From 1845 to 1921, over 36,000 East Indians, mainly of the Hindu faith, were brought to Jamaica. Close to two-thirds of them remained. Following the abolition of slavery in the1830s, after failed attempts to source much-needed labour through bountied European immigration, the Jamaican Government turned to India and China. Indian labourers who had already proved successful in Mauritius, were therefore considered to be a good bet for survival in Jamaica.
They were, however, paid less than the ex-slaves and therefore originally lodged at the bottom of the society. Ironically, under the terms of their caste system, which valued light skin over dark, they in turn looked down on the ex-slaves. Relations between the two groups did not therefore begin on the best of footings.
The Indian Government took great interest in indentured labour. Recruiting depots were established in Calcutta and Madras and agents were paid significantly less, per recruit, than for a European labourer). The Government monitored recruitment, the terms and conditions of indentureship, and the guidelines for transport to Jamaica as well as eventual repatriation to India. Most Indians who signed onto indentureship did so with the hope of returning to their homelands with greater wealth and therefore better social positions. It even appointed a Protector of Immigrants in the country of indenture.
Unfortunately, as the Protector was never an Indian national, he tended to be more interested in the welfare of the employers than the labourers a sign that the programme would equal one of hardship for the labourers.
In order to sign onto an indentureship Indians were to appear before a magistrate, hold a government permit and fully understand the conditions of the labour contract. However, the contract was often explained in English and thousands of labourers simply put their thumb marks on the required line, without any true understanding of what awaited them following their journey across the sea.