Kala Pani in the minds of Indians is etched more so as a punishment where one is banished and forced to serve penance in seclusion. From a historical view the seclusion was beyond the Indian mainland and being prisoned in the then secluded islands of the Andaman and Nicobar.
The historical traces of the origin of this notion leads us back all the way to Colonial India. In the early twentieth century, under the reign of the British administration the Andaman island’s Port Blair cellular jail served as a dumping ground where the British authorities would banish Indian freedom fighters and dissidents in an attempt to curb their growing influence and to put a stop to their activities that disrupted the colonial order. When viewed from the perspective of the diaspora, it more so refers to the large-scale migration of hundreds of thousands of Indians beyond the black waters ( the kala pani), that separated the Indian mainland from the island, both willingly and unwillingly to work as indentured labourers, or “bound coolies,” in the overseas sugar colonies.
After slavery’s abolishment in 1834 and then it’s reabolishment in 1838, these emigrants responded to and provided for the necessity for labour on the numerous colonial plantations. Fiji and Mauritius, as well as the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean, received approximately 1.25 million emigrants.
Even if the historiography is now extensive and thorough, and scholarly critique has helped to illuminate works of literature, film, and the arts, the diasporic perspective has dominated. When Gandhiji returned to India in 1915, the agony of the indentured labourers had found a strong and sympathetic expression in literary works emanating from Bihar and eastern UP, the areas where the migration had been the most intense. As a result, indentured labourers in Mauritius, British Guiana, Fiji, and South Africa were featured prominently in several major publications. Chand which was one of the most influential Hindi periodicals of the time talked about the exodus and was the subject of a whole issue (January 1926) in which Premchand’s short novel Shudra was also featured. Shudra, according to Kamal Kishore Goenka, is the first work of Hindi fiction about the indentured, and maybe the first Indian piece as well. Their stories and memories live on in popular culture, but they are absent from school curricula and political platforms. The colonial powers drove the migrations in the 1830s out of greed, but the indentured eventually wrested a narrative and a home for themselves as time went on through overcoming numerous hardships and trials.
While the diaspora literature authored by people whose forefathers left India to serve as indentured labourers has been the subject of much intellectual and political debate, those members of the early diaspora and their descendants themselves have received relatively little attention in India and the majority of the populous still remains oblivious to their past plight and horror, subjecting it all down to a meager term that doesn’t do justice to the hell that was the forced expulsion and horrors faced by their ancestors beyond the kala pani.