Honouring the memory of South Asian nannies taken to London during British Raj
A building in London which housed many Asian women, including South Asian, who were taken to England as nannies during the British colonial rule, is going to be commemorated with a blue plaque, according to BBC.
A blue plaque is a permanent sign that serves as a historical marker. It is installed in a public place in the United Kingdom to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person, event, or former building on the site. The blue plaque scheme is run by the UK charity English Heritage.
Farhanah Mamoojee, a 30-year-old woman of Indian origin living in London, applied for the blue plaque honour for the house at 26 King Edward's Road in Hackney, East London, reports BBC.
She had first heard of the place when it was briefly mentioned in a BBC documentary.
The building is known to have housed hundreds of destitute Indian and Chinese nannies. They were called ayahs and amahs respectively.
Farhanah Mamoojee and historians now hope that the honour will help shine a spotlight on these forgotten women who had a major role and contribution on the British history.
Most of these women came from parts of Asia like British India, China, Hong Kong, British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Burma (Myanmar), Malaysia and Java (part of Indonesia).
"Ayahs and amahs were basically domestic workers and the backbone of British families in colonial India. They looked after the children, entertained them, told them stories, and rocked them to sleep," BBC quotes Rozina Visram, historian and author of "Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History", as saying.
The women were forced to live in the house for various reasons.
When the British families returned to Britain from India, they would often bring their ayahs with them.
Some were asked to accompany the families just for the long, difficult voyage, while others were employed for a few more years, Visram said.
"These nannies were usually provided with a return ticket back home at the expense of the family," she said.
But not everyone was lucky – many were abandoned by their employers without any pay or arrangements to make the long journey back home.
Some were also forced to stay back in the strange land because they couldn't find families to accompany them on the return voyage.
"This led to the ayahs being forced to fend for themselves," the BBC report quoted Florian Stadtler, a lecturer in literature and migration at the University of Bristol, as saying.
Florian Stadtler has worked with Rozina Visram on the topic.
He said that these women often took out advertisements in local newspapers, asking for help to travel back home. Many were forced to take refuge in slummy accommodation with high rent.
"And when their money ran out, these women were thrown out of these lodging houses too. Many were even forced to beg for their journey back home to India," he added.
According to the Open University's "Making Britain" research project, the ayahs' Home "appears to have been founded in 1825 in Aldgate" by a woman named Elizabeth Rogers.
By the second half of the 19th Century, as the empire grew stronger, number of nannies travelling to Britain also increased.
"Every year up to 200 ayahs stayed at the Ayahs' Home. Some stayed for a few days whereas some stayed for months," Dr Visram said.
One of the main objectives of the home, which did not charge the ayahs, was to try to convert them to Christianity, according to the researchers.
The blue plaque, Mamoojee and others hoped, could help make these forgotten women more visible.
"These women truly deserve this honour," Mamoojee said.