Littoral Memories and British Hierarchies of Belonging: ‘Lascar’ Struggles and Working Class British History
This paper aims to foreground the histories of colonial Indian seafarers’ struggles at sea and on shore in order to demonstrate how their past and present invisibility impacts on notions of ‘belonging’ in twenty-first century multicultural Britain. It begins with an explanation of the meanings and significance of the littoral and liminal spaces in which seafarers lived to the working conditions, resistances and recorded histories of those men. That is followed by an introduction to a framework for the analysis of historical narratives constructed by the anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, which is later used to understand the hidden histories of Indian seafarers and account for how dominant discourses about contemporary Britain and Britishness exclude specific violent and oppressive histories of empire. In order to expose those histories, in the following section It summarizes the British maritime legislation that excluded Indian seafarers from the rights experienced by their white shipmates. It then details some covert strategies mobilized by Indian seafarers to improve their working conditions and use examples from the 1939-40 Indian seafarer strikes to illustrate both the struggles that took place and their continuing invisibility in Second World War narratives. Finally, the article considers the implications of the invisibility of these global struggles to contests over ‘belonging’ in modern Britain.