Gaiutra Bahadur’s “Coolie Woman” Longlisted for the Orwell Prize

cooliewomantheodysseyofindentureGaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture has been longlisted for the Orwell Prize.

Description: In 1903 a Brahmin woman sailed from India to Guyana as a ‘coolie’, the name the British gave to the million indentured labourers they recruited for sugar plantations worldwide after slavery ended. The woman, who claimed no husband, was pregnant and travelling alone. A century later, her great-granddaughter embarks on a journey into the past, hoping to solve a mystery: what made her leave her country? And had she also left behind a man?

Gaiutra Bahadur, a journalist, pursues traces of her great-grandmother over three continents. She also excavates the repressed history of some quarter of a million female coolies. Disparaged as fallen, many were runaways, widows or outcasts, and many migrated alone. Coolie Woman chronicles their epic passage from Calcutta to the Caribbean, from departures akin either to kidnap or escape, through sea voyages rife with sexploitation, to new worlds where women were in short supply. When they exercised the power this gave them, some fell victim to the machete, in brutal attacks, often fatal, by men whom they spurned. Sex with overseers both empowered and imperiled other women, in equal measure. It also precipitated uprisings, as a struggle between Indian men and their women intersected with one between coolies and their overlords.

For more information on the prize, see http://theorwellprize.co.uk/longlists/

3 thoughts on “Gaiutra Bahadur’s “Coolie Woman” Longlisted for the Orwell Prize

  1. Absolutely amazing that women have been seeking independence and recognition for so long, as well as trying to stay alive. I married a West Indian young man who came to Canada in 1959 to study in Canada. Hi mother had married and brought up a family in Guyana and later moved to Trinidad. I always wanted to know why they used the term “coolie” in their speach, as it seemed so derogatory for both this beautiful West Indian family and the Chinese.

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