Namit Arora in 3quarksdaily:
The first immigrant ship from India, Fatel Rozack, arrived in 1845 after a journey of five months, carrying 225 Indians, most in their twenties, and over eight men for every woman. It had separate areas for men and women. Jokhan showed me a copy of its passenger log, pointing out that the first Indian to disembark was coincidentally named Bhuruth Suroop—a colonial clerk’s rendition of what I might have written as Bharat Swaroop. Trinidad is full of such tweaked spellings: Sewdass, Capildeo, Ramnarine. Until 1901, the ships were sailing vessels (‘Pal Jahaj’); thereafter, they were steamships (‘Aag Jahaj’). Jokhan pointed me to a list of ships that made the passage, the number of passengers in each, and the deaths en route. The mortality rate varied a lot. In 1858, on a ship named Salsette, 106 of the 197 Indians died. Scanning the numbers, I estimated the average mortality during the 19th century to be around 5%.
About 145,000 Indians came between 1845-1917 in over 320 shiploads. The vast majority was from the densely populated Gangetic Plain, from what are now UP and Bihar. They spoke Bhojpuri, a dialect of Hindi. Their primary driver was to escape economic destitution—intensified by repressive British taxation after the Indian Mutiny in 1857—and for a few perhaps to dodge a crime or a caste dispute. Due in part to a double failure of the monsoon, a major famine hit India in 1878-79, killing millions. Trained recruiters went from village to village promising good jobs in Damru Tapu (‘Demerara Island’). The lure was strong enough to overcome the significant taboo of Kala Pani, or crossing salt water, which rendered one an outcaste. Few women came at first but after 1868, concerted effort raised their numbers to four women for every ten men—though better, the continuing imbalance caused a host of social problems later, including violence over and against women. Because they left from Calcutta, they were also called Kalkatiyas. Until 1870, a fewMadrasis came too, but were deemed unsuitable and troublesome, not the least because many of them were urbanites. About 85% were Hindu and most of the rest Muslim. Of the Hindus, about 15% were Brahmins—more than the 9% in their home population—and most of them, writes historian Radica Mahase, had ‘earned a livelihood from the land and were also vulnerable to changes in the rural economy.’ More: