By Stephen Kangal
June 14, 2022
Indians were recruited by ” arkatias” and transported to work on the cane-fields of Caroni in Trinidad because after a period of keen observation and analysis by the occupying British and based on their experience in sugar cultivation in India (UP and Bihar) and taking into account the extreme famine of the 1850’s it was decided that perhaps with the advice of the established East India Company, Indians were going to be the most effective and economic type of unskilled labour to increase sugar production and achieve increasing efficiencies.
This was a business decision taken by the planters.
History has proven the planters were right in their manpower assessment that once freed the Africans were not really the agricultural type. That they would gravitate to the urban areas in search of skills development and higher-paying less back breaking sugar jobs thereby producing a serious labour shortage in the Caribbean sugar industry.
The Indians from 1838 to 1917 filled the resulting labour shortage. They kept the sugar industry revitalised and expanding in sugar production especially when Tate and Lyle took over the industry in Jamaica, Trinidad and Belize in 1939.In Trinidad total sugar production at Tate and Lyle’s Caroni Ltd and Trinidad Sugar Estates’ Orange Grove reached 200,000 tonnes in the 1960’s.
The most effective and best economic, management and human resource decision that was ever made by the Caribbean sugar plantocracy to negotiate the challenges of a failing/declining sugar industry was to import Indian indentured workers beginning post emancipation around 1838 in Guyana and in 1845 in Trinidad.
The personality, beliefs and character of the Indian workers made them most suitable for increasing sugar cultivation as they were quite docile and accepted the status quo in the prevailing terms and conditions of work. They also had a vision that they will amass enough capital to return as “nabobs” to India or buy land in Trinidad and plant their own cane as cane farmers as extended families with much family labour.
Once “apprenticeship” ended the planters foresaw in the late 1830’s that the “apprentices” would gravitate to the urban centres for skills development, educational access and jobs in the services sector as well as in high paying cocoa production.
Those “apprentices” who stayed in the sugar industry worked in the sugar factories, they dominated the private security forces (Estate Police), private sugar company light railways, driving vehicles, blacksmiths and assumed clerical jobs at the Estate/factory offices because of their superior educational status. The Indentures were not working there.
This is the un-varnished de-politicised truth that must be faced and we must debunk from our minds that the “apprentices” were going to continue work in sugar cultivation and harvesting where the indentures were almost wholly concentrated in employment.