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International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Abolition- August 23

Topics Covered:

Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Abolition- August 23


What to study?

For Prelims: significance and theme of the day.

For Mains: Slave trade- origin, causes, impact and outcomes.


Context: In 1998, UNESCO designated August 23 as the International Day for Remembrance of the Slave Trade & Abolition to commemorate “the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples”.

  • UNESCO also established an international, intercultural project called ‘The Slave Route’ to document and conduct an “analysis of the interactions to which it has given rise between Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.”


Slave trade from India:

Indentured servitude from India started in 1834 and lasted up till 1922, despite having been officially banned in 1917 by British India’s Imperial Legislative Council after pressure from freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi.

This practice of indentured labour resulted in the growth of a large diaspora with Indo-Carribean, Indo-African and Indo-Malaysian heritage that continue to live in the Carribean, Fiji, Réunion, Natal, Mauritius, Malaysia, Sri Lanka etc.


How it all began?

  • Indentured migration started post the abolition of slavery to run sugar and rubber plantations that the British had set up in the West Indies.
  • The British Empire was expanding to South America, Africa and Asia and they needed new labour, but slavery was considered inhuman. So they developed the concept of contract labour.
  • The British turned to India and China that had a large population and found the surplus labour they needed to run these plantations in the new colonies.
  • The abolition of slavery failed to change the mindset of the planters which remained that of ‘slave owners’.
  • They were ‘accustomed to a mentality of coerced labour’ and desired ‘an alternative and competitive labour force which would give them same type of labour control that they were accustomed to under slavery.


Why was indentured labour called slavery? What was the Impact?

  1. Encouraging family migration hardly arose out of concern for the welfare of these bonded migrants. According to the terms of indentured labour, the migrants had the right to return after finishing their 10 year terms of indenture. The British were not interested in having them return to their homeland because it wouldn’t be a good return on their investment.
  2. For every 100 males who were put on board the ships that transported the migrants, 40 were women, in an attempt to maintain the sex ratio. Due to the skewed sex ratios, many men went on to settle permanently in these colonies and have families.
  3. The system subjected poor, vulnerable Indians to long-term abuse and exploitation and the pain of these indentured migrants has been recorded through music, books, photographs and other forms of literature.
  4. The journey by sea was long and traumatic, with travel taking approximately 160 days to reach the Caribbean colonies. The comfort of the migrants was not even a consideration for the British and the travellers were loaded onto cargo cargo ships that were not meant to carry passengers.
  5. The migrants also faced physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the European ship captains and there was no means of escape except jumping off the ship into the water.
  6. The migrants faced difficult conditions on the plantations because there was paucity of adequate food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare.