gandhi’s view that it was a corrupt form of the English noun. According to the above remarks, girmit is simply a variant sign for the system of indenture that brought Indian workers to the Fijian archipelago, which had been ceded to Britain in 1874. The system of indenture was adopted in 1838 by India’s imperial rulers to administer the previously unregulated supply of labor to its plantation colonies. If, as K. L. Gillion argues, the intention was “to prevent irregularities in recruiting, and to ensure good treatment in transit to the colonies” and for the duration of bonded service,12 then it was seldom realized in practice. There was little correlation between the virtual world of the contract and its material enactment as work in colonial plantations. Echoing Morton Klass’s view that “the conditions of East Indian indentured labor derived from those of the previous Negro slavery,”13 Hugh Tinker contends that the newly regulated system drew heavily on the structures of the abolished practice.14 Some historians have accused Tinker (Lal and Clem Seecharan, for instance) of neglecting the happier aspects of indenture and of “trivialising the brutality” of “African chattel slavery,”15 but these accusations appear to be based on a disciplinary compulsion to downplay the statements or “responses” of the coolie informants to a practice that, outside theory, retained “many of the repressive features of the old system.”16 Bizarrely enough, for the revisionist historians, the shared memory of trickery and deceit among the recruits turns out to be a form of individual or mass self-deception. Writing in the autobiographical mode about his great-grandmother, Kaila, who was indentured to a plantation in Demerara, Seecharan observes: “From time to time my grandmother had tried to coax fragments of [the] past out of her, hoping to draw something from lapses in her taciturnity. [Kaila] did not get beyond the exhausted tale that she was deceived into going to Demerara (British Guiana) to ‘sift sugar.’ Kaila was twenty when she went to the colony; she was ‘single’ and travelled alone. How credible was her fragment of a story?”17


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The question is directed by the social scientist in Seecharan at a sliver of affective subaltern memory. But since the question is already an answer of sorts, as it perversely turns on the axis of a rhetoric, the recruit’s memory can offer up only anecdotal, not archival, evidence. Seecharan is on the lookout for a form of detached historical recollection, for substantive causes and effects, but Kaila has none to offer. Where the great-grandson longs for the plenitude of dates, itineraries, incidents, motives—traces and vestiges resembling those found in archival depositories—which will shed light on his personal sense of a brooding historical darkness, the great-grandmother proffers a solitary affective crumb that foregrounds the nebulous “story” of an unconscionable deceit.18 Seecharan’s position, I shall presently show in the Fiji context, simply blinds itself to the whole issue of affective memory, which has less to do with irrefutable statistical data and more to do with the traumatic negation of the coolie’s positive understanding of a future time at the outset of the journey. Between Seecharan and Kaila there can be no conversation. The former is driven by a disciplinary imperative to get to the bottom of the material historical conditions behind Kaila’s utterance, whereas the latter is haunted by an intensified and oft-repeated memory— “exhausted tale”—of the breakdown of a positive intentionality in the place of its fruition. For the stubborn literality of Kaila’s response points to an unbridgeable rupture between intention and destination. And since the great-grandmother is recalling the failure of a positive intentionality for the enunciating subject, her memory as possessive affect—possessing, that is, the present time of her being—is beyond true/false, credible/incredible dichotomies.19 As a relatively young colony, then, Fiji was one of the last to import bonded servants from India. The system of indenture was adopted on the recommendation of Sir Arthur Gordon, the fi rst substantive governor of the colony (1875–80), who believed that imported labor would protect the native population from the damaging effects of industrial agriculture. 20 Statistics show that 60,965 Indians were dispatched to Fiji between 1879 and 1916, of which some 60,553 survived the sea voyage. 21 Sailing ships did the transporting at fi rst, but these vessels were gradually replaced by steamships, which on the average took half the time (thirty days) to fi nish the voyage. From depot to ship, and from ship to plantation, the laborers were put into situations that daily compromised social and labor practices not easily separable from a hierarchically grounded understanding of caste, religion, and gender. The legal term of bondage was five years, but the workers were vigorously encouraged to renew their indenture for a second term. That very few time-expired laborers actually did, even when offered bonuses and attractive land parcels, tells us a great deal about the unrewarding character of bonded plantation life. 22 Many migrants chose to

Workers were vigorously encouraged to renew their indenture for a second term. That very few time-expired laborers actually did, even when offered bonuses and attractive land parcels, tells us a great deal about the unrewarding character of bonded plantation life.

Time and Girmit


pay their own fares back to India (since free passage was guaranteed only on completion of a second term), and some 60 percent took up permanent “industrial residence” as khula (free) laborers in the colony. 23 In a study titled Indians in Fiji, the anthropologist A. C. Mayer provides a widely accepted vignette of coolie life on Fiji’s plantations:
Most immigrants were assigned to sugar plantations, run by the C.S.R. Company and other sugar companies, and by private planters. . . . Few allowances were made for the social background of the immigrants, or the requirements of family life, and the main concern of those in charge was simply to see that conditions were the minimum required for the work. . . . Thus, immigrants were housed in barracks, called lines. Inside were two rows of about eight rooms. By law, each room was a minimum of ten feet by seven feet, and housed three single men or one man, his wife and not more than two children. The occupants had to cook in this room during most of the indenture period, and there was little privacy, since partitions did not reach to the ceiling. This kind of housing represented a sharp break from conditions in India. . . . Moreover, social conditions in the lines were anything but satisfactory. The small proportion of women made for constant tension and an exceedingly fragile domestic organisation, aggravated by the fact that neither Hindu nor Muslim customary marriage was officially recognised. Sometimes the European planter allocated wives to his men . . . [and] there were the inevitable cases of trafficking in women. . . . Another bane of indenture was the “task” system of work. Each day, immigrants were set a specific amount of work to perform before nightfall, under penalty of stoppage of their daily wage and ultimately of prosecution. The setting of the task was open to abuse at the hands of the planter and the sardar. . . . In short, laborers were as often as not grossly overtasked; corporal punishment was used to get the work done, and there was inadequate supervision by the Inspector of Immigrants appointed by the Government. A result of these conditions was the large number of prosecutions of migrants for failure to fulfi l tasks, absence from work, etc. Burton notes that in 1907 over 13 percent of the total indentured labor force was proceeded against for breaches of the labor laws. An indication of the penal aspect of the system is provided by the high percentage of conviction in such cases. In 1901, for example, 92 percent of the cases brought resulted in convictions, and this was not an exceptional fi gure for the time. Moreover, jealousies and quarrels in the lines led to cases of assault, adding to the violent attacks on overseers and sardars which were the only means of redress and revenge the immigrant possessed. 24

While Mayer does proceed to outline the modest monetary benefits of indenture (although even here he emphasizes the impecunious state of a


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significant number of the returnees), the ensuing argument as it pertains to the sign, girmit, will need to be understood in the context of the above desultory view of plantation life—a view that is, more or less, endorsed by most serious historians on the subject. Almost all accounts of girmit are predicated on the assumption that there is a measure of translatable continuity between the former term and agreement. The signs are regarded as near synonyms moving in the same orbit of signification. As agreement is taken to denote the mutual covenant that goes by the name of indenture, so girmit refers to the legal compact between the recruiting body and the recruit and also to the actual enactment of this compact in a host locality and therefore in a different temporality. Admittedly there is a moment of hesitation in Lal’s choice of the term variant and in Nandan’s recourse to the adjective telling (which means “striking” or “effective” but also “revealing”—as in divulging a secret) and, even more visibly, in Mishra’s conception of “vernacularized form”—as he appears wise to the fact that any act of translation is simultaneously an act of alchemy—but none deem the moment worthy of critical reflection. In the English version of Totaram Sanadhya’s Fijidwip men mere ikkish varsh (My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands), 25 John Kelly and Uttra Singh are likewise skittish when it comes to footnoting girmit. Suspecting that there may be something peculiarly vital lost in the conversion, they make a point not to translate girmit even as they mount the paradoxical case that it is “the name given to the agreement to serve a term of indenture.”26 Even as a kinship is eagerly sought between girmit and agreement, what is suspected is the absence of any translatable continuity. It is exactly at this point that I want to make an intervention by professing that there is a measure of translatable discontinuity between agreement and girmit inasmuch as what is transferred across from the fi rst term is not carried over into signification. To be sure, girmit is the terminus, or limit point, of agreement insofar as the moment of translation signals a rupture of an order so momentous that it turns truth into falsehood, heaven into hell, and synonym into antonym. Doubtless there is some value of a semiotic type relayed between the two signs, but it is the trace memory of a truth’s untruth, which is annulled in the coming into being of girmit. 27 It is in this sense that girmit is the terminal point of agreement, for it takes over at that extreme and exhaustive frontier where agreement withholds its name for fear of losing it. To retain a discernible degree of semantic, acoustic, and graphic integrity, agreement may not, and dare not, venture beyond a certain sphere of signification; it is precisely on the brink of this sphere that girmit begins its signifying, significant work. Girmit, then, is not agreement, in any of the three linguistic senses: semantic, acoustic, or graphic. It has little to do with the execution of any

Time and Girmit


contract based on a mutual understanding of the terms of its enactment. In fact, girmit breaks away from agreement at the very point when there is radical disjunction between the anticipated future time of agreement (as imaginatively and, in most cases, retroactively understood by the recruits before signing up), the neutral labor time of the contract itself (as laid down in deed form), and the real time of work in far-off plantations. 28 It is not the socioeconomic history of the “push” factors (penury, famine, widowhood, persecution at the hands of family or landlords [zamindar]) or “pull” factors (higher wages, freedom from caste, sense of adventure) that concerns me here, but rather a grammar of intentionality—or intendo—inasmuch as the recruits were clearly “aiming at” or “extending toward” what may be described as a future positive. Mishra once defi ned this intentionality as a “millennial quest” prematurely aborted in the real time of plantation work: 29
It was a failed quest because, upon arriving in Fiji, the Indians were confronted with a world which was anything but a fulfi lment of their dreams of the promised land—“promised” in the sense that the recruiters in India impressed upon all prospective indentured laborers the possibilities of escape from the degrading realities of Indian life. The responses that these laborers began to make to questions about self and identity, about “purpose,” about their own psychological and social commitment to the “new” land, indicate not only a corrosive angst but also a corresponding fragmentation of psyche. 30

Needless to say, it would be wrong to equalize the very different experiences of the recruits on their outbound journey. While some were plainly decoyed or duped by arkatis (unlicensed field agents), there were those who went along willingly, and others who wildly misunderstood the nature of their destination. 31 Certainly there are a host of causal determinants (such as family quarrels, oppressive cultural practices, evictions, trouble with authorities) that may account for the phenomenon of extending toward a future positive, but this article does not seek to dwell on them. It is concerned with the whole question of affective intentionality itself, vis-à-vis the subject’s ontological “being for” a time future less exacting than the present. As such, it sets itself against the historiography of unconcealment as represented in the labor of some revisionist historians. Instead of seeking to explain the history of indentured labor in the usual disciplinary terms, I accept—in the fi rst instance—the truth-value of the laborers’ experiences of the system and the traumatic affects associated with them. This trend of intentionality toward a future positive may be deduced from the oral and written testimonies of the recruits themselves and also from the observations offered by various labor historians. Years after the event, one recruit, Bhagelu, recalled his willingness to leave a “time of


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distress” for an anticipated time of food and shelter; 32 another, Jagan, admitted to being dissatisfied with his marriage and attracted by the idea of pardesh (para: “higher,” “universal,” “beyond,” “transcendent”; desh: “country”); 33 a third, Bujawan, remembered being persuaded by “stories of earning more money.”34 Marda Naicker, a recruit from the Tamil Nadu (previously Madras Presidency), also mentioned the lure of better wages as a primary factor in his decision to sign up:
I was told by the recruiter that for Kaskari Kam (agricultural work or working on the land), I would get one shilling and six pence for eight hours a day. In India for the same work one received only one ana for the whole day’s work. But kaskari work in India, means working on the land at your time and pace. Nobody can push you around or off the land. I thought I could work in Fiji and daily save a shilling and spend six pence. It was with these thoughts that I came to Fiji. Instead over here there was task work and only nine pence after a back-breaking day and I was in girmit for five years. This was dagabaji (treachery). 35

Sanadhya, who left behind an invaluable eyewitness account of the indenture system, mentioned being “fooled” by the arkati’s description of a future without kasht, or suffering, a future that bore an uncanny resemblance to the pastoral childhood of a popular Hindu divinity: “Look, brothers, the place where you will work you will never have to suffer any sorrows. There will never be any kind of problem there. You will eat . . . bananas and a stomach-full of sugar cane, and play flutes in relaxation.”36 Discussing her grandmother’s decision to sign up for Fiji, Lateef refers to an implanted intentionality for “a faraway place” renowned for its “good weather, picturesque surrounding, easy work and [abundance of ] . . . food.”37 Such utopianism is likely based on a movement akin to déjà vu, the feeling that one is about to encounter what has previously been encountered; and the arkatis, who had thorough knowledge of the discursive inner worlds of their victims, afforded the necessary cues to set it off. At any rate, while disagreeing about the extent of deceit actually practiced in the business of recruitment and the types of pressures that impinged on a recruit’s decision to sign up, the major scholars—Gillion, Mayer, Tinker, Mishra, Kelly, and Lal—appear to concur on the issue of the general intentionality shown by the recruits for a time of plenitude. Mishra, for instance, discusses how the indentured laborers, “when asked to explain the reasons for their quite pointless emigration, fi lled their narratives with decidedly ‘end-oriented’ possibilities.”38 Gillion, on the other hand, cautions against overstressing the importance of deception but clearly accepts the widespread use of infl ationary prose in the business of recruitment: “It should not be inferred . . . that all or even most of the Indians who went to

Time and Girmit


But what is the giving of “a misleading idea” if not the sowing of a notion, an intentionality, that leads one to “extend toward” the wrong ship, to undertake the wrong voyage, to disembark at the wrong destination.

Fiji were victims of malpractice; many were, but the majority had simply been given a misleading idea of what was in store for them. They had been [misled], not by the colonial government, but by the recruiters, and in a system of commercialised recruiting, there was nothing remarkable about such exaggerations.”39 That may be the case, but Gillion forgets to dwell on the structural nature of the system. Even if the recruiter and the colonial government were differently motivated, they were still cogs in the elaborate wheel of coolie selection, recruitment, and transportation. The fact that one cog may have been somewhat oblivious to the skulduggery practiced by another does not absolve either from systemic culpability. Gillion says that the majority were simply “given a misleading idea.” But what is the giving of “a misleading idea” if not the sowing of a notion, an intentionality, that leads one to “extend toward” the wrong ship, to undertake the wrong voyage, to disembark at the wrong destination; which “given” idea then—since it has blown us so utterly and tragically off course—strikes the lie of itself, and is thereby nullified, leaving behind not an ideational trace but an experiential affect, a sediment of betrayal (dagabaji) felt in the marrow of the bone. It is his implicit faith in this kind of intentionality that allows Ali to throw caution and objectivity to the wind: “The pull of Fiji was the result of the glorious picture painted by the recruiter’s agent, the arkathi.”40 In an autobiographical aside at the beginning of Girmitiyas: The Origins of the Fiji Indians, Brij Lal, too, lowers his disciplinary mask and admits to the millenarian impulse that led his grandfather to sign up: “He . . . left India as a young man in search of wealth and glory, neither of which he achieved in his lifetime.”41 It is, again, the collective sense of a betrayed intentionality that leads Kelly to come up with this startling observation: “The conviction that the recruitment was a dirty trick, a sham, that recruiters lied and deceived, seems to have been near to universal among the Fiji laborers.”42 That the potential time of their intentionality may have been understood pragmatically by some recruits (as a profitable sojourn of limited duration) and utopically by others (as a theological moment of reconciled antinomies) does not detract from the argument about their general “being for” a future positive.43 In the light of the above claim and with specific reference to the cognitive rather than the contractual moment, we can say that the performative “I agree”—as uttered or understood by the recruits—shows intentionality in its anticipation of a future time that improves on the present and reveals a truth effect not reducible to the arkati’s deceit or, for that matter, to the historian’s critique. Clearly this intentionality has nothing to do with either the disembodied labor time as laid out in the terms of the contract or its actual enactment in the real or corporeal time of plantation work. It is more than likely that the specific terms and conditions of the contract


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actually reinforced the intentionality by being presented to the recruits in a beneficial light, 44 but that is precisely the point. In the real time of its enactment, the agreement failed on all counts. It failed to live up to its own documented intentionality, and it treated with contemptuous irony the ontological intentionality—the “being for”—of those who signed up. Translocated to the plantation colony of an abstract contract, the recruits stepped into a universe massively and grotesquely at odds with the time of their agreement. To pose, then, the necessary but impossible question: What happened when this positive intentionality reached out to discover not the intended thing but its antithesis, not an equation but an estrangement, not a destiny but its betrayal, not a correspondence but a discontinuity? One answer is that the recruits experienced a trauma so epochal in its magnitude that it took hold of mind, body, and soul, eventually throwing up a name that belonged not only to a different order of speech but also, it appears, to an altogether different order of understanding. Not agreement nor disagreement, but girmit. Neither a deliberate coinage nor simply an error of tongue, but a verbal-visceral response to a predicament, to a state of extreme perplexity generated at the limit point, at the antithetical abyss of intentionality. In a review essay that appeared in 1991, Mishra has a kindred, if differently expressed, idea in mind. Reflecting on “the saga of indenture, or girmit, as it came to be known by the indentured laborers themselves,” he argues that the “‘agreement’ . . . through a process of linguistic transformation, became girmit, the contract now representing an entire ethos, a legend, a tyranny, and, fi nally, a history and ideology.”45 It is my contention, then, that girmit comes into being at that extreme point when a positive intentionality—which is, after all, a species of good faith—is traumatically and perplexingly violated in the very place and time of its anticipated fruition. It names a time, a place, and an experience that bears no relation to the time, place, and experience of agreement, to the destined point of the general intentionality. So what is the semiotic charge that makes girmit tick? By commenting on the social as well as psychological dimensions of plantation work, social historians, linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, overseers, 46 and, most tellingly, the recruits themselves have given us an understanding of what it might be. Nearly all literature on the subject refers to the high rate of suicide among workers, the drudgery of task-based work, the widespread evil of overtasking, the irregular payment of even the minimum statutory wage, the barrack-style housing bereft of privacy, sanitation, the jealously and violence resulting from gender disproportion, the sexual abuse of women recruits by sirdars (suboverseers) and coolumbers (overseers), the habitual use of corporal punishment and threats, the disruption of family life, the breakdown in caste distinctions, the general ruination of dharma, 47

Time and Girmit


By forging from the ruins of their agreement a name that reinforced the loss of the object of their intentionality (and this object was a time, a place, and a value), the recruits bestowed on themselves the miraculous agency to describe the thing itself—the girmit, the errant future time—to which they had never assented.

the inadequacy of meal rations, the absence of justice (insaaf ) in the legal system, the nonrecognition of customary practices (such as religious marriages), and the general collapse of morality that informs any viable social order48 —in other words, to those aspects of indenture that led Hannah Dudley to denounce it as “legalised immorality”49 and Hugh Tinker to condemn it as a new system of slavery.50 If we were to speak of it in cut-anddry sociological terms, then the semiotic charge in girmit would refer us to the above melancholic list, but that would entail compromising the surplus energy—the irreducible affect and ontological force—of what is plainly a unique semantic, acoustic, and graphic signifier. For, as I have maintained from the outset, girmit comes into being at that extreme point when agreement exhausts itself, when a positive intentionality collides with that which runs counter to its flow, when a new sense of subjectivity and subjecthood results as a consequence of this calamitous betrayal, when, in short, it is not time but being that is expended, not to say irredeemably altered, in the five or ten years of indentureship. By forging from the ruins of their agreement a name that reinforced the loss of the object of their intentionality (and this object was a time, a place, and a value), the recruits bestowed on themselves the miraculous agency to describe the thing itself—the girmit, the errant future time—to which they had never assented. In so doing, they also named the subject-being who dwells in girmit, in that ontological moment of nonagreement (as distinct from disagreement), and who bears no kinship whatsoever to the “emigrant,” to the subject-thing deemed to have sold a quantity of labor power over a fi xed period for a stipulated wage. The subject-being of girmit, or girmitiya, for we must now nominate the new species engendered in girmit, stands opposed to the emigrant persona so factually and juridically addressed in the Conditions of Service and Terms of Agreement.51 Through the act of self-appellation, the girmitiyas identified themselves as social beings unjustly and unethically subjected to a time of nonagreement. Moreover, since it is a name charged with the grit and glamour of a survivor, girmitiya eventually worked to undermine the abject tag of coolie favored by those in authority.52 Brimming as it is with nonquantifi able affects and mnemonic intensities, girmit cannot be adequately domiciled within the disciplinary discourses of the social sciences. An example of this inadequacy may be found in John Kelly’s otherwise magnificent introduction to the English translation of Sanadhya’s Fijidwip men mere ikkish varsh—the only comprehensive fi rsthand account of the kuli pratha (coolie system) written from the perspective of the recruit. For Kelly, Sanadhya’s tract is “not history, but polemic”:
Totaram Sanadhya and Benarsidas Chaturvedi are not historians, because this is not their outlook. One should not think that my point here is that they


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have failed to reach the standards of professional historians. While this is true, it is the case only because they were not trying to meet these standards. Their audience was smaller, but their purpose was much greater. They wanted to end the Indenture system. To do so they wrote a book for a target audience of educated, influential and powerful people who were their contemporaries in the India of their day, and they wrote that book in order to shock and arouse that audience, to make it join in political action. . . . Because their book is a polemic the authors select evidence differently than a historian would. First, because their audience is limited, they feel no need to give defi nitions or detailed descriptions of facets of Indian customs which their audience already knew about. . . . Secondly, and more importantly, because they seek to motivate their readers to action, their account is passionate. They will dwell in ways that will seem obsessive on particular incidents and details with which they hope to outrage their readers. . . . We as readers come to [the] book as if it was a history book, but in order to read it as a history book we need in effect, to recalibrate it . . . to wonder in each case how the polemical presentation reflects or distorts the historical reality.53

The reader-oriented polemical interpretation of Sanadhya’s account is based on a disavowal of its relevance as history in the disciplinary sense. Kelly reads the affective facets of the text—the shock element, the obsessive attention to particular fragments, the arousing of passion, uproar, and outrage—as part of a polemical-political exercise designed to lead to the termination of the coolie system. It follows that the account’s value is chiefly in its historical function as justifi able ethical propaganda rather than in any clear sense of an ex-coolie articulating the affective history of a nonagreement. Not indenture, but girmit. Like Seecharan, Kelly is concerned with matters of reflection and distortion with reference to the disciplinary standards of historiography, but urges his readers to accept an alternative framework for evaluating the text. However, by shifting the genre from history to polemic, Kelly merely succeeds in changing the disciplinary framework and ends up undermining what is manifestly an affective subaltern response to an important historical occurrence. Sanadhya may not offer up a bloodless chronicle of significant events, but there is more to his account than mere polemic. Instead of shifting the methodological grid in this manner, it is possible to read his text as an affective subaltern response to a disrupted or defeated intentionality. In this reading the polemical features, the disputatious and controversial elements of the text, become the constitutive elements in an affective, alternative historia—a felt narrative based on an authoritative sense of participatory knowledge—that the subaltern agent imposes on a set of

Time and Girmit


officially recorded episodes. Sanadhya does not mean to shift the methodological ground proper to a historical chronicle of the positivistic variety. Rather, his register affectively and audaciously partakes in the historical event itself. The cumulative result of this affective take on history is a historia (knowledgeable narrative) of girmit. In this alternative account, large-scale emphasis is placed on small-scale participatory subjects—their intentions, encounters, reactions, and affects—thereby upsetting the stylistic attributes (or, more properly, ruses) of dispassion, symmetry, and decorum so dear to strict disciplinarians. In its heretical intercessions and supplementations, Sanadhya’s text announces itself as the heterological history (girmit) of History (Indenture). Sanadhya’s account plays up the affective dimensions from the very outset, when the authorizing narrator, punning on the divine origins of his name, draws a correspondence between his historia and the epic story of Rama’s banishment as described in Tulsidasa’s Ramacharitamanasa (the Avadhi Ramayana, considered a sacred text in much of North India): “From this place [Prayag] begins the story of my own insignificant life, a sorrowful story of Ram.”54 The text as the narrative of an odyssey and ordeal, then, has its genesis in the memory of a betrayed intentionality, and this memory is simultaneously rhapsodic, inasmuch as Rani Keikei’s betrayal of Rama sets off Tulsidasa’s exilic epic, and autohistorical, inasmuch as Sanadhya’s betrayal at the hands of an arkati is about to inspire the historia of girmit, beginning with the caste-violating crossing of the kala pani, or black waters.55 Once we concede that Sanadhya is writing the history of a betrayed intentionality, then it becomes possible to treat his affects as contestatory supplements to disciplinary orthodoxy where sensory categories are excised as a stylistic rule of thumb. Crucially, Sanadhya’s approach does not simply do away with due historical process or with archival apparatuses. As a matter of fact, he is at pains to arrange events within some kind of historical framework, amateurish though the attempt may be. To this end, he divides his narrative into subsections that afford necessary information of the positivistic sort, ranging from geographic data and fi gures pertaining to ration allotments and wages to “impartial” secondary opinions and trade and export statistics. His radical departure occurs wholly on the level of affect. For each incident that he introduces into his informational chain, he attaches a correlative affect, with the result that he adds an extra discursive (sensory, passionate, subjective) dimension to the historical narrative.56 This surplus dimension directly pertains to the impact of historical events on the inner worlds of the recruits and, consequently, on their understanding of these events as girmit. Far and away, what is truly scandalous to disciplinary thinking is the egregious linking of affects to archival records in a rhetorical maneuver that compels


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the reader to fi lter established facts through a spectra of affects. An added scandal concerns the possessive immediacy of these affects and the manner in which they transform the recorded past of data and chronicles into the present “dramatic” time of sentiment, experience, and being. Below are some randomly chosen textual segments, or lexias:
From Havra station we were all put into closed cars and taken to the depot. Here the immigration officer stood us all in a line and said, “You are going to Fiji. You will get twelve annas a day there, and you will have to do field work for five years. If you return from there after five years then you will pay your fare yourself, and if you return after ten years then the government will give you your fare. You will be able to get many rupees from there. Not only twelve annas. You will be able to earn much more above this. You will live with great bliss there. What is Fiji? It is heaven!” He spoke a great deal of this kind of slippery talk. We illiterate people [sic] were already somewhat misled, and this officer fooled us completely. For each one among us a space of one and a half feet wide and six feet long was given. How much space can be enough for one person, you can decide for yourself. Some people complained that “I cannot live in this much space,” and the white doctor, shouting, said, “Son of a bitch, you have to stay here.” When we sat we were given four biscuits and one-sixteenth of a pound of sugar. White people call these biscuits “dog biscuits” and feed them to dogs. Oh dear god! Are we Indians equal to dogs? They get monthly wages of one pound, two shillings after doing the full task. But for each hundred, no more than five people can do the full task. And even these people cannot do the full task continuously for five to six months. In my twenty-one years of experience, I did not fi nd anyone among 40,000 Indians who had completed his full task continuously for five years. The average person is not able to earn more than seven and one-half rupees per month. What else should be said about this? Fiji is twice as fertile as India, but hundreds are dying of hunger! A woman by this name [Narayani] worked in Nadi district at Navo plantation. A child was born to her who died. Two or three days after she had given birth, an overseer said that she should go to work, even though, according to the government law, a woman is not able to go to work for three months after giving birth to a child. But why should a white overseer attend to these rules? Narayani said, “My child is dead. I will not go to work.” At this the overseer beat her so much that she became unconscious and fell. A white police subinspector came, investigated and had the woman brought to the hospital. The overseer was arrested. The case reached the Supreme Court in Suva city. When this woman came off a steamer into Suva, there was not

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enough strength in her to take even one step by herself. Therefore she was carried to the courthouse on a stretcher. At the end of the case the white overseer was found not guilty and was freed. This poor woman was beaten so much that her mind went bad. . . . What a striking example of justice this is! The glory of purity is eternal! Many outrages of this kind are happening there all the time. The overseers know well how to beat the Indians with the kicks of their shoes, and know how to break teeth at their roots with a fi st. They burn clothing, kick away food, and give us trouble at will. These are all inner sufferings. In Fiji there is one big company called “C.S.R.” which is in the sugar business. They buy all our sugar cane. A man whose sugar cane goes to them is given a receipt. Once a week, the cane growers are given money for these receipts. When the company officer takes these receipts from our hands, he fi rst takes the receipt with iron tongs from far away, and then puts it through the smoke of a burning sulphur fi re. When they are asked why they are doing this, they say, “You are black people.” In COLONY OF FIJI a European wrote an essay with the following purport: “Fiji’s true inhabitants cannot do the work of a laborer well. Their own nature is wholly unsuited to this activity. In the cane fields, one has to do the very same work every day. (They get fed up from doing this.) But the Indian coolies are utterly well-suited for this very activity, and the planters generally give the work to them.” Very well! Who will keep as servants Fiji’s true residents? First of all, to them as servants the expenses are very high, and then, the whites cannot commit outrages against them. This is the coolie from India—you punch him with a fi st, hit him, kick him, you don’t give him wages, send him to prison, and no one hears about it at all! 57

From the start to the fi nish of his historia, Sanadhya relates the affective consequences of a betrayed intentionality. Each episode he recounts triggers a correlative affect that frames our reading of indenture as girmit. After the foundational moment of hoodwinking by the arkati, there can only be the history of bathos and betrayal at every subsequent stage. Against the expansive, exhilarating vision of an implanted paradise, the ship’s hold is cagelike and claustrophobic, the mixing of castes deeply repulsive, the “dog” biscuits degrading, the tasks hideously exacting, the treatment of women immoral and barbaric, the miller’s racism hurtful, outrageous, the overseers licentious and brutal, the legal system corrupt, the barristers fraudulent, and the general mood, in the aftermath of religious and moral ruination, close to suicidal (atmahatya). If the movement toward a future positive (paradise in this instance) may be understood as an ontological desire for that which exceeds the earthly and material,


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and thereby the mundanely temporal, then Sanadhya’s text narrates the extraordinary betrayal of this desire and the eventual transformation of the desiring subject into an antithetical and traumatized body. For the “coolie” is not an aspiring human subject, not even one that is free to eke out a living through subsistence farming (in the manner of the fi rst inhabitants), 58 but a betrayed and “fallen” instrument condemned to the soulless, monotonous time of industrial agriculture. The sorrow, the hurt, the anger, the disbelief, the irony, the outrage, the apostrophizing—these correlative passions and affects allude to that other time and destination, that elusive promised history, precluded by the shocking memory of its materialization in girmit. The ubiquity of the expression “to serve girmit [girmit kato],” it follows, does not imply the bloodless working out of a nonaffective contractual time but the gritty enduring of an unjust sentence (beinsaafi ), which is a mode of punishment of course, a structure of servitude, but also an expression of an opinion, a sententia, as well as a sentire, an eruption of pent-up feeling or sentiment. It is a certain order of beingness in the improper time of nonagreement that girmit summons up, conjures up, and this beingness comes laden with a host of affective signs such as sorrow (dukh), hardship (taqleef ), servitude (gulami), nostalgia, outrage (atyachar), fortitude, suffering (kasht)—all of which take on a spectral likeness to what is, in the fi nal assessment, as solidly and mulishly self-referential as a proper name. Since it is irreducible to any one affect, girmit may be said to disclose the immanence (indwelling significance) of the sign to itself.59 It is all subaltern affects distilled in the affective thing-itself. Having said that and chancing a most dangerous contradiction, I would like to attend to a word whose unbearable proximity to girmit tells us a great deal about how the neologism takes possession of and is, in turn, possessed by affective signs. That term is narak, which many commentators have simply glossed as “hell.” In the chapter on plantation life in his now classic study, Fiji’s Indian Migrants, Gillion alludes to it as follows:
The “typical” indentured immigrant worked long hours to complete hard monotonous tasks. Tired, unhappy, and sorry he came to Fiji, afraid of his overseer and sirdar, and without faith in the government and its inspectors, he would gladly have commuted if given the chance. . . . It was not only the drudgery but the unaccustomed impersonal treatment on most plantations that made for unhappiness. In India every man had his place in the social order, but in Fiji immigrants felt that they were looked on as sugar-producing machines. To a man with a wife and a family, who had belonged to a middle or high-caste in India, his new life was a miserable one, at best that of a welltreated animal—fed, looked after if sick, driven to work, and given a “stable” (Andrews), or a “kennel” (Burton), to live in. . . . It was not without reason

Time and Girmit


that the Indians called their life on the plantations in Fiji narak, which means hell.60

Ali, on the other hand, discovers a more direct equivalence between girmit and narak: “For most [recruits], girmit was narak (hell) because life on an indentured plantation constituted a form of human degradation.”61 Lal suggests that the recruits’ use of the epithet to condemn indenture may be read as a form of disagreement with the richly sanguine account of the system offered by its officers:
Clearly, indenture was a grim experience, made all the more so by the prevailing official attitude that the experience was beneficial to the workers who were used to toiling from “sunrise to sunset and ask as their rations only a few ounces of rice.” The indentured laborers disagreed. The Fiji Indians called it narak, which means hell. For indenture violated many of the values and subverted the social and cultural practices and institutions the indentured emigrants had brought with them.62

The adduced comments take us back to the original issue of intentionality as embodied by the recruits prior to their departure for the colony. For if plantation society was narak for the girmitiyas, then it may be inferred that the object of their general intentionality was svarg, heaven, or, if not quite that, then a time, place, or value corresponding to its potential plenitude and positivity. For all three commentators, Gillion and Ali as well as Lal, the concept of narak is indissolubly linked to the process by which socially coherent subjects—and by implication culturally defi ned subjectivities—were reconstituted as expendable labor units of industrial agriculture in the time of modernity. As Kelly puts it, the issue here is the unexpected transformation of cultural beings “by a transaction that took their labor power to be their total nature and made it into the fi rst organizing principle of their social life.”63 It is, of course, not the inaccuracy of such observations that discomfits me, for patently they are built on sound archival and field research, but the irksome tendency of social scientific language to desiccate what are vigorous subaltern signs brimming with affective energy. For if, as Ali maintains, the girmitiyas called girmit narak, then plainly there is something more than just a symbolic or social opinion being broached here, which needs to be considered, if not explicated. Since we are speaking about the ontology of words, this moreness, this excess is best described as the bhava (from bhu: “to become, exist”) element in the sign— bhava being a “state of being,” “existence,” “emotion,” and “attitude,” but also a “feeling of absorption or identification” with something else.64 Empathetic transference, in other words. As an utterance that comes into being in an existential entity, narak displays bhava in that it grips a subject-being with one or several of the torments associated with the seven

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modes of hell pertaining to human beings.65 It also displays bhava in that the affective torments associated with narak are transferable to girmit, to the time of nonagreement, and consequently to the girmitiya, the being who haunts and is haunted by this time. This process resembles the transposing of values in a metaphorical formation where the parts appear, at fi rst glance, to be erected on a structure of noncorrespondence. However, like its antonym svarg, narak is a sign absolute or sign terminus, and therefore ultimately ungraspable, and so the bhavas, or torments, associated with it can only be affective symptoms of unspeakable, otherworldly torments. It may be asserted, then, that the traumatic affects of girmit as embodied by the ones who lived through this time—the girmitiyas—were merely shades and symptoms of a thousand unsayable agonies. “Unsayable” because the sensory categories that I call affects exceed the sign, girmit, that ironically generates them. As girmit emerged from the sense of an apocalyptic betrayal (after Vijay Mishra) of a general intentionality for a time positive, hence its general applicability as a sign for all that occurred in its aftermath, so the girmitiya came into being as the subject of girmit, as that being whose beingness was fi red in the furnace of a terminated intentionality. There was no girmitiya before the time of girmit, no self-nominating subject with a name that induced a host of affects while designating an era, an odyssey as well as an ordeal, no subaltern agent with a reproof so tellingly mutated on the tip of the tongue and so marvelously expelled from the back of the throat that its very echo—sublime, guttural, and spondaic—constitutes an entire inexhaustible archive.

This article emerged from conversations, formal and not so formal, I have had over the years with Vijay Mishra, John Frow, David Punter, Kishor Chetty, John O’Carroll, Satendra Nandan, Subramani, Sanjay Srivastava, Margaret Mishra, Vinay Lal, and the late Simione Durutalo. I am indebted to them. I am also grateful to Gyan Prakash for taking the time to read the article, and for his insights. A version of the essay was presented at a symposium titled “The Indian Diaspora and Its Cultural Politics,” at the University of California, Los Angeles, 2–3 May 2003. 1. Hugh Tinker affords an informed account of how the system was set up to cope with the labor shortfall experienced in numerous plantation colonies after the abolition of slavery in 1834. While noting that “a resolution for a general scheme of immigration was passed” in 1838, he argues that a version of the practice existed for some years prior to its legal implementation. See Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 61–115.

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2. M. K. Gandhi, Gandhi’s Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Washington, DC: Public Affairs, 1948), 136. I am grateful to Satendra Nandan for this reference. 3. The supplement renders the prior and privileged site (that which masquerades as a nonsupplement) into a supplement. 4. Within the heterological scheme, as Michel de Certeau notes, “the discourse about the other is a means of constructing a discourse authorized by the other” (Certeau, Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, trans. Brian Massumi [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995], 68). 5. Ahmed Ali, The Indenture Experience in Fiji (Suva: Fiji Museum, 1979), xi. 6. Brij V. Lal, “Fiji Girmitiyas: The Background to Banishment,” in Rama’s Banishment: A Centenary Tribute to the Fiji Indians, 1879–1979, ed. Vijay Mishra (Auckland: Heinemann, 1979), 13. 7. Rodney Moag, “The Linguistic Adaptations of the Fiji Indians,” in Mishra, Rama’s Banishment, 126. 8. Shireen Lateef, “Indo-Fijian Women—Past and Present,” Manushi 39 (1987): 2. 9. Subramani, South Pacific Literature: From Myth to Fabulation (Suva: University of the South Pacific, 1992), 212. 10. Satendra Nandan, Voices in the River (Suva: Vision International, 1985), 114. 11. Vijay Mishra, “The Girmit Ideology Revisited: Fiji Indian Literature,” in Reworlding: The Literature of the Indian Diaspora, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (New York: Greenwood, 1992), 1. 12. K. L. Gillion, Fiji’s Indian Migrants: A History to the End of Indenture in 1920 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1962), 19. 13. Morton Klass, East Indians in Trinidad: A Study in Cultural Persistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961), 20. 14. Tinker, New System of Slavery, 19. 15. Clem Seecharan, foreword to Girmitiyas: The Origins of the Fiji Indians, fi rst published in 1983, new ed., Brij V. Lal (Lautoka: Fiji Institute of Applied Studies, 2004), 20. 16. Tinker, New System of Slavery, 19. 17. Seecharan, Girmitiyas, 7. 18. Seecharan seems to be drawing a distinction between memory as embodied, fallible, affective, subject-bound presence and history as rigorous, disembodied, nonaffective, subject-free analysis of “verifi able” traces of what is no longer present. But, as argued by John Frow in another context, both memory and history belong inescapably to the time of textuality: “Reversibility is . . . [in this time] opposed to retrieval. The time of textuality is not linear, before-and-after, causeand-effect time embedded in the logic of the archive but the time of a continuous analeptic and proleptic shaping. Its structure is that of any dynamic but closed system, where all moments of the system are co-present, and the end is given at the same time as the beginning. In such a model the past is a function of the system: rather than having a meaning and a truth determined once and for all by its status as event, its meaning and its truth are constituted retroactively and repeatedly; if time is reversible then alternative stories are possible. Data are not stored in already constituted places but are arranged and rearranged at every point in


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time. Forgetting is thus an integral principle of this model, since the activity of compulsive interpretation that organizes it involves selection and rejection. Like a well-censored dream, and subject perhaps to similar mechanisms, memory has the orderliness and the teleological drive of narrative” (Frow, Time and Commodity Culture: Essays in Cultural Theory and Postmodernity [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997], 229). 19. John Kelly makes a similar point in his introduction to the English translation of Totaram Sanadhya’s Fijidwip men mere ikkish varsh: “The girmit or ‘agreement’ binding the Indian to five years of labor was not a simple contract between formally equal parties. Behind this reality lay another: once the simple Indian agreed to the girmit, he or she was doomed to be transformed into a coolie. This is perhaps why ‘My Twenty-One Years’ so consistently describes all girmitiyas as ‘tricked’ (bahakana) by the arkatis or recruiters, why the statements of officials explaining the terms and conditions of the contract are called ‘slippery-slidey talk.’ No one was explaining the underlying reality, the unjust social transformations to come, whatever other lies or truths were told, whatever other ruses and devices were or were not used” (Totaram Sanadhya, My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands; and, The Story of the Haunted Line, trans. John Dunham Kelly and Uttra Kumari Singh [Suva: Fiji Museum, 1991], 18). 20. Gillion, Fiji’s Indian Migrants, 1–18. 21. Ibid., 59. 22. Gillion notes that an overwhelming number of laborers failed to reindenture. He adds that “in 1893 only 208 men were serving under re-indenture and 515 at the end of 1912” (Fiji’s Indian Migrants, 137–38). 23. Ibid., 136. 24. Adrian C. Mayer, Indians in Fiji (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), 16–19. 25. The original Hindi version was actually ghostwritten by the Indian journalist Benarsidas Chaturvedi, and some regard it as the product of a collaboration. From all accounts we know that Sanadhya himself was fairly literate in Hindi, and therefore the actual extent of Chaturvedi’s input remains a matter for considerable speculation. Unless proven otherwise, it is not my intention to add to the speculation. For this reason, unlike Kelly, I treat the text as a single-authored text. The fourth and fi nal Hindi edition of Fijidwip men mere ikkish varsh appeared in 1973. 26. Sanadhya, My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands, 33. 27. Derrida observes that “the trace is not only the disappearance of an origin. . . . it means that the origin did not even disappear, that it was never constituted except reciprocally by a nonorigin, the trace, which thus becomes the origin of the origin. From then on, to wrench the concept of the trace from the classical scheme, which would derive it from a presence or from an originary nontrace and which would make of it an empirical mark, one must indeed speak of an originary trace or arche-trace. Yet we know that that concept destroys its name and that, if all begins with the trace, there is above all no originary trace (Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak [Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976], 61). 28. Temporal distinctions are always already spatial as well as ontological. So I assume the category of space, and therefore being and location, in my reference to time.

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29. Vijay Mishra, “Indo-Fijian Fiction,” in The Indo-Fijian Experience, ed. Subramani (Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1979), 171. 30. Ibid., 171–72. 31. See Gillion, Fiji’s Indian Migrants; Tinker, New System of Slavery; and Lal, Girmitiyas. 32. Ali, Indenture Experience in Fiji, 57. 33. Ibid., 46. 34. Ibid., 38. 35. Vijay Naidu, The Violence of Indenture in Fiji (Suva: School of Social and Economic Development, University of the South Pacific, 1980), 18. 36. Sanadhya, My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands, 34. 37. Lateef, “Indo-Fijian Women,” 3. 38. Mishra, “The Girmit Ideology Revisited: Fiji Indian Literature,” in Reworlding: The Literature of the Indian Diaspora, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (New York: Greenwood, 1992), 4. 39. Gillion, Fiji’s Indian Migrants, 37. 40. Ali, Indenture Experience in Fiji, 3. 41. Lal, “Fiji Girmitiyas,” 27. 42. John D. Kelly, A Politics of Virtue: Hinduism, Sexuality, and Countercolonial Discourse in Fiji (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 28. 43. Out of the ruins of a fi rst intentionality may emerge a second intentionality, which takes the territory that negatively provoked the fi rst intentionality as its positive object. In the absence of a future positive, the past negative becomes, via some ruse of memory, the future positive of the second intentionality. This movement is captured vividly in Vijendra Kumar’s account of his grandparents’ nostalgia for India: “I absorbed the endless tales of India: of exotic fruits, of wizards and witches, of frightening animals and serpents, or great poets and singers, of the great rajahs and their lovely queens, of mountains towering into the sky, of rivers deeper and bigger than our seas, or dacoits who robbed the rich and fed the poor, and of the peace and tranquillity of village life. I heard all this and more. Nothing in Fiji could compare with India. ‘The milk here is like the water in muluk (home country),’ I heard from them” (Kumar, “Through the Time Tunnel,” in Subramani, Indo-Fijian Experience, 81). 44. Brij Lal has pointed out the discrepancy between the contract in theory and its actual enactment: “On paper, the terms appeared not only adequate but attractive: medical care, regular wages, proper diet, adequate housing, government supervision. In practice, though, things turned out to be different. To start with, the indenture legislation was important as much for what it omitted as for what it said. . . . The migrants did not know, for example, that they had no voice in the choice of their employers. Nor could they change their employers or voluntarily buy out their contracted period of service. Nor, again, could they move about freely without the consent of their employers, while the latter could transfer them from plantation to plantation at their will. They knew how much they could earn but nothing about the cost of living in the colonies nor the conditions of work. They did not know that the legislation which looked impressive on paper was ineffectual in practice or compromised by vested planter interests. In short, they did not know that indenture was ‘in essence a model of interlocking incarceration’ ” (Lal, Chalo Jahaji: A Journey through Indenture in Fiji [Canberra: Australian National University and Fiji Museum, 2000], 48).


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45. Vijay Mishra, “Satendra Nandan: The Wounded Sea,” Span, no. 32 (1991): 79. 46. An Australian employed by the Colonial Sugar Refi ning Company as a coolumber, or white overseer, Walter Gill, provides a colorful yet candid account of plantation life in Fiji and of the indenture system in general: “If we, the overseers and sirdars caught up in the rotten system of indenture servitude fathered Big Business on the most fecund of whores, cheap Asiatic labor, had managed to survive in the tooth-and-claw jungle of the cane game, it was only by out-animalizing the horde of near-human apes in our charge. And I mean apes, because a percentage of the men and women, regardless of what they were when they left India, had been changed by the terrors and conditions of the sea journey, and their years of servitude, into something resembling simian humans” (Gill, “Trouble Is How You Meet It,” in Subramani, Indo-Fijian Experience, 75–76). 47. On his third visit to Fiji in 1936, the activist missionary C. F. Andrews recalls that on the two previous occasions (1915 and 1917) “the one phrase used [frequently] was that dharma had been ruined” (Andrews, India and the Pacific [London: Allen and Unwin, 1937], 43). 48. Gillion (Fiji’s Indian Migrants), Mayer (Indians in Fiji), Tinker (New System of Slavery), Ali (Indenture Experience in Fiji), Gill (“Trouble Is How You Meet It”), Naidu (Violence of Indenture in Fiji), Kelly (Politics of Virtue), Lal (Chalo Jahaji and Girmitiyas) all dwell extensively on these facets of plantation experience. 49. Hannah Dudley, cited by Naidu, Violence of Indenture in Fiji, 83. 50. Tinker, New System of Slavery, iv. 51. Lal, “Fiji Girmitiyas,” 37. 52. Kelly points out that the pejorative term “coolie” was officially outlawed in 1915 (Politics of Virtue, 28). 53. Sanadhya, My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands, 9. 54. Ibid., 32. 55. In a footnote to Fijidwip men mere ikkish varsh, John Kelly and Uttra Singh provide this explanation of the phrase: “Kala pani or black water can refer to a prison term on the Andaman Islands (in the Indian Ocean), from India, or to exile more generally. According to some shastras, crossing black water is inherently polluting and causes loss of caste status” (Sanadhya, My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands, 60). 56. The outlawing of affects, humors, and passions, the expulsion of these dimensions of social experience, occurred with the emergence of the “hard” disciplinary discourses of the post-Enlightenment era and resurfaced only after Freud’s revolutionary interventions in the twentieth century. Michel de Certeau (Heterologies, 25–26), for instance, notes that “having been considered by the ancient medical theories (until Spinoza, Locke, or Hume) as determining movements whose composition organized social life, they [the passions] were forgotten by the productivist economy in the nineteenth century, or rejected into the sphere of literature. The study of passions thus became a literary specialization in the nineteenth century; it no longer belonged to political philosophy or economy. With Freud, this feature having been eliminated from science reappears in an economical discourse. A remarkable fact, in its own perspective, Freudianism simultaneously returns relevancy to passions, to rhetoric, and to literature.” 57. Sanadhya, My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands, 34–59.

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58. The recruit, Marda Naicker, makes a similar complaint with reference to the difference between kaskari kam in India (which depended on an unregulated system of work) and the severely regulated system of indentured labor. See Naidu, Violence of Indenture in Fiji, 18. 59. Discussing the notion of Deleuzian immanence, Giorgio Agamben writes: “Life, Deleuze says, is not at all nature; it is, rather, ‘desire’s variable field of immanence.’ . . . this means that the term ‘life’ designates nothing more and nothing less than the immanence of desire to itself ” (Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999], 235). 60. Gillion, Fiji’s Indian Migrants, 128–29. 61. Ali, Indenture Experience in Fiji, 67. 62. Lal, Chalo Jahaji, 53. 63. Kelly, Politics of Virtue, 29. 64. John Grimes, A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 87. 65. Grimes describes the seven types of hell as follows: “put—the childless hell; avici—hell for those awaiting reincarnation; samhata—for general evildoers; tamsira—where the real gloom of hell begins; rjisa—where torments attach; kudmala—the worst hell for those who will be reincarnated; talatala—the bottomless pit, the eternal hell of indescribable torture and pain for those who have no hope of reincarnation” (Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy, 201).


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