Organized Panel Session
Upon arrival in Natal, Indian indentured laborers were assigned an immigrant number. These same numbers were inherited by their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Across generations, Indians in South Africa were identified on birth, marriage, and death certificates according to the arrival numbers of their forebears. Long after the end of indenture, the South African apartheid state continued to deploy these numbers as part of a segregated system of racial governance. Indians in South African were thus subjected to one of the earliest systems of numerical population identification, management, and discrimination—just one example of how migrant populations were crucial to the development of new, more invasive systems of state control.
Today, however, these same numbers have acquired new afterlives as clues for family history detectives. For those looking to trace their roots, these strings of numbers offer a bureaucratic map which enables them to unearth family genealogies. For many, they also provide crucial documentation for applying for Indian Overseas Citizenship, linking post-colonial to colonial logics of identification and belonging. Bringing together the past and present of immigrant numbers, this paper explores the entangled histories of bureaucracy and genealogy. It seeks to understand how the modern family has been constructed at the intersection of new state technologies and shifting affective relations.