Theses Doctoral

The Currents of Restless Toil: Colonial Rule and Indian Indentured Labor in Trinidad and Fiji

Batsha, Nishant

The study of Indian indentured servitude in the British Empire has largely been confined to the histories of slavery or free labor. Few scholars have connected indenture to larger processes in the British Empire. This dissertation examines the global nature of Indian indenture to find how trends in colonial power were inflected in the relationship between the state and the indentured worker. This dissertation uses the colonial experience in South Asia as a basis for its global history. It contends that the history of the colonial rule of law in the subcontinent was of deep importance to the mechanisms of indenture.
By looking at archival records from the United Kingdom, Trinidad, Fiji, and elsewhere, this dissertation finds that officials in the indenture colonies were attempting to transform indebted Indian peasants into indentured workers. This process was inflected by the experience of colonial rule elsewhere. At first, this meant the implementation of ideas tied to imperial liberalism.
Following the challenges to British colonialism in the mid-nineteenth century, the indenture colonies mirrored a wider movement towards conservative governance. The ways in which the colonial state attempted to control and manipulate workers underwent a dramatic shift. In the indenture colony, colonial power exerted both authoritarian and paternalist tendencies. This dissertation uses the governorships of Arthur Hamilton-Gordon in Trinidad and Fiji to explore this shift.
This dissertation makes its argument by focusing on the indenture colonies of Trinidad and Fiji. In doing so, it moves beyond the model of studying indenture that has looked at the British Empire as a whole, or otherwise in specific colonies or sub-regions. Using Trinidad and Fiji allows for a deep understanding of continuity and change. For example, Trinidad can be used to examine indenture’s beginnings, as the colony began to import Indian indentured labor in 1842, while Fiji can be used to understand late indenture. Furthermore, colonial officials, ideas of authority, capital, labor, and goods were always circulating throughout this global empire. The study of Trinidad and Fiji allows for a critical understanding of such exchanges and this dissertation uses both to explore bureaucratic offices, law, financial systems, governance, protest, medicine and health, and global agitation in Indian indenture.
“The Currents of Restless Toil” is an in-depth study into the nature of colonial governance in the indenture colonies of Trinidad and Fiji. It explores the nuances of colonial power, providing a window into the theory and practice that shaped the restless toil of Indians across the world.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Batsha_columbia_0054D_13835.pdf Batsha_columbia_0054D_13835.pdf application/pdf 11.9 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Dirks, Nicholas B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 26, 2017