Citizenship and Nation Making: Ethnicity, Class and the Indo-Mauritian Identity, 1834 - 1968

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Subho Basu

Second Advisor

Junko Takeda


citizenship, indentured labor, indian ocean, migration, nation-state, south asian history

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This dissertation examines Indian indentured workers traveling from India to Mauritius. It uses the lived experiences of Indian indentured workers in Mauritius to examine the notions of rights and the development of workers’ claims to citizenship rights. It argues that these claims depended on shifting global historical circumstances, a mesh of colonial governmental networks in India, Mauritius and Britain and the local colonial bureaucratic apparatus. It further contends that workers’ politics in the broadest sense of the term created the idea of the right-bearing citizen even before the emergence of anti-colonial nationalism and the nation-state. I explain how workers’ struggles for rights translated into the eventual making of a multiethnic nation and this differs from earlier historians who have emphasized circular migration and formation of local capital in the colony. The dissertation secondly re-shapes ocean studies in explaining how labor was a critical component of the Indian Oceanic world of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Earlier historians of the Indian Ocean have tended to focus temporally on the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and thematically on trade and commerce ignoring the role of labor. Finally, the dissertation builds on the premise that indentured workers had agency and expressed it differently through imaginative readings of their contract, petitions and strikes.


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