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Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State.

Indian Migration and Empire: A Colonial Genealogy of the Modern State. By Radhika Mongia. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. Pp. 240. $24.95.)

Two main forms of out-migration occurred in colonial India between 1838 and 1914, namely state-sponsored indentured emigration to supplant the loss of slave labor in India's sister colonies and "free" or individual migration, during which migrants traded with and subsequently settled in the "white colonies" of South Africa and Canada. These migrations occurred within the British Empire, but the migrants were subject to varying degrees of immigration restriction and regulation, thereby complicating and counter-balancing what constituted British "subject" status. Using a rich array of archival and secondary sources, Radhika Mongia assesses how the historically unstable and changing circumstances led to state monopoly over both forms of out-migration.

At every nodal point of migration, whether from India to Mauritius and the Caribbean, or to South Africa, where Indians worked as indentured servants, or to Canada, where they were free migrants, the state intervened to ensure the protection of the migrants from abuse and discrimination as well as to stymie the encroachment of foreign / migrant elements onto its sovereignty. The state dealt with this paradox by applying the concept of exception to the principle of free migration so long as indentured emigrants were not inveigled but, rather, had consented to their contracts. By contrast, in white settler colonies the state instituted the concept of protection of sovereignty and liberty through passports. Indian polygamous marriages in South Africa and the influx of Indians to Canada, for instance, were not welcome; they were seen a threat to the "white pride" of the state. To ensure that the twin concepts of exception and protection were practiced, Mongia argues that the state operated on the logic of facilitation and constraint, both of which forced the state to institute an increasing number of bureaucratic techniques--language requirements and continuous journey regulations, for example--in order to have monopolistic powers of surveillance and supervision over migration.

What makes Mongia's narrative convincing is its departure from the overused push-pull model of migration and its new understanding of how Indian colonial migration occurred within certain historical conjunctures, producing a tight confluence between movements and the formation of the state. Of merit, too, is the author's ability to show how migration within the British Empire, particularly to South Africa, provoked the framing of national identity, underscoring that the ingress and egress of migrants are not static concepts. Herein lies one caveat to the book, however. Except for some occasions in South Africa and Canada, the migrants' agency is peripheral to the narrative of the state's monopoly over migration. The book uses an intuitional top-down approach, which has been for the past three decades inconsistent with colonial subaltern migration. Nonetheless, Mongia has succeeded in unearthing the underpinning and underbelly of the complexities, the paradoxes, the entanglements, the double standards, and the racism disguised as normative trends so associated with Indian colonial out-migration. Students and researchers will find the aforesaid narrative useful since it has potential to generate heated discussions and debates in both classrooms and academic circles.

Lomarsh Roopnarine

Jackson State University
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Author:Roopnarine, Lomarsh
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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