Gender, the Indian Rural Economy and the Household Historical Perspectives on Migration from British India to Africa
Keywords:migration; gender; rural; economy
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the poor socio-economic and political conditions in India facilitated the migration of both indentured and free or “passenger” Indians to Natal, South Africa. The latter unencumbered by contractual labour arrived under normal immigration laws and hence were referred to as “passenger” Indians. Whilst the “push” and “pull” factors of indentured Indians to some extent have been documented, this has been largely absent for “passenger” Indians. This article examines male-centred “passenger” Indian migration in the context of gender, the rural household and economy in western India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This paper highlights that the male outmigration to a very large extent was governed by two factors: gender relations within the household and women’s role in the rural economy. Women were left behind in the towns and villages not because they were absent from the decision-making process during migration, but because their domestic activities were central in augmenting the rural household. This article obliterates the myth of the “passive” and “docile” female in historical migrations in the Indian diaspora by shifting the migration narratives from the traditional ports of settlement to the untapped ports of departure to acquire better insights to historical “push” factors that facilitated “passenger” Indian migration. It makes the colonial rural household, of which women were an integral part, the centre of analysis, thereby providing new perspectives on gender relations and how they shaped and influenced male-centred migration.