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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/505

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THE LABOR PROBLEM IN THE TROPICS.

grants' dwellings in regard to ventilation, size, and water supply; and no immigrants are sent to any estate until these houses have been inspected and passed as satisfactory. The planter must also furnish on the estate free hospital accommodation and medical attendance, and in addition provide free education for the children of indentured immigrants.

The medical officers are Government servants, and the colony is divided into districts, each of which has its own doctor, who is compelled by law to visit each estate in his district at least once in forty-eight hours and examine and prescribe for all immigrants presenting themselves at the hospital.

The planter is further bound to pay a minimum daily wage of twenty-four cents to each man and sixteen cents to each woman. This appears at first sight a very small sum, but when it is taken into account that a coolie can live well on eight cents a day it will be seen that the wage is three times the living expense, a rate very rarely paid to agricultural laborers in any part of the world.

That the coolies do, in fact, save considerable sums of money will be seen when the statistics of the immigration department are examined. These records show that during the years 1870 to 1896 38,793 immigrants returned to India after completing their terms of indenture, and that they carried back with them to their native land over $2,800,000. At the end of 1896 there were over five thousand East Indian depositors in the British Guiana Government Savings Bank and the Post-Office Savings Bank, with a total sum of more than $450,000 to their credit.

At the end of five years the indentured coolie becomes absolutely free. He may cease work, or, if he prefer it, remain on the estates as a free laborer. The whole colony is open to him, and he may engage in any trade or profession for which he may be fitted. If he remains for five years longer in the colony, even though he be idle during the whole of that time, he becomes entitled to a grant of land from the Government. The law in this respect has been recently changed. All coolies who came to the colony prior to 1898 have the choice at the end of ten years of a free grant of land or an assisted passage back to their native place.

It may be objected by those persons who are unacquainted with the system that all this sounds very well on paper, but that the opportunities for fraud and oppression must be very frequent, and, human nature being what it is, very frequently taken advantage of, to the injury of the coolies' interests. Such charges have, in fact, been made from time to time, but they have, on investigation, proved to be unfounded, or, at the worst, highly exaggerated. The treatment of the indentured immigrants in British Guiana was the subject of