KALA PANI CROSSINGS: INDIA IN CONVERSATION
Sept 23-25, 2019
Fellow at IIAS, Shimla, India
Dr Judith Misrahi-Barak,
Associate Professor at University Paul-Valery Montpellier 3, France
When used in India, the Kala pani reference is often associated with the cellular jail in Port Blair where freedom fighters were sent. When used in the diaspora, it refers to the large scale migration out of India in the 1830s when hundreds of thousands of Indians, both willingly and unwillingly, left the subcontinent and crossed the Kala pani (the ‘black waters,’ the ‘forbidden’ sea between India and the Americas) to work in the sugar colonies as indentured labourers, or bound coolies, not only in the British Empire but also in the French, Danish and Dutch colonies. These emigrants were responding to the need for labour on the plantations after African enslavement was legally abolished in 1834 and fully terminated in 1838. Some 1.25 million emigrants were taken to Fiji and Mauritius, as well as the British, French and Dutch Caribbean. Indians were also recruited later in the 19th and early 20th centuries to work in South and East Africa on the railways and in other industries, going mainly to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. This migration has gained detailed records because of MK Gandhi’s involvement with indentured labourers in Natal in the late 1890s.
Even if this history of the crossing of the Kala pani towards African and American shores, of the ensuing creolization and of the literature and the arts that have emerged out of it has been well researched for several decades, it has been so mostly from the diasporic point of view of the countries the indentured labourers went to and settled in. It has not been a focus of interest in India itself, it is not well known by the general public, it is not part of the school or university curriculum, it is not part of the diaspora festivals in India, few academics based in India or in South Asia research it or write about it from the perspective of India, only a few have studied the return migrations, hardly any writers, filmmakers or artists have explored the complexities of the Kala pani, etc.
Aims and Objectives
This seminar at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study means to throw more light on the history and the literature of the Kala pani from the Indian perspective, going against the notion, held by some, that revisiting the Kala pani would be distorting Indian historiography.
It will be the perfect occasion to engage intellectually and launch an academic conversation between India-based scholars and scholars in the diaspora from a comparative perspective, to examine the hurdles and challenges, to investigate the reasons behind such a neglect and uncover new research directions:
- why is it important today to open those pages of history again, not only from the point of view of the diaspora but also from the perspective of India?
- what are the specific conditions in which Indians left?
- how can these chapters of individual histories and mythologies be reclaimed from the colonial versions?
- the diaspora that has emerged out of the Kala Pani migrations is today the agents of soft power for India as well as the gateway for India in several regions of the Pacific and the Caribbean: how important is it for India to identify with this history as much as the diaspora does? what can be gained from such a revisiting? what’s in there for India?
- what could be the impact of such a reclaiming on the present-day relationships between India and its diaspora? Is it likely to boost or complicate the existing relationships?
Significance of the seminar
Such a seminar will encourage an academic conversation between India-based scholars and scholars in the diaspora that has never happened in India; it will revisit the historiography and how such crucial history has been constructed on both sides of the Indian Ocean.
Many internationally known scholars have been thinking along those lines even though they have been focusing on the diasporic dimension of the Kala Pani crossings, but the conversation has never happened in India and never from India’s perspective. With such a seminar a think tank could be constituted, thus enabling the stretching of our multidisciplinary perspectives.
The seminar will also be significant in the way it will bring together prestigious scholars based in India and of the diaspora.
CALL FOR PAPERS
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Seminar. Those interested in participating should send -by email-an abstract of 500 words of the proposed paper along with their brief C.V. (of around 200 words) to:
1. Shri Ashutosh Bhardwaj,
Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Cell: 9406001949 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Dr Judith Misrahi-Barak
University Paul-Valery Montpellier 3, France. Email: email@example.com
With a copy to:
3. Ms. Ritika Sharma
Academic Resource Officer,
Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla- 171005
Tel: 0177-2831385 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The last date for submission of abstract (500 words) is 28th July 2019 till 12:00 midnight. The Institute intends to send Invitation letters to selected participants by the third week of August, 2019. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the papers not proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Hence, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers (English or Hindi), hitherto unpublished and original, with citations in place, along with a reference section, to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla– 171005 by 15th September, 2019. IIAS, Shimla will be glad to extend its hospitality (free hospitality is provided only to the seminar participant) during the seminar period and is willing to reimburse, if required, rail or air travel expenses from the place of current residence in India, or the port of arrival in India, and back.
Note: Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and the Institute reserves the right to cancel the selection/participation of a candidate found guilty at any stage.
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