KAPIL'S JOURNEY

P. Capildeo July 2003.
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A minimum stay of seven days in the depot was necessary before the immigrant was allowed to embark. Conditions at the Trinidad depot were far from pleasant. The Trinidad depot at Garden Beach, Calcutta was some four miles from central Calcutta. Weller describes it as: "made with clay walls with trellis work of bamboo extending to the roof, broad projecting eaves, with the inner sides protected by an open verandah. A palm- thatched roof was supported by a double row of hardwood pillars. Filtered drinking water was used, but tanks were dug which contained a million gallons of rain water for use in cooking. In 1876, a new pile jetty was constructed and attached to the premises to facilitate the embarkation of emigrants who could not board the ships from the shed which sheltered them in inclement weather". Weller describes the depot as having sheds for accommodation, cooking, hospital, latrine and inspection purposes.
A strict regime of hygiene was imposed at the depot, but did not prevent the outbreaks of different diseases from time to time. The depot was disinfected three times a week and everyday if filled. The latrines were cleaned by use of coal tar and carbolic acid. Upon arrival, after medical inspection, the new recruit was required to bathe and wear clean clothes. His belongings were carefully examined. Any clothing suspiciously reeking of infection had to be burned in front of the Resident Depot Medical Officer. Despite these precautions by 1900 chest infections, venereal disease and fevers plagued nine percent of residents at the Trinidad depot*. Garden Beach was surrounded by large tracts of abandoned, waterlogged land that became stagnant mosquito breeding areas during the monsoon. According to Tinker: "things became worse when the exiled King of Oudh took up residence nearby with 2000 followers 'of filthy habits'"*. Water was taken from nearby ponds and diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera often preyed upon the immigrants - especially the latter in February to April. Fever, dysentery and diarrhoea were treated at the depot hospital. Only in 1892 when the depot began to receive piped water did cholera disappear. In 1894 some 28 people died from anaemia*. And this was despite the formulation of a special diet for residents of the depot.
Tinker asserts that depot life instigated a process of "deculturalisation, almost dehumanisation"*. The immigrants wore the same clothes, not much different from a convict uniform. Every man was provided with a dhoti and for the winter months wool trousers, wool jacket (sometimes the discarded red tunic of a British soldier), red woollen cap and shoes*. Tinker states that: "under the recruiter the coolie was at least in the company of people who were of his janam bhumi , his own country, and who spoke his own dialect, though they were strangers of different castes. But now he was surrounded by folk whose speech was unintelligible, and whose physical characteristics appeared foreign, while their ways of eating and other habits would all seem wrong. However, he would have to conform to these strange ways, and to keep himself going would have to pick up quickly the lingua franca, Hindustani, in which he was addressed by the British officers and the Bengali clerks of the depot".
Kapil would have been housed separately from single women and married couples in a separate shed for single men. For a young Brahmin from a small village having to live, sleep and eat alongside men of lower caste would have been a great shock. And following that shock one can only imagine his disdain at the Nelsonian blindness of the British with regard to caste. For Kapil had entered a world where caste was no longer sacrosanct; it was no longer the defining media that dictated one's role in life.
The planters of the West Indies only wanted good, cheap labour. Brahmins were not welcomed once settled in Trinidad. The planters accused them of resisting manual labour and "stirring up trouble as ring leaders". Brahmins objected to working with lower castes and were sent to jail for refusing to perform tasks and encouraging others not to do so*. Yet it was not unusual for Brahmins to migrate, although in smaller numbers, as was found by George Grierson in a report in 1882*. It is uncertain whether this was owing to the deception of the recruiters or the need to fill the quotas of planters desperate for labour. Brahmins were not immune to the happenings in India and it is not inconceivable that many would have been ensnared by the false promises of recruiters. In 1894 Kapil would have been one of the 2519 Indians who migrated to Trinidad*. And one of the 700 000 who migrated from Uttar Pradesh between 1891 and 1901*.


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P. Capildeo July 2003.
The author asserts the right of copyright. It is a term of viewing this website that the navigator will not reproduce in any manner or form information contained within. By navigating this website the navigator is deemed to have consented to this term. Reproduction of the verbal or pictorial content of this website from any source without permission from the author infringes copyright law and will be prosecuted.

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*30 C. Banks. Report on Emigration from the Port of Calcutta to British and Foreign Colonies, 1908.
*31 Tinker, page 141.
*32 Report of the Acting Emigration Agent in Calcutta.
*33 Ibid,page 140.
*34Ibid, page140.
*35 Ramesar, page 22.
*36 Tinker, page 36.
*37 Trinidad and Tobago Year Book. Port-of-Spain Government Printing Office, 1903, page 170.
*38 The Imperial Gazetteer of India, volume xxiv, Oxford, 1908, page 163.