Labour History

Sexuality, Nationalism, and “Race”: Humanitarian Debate about Indian Indenture in Fiji, 1910–18

Labour History (2017), 113, (1), 183–207.

Abstract

In a 1916 report C. F. Andrews and W. W. Pearson set out their first-hand impressions of Indian indenture to Fiji. The two Englishmen had trained as Anglican clergymen and were sympathisers of the Indian nationalist cause. They saw indenture as a negative moral influence both upon those indentured and upon Britain’s civilised status. Furthermore, they considered the end of indenture to be essential to raising India’s reputation in the eyes of the world. Their findings were in many ways concerned not with the actual conditions of indentured labour, but with the local and global effects of the indignities and exploitations experienced by those seemingly brought low by the experience, particularly women who were exploited by the system but who were, in Andrews’ and Pearson’s eyes, essential to changing indenture into Indian immigration. This paper considers the role that normative ideas about heterosexuality and gender relations played in the image of a spiritual, rural Indian migrant in the Pacific who Andrews and Pearson hoped would develop Fiji. Thereby veiling the longer history of unfree labour in the region since the previous century, their conclusions would be endorsed in Australia and London through networks of progressives and anti-slavery advocates seeking renewed international attention towards the Pacific, British imperial reform, and the greater role of Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific islands.

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Footnotes

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Paisley, Fiona