Johannesburg, Nov 8 (PTI) The challenges faced by the fifth and sixth generations of the first indentured Indian labourers who arrived to work on sugar cane fields in the city of Durban in 1860 have been discussed as South Africa marked the centenary of the abolition of bonded labour by the British Empire.

A special conference was held here recently to mark the event at which South African Indian academics and historians shared their views.

Among the issues highlighted at the conference were the changed role of Indian women and how, despite a major role in the freedom struggle in South Africa, there are still huge tensions between the majority Black citizens and Indians, who are still regarded in some circles as foreigners.

“The contribution of South African Indians in the struggle against apartheid is not widely known in contemporary South Africa today particularly among the youth,” said psychologist and author Devi Moodley Rajab.

Professor Brij Maharaj of the University of KwaZulu- Natal highlighted how South African Indians have had to face calls in recent years to return to India despite having been here for almost 160 years.

“In South Africa, Indians constitute a vulnerable ethnic minority, and have been ‘sandwiched’ between the economically dominant whites and the African majority,” Maharaj said.

“Historically, there have been tensions between Indians and Africans because the former enjoyed a relatively privileged position compared to the majority, primarily because of community survival strategies, and their religious and cultural heritage.”

Sheetal Bhoola of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said women of Indian descent faced gender-assigned roles in contemporary South Africa where despite their progress most of them bear the responsibility to participate and sustain Hindu family rituals and religious rituals.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.