"Fleeing from Caste Oppression: Emigration of South Indian Coolies to Southeast Asia, 1871-1982"

Prof. Satyanarayana Adapa(CSEAS visiting research fellow and Professor, Department of History, Osmania University, India)
16:00-18:00, May 25 (Thu), 2006
CSEAS East Building, 2nd Floor, E207

The main purpose of this lecture is to analyse the course, pattern and nature of emigration of the labour communities, i.e., Coringhees/Madrasis from south India to Southeast Asian countries, with special reference to Burma (Myanmar) and Malaya. It deals with the process of historical formation of immigrant labouring communities and classes in the non-organized and unregulated sectors of employment in these countries. The historical context of the western imperialist territorial and commercial expansion in the late nineteenth century created opportunities for large-scale emigration of south Indian labourers through push and pull factors. The growth of transport and communication facilities between Burma and Malaya and the east-coast of south India as well as the increasing demand for manual labour in the agrarian and urban economies of these countries had brought successive waves of south Indian immigrants. I also seek to develop a comprehensive theory on migration and settlement patterns and a migration paradigm.

Relations between the coromandal coast and Lower Burma and Malay Peninsula go back to a few centuries before the birth of Christ; the inhabitants of lower Burma were called as "Talaings". "An Indian Era of Malay History" existed in Malay until about the beginning of 16th century. Telugus who immigrated to Malaya during the 19th century when the plantation economy emerged were chiefly unskilled laborers. In other words, south Indian and plantation laborers had been almost synonymous in the Malaya Peninsula. In terms of caste-community background and social composition most of the migrant were drawn from the following castes and communities of Andhra. Agnikula-Kshatriyas/Pallis, (Fishermen/Boatmen), Setti-Balijas/Nadas (toddy tappers), Telaga-Naidu-Kapus/Vellala (cultivators), Malas/Madigas/Paraya (untouchable agricultural laborers). However, some upper caste persons belonging to the Brahmin (priest-scholar). Vaisya-Komati-Chetti (traders-merchants) Reddy, Kamma, Vellala (cultivators) also emigrated to Burma and Malaya. The vast majority of the Telugus worked as unskilled laborers in Burma. In some fields and sectors they dominated: to name a few like rickshaw pulling, ports and docks, public works, construction, paddy fields, rice/saw/oil mills, sweeping and scavenging etc. In Malaya, they were conspicuous by their overwhelming presence in the rubber and coconut plantations of west coast, viz., the lower Perak.

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