THE emigration of agricultural labor from India has gone steadily forward during the last hundred years, yet the congestion in the villages along the alluvial plains of northern India and in the low-lying parts of the south continues unabated. One of the greatest difficulties of the human race in the future will be to discover the best method of dealing with the serious over-population problem of the southeastern portion of Asia. The Chinese, who represent the most prolific race in the world today, are constantly finding further outlets necessary both in the north and in the south. Japan is becoming overcrowded. Java contains one of the densest single rural areas in the world. India, like China, is continually overflowing its banks, and this surplus of population spreads in wider and wider circles. Malaya and Sumatra are at present serving the useful purpose of absorbing some of the excess; Borneo and New Guinea may help later, but these lands do not of themselves hold the possibility of solving India's population problem.

This part of the world has always suffered from racial congestion. For many centuries it has contained one-half of the whole human race, and the saturation point has been always close at hand. In earlier days, the congestion in Asia was relieved by the calamities of flood, famine and internecine war, which swept away millions of human beings. The lives of these unfortunate people are now in some measure preserved, for we live in a humanitarian age. India, in spite of recent famine years, has been adding continually to its own permanent population at the rate of over one million a year. Even the incredible loss of twelve million lives by influenza in 1918 hardly seemed to keep down the ever-rising numbers. It is estimated that one year hence, the total census in India will reach three hundred and thirty million persons. In the same way, China, in spite of war, disease and famine, continues to spread abroad its hardy population.

Let me first trace briefly how this congestion of agricultural labor in Asia has been partly relieved before going on to consider what steps are likely to be taken in the future to deal adequately with the problem of still further agricultural expansion.

Japan has attempted systematically to diminish the pressure on her soil by throwing open her northern islands for development and also by finding outlets in Formosa, Manchuria and Korea. Any agricultural settlement in Manchuria has hitherto proved a failure on account of the impossibility of competing with the Chinese, whose standard of living is lower. A recent development, with patriotic fervor behind it, has been the organized attempt to colonize an allotted area of Brazil, in South America, where large tracts of fertile land have been offered for cultivation. That experiment is of first-rate importance and should be carefully watched.

China is very rapidly filling up the waste lands of Manchuria by an emigration on a bigger scale than any which the human race has experienced since the rush from Europe to the United States in the last century. It is estimated that more than one million and a half new settlers went northward into Manchuria out of China last year, while in the present famine year even that vast number may be exceeded. Whole families migrate together, and in spite of overwhelming hardships they thrive and prosper. Towards the south, the drift of emigrants from China is mainly towards the Malay Peninsula and the adjacent islands of Indonesia. The labor undertaken here is only partly agricultural, for large mining, oil and commercial operations are being carried on, and wherever the way is opened up by modern development the Chinese show themselves to possess great adaptability and business capacity. They are by no means content always to remain tillers of the soil; instead of this, they are becoming merchants and estate holders. It is estimated that in recent times the exodus from south China for purposes of permanent residence has exceeded six million persons.

Java, which now possesses a population of nearly forty millions, has obtained its own outlet near at hand in Sumatra. This large island is now being gradually opened up for colonization. Furthermore, a certain number of Javanese have recently been sent as an experiment to Dutch Guiana, in South America, where large vacant areas within the tropics are in need of agricultural labor. I have recently observed that experiment in action and have some grave doubts about its advantage, because it has necessitated a certain form of indenture which is difficult to control. It appears also to be leading to serious racial friction with the settlers from India who had gone out under indenture in earlier days.

India has been content, in the main, to fill up vacant areas which are close at hand rather than to attempt distant colonization. The one exception was caused by the indenture system of Indian labor, which will be considered fully later. It was while studying its effects in the British colonies that my own doubts concerning this form of emigration were raised.

Large areas of desert land within India itself have been reclaimed. It is difficult to estimate the extent of the resettlement due to this cause, but I am probably safe in putting down the new population provided for in this manner at over ten millions, and in estimating the irrigation area still undeveloped as offering ample room for at least six million more. These are all agricultural laborers and the land irrigated has shown every sign of permanent prosperity. In addition to this internal expansion, Assam has already taken more than a million recruited laborers for its tea gardens, and Burma has received an equal number for its ever-growing rice fields. But the saturation point will soon be reached, when further agricultural labor from India will not be needed.

Malaya has been hitherto a popular country for emigrants from southern India, especially among the Tamils, and it may be estimated that the incoming permanent residents will reach 750,000 persons in the not distant future. But hitherto the settlers, with their families, have been fewer in number than the seasonal laborers who go to and fro across the Bay of Bengal, staying in Malaya only long enough to accumulate a small amount of capital. Yet a sediment of population remains after each tide recedes. India and China are meeting together in Malaya without any serious racial clash. At one time it seemed as though the Indian migration would be likely to prevail over the Chinese; but since the revolutionary disturbances in southern China have made a peaceful domestic existence there somewhat precarious, the Chinese have begun to bring their families with them to Singapore and Malaya, and this more stable form of settlement appears now likely to continue. The Chinese laborer has shown himself hardier than the Tamil. The Malay people themselves are disinclined to do strenuous work. Therefore, the future of Malaya probably rests with the Chinese more than with any other stock. The Tamil population from India will come second. The Malay population will be able to keep up its numbers only by means of reinforcements from the adjacent islands.

One further undeveloped area for the flow of the Tamil villagers of southern India has been provided in Ceylon, where the tea and rubber plantations are almost entirely dependent on their cheap labor; the original inhabitants of Ceylon do not take kindly to this sort of work. Already the Indian settlers in Ceylon number over a million, and further additions may be expected, but the area of fertile soil in Ceylon is limited, and Tamil family life is very nearly as prolific as the Chinese.

So far we have been considering only the natural migration induced by the proximity of an overflowing agricultural people to countries where land is available. We shall now turn to the Indian indentured labor sent out to the remote colonies of the British Commonwealth under government auspices. The system of exporting indentured labor to far-off lands was highly artificial and it led to great abuses. The labor was recruited by professional recruiters who were paid so much per head for every recruit they brought to the depot. The price was higher for a woman than a man because the requisite number of women was more difficult to obtain. From the very first the system laid itself open to fraud; and when oversight and inspection were lax it became little less than kidnapping. The adoption of the system nearly a century ago was due to the needs of the British Colonies rather than to the requirements of British India, for it was devised originally in order to save from disaster the sugar plantations in such places as Natal, Mauritius and the West Indies, which had brought very great wealth to leading merchant families in England. When slavery was abolished in 1834 the sugar planters were suddenly threatened with bankruptcy because the slaves refused to go back to the sugar estates as hired laborers. The system of indentured labor was then devised, and villagers were sent out from India in very large numbers. Their term of service lasted for five years.

The semi-servile existence of the indentured laborers on the plantations led to moral evils which were hardly less grave than those connected with the fraudulent means by which they often were recruited. Though admirable regulations were made to prevent abuses, the faults inherent in the system were so great that it could not be radically reformed. To give one glaring instance, the proportion of men to women was roughly three to one. As a result, sexual crimes were frequent, and murders, followed by suicide, were terribly common. During one long period of my life I had to undertake a thorough investigation of the fraudulent recruiting in India and of the immoral conditions under which the laborers lived on the plantations. My friend, Mr. W. W. Pearson, accompanied me and checked all the evidence. Later on, the Women's Associations in Australia invited Miss Garnham, of the London Missionary Society, to make an independent inquiry into the facts with regard to this indentured labor in Fiji. Her inquiry led to an even more severe condemnation of the system than we ourselves had made in our report. In the end, indentured labor was abolished between the years 1917 and 1920. On January 1, 1920, those who were still finishing their indenture were voluntarily set free. In India, the abolition of the system is often regarded as parallel to the abolition of slavery, which had happened nearly a century before in the West Indies and in other parts of the British Empire.

The extent of this emigration of indentured labor from India, which revived the prosperity of the British colonies in different parts of the world after slavery had been abolished, can be told briefly with statistics.

Mauritius was the first colony to receive such labor from India. The movement began immediately after the abolition of slavery in 1834, and for nearly eighty years ships were sent regularly with fresh emigrants. In 1911 it was decided that the island had sufficient population, and the system was closed down. At that time, the whole population was about 380,000, of whom over 260,000 were Indians.

British Guiana and Trinidad were the next colonies to petition the Indian Government to be allowed to introduce indentured labor. Small numbers began to arrive as early as the year 1839; but the fully organized immigration began only in 1845. The system spread at one time to many parts of the West Indies; and Dutch Guiana also received a large number of indentured Indian immigrants. By 1920, when indenture was abolished, there were in British Guiana about 125,000 Indian settlers. There were also 127,000 in Trinidad, 34,000 in Dutch Guiana, 20,000 in Jamaica, and smaller numbers in other islands.

In Natal, indentured labor was first drafted from India in the year 1860. Every other remedy had been tried in order to save the sugar plantations, which were falling into decay for lack of field labor. The Zulu at that time was unsuited for the work. Early in the present century a considerable section of the European population began making strong objections to any further Indian immigration, because of the rapid rise in the number of permanent Indian settlers. A poll tax of three pounds sterling was therefore imposed on those Indians who had finished their indenture and who wished to settle in the colony permanently. This was remitted if they were ready to submit themselves to the indignity of a new indenture. It was hoped that the poll tax would drive them either to return to India or else to go back to the plantations. This humiliating tax was a cause of great resentment in India, and the Hon. G. K. Gokhale proposed in 1908 that no more indentured labor should be allowed to go out to Natal. His proposal was carried into effect three years later. The poll tax nevertheless still continued, and was not withdrawn until Mr. Gandhi led one of his passive resistance campaigns to a successful conclusion. In July 1914 the Gandhi-Smuts Agreement was signed, by which this tax was abolished and the grievances were set right.

More than twelve years after this date, in 1926, a further struggle began. The Government of the South African Union desired compulsorily to repatriate the Indian settlers who had originally come out under indenture and had gained their right to residence. The government bill definitely aimed at compulsory repatriation and compulsory segregation. A deputation was sent over from India under Sir Muhammad Habibullah as president, and the South African Indian Agreement was signed in January 1927. By this settlement the "compulsory" bill was dropped and the Rt. Hon. V. Srinivasa Sastri was welcomed as Agent General into South Africa. Owing to his statesmanship the tension between South Africa and India was relieved. The total number of Indian residents in the whole of South Africa today is 180,000, of whom about 150,000 live in Natal. The majority came over originally as agricultural laborers under the old indenture system.

The only other important field of indentured Indian labor is to be found in the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific. This immigration began in 1879 and continued until 1917, when all recruiting in India was stopped. The last indentured laborers were set free on January 1, 1920. Since that time there has been considerable improvement; but racial equality does not yet exist, because a racial franchise discriminating in favor of the Europeans is in operation, just as in Kenya and South Africa. The Indians number 70,000 and the Fijians 90,000. The two races live side by side with very little friction.

Thus it may be seen that the tropical colonies of Great Britain owe a great debt to India for the agricultural development of their soil. This service has not received adequate acknowledgment; and the impression left in India is that the colonies have taken Indian laborers when their economic needs were great, but have been ready to discard them when their difficulties were surmounted. While this might be true of Natal, it could hardly be said to refer to the other colonies without qualification. Nevertheless, there is considerable reason for the opinion that Indian immigrants to the British Colonies have not seldom been seriously neglected, and in certain countries their full citizen rights have not yet been obtained.

During the past eighteen years I have had to visit the different colonies where Indian indentured labor was introduced, so that I might find out what social and educational changes were necessary, and I have made frequently reports to the governments concerned. During the hot weather of 1929 I went out in this connection to British Guiana, Dutch Guiana and Trinidad, under the auspices of the All-India National Congress and the Imperial Indian Citizenship Association of Bombay. At the same time I also received a cordial invitation to visit British Guiana from Sir Gordon Guggisberg, who was then Governor; and to visit Dutch Guiana from President Rutgers. It appears to be very little known in America that a large and important population from India has made its permanent home in the British West Indies and that it still forms the mainstay of agriculture there.

The Indian laborers coming out under the extremely hard conditions which I have described above were unable for a long time to make progress. The mortality rate was excessive, owing chiefly to malaria. Though the immigration had begun as early as 1839, the increase in the number of permanent settlers was very slow indeed. Nevertheless, while Chinese agricultural labor immigration proved a failure, the immigration from India in the end succeeded in gaining a firm footing in the land. At the present time, a large portion of the agricultural land, both in British Guiana and in Trinidad, belongs to these settlers from India and practically the whole of the rice cultivation is due to their industry. They bear a high character as agriculturists; and British Guiana, which has only three inhabitants to the square mile, is eager to receive more immigrants in the future if they are allowed to come under directly free conditions and without any trace of the old indenture system. But the people of India, who have still in their minds the bad impression left by the fraudulent recruiting of the past, are by no means anxious to send out more settlers to any British colonies, and have begun to look to Brazil instead as a new field of colonization.

My own visit to British Guiana and Trinidad proved even more interesting and instructive than I had imagined. The new feature in the problem -- which I had never studied to such advantage before -- was the settlement in the same area of Indians side by side with Afro-Americans. They live under conditions of race equality, along with a very small proportion of Europeans. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, the Afro-Americans had immense arrears to make up, yet if we judge from the records of those earlier days the progress achieved has been amazing. In educational and clerical work they have already obtained a good start, and they provide more than 90 percent of the teachers. This rapid educational advance has drawn the younger generation from the land, not always with advantageous results. The indentured settlers from India on the other hand took less kindly to education, though they proved industrious farmers. As soon as they were released from indenture, they took up tiny plots of land of their own and with creditable thrift bought up vacant sugar land during the time of depression, when sugar could not be grown at a profit.

It is profoundly interesting to notice how the two races, even though in certain ways they come into economic competition, have never quarreled or become antagonistic to each other. On the contrary, although they very rarely approach intimacy, even while remaining side by side, they maintain friendly relations. It was necessary for me to consider very carefully whether a new racial complex would likely occur if the number of settlers from India was largely increased by immigration. It appeared to me that, though the influx of large numbers would be unpopular and is therefore to be avoided if possible without a compensating influx of Afro-Americans, there were as yet no signs at all of racial dislike. Perhaps no small reason for this is the friendly association of the two races together in the schools, and also the elementary teaching work being done by the Afro-American teachers; for it is certainly true that the first impressions left by good and kindly teachers in early childhood continue in later life.

How far the Indians themselves had benefited by the experiment of transplantation into a new world was a far more difficult question to answer. There could be little doubt that from the material point of view their lot as a whole had improved, though even here there were grievous exceptions; and the drift to the large towns -- such as Georgetown and Port of Spain -- has produced a mendicant class, spiritually as well as physically submerged. One of the chief reasons for the size of this class has been the tendency to rum-drinking handed down from the old sugar-plantation days. The liquor traffic in British Guiana is in the hands of the Portuguese, whose numerous shops near centres where pay is distributed to the Indian laborers offer temptations which are hard to resist. This rum-drinking is a new vice and it runs through them like some fatal disease. The sights I saw saddened me beyond measure, and I reported, long before leaving, that I could have no part whatever in steps to assist any more emigrants to come out from India, even under absolutely free conditions, unless the drink evil was drastically taken in hand. The promise was made while I was there that the number of licenses would be cut down and the government control of the drink traffic made more stringent.

On the side of health, the malarial infection in British Guiana has not yet permanently decreased. As it is still a very poor country, which can seldom meet its expenses from its current income and must borrow from year to year, it is unable to spend money on fighting malaria, as has been done, for example, in Panama; and at present there seems to be no likelihood that the preventive work will be able to cope with the disease. Yet when we examine the health statistics as a whole, we note a slight improvement in recent years. In Trinidad, the annual death rate has been brought down to a really low figure as compared with other tropical countries, and it should not be impossible to effect the same improvement in British Guiana.

The industry of the Indian farmers has afforded a good example to the Afro-Americans and has helped them to overcome the temptation to remain idle. It is impossible to see the patient, plodding industry of the Indian farmer and not be favorably impressed. On the other hand, the Afro-Americans -- girls as well as boys -- have shown a laudable zeal for education, and this admirable characteristic has touched the Indian settlers.

The future of these fertile lands is still somewhat in doubt. While the population of Trinidad is ample, and that of Barbados is overflowing, many of the adjacent islands are underpopulated, and British Guiana as yet is hardly even explored. It seems to me that the ideal arrangement for the future would be that first of all every inducement should be given the Afro-Americans of the West Indies to come and settle in the unoccupied portions of British Guiana. If they did so, a regular steamer service might be started to bring independent settlers from India, of course at their own expense and without any recruitment. For to my own mind the balancing of the two parallel races is good for both, but the predominance of one over the other might lead to evil. Indeed, it might be a good thing to introduce an immigration quota to keep the balance even. In an empty country like British Guiana it might be possible to offer such favorable colonizing conditions to each community respectively that they would be prepared to come over in sufficient numbers to make up the quota needed. The process would necessarily be a slow one, but in the long run it might be more beneficial to the country than some speedier method of increasing the population.[i]

I have been dealing above chiefly with the migration of agricultural labor, either to countries in close proximity to India or else to distant colonies under the old indenture system. A brief survey is now required of emigration from India to East Africa, for it has certain peculiar features worthy of careful notice.

At the beginning of the present century large numbers of Indian laborers were brought over from the western shores of India under a three years' contract in order to construct the Uganda Railway from Mombasa on the East African coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria Nyanza. This experiment in railway construction proved costly in human life to both Indians and Europeans. The Indian laborers were wretchedly paid, particularly in view of the ever-present risk of death; for even the wild beasts from time to time devoured many of them. It is reckoned that at one time twenty thousand laborers were at work on this pioneer work. Many of them remained behind as artisans when the railroad was completed, and ever since that date it has been customary to invite Indian artisans from the north and west of India for special work in Kenya. The process has gone on for many years, and a certain proportion of those brought over have remained and settled in the country. Others have come over as retail traders, and a few Indians have also entered for professional work as doctors, lawyers and teachers. With the single exception of a small group of Punjabi agriculturists who established themselves near the Great Lake at Kibos, there has been very little permanent Indian agricultural enterprise hitherto. The total Indian population today, after thirty years of settlement, is still only about 25,000. Meanwhile, however, the European population, fearing that Indian farmers might come in large numbers, had obtained from the Secretary of State for the Colonies an ordinance excluding Indians as farmers and settlers from the agricultural highlands. This ordinance led to very great bitterness, which has by no means been relieved by the Colonial Secretary's offer to compensate the Indian community by allowing them to purchase land in the unhealthy lowlands instead. It was pointed out that the ordinance was a direct infringement of an earlier promise of equal treatment and a direct encouragement of racial legislation.

In the year 1923 the situation became so acute that the British Parliament took up the matter seriously and delegates were invited from both India and Kenya to meet the Secretary of State in London. At that time I was asked to attend as adviser to the Indian delegation. In the end, the White Paper of 1923 was published, wherein the rights of the Africans were carefully protected; but both with regard to the common franchise (on an education-property basis), and also with regard to the agricultural highlands, the Indian demand for racial equality was rejected. This was a very great blow to those moderate Indian leaders who wished to remain within the British Commonwealth of Nations on the basis of a common citizenship without any racial discrimination.

In the neighboring territory of Tanganyika the Indian problem has been far less serious, because the Mandate requires that all nationals shall be treated equally. Since India was an original signatory of the League of Nations Covenant, the 15,000 immigrants from India who are now settled there are able to demand equal treatment, and receive it.

It is difficult to make predictions with regard to the future of Indian labor immigration. The present juncture is critical. For if the political friction between India and Great Britain increases, it is likely seriously to affect even that migration of Indian agricultural labor across the Bay of Bengal and towards Ceylon which now goes on throughout the year. Meanwhile, many of the alluvial valleys of India are seriously overpopulated, the margin of land suitable for cultivation has very nearly been reached, and, apart from the immense irrigation scheme now in course of construction in the Indus Valley, only a few areas still remain where further irrigation on a large scale is possible. India will, therefore, be obliged to look outside its own borders.

Mesopotamia has been suggested as a fertile region which irrigation might make capable of absorbing a large Indian population. But there would be a serious danger of new racial friction arising between the Arabs who have inhabited Mesopotamia for many centuries and any very large influx of Indians differing from them in race and religion. Up to the present, there is little racial feeling in Mesopotamia, because the Indian settlement is comparatively small and confined to the trading classes. But any vast irrigation scheme would imply the coming of agricultural people, who might entirely alter the racial balance in Mesopotamia itself and put the Arabs in the position of a minority. We have recently seen how bitterly the influx of Zionists into Palestine has been resented by the Arabs, and we should need no warning against repetition of that sort of experiment.

While traders from India have gone to the East Coast of Africa for over two thousand years, there has never yet been, as I have shown, any large agricultural labor migration. On the whole, the prospects offered along that coast for large settlements in the future are not promising. Equally unlikely is any settlement of Indians in northwest Australia, which has a somewhat similar climate; for here the policy of "White Australia" stands in the way. The immediate prospects within the British zone are thus somewhat discouraging. Possibly the vast fertile and uninhabited areas of the great Amazon Valley of South America may attract agricultural laborers not only from Japan but also from India, though the practical difficulties of transporting them and safeguarding them from exploitation are enormous. Thus a solution is not in sight; yet the problem is becoming every day more and more acute.

[i] What I have written on this point must be regarded rather as a tentative suggestion than as a finally considered judgment. My final report on the whole complicated situation has not yet been published.

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  • C. F. ANDREWS, President of the Trades Union Congress of India; for many years an associate of Mahatma Gandhi's, and for a time Editor of his paper, Young India
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