This dissertation examines the transnational social, political, and economic formations of the Punjabi labor diaspora in Britain in the twentieth century. Scholarship on the South Asian, Punjabi, and Sikh diasporas has often focused on the ability of migrants to reproduce sociocultural routines and rituals at the expense of political identities. Less commonly explored are the ways in which ideologies are also mobile and can be reproduced in diaspora. This dissertation, therefore, is a departure from extant scholarship on Indians in Britain because it acknowledges that migrants do not eschew politics for culture or religion but, rather, that ethnicity can help to organize and buttress radical working-class subjectivities. Through surveillance reports, private correspondence, published tracts, police records, and newspaper articles, this dissertation charts the history of Punjabi migration from the end of World War I to 1979 and demonstrates that intergroup solidarity among black, brown, and white workers was foundational to cosmopolitanism from below. To understand the emergence of Punjabi radicalism in the postwar era, as many scholars have sought to do, this dissertation contends that a continuity between the interwar and postwar periods must be appreciated because many of the political, social, and economic formations that have been identified within the Punjabi diaspora in the 1960s and 1970s, including patterns of settlement and circuits of global capitalism, were first established in the 1920s and 1930s.
By expanding the conventional temporal scope of Indian migration to Britain, this project dislodges the prevailing tropes of minoritization and ethnic enclavism that have preoccupied scholars of race and ethnicity in late-twentieth century Britain. Instead, it joins the study of working-class Indian migrants in Britain with debates regarding global capitalism, intellectual entanglements, and migrant cosmopolitanism, which emerged in the interwar period.