Friday, May 8, 2015

Coolie Woman by Gaiutra Bahadur

O....M...G ....... totally shocked by the revelations of Chapter 5 and had to take a break half-way through.  While there is intellectual understanding that single women traveling alone may be predated on-- the sheer scale alluded to by the Ship's surgeons' reports shocked me. NOW I understand the timorous hint that delicate Mr Tumbridge gave in his talk on The First Crossing - saying that it was the first sighting/contact between the two major races:   but this chapter just blasts that remark out of the orbit...

I was left with more respect for the courage of my grandmothers to take that drastic step of emigrating without their husbands, and as the author observes-- the terrible conditions in Northern Indian at the end of the 19th Century contributed to the 'push' factor. I had become interested in my family's genealogy back in 1978 after reading Alex Haley's roots and being a strange child I took myself to the Archives across the road and located our family's emigration certificates as I knew the year and ship that my great grandmothers arrived in.

Ch 6 +7 alludes to the various ways the Indians sought to demonstrate their agency but in a World which was tightly controlled, there were limited ways and apparently many took refuge in suicide, as even wife-beating may have resulted in your wife been taken away and/or you being transferred away as the British deliberately skewed the sex ratio. I was surprised to learn than the British also tried to screen out the sepoys as they might have been potential trouble-makers and give the Planters 'lip'.
It is fascinating to me to read how the Indians were deliberately denied paths of rebellion and a voice and my contempt of their passive-aggressive nature subdued somewhat and my admiration for them  clinging to their religion and strong family ties increased.  I felt the author did good research to dig out folk-tales and songs to indicate that there were pockets of rebellion and when I consider Dr Jagan's book.. The West on Trial.. I begin to see a broader picture with him being part of the fight for all exploited people, race being irrelevant, in Guyana.  A recent lecture indicated that the trouble between the races began as a class struggle.. when the rural Indians didn't 'keep' their place in the countryside but began to compete for White-collar jobs... maybe just a continuation of the struggle  for a/their place in the world?

Reading this book comes at a particularly appropriate time as there are Elections in Guyana, which the Opposition, whose base is primarily from the descendents of Africa, have a good chance of winning fairly (which is a first for them) as the incumbents have tainted themselves with  blatant examples of corruption and nepotism and many of their base, primarily descendents of India are pissed off enough to vote against them.  In an effort the win over sufficient incumbent numbers and win, the incumbent supporters are being accused of being racist if they vote for their perceived Party with all its flaws, never mind that the Opposition has made little effort to show that there would not be discrimination as happened in the Past.... apart from saying so!   An interesting exchange has arisen in the SN between Indians who have documented post-Election violence directed against those of Indian origin perceived as voting for the incumbents, and those who claim that the incumbent Party has been stoking ethnic fears.... issues and focussing on the future falling by the wayside.

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