When a ship arrived the manager and the overseer advised those of us who were single to take a wife from among the single women. That three of us were given such advice. Initially, we were told to pick women from our own ship rather than those who had come or. a ship before or after, because if one picked one from one’s own ship the two indentures expired simultaneously rather than before or after,, which caused strife. When we were given that advice my Muslim friend and I ran off into the bush to collect firewood hoping that while we were away the three women would find somebody else. We were worried that if we married them that might be the end of us. We were right, too, by the time we returned from the bush they had found other men.
The advice of the overseer was not always heeded. People did choose mates from other ships. Those Europeans who were good left Indian women alone. The bad ones did interfere with them. But this was not done through coercion but through willingness on the part of both. Habits prevailing in the indenture period were not very good. Yet I do not recollect seeing any children of Indian women by a Whiteman in my line.
When I came here I was in fact 16 years old, though I had officially given my age as 18. Right from my early days Europeans befriended me. The overseer told the sardar to ask me to work in his house. The sardar told the overseer that since I was a Brahmin I would not be willing. The overseer pointed out that he realised that I perhaps came from a good family and that he had noticed the way mud used to stick to my clothes. The sardar nonetheless approached me, saying that the overseer had asked that I work in his bungalow. I told the sardar that there were eight night soils0men in the line and I would be happier if he sent one of those to work for the overseer and I would replace the night soils-man. I preferred that to working as a cook for the white overseer since he ate meat and fish and I, as a Brahmin, did not want to have anything to do with such things.
Even being a night soils-man was better than being a cook because as the latter I would have to cut meat. Later there was strife between the overseer, the sardar and the people in the lines. There was stone-throwing from one line across to the other. I told the overseer when he came down to go away, otherwise the people would beat him up. He left but, the people chased after him with sticks, knives and axes, but he got into his house. People were throwing stones and breaking the windows of the overseer’s house. The overseer tied a mat across the window and kept firing his gun over their heads. I asked the cook to ring the manager in case the overseer’s shots hit some Indians. The cook was reluctant. He was frightened to go out lest he was beaten up. He suggested that he take a route by the riverside. He was frightened and asked me to accompany him. We went together, the cook agreed to telephone the manager but said he would not speak to him. I said I would speak. I told the manager that the overseer had locked himself in his house and the labourers were trying to break into it with axes and that the overseer was firing his gun over their heads. The manager obviously rang the police and soon police, as well as some Europeans, arrived; the police had handcuffs. On their, arrival the labourers ran into the canefields but some were caught and handcuffed.
There was a court case. The court case lasted a fortnight. In the meantime the sardar in charge of women ran away because the women assaulted him as he used to give them excessive tasks. When the sardar returned the overseer ordered me to accompany him to the women. I was reluctant because the women might have attacked me. The sardar then said that they would not. I insisted so the overseer advised me to remain in the line the next day.
The next day the sardar again told me to go and work with the women. I refused him again. I was frightened because I was so young and the women had a tendency to hit their sardars. While I remained unwilling the overseer told me not to go o to work at all. In this way the whole thing dragged on till Friday. The overseer then said either I took the job or he would beat me. So I suggested to him that the present women’s sardar should be transferred to the men. The overseer who was pressing me to take over the job of sardar of the woman, agreed. The first day, Saturday, when I took over as sardarthere were some South Indian women who were not cutting the seedlings well. They were cutting them too small.
I refused to let them off work although they demanded being given leave. In the meantime I had seen the overseer coming and I reported the situation as it stood. The overseer gave me his horse to hold and whipped each woman. He gave them two or three lashes. He told the women that they always wanted to change sardars. He said this was a sardar who was still under girmit and they must co-operate with him.
He would not get any sardars from the time-expired group. Thereafter I remained their sardar for two years. I got on very well with the women. I used to ask them before setting them tasks as to how much they could do, and if they suggested an amount it was that which I conveyed to the overseer as a suitable task. For instance, the women would suggest sixteen chains and I would tell the overseer it was sixteen. But I would tell him quietly that I would add another four which the overseer would know about but the women would not. The strong women were able to do the extras and this made up for the inadequacy of the weaker ones. This enabled both the weak women as well as the strong ones to bet their full week’s pay. I would then get the chain carrier to mark out twenty chains for the task, which was what the whole group of women had to do. After two years the sardarof the men was leaving to go off to India, and I was then transferred to his position.