Fourth-generation South African-Indian Elaine Pillay- Stevens said she was honoured to have been chosen to speak at the International Conference on the Indian Indentureship System in Lautoka, Fiji next week.
Pillay-Stevens, an author of children's book and former teacher, will carry a message of how descendants of Indian indentured labourers can become valuable citizens of their adopted lands during a conference designed to commemorate the centenary of the end of the indentured labour system.
The system saw more than a million Indians being taken to British colonial territories in Africa; the Indian Ocean and Caribbean islands; and South America, largely to work on sugarcane plantations.
"Besides speaking about the impact that the indenture system had on me personally, I will also explain how South African-Indians today are involved in the larger South African society at all levels," Pillay-Stevens said.
Her paper will focus on how descendants of the indentured migrants can contribute to the social and economic development of the countries where they find themselves as citizens now.
Over two-thirds of South Africa's Indian origin population of 1.4 million are descended from the thousands of indentured labourers who suffered huge hardships under the system created to source labour after slavery was abolished in 1833.
Lured by promises of a better life, the first migrants suffered exploitation at the hands of their British colonial masters, but persevered to establish schools, temples and mosques with their meagre earnings to the extent that there is a 100 per cent literacy level among the newest generation of South African-Indians.
"The system of indenture ended on March 12, 1917. The last indenture contract lapsed on January 1, 1920," the organisers of the conference said in its call for papers.
March 12, 2017 marks the centennial of the official abolition of Indian indentureship.
The primary objective of the conference is to facilitate discourse on all aspects related to the indenture system, also known more commonly as the 'Girmit' system.
The Convention Organising Committee, chaired by Jagannath Sami of the Fiji Girmit Council, has the support of leading Indian-origin academics from universities in more than 10 countries including India.
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