Indian Diasporic Formations in Guyana: Reading <i>Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture</i>
This paper deals with Gaiutra Bahadur’s recently published non-fiction narrative, Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture (2013). As a sequel to the end of slavery in the 1830s, the system of indenture, though equally exploitative, served as the source of voluntary migrant labour to manage the plantation economies in far-flung British colonies. In reconstructing the traumatic experience of her great-grandmother as an indentured worker uprooted from her homeland in 1903, Bahadur has meticulously researched archival sources from which we can extrapolate the adaptive persistence of nearly 240,000 Indians who migrated to Guyana between 1838 and 1917 and became the vanguard of the Indian diaspora there.
We propose to discuss the key characteristics of diasporas as well as the typological criteria of existing diaspora models. For this paper we adopt the theoretical conceptualisation of Susan Koshy’s term “neo-diaspora” because it fits well with the Indian case in Guyana. The Indian relation to homeland and myths of return are much more affected by ambiguity and stress than the classical model of diaspora posits. We examine Bahadur’s empirical depiction and gendered articulations of the indentured Indian women, braving brutalities and, at the same time, recreating a cultural dynamic in the domestic sphere as well as shaping an incipient home in an alien regime. The paper will also probe the culturally reflexive data excavated by Bahadur to postulate that the Indian female immigrants, despite remaining fettered and embattled, contributed to family making and negotiated creolised change for cultural reproduction conducive to a distinct diasporic formation.
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