The Becoming of the Indentured Labour Recruiter in Nineteenth-Century Bengal

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Changing Occupations and Emerging Markets: The Becoming of the Indentured Labour Recruiter in Nineteenth-Century Bengal
By Sudipto Mitra

Saturday, 2 October 2021, 3-5 pm
Bengal History Week
Brick Lane Circle

With the proliferation of indentured labour migration from the Bengal Presidency to the sugar plantations of Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji, Suriname and various other parts of the Caribbean, and the tea plantations of Assam, in the nineteenth century, more and more people came to be associated with its operating machinery. They were in between the labourers and planters, occupying a middle stratum of the Indenture hierarchy. One such middleman was the labour recruiter, more commonly known as arkati in Eastern India. Notoriously sly, coercive, and unscrupulous in his ways, colonial officials struggled to pin the arkati down as his infamy snowballed with the progress of the nineteenth century. This presentation will try to understand where the arkati came from by tracing a history of the word from contemporary dictionaries and vocabularies. It will, in the process, also observe how words acquire new meanings when the people behind them assume new roles and adapt to emerging markets.

Sudipto Mitra is a Doctoral Student at the Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London. He is also a PJ Marshall Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He is presently writing his PhD thesis on the Middlemen involved in Indentured Labour Recruitment in Colonial India.
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