The ‘Creole Indian’
: The emergence of East Indian civil society in Trinidad and Tobago, c.1897-1945

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Between 1838 when slavery ended, and 1917, some 143,939 Indians came to Trinidad as indentured labourers. This thesis examines how these migrants pulled from all over the subcontinent, first organised themselves as ‘East Indians’, and then came to demand civic and political rights as Trinidadians from 1897 to1945.

Central to this process was the emergence of the ‘Creole Indian’. This group stood distinct both from those who understood themselves as Indian sojourners in the West Indies, and from the African and European elements of the population. This dissertation explores how Indians responded to the plantation experience, the demands and pressures of British planters and colonial administrators, Canadian Presbyterian missionaries and educators, Afro-Trinidadian trade unionism and political nationalism, nationalists in India, and the wider transnational anti-colonial networks which spanned the British Empire.

The school, the trade union, temple and mosque were spaces where immigrants and their descendants negotiated new ways of imagining their status as Indians abroad, as subjects of the British Empire, as Indians and West Indians. These negotiations did not move in a homogenous or linear way, but their consequence was to constitute new kinds of identities, embodied in a variety of kinds of political claims, some for special spaces in the society, but more generally for a fuller enjoyment of membership in civic and political rights. There were many competing interests, and there was no single Indian interest or movement. One of the aims of the thesis is to trace the variety of groups, interests, and perspectives which emerged among migrants. To map this complex field of sentiment and organisation helps us to understand better where the ethnic and religious political cleavages which have characterised Trinidad politics since the 1950s have some of their origins. But it is also perhaps, to explore paths not taken, and alternative negotiations of the civic identity of people of East Indian descent as Trinidadians and West Indian. In general, this dissertation is a contribution to the cultural history of politics in twentieth-century Trinidad.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJon Wilson (Supervisor) & Richard Drayton (Supervisor)

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