Book: Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture by Gaiutra Bahadur

Journey of the ‘coolie’ women in the history of the British empire

Coolie WomanBook:  The Odyssey of Indenture  – by Gaiutra Bahadur.   The author’s great-grandmother, born to indentured parents in 1905 during a voyage from Calcutta to British Guiana

Posted by Sara Wajid – Tuesday 19 November 2013  –The Guardian

The stories of women indentured as labourers at the turn of the last century have rarely been told. But a compelling new book brings their experiences on the sugar plantations to life.  
Why would a single, pregnant young woman sign up for a perilous three-month ocean-crossing and a new life as a bonded labourer on a sugar plantation in British Guiana? This is the mystery at the heart of a new book by American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur about her own great-grandmother, Sujaria, and the million other indentured labourers recruited for sugar plantations at the turn of the last century, after slavery ended.  [Read more]

A Conversation With: Author Gaiutra Bahadur

By MAX BEARAK – for the New York Times – India Blog
Gaiutra Bahadur, author of the book 'Coolie Woman.'Ulrike WilsonGaiutra Bahadur, author of the book ‘Coolie Woman.’

In “Coolie Woman,” the Guyanese-American journalist Gaiutra Bahadur excavates the forgotten story of her great-grandmother Sujaria and a quarter of a million women like her who left eastern India in the mid-1800s as indentured labor. The book, which was released last week in the United States and last month in India, is deeply personal yet assiduously researched. From the treacherous sea voyage to the colonial outpost of British Guiana to the sexual privileges conferred on indentured women as the scarcer sex, Ms. Bahadur reconstructs the “coolie” woman’s fate in astonishing detail.  [read more]

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  • de castro compton  On 11/22/2013 at 7:23 am

    Would certainly love to read the book….
    having read all the comments….

    Women in UK did not have the “right to vote” as recent as 1938.
    sorragates… we have “sorragate” mothers who have babies
    (mostly with financial reward) for women who are infertile…
    has the emancipation of women gone too far ?


  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 11/22/2013 at 4:56 pm

    Sounds like a must-read book.

    • Lal Balkaran  On 11/24/2013 at 12:57 am

      I am a Toronto-based Guyanese author specializing in compiling reference books. One of my books “Bibliography of Guyana and Guyanese Writers” whose “Foreword” was done by the late Professor Jan Carew is slated to go in to a fourth edition next year by Seaburn Publishing in New York.

      I would like to know the publisher and city of this new title for a fourth edition of my Bibliography.

  • Damyantee Devi Dabydeen  On 08/17/2019 at 3:18 pm

    I was very fortunate to have received “Coolie Woman”, An Odyssey of Indenture by Gaiutra Bahadur, as a Xmas Gift from my daughter in law, Linda Dabydeen in 2014.
    I read far into the wee hours of the morn as I could not put this book down! I kept switching from passages in the book to the notes and bibliography! It reminds me vividly of the reality of the women I knew who were brought to British Guyana as indentured labourers in the late 1880’s. And the ones in my own family who were born into British indenture-ship. My grandmother and my mother!

    Excellent research and beautifully written. I would recommend “Coolie Woman” to everyone. We must never forget the past!

    Damyantee Devi Dabydeen

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 08/18/2019 at 2:36 pm

    Ms Bahadur is not fully accurate when she says ‘memoirs of indenture’ are written by only men. Similarly, she is not accurate when she says that Indian women were exploited by only Indian and White men. She is either being politically correct or forgot what she discloses in her book – Coolie Woman. She says:

    • “I chose to focus on the women because their story is a lost history within a lost history: the story of Indian women within the story of Indian indenture. While many slave narratives exist, only two memoirs about indenture do, and men wrote both. Women’s stories were in greater need of excavation, and this gave me a sense of purpose. Beyond that, their journeys were in many ways more compelling, defying expectations and challenging preconceptions.”
    • The word “coolie” is the right one to use because it carries the history of colonialism on its shoulders, and the title “coolie woman” is the right one because Indian women in the Caribbean did too. They had to fulfill the needs and desires of both Indian men and British men. They carried the weight of expectations: that they maintain a transplanted culture, that they represent its honor, that they hold families together.

    Some African Guyanese men also exploited the piteous and wretched Indian women – one woman scholar even used the word “sexploitation” to describe the conditions of indenture the women faced from White and African men..

    While I congratulated Bahadur in my recent book – A Mauling of Indians – to expose some of the degradations Indentured women and men faced, I notice that she took an ultra-modern feminist approach to blame the Ramayana for a particular crime committed on Indian women. (I decided not to discuss it my book for sake of space)

    Furthermore, in the interview, she seemed to forget that Indian men also faced ancestral, cultural pressures and those of being a father, as well as pressures of the new regime.

    Even further, she discloses in the book and briefly in the interview that very ‘scarce’ Indian women (due to the 30- 40% ratio of Indian women to men) held and exercised sexual power over the Indian indentured men – many of the men, unfortunately, likely never had a female companion.

    In my recently released book, I refuse to take a politically correct approach; just as I don’t here and ‘call a spade a spade’ !
    Hopefully, my self-published book will hit the internet in a month for a wide readership. In the meantime, hardcopies are available from me @

    Just a few days ago I wrote, referring to indentureship, on another topic:

    • I have just published a book – The Mauling of Indians: Prof. Clem Seecharan’s Noxious ”Revisionist” Falsehoods of Indo-Guyanese History – revealing that African Guyanese, at the very earliest, earliest encounter with Indians, regarded the Indians as “alien coolies”, brutalized them, including violating Indian women, while defiantly and smugly claiming that ‘Coolie too weak’ to defend their women and themselves.
    My source of this major revelation is a Caribbean-African woman scholar. She wrote a book dealing with one Indian young teenage girl’s experience of this ‘violation’ which then led to her death. The scholar even linked the current racial/ethnic sour relations in Guyana to these very early events.
    At present, the hardcopy book is available directly from me:


  • Trevor  On 08/18/2019 at 11:40 pm

    If the writer remained in India, she would have sold off to some rich and corrupt Malhotra or Chopra for a few rupees at age 12 or 13, and forced to like like prisoner in India.

    She should be thankful that we, the so-called Afro-Guyanese fought against the Dutch and French to make way for the British and the East Indian labourers to drive down our wages and create a quasi-apartheid Indocentric supremacist state from 1992 to 2015.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 08/19/2019 at 1:05 pm

    Bahadur reveals in Coolie Woman that in 1871 the Colonial Office struck a commission to study the unusually high numbers of killings of indentured women by their partners. It found that in BrGuiana the rate was 90X HIGHER THAN IN INDIA. Moreover, it found that compared to presently, UTTAR PRADESH & BIHAR, where most indentured immigrants hailed from the rate was 142X HIGHER!

    In other words, the extremely low ratio of women recruited (as women recruits were hard to find) led to jealousy, even infidelity, because among causes, many relationships were polyandric. The same abnormally high incidence was found in other colonies, but Guiana and T&T’s were highest.

    These statistics put the lie on the claim by Prof Clem Seecharan and like-minded people, esp the British and in Guyana and T&T, that Indentureship was a god-send for Indians.


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