Kala Pani revisited: Indian labour migrants and the sea crossing

Crispin Bates, Marina Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article examines the reconstruction and deconstruction of the concept of काला पानी or Kālā Pānī, meaning the ‘black waters’, which all Indians must cross when migrating overseas. From its origin as a Brahmanic text warning about the dangers of oceanic voyages, through its dissemination as a more generalised stricture against emigration and its use and abuse as a British colonial construction, to its recasting as a historical trope and a literary device, the ever- changing influence and meaning of kala pani is interrogated and assessed. Contextualising the kala pani trope against the setting of sepoy, convict and coolie voyages, this study also evaluates its historical validity and importance in colonial and nationalist realities. Finally, the symbolic value of the kala pani and its reworking as a literary device are explored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-62
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Indentureship and its Legacies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • kala pani and migration
  • sepoys
  • transportees
  • labour migration India
  • caste and kala pani
  • nationalism and migration India
  • kala pani as metaphor


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