Far from Home, But at Home: Indian Migrant Workers in the Iranian Oil Industry

Credit: Touraj Atabaki
from “Studies in History: Far from Home, But at Home: Indian Migrant Workers in the Iranian Oil Industry”
source: Jawaharlal Nehru University.



This article revisits the life and times of Indian migrant workers in Persia/Iran during the first half of the twentieth century, and discusses their contributions to the founding, development and eventual consolidation of the Persian/Iranian oil industry. A number of factors that shaped this experience are investigated. They include the geographic and ethno-religious origins of Indian labourers; the policies adopted by the oil company (APOC), labour agencies and the Government of India to recruit workers and regulate their working conditions and terms of contract; and the lived experience of the workers once they were hired and began working in the Persian/Iranian oil industry.
Across nearly half a century, Indian workers in the Persian/Iranian oil industry faced a variety of labour experiences ranging from coerced recruitment as indentured workers during wartime, to wage labour with a negotiated con- tract and protection under colonial labour laws. I will discuss how these workers responded to the various recruitment policies, the demanding working conditions and labour discipline imposed on them, their remuneration and wage-structures, and their living conditions and housing situation.
Records of the lengthy presence of Indian workers in the oil industry provide us with numerous stories of contestation, resistance and negotiations for better working and living conditions. Ultimately, the story of Indian migrant workers is also a story of accommodating within an emerging multinational corporation. I situate the history of migrant labour agencies within the framework of colonial labour practices. By examining the workers’ encounter with multiple class, ethnic and territorial identities, I survey the changing relations of both solidarity and discord between Indian migrant workers and indigenous Iranian workers.[2]


The course of history in the Persian Gulf, an area rich in spatial networks, commercial associations and a traffic of ideas, was decisively altered by the arrival of British colonialism. By the mid-nineteenth century, the British had turned the Persian Gulf into a ‘British Lake’. In the early period of the expansion of British hegemony, Indian subjects of the Empire landed in Persia as soldiers, with rifles in their hands. However, by the discovery of oil in southern Persia in 1908, Indian skilled and semi-skilled workers outnumbered the Indian soldiers.
Following the discovery of oil, a massive construction effort was needed to mine, process and transport the mineral to the world market. Access roads, pipelines, an oil refinery and shipping docks had to be built. The immediate problem, which the oil business was then confronted with, was the scarcity of skilled and semi-skilled labour within Persia/Iran. The unprecedented scale and novelty of the project demanded a grand recruitment drive to find suitable workers, from Mesopotamia to South Asia. While unskilled labour could be supplied by local tribal-pastoralist and village-based labouring poor, the skilled and semi-skilled workforce was recruited from as far away as India and Burma. The recruitment of workers from India by the oil industry continued for more than forty years. Indian migrant workers formed their own social and residential communities in major Iranian oil towns, and constituted a distinctive and significant labour cluster in the industry until the mid-twentieth century.
The historiography of Indian migration beyond British colonial frontiers certainly provides perspectives on the established history of labour in India. Pioneer researchers on transoceanic Indian indentured labour migration have published extensively on Indian migrant workers who embarked for Africa and the Americas. Among the many publications about these types and routes of Indian migration, the classic works of Gillion, Lal, Emmer, Carter and Mohapatra should be mentioned.[3] Singha and Tetzlaff have studied Indian indentured labour in Mesopotamia and northern Persian Gulf; Seccombe and Lawless examined the migration of Indian labour to the Arabian Peninsula at the south end of the Persian Gulf. Nevertheless, the life and times of Indian workers who migrated to West Asia, the Persian Gulf and Persia in the era of British colonial rule have only rarely been described.[4]
Departing for Persia
In December 1907, twenty Indian cavalrymen landed at the port of Mohammareh (later Khoramshahr) on the waterway to the Persian Gulf. Their mission, as outlined by the British Consul in Mohammareh, was to guard the expeditionary operations of the Burma Oil Company. The company was engaged in oil exploration in the south of Khuzestan, a Persian province.[5] Oil was discovered at Masjed Suleiman in Southwest Persia five months later. The use of Indian cavalrymen by the young Persian/Iranian oil industry was a precursor to decades of employment of Indian skilled and semi-skilled artisans and clerical workers. The era of Indian employment ended in 1951, after the nationalization of the oil industry in Iran and subsequent changeover in management when the Anglo-Iranian oil company[6] became an international consortium.
In 1901, William N. D’Arcy, an Australian entrepreneur supported by the British legation in Tehran, obtained a fantastic concession in Persia. He gained monopoly rights to ‘search for, obtain, exploit, develop, render suitable trade, carry away and sell natural gas, petroleum’ and all the derivatives ‘throughout the whole extent of the Persian Empire’. Article 12 of his Agreement stated that ‘the workmen employed in the service of the Company shall be subject to His Imperial Majesty the Shah, except the technical staff, such as the managers, engineers, borers and foremen’.[7] After the first oil flares and the expansion of drilling operations, access roads were built, pipes were laid to bring oil to the Persian Gulf, and the Abadan Refinery was constructed. At that time, the recruitment of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour for the industry was poorly regulated. Unskilled labour was chiefly recruited from Bakhtiyari peasants and pastoral nomads living


in the region adjacent to the oilfield. Indian migrant workers comprised the main
trunk of the semi-skilled and skilled workforce (Table 1). The number of Indian migrant workers grew from 157 in 1910 (representing about 9 per cent of a total workforce of 1,706 at that time) to a peak of 4890 workers in 1925 (about 16 per cent of a total workforce of 28,905) (Figure 1). The early cluster of Indian migrant workers who joined the Persian oil industry were either recruited through an intermediary agency in India, or transferred directly from the Rangoon Refinery through the coordination of the Burma Oil
Company, which had a large stake in the D’Arcy concession.
In the early years of its operation, the oil company was mainly concerned with establishing the basic infrastructure required to supply oil to the market. Training facilities for local labour were therefore not on its list of priorities. At this initial stage, the recruitment and employment policy of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) aimed to overcome the scarcity of skilled and semi-skilled labour by employing large numbers of migrant workers, mostly from India, both in clerical
and skilled or semi-skilled manual professions. As I will show in what follows, this policy changed when the industry grew bigger. Employing labour came to be


influenced by political factors—both at the top, through the tripartite relations of APOC, the Government of India and the Persian government; and from below, through labour activism aimed at improving the situation of workers.
In India, the British Indian trading company Shaw Wallace & Co. Ltd was the intermediary agent recruiting labour for Persia, with Strick, Scott & Co. as its representative in Persia. ‘With the flotation of the APOC, work in the Bombay office increased rapidly as equipped of every conceivable kind had to be forwarded to the Persian Gulf, where Mohammareh was then the base office, and not only for equipment but the clerk staff as well as household domestics and servants for the office.’[11] Shaw Wallace worked closely with the Burma Oil Company and APOC, and its mission as labour recruitment agency lasted until 1926, when APOC decided to take over the task and recruit Indian labour via its office in Bombay. In India, Shaw Wallace was the sole agent of these oil companies, providing various services in addition to labour recruitment. Charles Greenway originally worked in the oil department of Shaw Wallace as an agent of the Burma Oil Company in India before he joined the Persian oil industry in 1910 as managing director and became chairman of APOC from 1914 to 1927.12 Figure 2 shows a construction site of the Gach-qaraguli (Gachsaran) Road in 1909.
The majority of migrant workers recruited to the Persian oil industry from Burma were Indians employed by the Burma Oil Company. Their lengthy experience of working at the Burma oilfields and the Rangoon Oil Refinery made them an attractive labour source. Using a free-contract system, Shaw Wallace


arranged for the passage of these workers from Burma to Persia. They were mainly Chittagonian Sunni Muslims, who had joined the Burmese oil industry in 1890s.[13] In APOC administrative records or British colonial archives, the social, territorial, ethnic or religious backgrounds of Indian migrant workers were never separately identified. The same applied to Iranian workers. Thus, all migrant workers from India employed by the Persian oil industry were simply classified as ‘Indians’. However, by collating data found in the national archives of India, Iran and Britain, sources in the APOC and British Petroleum company archives, and records from the community of Indian migrant workers living in Iran, some additional distinctions can be made. In Persia, workers originating from Burma were, for example, categorized as Rangoony (from Yangon), so distinguishing them from other Indian migrants. In the city of Abadan, the Rangoony community had its own mosque, segregated from other Indian Sunni and Shiites Muslims. It was known as the ‘Rangoony Mosque’, no doubt a reference to a substantial Burmese population in Abadan (Figure 3).
Shaw Wallace recruited not only Indian migrant workers from Burma for work in the Persian oil industry. Through subsidiary or subcontractors’ offices,

it also recruited both skilled and semi-skilled workers in Bombay and Karachi. Subcontractors such as I.A. Ashton & Sons and Bullock Brothers were specialized in recruiting fitters, oil and diesel engine drivers, marine signalmen, marine raters, boilermakers, pipe fitters, etc.[14] Recruiters often advertised in Bombay papers, especially for clerical employment. However, there are also references stating that intermediaries such as I.A. Ashton posted notices, posters and wallpapers in the Punjab.[15] All workers who applied for the announced positions first had to go through a qualifying examination. Those recruited in the Punjab were interviewed in Lahore, and Bombay recruits were interviewed in Mazagaon Dock Bombay, before joining the mass of employees departing for Persia. The intermediary companies charged each new recruit 25 per cent of their first month’s pay. Those who had previously worked for the oil company in Persia and returned to India in less than two years, were required to pay an admission fee of `10.[16] The same rule applied to workers hired for household and domestic services, such as, butlers, cooks, domestic servants, hospital ward orderlies and sweepers (these were chiefly recruited by Osborn & Co., affiliated to the Parsee enterprise based in Bombay).[17]
When the Abadan oil refinery was first being built, from 1910 to 1913, the number of Indian migrant workers steadily increased. By 1913, there were 1000 clerical and manual employees. However, around the time that the First World War broke out in 1914, there were two new developments, which had a big effect on the recruitment of labour from India.
First, the British admiralty decided to convert all its marine steam engines (industrial, army and naval units) from coal to oil fuels, a transition that had already begun in 1912.[18] Within a few years, that made oil a crucial economic resource for British interests around the world, causing the oil industry to boom. Second, the British government decided to raise its shareholding in APOC to 51 per cent, and thereby became the major owner of the company.[19] A generous preferential contract was signed in 1914, under which the British admiralty could purchase Persian oil from APOC for the Royal Navy at a fixed price for thirty years. Oil suddenly became a strategic military commodity in the British Empire.[20]
As the Persian oil industry expanded its operations during the First World War, the need for an adequate and constant supply of labour became urgent. Unsurprisingly, the whole question of how to allocate and maintain the workforce became a priority in the APOC policy, and the British Raj became directly involved in administering the migration of Indian workers to the oil industry. APOC claimed that the biggest obstacle in obtaining labour for the Persian oil industry was a formality in the Indian Emigrations Act of 1883, which restricted labour migration to specified destinations, which did not include Persia.[21] In March 1915, the APOC Board proposed to the Government of India that restrictions imposed by the Act should be waived, so that APOC could recruit more skilled labour:
Owing to the non-existence of such [skilled] labour in Persia, and the impossibility of training Persians in sufficient number for their requirements, the Company is compelled to indent largely on Indian for skilled labourers of many kinds, such as riveters, engine drivers, assembling machine men, iron and brass moulders, solders, core makers and others. At the present time the number of Indian employees in Abadan and the oil fields is about 1,020. It is found nevertheless that it is very difficult to induce men of these classes to leave Bombay, Rangoon, Karachi or the other ports where they are recruited and to accept employment in Persia.….Indian Emigration Act, which are unduly magnified in their imagination, and consequently act as a serious deterrent to their taking the service offered.[22]
To strengthen its argument, APOC noted its special status as a British company in which the British government had acquired a major shareholding, providing ‘full power of control and of British Indian subjects being under the jurisdiction of His Majesty’s Consul’. APOC therefore petitioned the Government of India to apply the same emigration rule to Persia that was used for Ceylon and the Straits Settlement. According to APOC, the administrative power of the Government of India should be extended to new territory: …under the provisions of the Persian Coast and Islands Order of 1907, British Indian subject in the Persian littoral are entirely under the jurisdiction of the Consul-General and Political Resident and his subordinate officers. British Indian law is in force and under the provision of the Order, the Indian Code of Criminal and Civil Procedure have effect ‘as if the Persian Coast and Islands were a neighbourhood in the province of Bombay’. In these circumstances the position of Indian emigrants in the Gulf approximates to their position in Ceylon and the Straits Settlements, which are expressly exempted from the operation of the Emigration Act, and the object of this letter is to enquire whether a similar exemption cannot be accorded to the areas occupied by the Company’s Work at Abadan, Mohammareh and the Oilfields.[23] The Persian Coast and Islands Order of 1907 referred to in APOC’s petition, was an appendix of the Anglo-Russian Convention signed in August 1907 in St Petersburg. This convention aimed to consolidate in international relations various political changes that had occurred in the Far East, the Middle East, and Europe after the Russo-Japanese War and the Russian revolution of 1905. Since 1903, the territorial sovereignty of Persia had been recognized by both Russia and Britain, except for the Persian Gulf, which was considered as a ‘British lake’. However, the 1907 Convention in substance rejected Persia as a sovereign territory, although formally it was still regarded as a sovereign state. The core of the Convention was its first section, which created Russian and British territorial spheres in north and south Persia, while leaving the central part as a buffer zone between the two imperial powers.[24]

In April 1915, the Department of Commerce and Industry of the Government of India reacted to APOC’s petition in the following terms: The Government of India are very reluctant to extend the exemption to other countries. The conditions mentioned above do not apply to the Persian Gulf. Emigration of artisans to the Persian Gulf is of very recent date and living very expensive. It is possible that an account of these reasons that artisans are unwilling to proceed to the Persian Gulf even on the high Burma rates and not because of the restriction imposed by the Emigration Act. The artisan class is not so ignorant as the ordinary coolie class and are not likely to be frightened by requirements of the Act, which are not of harassing nature.[25]
However, the Government of India did not completely close the door to further negotiations with APOC, and in the same memorandum it was considered that if ‘His Majesty’s Government would consent to be a party to the agreement’, then it would consider the desirability of an exemption, provided that ‘the Governments of Bombay, Punjab—where the emigrant proceed mostly from there—United Province, Bengal, and Bihar and Orissa [were] consulted’.[26] The dispute between APOC and the Government of India about whether Persia should be a legal destination for Indian labour migrants was not settled until February 1918. At that time, the Government of India finally agreed to a temporary suspension of the Emigration Act restrictions for territories under the APOC aegis. However, the Government of India had already realized the strategic importance of oil supply, and during the war it had therefore extended the scope of its cooperation with APOC, so that oil production would not be hindered by labour scarcity.[27] APOC remained very insistent about the importance of a continuing labour supply from India. If that labour supply was cut off or temporarily strained, this posed a risk. When Indian workers deserted their job with the oil company in search of better pay in the British military, a manager commented: A large number of Sikh fitters are pressing to get leave to return to their country, and a number of them have worked here at least a year. We cannot very well force them to remain as they are not under agreement, and their chief grievance is one of money.
I have no doubt that some of the men wish to go to India, than return for work in Basra, and by this way evades the Force Routine Order of 4th April. Others again will, no doubt, apply in India to Shaw Wallace and Co. for work either at the Gunboats or the I.O. Barges, as they will thus get much higher wages than we can offer. Regarding the fitters who wish to go to their country, I have had a talk with the Head Fitter Mastery, and he tells me that some of his men here are writing to their friends in Lahore, Amritsar, etc., telling them not to apply for work in this Company owing to the troubles caused by the war, dearness of living, and coercive methods that they say we use in order to retain their services.[28]
APOC’s concern was ‘fully appreciated’ by the army when ‘a special order was issued to effect that no labour ex Abadan to be employed by any Military or Naval unit’.[29]
During the War, APOC was not only troubled by the problem of skilled workers deserting the Persian oil industry but the scarcity of the supply of unskilled labour was also a hurdle for the company. During the War, there were several factors to be reckoned with. There was anti-British tribal strife in Persia. There were famines and epidemics which caused massive dislocation of the population in the region,[30] at least in the early stage of the War. The proximity of the oilfields and refinery to the war front also caused local unskilled labour to leave the oil company. As the British forces advanced in Mesopotamia, and were active at the Baghdad front, a new labour market with more favourable working conditions emerged, attracting not only local skilled and unskilled workers, but also migrant workers from other regions, including India: We have, all along, been having the greatest difficulty in retaining coolies at Abadan, [and].…I regret to say that matters have got very much worse during the last fortnight, and we are now nearly a thousand coolies under strength.…Last payday (six days ago) some 200 men cleared off and this morning Abadan have rung up to say that a similar number went yesterday.…I suppose it is the fall of Baghdad, which it so some extent responsible for this sudden extra demand for coolies by the [British] government.[31] Adding coolies to the list of their preferred recruits was a new chapter in APOC’s labour policy. The Indian Labour Corp was invited to join their workforce in Persia.[32] In October 1917, when APOC had already accommodated a 300-strong Indian Labour Corp in Abadan, the oil company petitioned the Government of India to increase the total number of men to 800: We understand that Persian coolies are available and will accept some with very many thanks but if it were possible our existing Indian Corps to be increased, we imagine it would save having two separate organizations.[33] The response of the Government of India to APOC’s petition was not favourable. About seven months earlier, on 12 March 1917, the Government had


already suspended all unskilled labour migration from India, except to Ceylon and Malaysia.[34]
Nevertheless, recruitment of migrant labour from India continued and even increased significantly despite the problem of desertions by workers in pursuit of better pay, or the restrictions of the Emigration Act, which remained in force during the War. By the end of the War, the enlarged army of Indian migrants at work in the Persian oil industry was sourced from all across India (Figure 4). Chittagonian workers worked in harbour engineering and naval transport, while the Punjabi Sikhs were chiefly employed as drivers, technicians and security agents. Migrants from the Madras Presidency occupied clerical functions, the Gazars from Punjab working as dhobis (washerman), while Goans served as cooks and servants.[35] According to the signed contract, migrant Indian employees were not allowed to take their family to Persia. While this was of major concern to some workers who wanted to bring their family the oil company considered the ban on family reunion as strictly non-negotiable, except for some high-ranking clerks. However, reports in Iranian archives state that some Indian Muslim migrant workers approached the Persian authorities to intervene on their behalf, calling on APOC to grant permission for family living arrangements. For example, one appeal— signed by ‘Indian Muslims working at the Persian oil industry’ and presented in the autumn of 1927—petitioned the ‘Shahanshah [king of kings] of Iran as the guardian of Islam’ and the ‘protector of people of Islam’ as follows: We are guest in your holy land and hope someday the Iranian workers replace us all. However, since some of us are young and newly married, in order to elude any nonIslamic conducts here while we are far from our family, or our spouse who burns from such partition to be fallen into naughtiness.[36] The contribution of oil capitalism to shaping the course of the First World War was very significant. As I mentioned before, months before the final armistice of November 1918 the Government of India temporally suspended the application of its Emigration Act to Persia, and liberalized migration traffic. However, this suspension was short-lived. In 1920, the Government of India reversed its policy, and once again restricted labour migration to the Persian oil industry. Two years later, in 1922, the old Emigration Act was restructured via an amendment. The amendment intended to end the practice of indentured labour, extensively practised during the War. As I will discuss in more detail, the main reason for this change in labour policy was the gradual escalation of labour protests among Indian migrant workers.
Following the reinstatement of the Emigration Act restrictions in 1922, the maximum period of employment for migrant labour recruited by APOC was reduced from three years to one year. By reducing the contract period, the government of India and APOC gave themselves more bargaining power in dealing with labour unrest. However, one drawback of this policy was that, with its reliance on Indian skilled and unskilled migrant labour, APOC now confronted labour shortages and increased labour costs:
The withdrawal of this concession is extremely detrimental to the interests of the Company who have been obliged to rely on India not only for unskilled but for skilled labour as none is obtainable in Persia. You will readily realise how very seriously the limitation of the agreement affects the Company seeing that Indians very often do not reach the oilfields until 6 or 8 weeks after the agreement comes into operation and should a similar period elapse before they reach India on the return journey, the Company gets only 8 or 9 months work for 12 months pay, accordingly not only are labour costs very much increased but there are more frequent changes in the personnel which it is to be avoided as far as possible.[37]


A new Emigration Act was introduced in 1922. Other developments in the employment policy of APOC followed. The end of the wartime policy and the prohibition of indentured labour system at first motivated APOC to become directly involved with workforce recruitment. Thus, APOC opened its own labour recruitment office in Bombay, and began to tap the local labour market for its Persian industry. In November 1925, APOC instructed Shaw Wallace & Co. to end its labour recruitment mission for the Persian oil industry in India as of January 1926. APOC said it expected ‘lowered requirements for Indian labour’ by replacing Indian labour with locally trained Persians.[38] Figure 5 shows a group of Persian Trainees of the Electrical Squad with their Indian Coach, Masjed Suleiman, in 1926. But that was not the only reason for the new policy.
The ‘Persianization’ of the workforce had been of concern to the Persian government from the time the oil concession was granted in 1901. According to the Article 12 of the D’Arcy Agreement ‘the workmen employed in the service of the Company shall be subject to His Imperial Majesty the Shah, except the technical staff, such as the managers, engineers, borers and foremen’.[39] However, this rule was not always followed by APOC. For example, in a 1910 letter sent by Sadiq al-Saltaneh (Oil Commissar of the Persian Government) to the Persian Charge d’Affaire in London, we find a complaint that non-Persian coolies were employed by APOC.[40] The question of schooling Persians for the technical professions was raised only in the 1920s, during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi (who came to power through a coup d’état in 1920, and was inaugurated as the new king in 1925). In 1927, the Persian Ministry of Finance called on the Ministry of Endowment and Education to promote the education of Persians for a technical career in the oil industry, by establishing technical institutes in the southern province of Khuzestan:
According to the report compiled by the Oil Company, at the present there are 4,598 non-Iranians working for the Oil Company. Although the Oil Company, according to the concession [of 1901] preserved its right to employ non-Iranian labour for its technical careers, nevertheless, all necessary measures should be made to replace the entire non-Iranian with the Iranian national.[41] By the late 1920s, training Persian labour in APOC workshops had become normal. Persians were instructed by Indian engineers in what would today be called ‘on-the-job training’. As quasi-apprentices, Persians followed training courses to become ‘fitters, turners, moulders, blacksmiths, carpenters, armature winders, general repair electricians, boiler makers, welders (electric and acetylene) and instrument makers’.[42]
In 1933, the Persian government cancelled the D’Arcy concession, and offered APOC a new agreement that was more favourable to Persia. According to the new agreement, APOC was required to employ only Persian nationals for unskilled occupations. In hiring clerical and technical employees, Persian nationals were to be preferred, if they had the necessary competence and experience.[43] Article 16 of the new 1933 Agreement—carefully worded to meet Persian employment requirements—stipulated that:
…the Company shall recruit its artisans as well as its technical and commercial staff from among Persian nationals to the extent that it shall find in Persia persons who possess the requisite skill and experience. It is likewise understood that the unskilled staff shall be composed exclusively of Persian nationals.
The parties declare themselves in agreement to study and prepare a general plan of yearly and progressive reduction of the non-Persian employment with a view to replacing them in the shortest possible time and progressively by Persian nationals.[44] The Oil Company was invited to advertise its job vacancies not only in the local Persian press, but also in the national press and at employment offices, in order to promote a bigger Persian workforce.[45] In one initiative, the oil company called on all its employees to ask their friends and relatives throughout Iran to apply for vacancies in the oil industry.[46]
Taking into account the combined effect of all these developments—new employment policies, political pressure from the Iranian government, and increased labour activism (initially among Indian migrant labour, but later involving Persians)—we can better understand why the number of Indian migrant workers in the oil industry decreased considerably from the mid-1920s and in the 1930s.[47]
The outbreak of the Second World War once again powerfully boosted the demand of oil. A new oil boom resulted, and the number of Indian migrant workers in the oil industry grew by 100 per cent, reaching 2,498 men in 1945. However, in the end, the Indian independence movement together with the campaign to nationalize the Iranian oil industry caused the Indian migrant labour community in Iran to dwindle. When the Iranian oil industry was nationalized in March 1951, the community of Indian migrant workers splintered. Some had worked for the fallen Anglo-Iranian Company (APIC). A large number of Indian employees decided to join the European staff, and left Iran. Some Indians opted to stay in Iran, and continued to work in the oil industry under a Persian employer.


Notes & References:
1. International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


2. I am grateful to Stefan Tetzlaff, Robabeh Motaghedi, and Radhika Singha who shared their thoughts and sources with me. Through interviews, Nasim Khaksar, Mansour Khaksar, Homayoun Mehrani and Yaddulah Basht Bavi helped me imagine the old Abadan. I am indebted to them for their support.
I thank Willem van Schendel, Kaveh Ehsani and the anonymous reviewer for their valuable com-ments. Finally, I would like to thank Reza Masoom, Kathinka Sinha Kerkhoff and Jurriaan Bendien
for their valued assistance.


3. Kenneth. L. Gillion, Fiji’s Indian Migrants: A History to the End of Indenture in 1920 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962); Hugh Tinker, New System of Slavery 1830–1929 (London: Oxford University Press, 1974); Brij V. Lal, ‘Girmitiyas: The Origins of the Fiji Indians’, Journal of Pacific History (1983); P.C. Emmer (ed.), Colonialism and Migration: Indentured Labour Before and After Slavery (Dordrecht: M. Nijhoff, 1986); Marina Carter, Servants, Sirdars and Settlers: Indians in Mauritius, 1834–1874 (London: Oxford University Press: 1995); Prabhu Mohapatra, ‘Following Custom? Representations of Community among Indian Immigrant Labour in the West Indies, 1880–1920’, in India’s Labouring Poor: Historical Studies, c. 1600–c. 2000, ed. Behal P. Rana and
Marcel van der Linden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 173–202.
4. Radhika Singha, ‘Finding Labour from India for the War in Iraq: The Jail Porter and Labour Corps, 1916–1920’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 49, no. 2 (2007): 412–45; Stefan
Tetzlaff, ‘The Turn of the Gulf Tide: Empire, Nationalism, and South Asian Labour Migration to Iraq, c. 1900–1935’, International Labour and Working-Class History 79: 7–27; I.J. Seccombe and R.I.
Lawless, ‘Foreign Worker Dependence in the Gulf, and the International Oil Companies: 1910–50’, International Migration Review 20, no. 3 (1986): 548–74.
5. Arnold T. Wilson, S.W. Persia. Letters and Diary of a Young Political Officer. 1907–1914 (London: Readers Union Limited with arrangement with Oxford University Press, 1942), 22.
6. The name of the company changed from ‘Anglo Persian Oil Company’ to ‘Anglo Iranian Oil Company’ after the government in Tehran decided on 21 March 1935 to change the name of the country from Persia to Iran.
7. J.C. Hurewitz, Diplomacy in the Near East and Middle East: A Documentary Record (New York: D. van Nostrand and Company, 1956), vol. 1, 251.


8. For a detailed study of early labour recruitment in the oil industry, see Touraj Atabaki, ‘From Amaleh (Labour) to Kargar (Worker): Recruitment, Work Discipline and Making of the Working Class in the
Persian/Iranian Oil Industry’, International Labour and Working-Class History 84 (fall) (2013): 159–75.


9. Archive of Anglo-Persian Oil Company (British Petroleum Archive), ARC 176326; George Thomson, ‘Abadan in its Early Days’, Nat 7, no. 4 (1931), July: 15.


10. I.J. Seccombe and R.I. Lawless, ‘Foreign Worker Dependence in the Gulf, and the International Oil Companies: 1910–50’, International Migration Review 20, no. 3 (1986): 549.


11. J.B. Backhouse, ‘Oil—1904–1928’, in A History of Shaw Wallace & Co. and Shaw Wallace & Co. Ltd., ed. Harry Townsend (Calcutta: Sree Saraswaty Press Ltd., 1965), 46.
12. R.W. Ferrier, The History of the British Petroleum, Vol. 1, the Developing Years 1901–1932 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 12; J.H. Bamberg, The History of the British Petroleum,
Vol. 2, the Anglo-Iranian Years, 1928–1954 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 11.


13. Willem van Schendel, ‘Spatial Moments: Chittagong in Four Scenes’, in Asia Inside Out: Connected
Places, ed. Helen Siu and Eric Tagliacozzo (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014). I am grateful to Willem van Schendel for providing me with valuable information on the categorization
of the Chittagonian workforce.


14. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 68877.


15. Ibid.


16. During the War period, the average salary of Indian workers was between `80 and `100 per month.
In the same period, the salary of Iranian workers was on average about one-third of the salary of Indian workers. Ibid.


17. Ibid.


18. Nicholas A. Lambert, Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), 274–304.


19. Marian (Kent) Jack, ‘The Purchase of the British Government’s Shares in the British Petroleum Company 1912–1914’, Past and Present 39 (April 1968): 139–68.


20. Agreement with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Limited: Navy. Presented to Parliament by Command of His Majesty. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1914, Cd. 7419.


21. Indian Emigrations Act of 1883 in Royal Commission on Labour. Foreign Reports, Vol. II. The Colonies and the Indian Empire. House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, C. 6795-XI, 1892, 234; Stefan Tetzlaff, Entangled Boundaries: British India and the Persian Gulf Region during the Transition
from Empires to Nation States, c. 1880–1935, (Berlin: Magisterarbeit, 2009), 30.


22. National Archive of India, ARC. 332-12. 1915; Tetzlaff, Entangled Boundaries, 68–70.


23. Ibid.


24. For the Anglo-Russian 1907 Convention, see Firouz Kazemzadeh, Russia and Britain in Persia,1864–1914 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968) Chapter 7; for a detailed study of this convention, and the reaction of the Iranians, see Mahmoud Mahmoud, Traikh Ravabet-e Siyasi Iran va Engelis dar Qarn Nouzdahom Miladi, vol. 8 (Tehran: Eqbal, 1954), 2228–66.


25. Ibid.


26. Ibid.


27. Stefan Tetzlaff, op. cit., 72.
28. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 71754; Works Manager, Abadan to Strick, Scott & Co., 12 May 1916.


29. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 176338; Thomson, ‘Abadan during the World War’, Naft 8, no. 5 (1932), September: 9.


30. For an eyewitness account of the famine and epidemic spreading over Iran during the First World war, see Movarrekh al-Dowleh Sepehr, Iran dar Jang-e Bozorg 1914–1918 (Tehran: Adib, 1957).


31. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 68779, Strick, Scott & Co. to Wilson, 7 October 1916.


32. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 176338; Thomson, ‘Abadan during the World War’, 9.


33. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 68799, Strick, Scott & Co. to Civil Commissioner, Basra, 24 October 1917.


34. Radhika Singha, ‘The Great War and a “Proper” Passport for the Colony: Border-crossing in British India, c.1882–1922’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review 50, no. 3 (2013): 311.


35. Michael Edward Dobe, A Long Slow Tutelage in Western Ways of Work: Industrial Education and the Containment of Nationalism in Anglo-Iranian and ARAMCO, 1923–1963, PhD thesis
(Gradate School-New Brunswick, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 2008), 62; Rasmus Christian Elling, ‘On Lines and Fences: Labour, Community and Violence in an Oil City’, in Urban Violence in the Middle East: Changing Cityscapes in the Transition from Empire to Nation State, ed.
Ulrike Freitag (Forthcoming); Henry Longhurst, Adventure in Oil (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1959), 72–3.


36. National Archive of Iran, File no. 240017531, 17 December 1927.


37. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 54506. Letter Book ARC. 9, H.E. Nichols to R.I. Watson, 9 May 1921.


38. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 54499. Letter nos. 209–210, H.E. Nicolas to Shaw Wallace & Co, 3 December 1925.


39. J.C. Hurewitz, Diplomacy in the Near East and Middle East: A Documentary Record (New Haven: D. Van Nostrand Company Inc., 1956), 249.


40. National Library and Archive of Iran, ARC 240014788, Sadiq al-Saltaneh to the Persian Charge d’Affaire in London, 11 December 1910.


41. National Library and Archive of Iran, ARC 297/34982, Ministry of Finance to the Ministry Endowment and Education, 9 August 1927.


42. Dobe, A Long Slow, 52; J.W. Williamson, In a Persian Oil Field: A Study in Scientific and Industrial Development (London: Ernest Benn, 1927), 156. For more on Persianization of labour in APOC, see Tetzlaff, Entangled Boundaries, 75–87.


43. British Petroleum Archive, ARC133277, January 1938. Laurence Lockhart, Unpublished Record of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Relations Between Persian (Iranian) Government 1918–1946.


44. Ibid., 77–8.


45. Ibid., 81.


46. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 72614.


47. British Petroleum Archive, ARC 54374, ARC 54375.



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