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A PLEA FOR THE INDIANS IN SOUTH
By G. P. PILLAI
(Editor of the Madras Standard).
THE Transvaal War is almost come to a close. Very shortly those who are entrusted with the responsibility of administering the affairs of this great country will be called upon to decide what form of Government the two Republics should possess. Amidst the national rejoicings that must inevitably follow the triumphant end of a bloody and disastrous war, I trust the claims and rights of the natives of India will not be forgotten. All the world knows how at the most trying period of the war, when the prestige of Great Britain seemed to be hanging in the balance, India as a whole stood loyally and manfully by her. Hundreds and thousands of men were ready to take the field against the Boers, if only the word came forth, but the word never came. For certain political reasons-whether justifiable or not, I shall not inquire-Indian soldiers were kept away from the field of battle. Nevertheless, Indians have only been found too ready and willing to render all possible aid in other directions. Princes and people came forward with magnificent offers of help. While Princes gave away thousands, and some even lakhs of rupees, in aid of the war fund, the poor ill-paid sepoy to whom the privilege of the battlefield was denied found solace in the voluntary contribution of a month's pay towards the war. And the Indian clerks and traders and coolies in South Africa, quite innocent of the practice of handling a rifle, served, albeit heroically, in the humble capacity of stretcher-bearers. Amongst the din and turmoil of the war, all race animosities, all distinctions of colour, were forgotten, and the swarthy Indian and the hard-visaged colonial worked nobly together to uphold the supremacy of the British Empire in South Africa. Will all this be forgotten when the war is over? I trust not.
In the series of indictments that the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain brought against the Transvaal Government in justification of the war, he accorded a prominent place to the ill-treatment of Indians in that Republic; and Lord Lansdowne, the Secretary for War, declared in emphatic language that, of all the misdeeds of the South African Republic, none filled him with greater indignation than its treatment of the Indians. I fully trust that these responsible statesmen, as well as their honourable colleagues in the Cabinet, will bear in mind the condition of Indians when they meet to discuss and settle the constitution of the British possessions in South Africa. It is a wellknown fact that if, under the Transvaal Government and the Orange Free State, the Indian settlers were unfairly treated, their condition in the British colonies of South Africa was by no means happy. In the Transvaal they were prevented from travelling in first or second class railway - carriages, compelled to obtain passes whenever they travelled, prohibited from leaving their homes after 9 p.m., restrained in their rights of trading, and confined to "locations," or places outside large cities, where, and where alone, they could reside. In the Orange Free State they were forbidden from holding any landed property, or carrying on any mercantile or farming business, and subjected to an annual poll-tax of £10. No civilized Government would be justified in the enactment of such laws against any class of people, and Her Majesty's Indian subjects in South Africa consider the impending loss of their freedom by the Boers a proper and just retribution for the wrongs they have perpetrated on them. But their satisfaction would have indeed been great if the recognition of their rights and privileges in the British colonies had formed a striking contrast to the treatment accorded to them in the two Republics. Unfortunately, the Indians were equally despised in Natal and Cape Colony. Colony. In Natal they were not permitted to travel without a pass, and some of the High Schools were closed against them;
and in 1897 four Acts were passed in quick succession, which restricted their rights and curtailed their privileges as British subjects. The first of these was ostensibly a Quarantine Act, but it was in reality a law to prevent the immigration of Indians. Sir Lepel Griffin speaks of it as a quarantine law of exceptional severity, obviously directed, not against contagious diseases, but against immigration." The second Act restricted the rights of Indians to trade in the colony. It declined licenses in all cases in which the applicant was not able to sign his name in the English language. The third Act is known as the Immigration Restriction Act. It was condemned by Sir Henry Binns as being "not straight" and "unBritish." The fourth Act makes the laws as to passes more stringent. In Cape Colony the Government have passed an Act authorizing the East London Municipality to frame by-laws prohibiting Indians from walking on footpaths, and compelling them to live in specified locations. The laws of Zululand are also prejudicial to Indians. The regulations with reference to townships in this colony provide that only persons of European birth and descent shall be approved as occupiers of sites in these townships. In the township of Melmoth, Indians bought land to the value of about £2,000, but they were prevented from occupying it. The gold-mining laws of this colony make it criminal for an Indian to buy and possess native gold.
At one of the meetings of the Indian National Congress in India, a speaker summarized the condition of Indians in South Africa in these words: "How strange and singular is our position! In India we are permitted to become members of the Imperial Legislative Council. In England even the doors of that august assembly, the House of Commons, are open to us. But in South Africa we are not permitted to travel without a pass, we are not allowed to walk about in the night, we are consigned to locations, we are denied admission to first and second class carriages on railways, we are driven out of tram-cars, we are pushed off footpaths, we are kept out of hotels, we are
refused the benefits of the public baths, we are spat at, we are hissed at, we are cursed, we are hated, and we are subjected to a variety of other indignities which no human being can patiently endure."
The rigour of the laws against Indians in the British colonies was so great that it was responsible for no small extent of suffering amongst them soon after the outbreak of the war. As soon as war was waged, a large body of Indians in the Transvaal fled to-and where else could they flee to?-Natal, where they expected protection as British subjects. But when they reached the borders of Natal, they found their situation was extremely perilous. The Natal Government would not permit them to enter the colony, as they were not domiciled there, and they were offered the alternative of a temporary stay on the purchase of a license at £10 per head. Of course, there was no going back. There was Scylla on the one side, and Charybdis on the other. One of the organs of the Transvaal Government taunted the British Government with the remark that, while the latter did not hesitate to wage war with the Transvaal on behalf of the Outlanders, they refrained from interfering with their own colony on behalf of the Indian subjects of the Queen. At last the Natal Government relented, and the Indians were afforded a safe refuge in Natal, though only temporarily. Some Indians who were late in leaving the Transvaal found still other difficulties in getting to Natal. The railways were blocked, and they had to find their way through Delagoa Bay by steamer. But the steamer authorities would not have them, as, according to the regulations in force in Natal, steamers were prohibited from carrying Indians. Finally, the Natal Government ordered a temporary suspension of all regulations, and the Indians were safe.
Eight months have elapsed since then. The behaviour of the Indian stretcher-bearers has evoked the admiration of Britishers as well as colonials. It was but the other day that Sir George White spoke in the highest terms of their coolness and courage. The people of Natal have
been saved by troops at least 10,000 of whom have been maintained and kept in readiness by the Indian taxpayer. The very newspapers in Natal, which used to write harshly about Indians, have assumed a different attitude. Let us hope that nothing will disturb their present amicable relations after the war, that the laws temporarily suspended as against the Indians will be suspended for ever, that the colonials will treat the Indians with greater consideration, and that Her Majesty's Government will requite the services of the Indian people by a due recognition of their rights in South Africa. Such recognition of their rights is more imperative in the British colonies than in the States. that may be newly acquired, for the largest population of Indians-51,000-is found in Natal, and next to it is Cape Colony, where 10,000 Indians have settled down, whereas in the Transvaal there were only 5,000 Indians before the war, and a smaller number in the Orange Free State.
It is not to the honour or credit of the British Government to be told that the only place in South Africa where Indians have no grievances apart from the general population is the Portuguese possession of Delagoa Bay. The Colonial Secretary, when he was approached by an Indian deputation on the South African question a few years ago, said: "We all desire that all British subjects should be treated alike, and should have equal rights and privileges." Her Majesty's First Minister, Lord Salisbury, at the Guildhall Banquet last year, said that what he desired was "equality for all races" in the Transvaal. Above all, in her memorable Indian proclamation of 1858, Her Majesty the Queen had said: "We hold ourselves bound to the natives of our Indian territories by the same obligations of duty which bind us to all our other subjects, and those obligations, by the blessing of Almighty God, we shall faithfully and conscientiously fulfil." It is the bounden duty of Her Majesty's Ministers to see that these noble and generous words of Her Majesty with reference to her beloved Indian subjects are not rendered meaningless in South Africa.