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Home » Latest News » A Compelling Women’s Perspective of Indenture During the British Colonial Rule

A Compelling Women’s Perspective of Indenture During the British Colonial Rule


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By Ashok Ramsarup :: November marks the 161st anniversary of the arrival of indentured laborers from India to South Africa.
Yet the trials and tribulation of many women of Indian origin were left out of the equation during British colonial rule in the 1800s in South Africa.
Stories of the male gender, especially the likes of Mahatma Gandhi – regarded by many as the father of modern-day liberation – has been written.
But legendary media personality Joanne Joseph has gone a step further on a historical journey to narrate an inspirational and riveting story in her book titled “Children of Sugarcane”, launched in the port city of Durban.
Essentially the story of women is left out from the mainstream.
Joseph said eloquently: “The story has to be told in regards to women, especially teenagers.”
In the book, Joseph traces the life of her maternal great-grandmother Athilatchmy Velu Naicken who was married off at the tender age of 14. She narrates Naicken’s story, of her fulfilling her dreams, for a better life, and opportunities of leaving her village onboard a ship, to settle on a sugarcane plantation, on the North Coast in KwaZulu-Natal (formerly Natal).
Speaking at the book launch at the 1860 Heritage Centre in Durban, Joseph said the “Children of Sugarcane” had taken her nine years to complete, following extensive research. Miraculously, she stumbled upon her great-grandmother’s picture in a book entitled Many Lives: 150 Years Of Being Indian by Ashwin Desai, Goolam Vahed, and Thembisa Waetjen.
Shanti is one of the characters in this captivating book which is translated into fiction. She is the protagonist, who was educated but literally escaped from traditional and cultural practices that were mitigating against her.
“During my research, I stumbled upon a wealth of history written by a  wide range of academics and historians in South Africa.  It’s important to tell the story of the indenture of people of Indian origin and the difficulties the women had undergone in the sugarcane plantations,” commented Joseph.
Joseph said narrating the gender dynamics of migration and settlement was a special tribute to all the women who played a significant role, for decades, especially during the 161st anniversary.
Many academics and historians, including Dr Betty Govinden, Editor Helen Moffat, and Professor Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie have been instrumental in mentoring the success of the “Children of Sugarcane”.  Former media personality Krivani Pillay used her creativity and awareness in helping design the cover page.
Joseph is also an established author of the book entitled “Drug Muled: Sixteen Years in a Thai Prison.”
Ashok Ramsarup 👉 Prominent Journalist of South Africa 🇿🇦 
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