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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, ASIAN HISTORY (oxfordre.com/asianhistory). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 19 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

Various forms of labor obligation, coercion, and oppression existed in colonial India, but the supposed dichotomy between “free” and “unfree” labor was rarely absolute. European slave-trafficking, internal trades in women and children, domestic slavery, caste-based obligations for agricultural and other labor, and capitalist systems such as indenture represented distinct but overlapping forms of “unfree” labor in the South Asian context. Enslaved Indians were exported to various European colonial possessions in the 17th and 18th century or provided domestic services within the homes of both the European and Indian elites. Meanwhile, various preexisting local labor relationships such as begar, caste-based obligation, and debt bondage involved elements of coercion, control, and ownership that mirrored some of the characteristics of slavery. These underwent significant changes in the colonial period, as the colonial state both tapped into and sought to reshape the Indian labor market to suit the needs of the imperial capitalist economy.

Keywords: slavery, indenture, labor, caste, trafficking, abolitionism, India, Indian Ocean

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