Untouchable migrants made up a substantial proportion of Indian labour migration into Singapore in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. During this period, they were subject to forms of caste prejudice and discrimination that powerfully reinforced their identities as untouchables overseas. Today, however, untouchability has disappeared from the public sphere and has been replaced by other notions of identity, leaving unanswered questions as to how and when this occurred. The untouchable migrant is also largely absent from popular narratives of the past.
This book takes the "disappearance" as a starting point to examine a history of untouchable migration amongst Indians who arrived in Singapore from its modern founding as a British colony in the early nineteenth century through to its independence in 1965. Using oral history records, archival sources, colonial ethnography, newspapers and interviews, this book examines the lives of untouchable migrants through their everyday experience in an overseas multi-ethnic environment. It examines how these migrants who in many ways occupied the bottom rungs of their communities and colonial society, framed transnational issues of identity and social justice in relation to their experiences within the broader Indian diaspora in Singapore. The book trances the manner in which untouchable identities evolved and then receded in response to the dramatic social changes brought about by colonialism, war and post-colonial nationhood.
By focusing on a subaltern group from the past, this study provides an alternative history of Indian migration to Singapore and a different perspective on the cultural conversations that have taken place between India and Singapore for much of the island's modern history.
Introduction 1. Indian Labour Migration and Caste: Policies, Discourse and Social Effects from the Late 19th to the Early 20th Centuries 2. Caste, Untouchability and Public Practice in Singapore 3. Identity Narratives and the Beginnings of Diasporic Consciousness 4. Racialised Subjectivities and the Performance of "Indianness" in Malaya During the Japanese Occupation 5. The Post-Dravidian Era and Singaporean Tamil Ethnicity 6. Conclusion
This series is concerned with three kinds of intersections or conversations: first, across cultures and regions, an interaction that postcolonial studies have emphasized in their foregrounding of the multiple sites and multi-directional traffic involved in the making of the modern; second, across time, the conversation between a mutually constitutive past and present that occurs in different times and places; and third, between colonial and postcolonial histories, which as theoretical positions have very different perspectives on the first two ‘intersections’ and the questions of intellectual enquiry and expression implied in them. These three kinds of conversations are critical to the making of any present and any history. Thus the new series provides a forum for extending our understanding of core issues of Human society and its self-representation over the centuries.
While focusing on Asia, the series is open to studies of other parts of the world that are sensitive to cross-cultural, cross-chronological and cross-colonial perspectives. The series invites submissions for single-authored and edited books by young as well as established scholars that challenge the limits of inherited disciplinary, chronological and geographical boundaries, even when they focus on a single, well-recognized territory or period.