> Crossing of Kala Pani
For the greater part of the 19th century, emigrant ships were largely sailing ships. These took three months to complete the voyage. By 1880s, the ships were larger in size and better ventilated – but reports of congestion were still frequent, since the rice, dal and other provisions for the recruits took up valuable space.
The ships had separate compartments for single persons and married couples. To ensure some discipline the emigrants were divided into group of 25, and were placed directly under the supervision of Sirdars or headmen. The headmen received and distributed rations, supervised cooking and protected the group’s general welfare.
The authorities encouraged singing to avoid depression during the journey. Each migrant vessel was provided with dholaks (drums) and other musical instruments.
Asian cholera, the terror of the Calcutta-Caribbean passage played havoc on emigrant vessels in the late 1850s. . Diarrhoea, dysentery and other diseases killed many. The mortality rate before the introduction of faster steamers, which shortened the journey, was alarming.
The crossing of Kala Pani or black waters was taxing both mentally and physically. And several recruits, jumped in to the sea during the voyage and committed suicide.
Many feared that they had not only infringed caste restrictions but had relegated to the position of pariah or untouchables.