ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The World of the Lascars

Globalising Labour? Indian Seafarers and World Shipping, 1870-1945 by G Balachandran (New Delhi: OUP), 2012; pp xii + 318, Rs 795.

The seafarer was a man of the world. Indian seamen, officially called lascar (coolies or manual workers) employed by British shipping companies were the earliest global workers in the subcontinent. Their working life spanned from Calcutta and Bombay ports, engine room and deck of ships, and to other Asian, African, British and American ports. They numbered nearly 44,000, i e, one-third of the total employment on British vessels in 1937.

Balachandran brings to us a lucid and elaborate account relating to the world of Indian seafarers. This account gives a good account of the condition of work and life, the experiences and agency of these men, of their relationship with their employer, with the colonial government, British officials, with the recruiters (the Ghat Serang or broker) and supervisors on ships (the Serang), and with other seamen who hailed from other Asian and African nationalities. This area has been under-researched in historical studies of labour. Six chapters and an epilogue of this book present a couple of arguments to further the studies of labour and south Asian history.

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