In episode 5 of our web series exploring the relationship between Britain and India, Parle Patel and Dr Edward Anderson rewind 400 years to chart the history of migrants from India to colonies around the world and Britain. This helps to answer the question, "How did Indians migrate around the world?"After the slave trade was abolished in 1807, the British sent people from India, across the world to work in a myriad of roles. We explore where these migrants settled and brought up families. Once the fear of dark water was overcome, migration changed the lives of millions from the subcontinent. The story follows people leaving India to come to cities like Leicester and how this reflected the story of the rest of the UK throughout the 20th century.

Background: Migration from India goes back many years with some scholars pointing to the Romani people who migrated from what is now Rajasthan into Europe around AD 1000. An English Statue of 1596 also gives them special rights over other vagabonds. 

The Lascars can be seen as the first major group of South Asian to travel to Britain. They worked on ships that brought goods to Britain and on many occasions the ship owner abandoned them once they reached Britain. Lascars worked for British and Portuguese ship owners from the 16th Century to the mid 20th Century. Many started living in Britain as well as other parts of the world from 17th Century and were baptised as Christians. Forty thousand people from India were living in Britain by the mid 19th Century over half of which were Lascars. 

After slavery was abolished in Britain in 1833, this led to a labour shortage in many of the plantation colonies. The plantation owners needed to recruit cheap labour and saw the struggling population of India as a prime source of labour. They devised a system of indentured labour in which people would agree to work for a five year period. It was sold to people as a trip to the promised land, however, it was criticised as a cruel system no different to slavery.  Many people were keen to get away and start a new life but were fearful of the Kala Pani taboo. Many Hindus were convinced they would lose their caste status and fall out of the cycle of reincarnation. To counter these attitudes the British loaded large pots of water from the River Ganges on the ships to allay any fears people may have had.

People travelled thousands of miles by boat to work in far flung corners of the empire such as Fiji, South Africa, Mauritius and the Caribbean. Paid 8 Rupees per month, each Labourer was required to confirm in front of a magistrate that they were going to work of their own free will. Many people died during the journey from India, however, by 1838, around 25,000 Indian people had been shipped to Mauritius to work on plantations. People at the time both in the UK and India, likened the indentured system to slavery and lobbied against it. 

Many Indian people had worked as labourers in the army labour corps and had seen active service as soldiers in both World War One and World War Two, and after both wars, people were encouraged to travel to help build newly captured extremities of the colonies such as East Africa. However, many Indian people had also travelled to East and Southern parts of Africa as traders. In some parts of Tanzania and Uganda, Indians controlled 80% to 90% of trade and were also involved in manufacturing. Such was the importance of the Indian Community to the local economy that values on the East African Shilling banknote were also written in Gujarati.   

After local uprisings and the independence of many East African countries between 1950’s and 1970’s, the Indian population started to migrate either back to India or to the UK. Many of the East African Indian’s had been naturalised as British Citizens and therefore were keen to make a life in the UK. The president of Uganda ordered the expulsion of people of Asian Origin from Uganda in 1972.  Many of the refugees migrated to the UK where they were still live today.