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The part of the Windrush story that few people know about

HOLDING ON TO THE PAST: Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen with her collection of antique postcard images of Indians in the Caribbean. At the bottom, is a copy of her father's Windrush era passport.' (Pic: DVY Wallis)

THIS YEAR marks the centenary of the abolition of indenture in the British Empire (1834-1917). Yet the system of indenture, under which the British brought Chinese and East Indians to the Caribbean to labour on the region’s sugar plantations, is a largely unknown part of British imperial history.

Another chapter in British imperial history is marked by the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, almost 70 years ago in 1948.

Over the next fifteen years followed the arrival of what came to be known as the ‘Windrush generation’ (1948-1963).

These pioneering Caribbean migrants included the descendants of indentured immigrants to the Caribbean.

On May 12, at an event at Senate House in London, Caribbean migrants of Indian descent will gather to discuss their experiences of living in Britain which is on the whole unaware of the Indian and Chinese presence in the Caribbean.

In 1878 my great-great grandmother joined the thousands of women and men who left India, between 1838 and 1917, to work on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.


Like the vast majority who made this journey she never returned to India and two generations later, my father was born in Guyana. The system of indenture, under which the British brought Chinese and East Indians to the Caribbean to labour on the region’s sugar plantations, is a largely unknown chapter of British imperial history.

In 1961 my dad became part of another imperial migration when he left Guyana to come to England as a member of what later came to be termed the ‘Windrush’ generation.

As an academic of Indian-Caribbean heritage, who researches the system of indenture, 2017 is an important year personally and professionally.

UNCOVERING HISTORY: Asa, one of the thousands of Indian women and men who worked in the Caribbean’s sugar plantations

I say this because it marks the juncture at which two parts of my history collide. This year is the centenary of the abolition of the system of indenture in the British Empire and next year marks seventy years since the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks.


On May 12, I will be hosting an event that brings these two moments together by focusing on the stories of Windrush era migrants who were also the descendants of indentured labourers.

This event will feature an oral history panel chaired by Trevor Phillips OBE and Mike Phillips OBE, the co-authors of Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multicultural Britain. They will be in conversation with journalist and author Lainy Malkani, TV presenter and cookery writer Jonathan Phang, community worker Sr. Monica Tywang and community organiser Rod Westmaas.

Panelists will be speaking about their experiences as minorities within a minority, living and working in a British society which is on the whole unaware of the diversity of the Caribbean.


Novelist Khalil Rahman Ali will provide the audience with a musical history of India in the Caribbean and leading writer and academic, Prof. David Dabydeen will mark the centenary with a commemorative reading.

Recently, my work as an academic has been focused on organising events like ‘Indenture to Windrush’.

Like many children of Windrush era migrants I understand how indebted we are to the preceding generation and how little time we have left to preserve their incredible stories for the next generation.

Indenture to Windrush is largely an attempt to honour the incredible sacrifices and struggles of this generation and to ensure that their legacy is represented in all its remarkable diversity.

Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen is a Research Fellow at the University of London

Indenture to Windrush: Invisible Passengers of Two Imperial Migrations May 12, 6:30pm to 8:30pm at Senate House, London

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