The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi/Volume I/1895 - The Indian Franchise Appeal

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December 16, 1895

The question of Indian franchise has convulsed the whole Colony, indeed the whole of South Africa, so far as the newspapers are concerned. This appeal, therefore needs no apology. It is an attempt to place before every Briton in South Africa, as shortly as possible, an Indian view of the Indian Franchise.

Some of the arguments in favour of the disfranchisement of the Indians are:

(1) The Indians do not enjoy the franchise in India.
(2) The Indian in South Africa represents the lowest-class Indian; in fact, he is the scum of India.
(3) The Indian does not understand what the franchise is.
(4) The Indian should not get the franchise because the Native, who is as much a British subject as the Indian, has none.
(5) The Indian should be disfranchised in the interests of the Native population.
(6) This Colony shall be and remain a white man’s country, and not a black man’s and the Indian franchise will simply swamp the European vote, and give the Indian political supremacy.

I shall take the objections seriatim.

It has been said over and over again that the Indian cannot and must not claim higher privileges than he enjoys in India, and that he has no franchise whatever in India.

Now, the Indian in the first place does not claim any higher privileges than he enjoys in India. It should be borne in mind that the Government in India is not of the same type as here. Therefore, it is obvious there cannot be any analogy between the two. It might be said in answer to this that the Indians should wait till they get the same kind of government in India. This answer, however, will not do. On the same principle, it can be argued that no man coming to Natal could get the franchise unless he enjoyed the franchise in the country he came from in the same way and under the same circumstances, i.e., unless the Franchise Law of that country was the same as that of Natal. If such a doctrine were to be of universal application, it is easy to see that no one coming from England ever could get the franchise in Natal, for the Franchise Law there is not the same as in Natal; much less could a man coming from Germany or Russia, where a more autocratic Government prevails. The only and real test, therefore, is not whether the Indians have the franchise in India, but whether they understand the principle of representative government.

But they have the franchise in India, extremely limited it is true; nevertheless it is there. The Legislative Councils recognize the ability of the Indian to understand and appreciate representative government. They are a standing testimony to the Indian’s fitness for representative institutions. Members of Indian Legislative Councils are partly elected and partly nominated. The position of the Legislative Councils in India is not very unlike that of the Legislative Council of Natal. And the Indians are not debarred from entering those Councils. They compete on the same terms with the Europeans.

At the last election of Members for the Legislative Council of Bombay, the candidates for one of the constituencies were a European and an Indian.

There are Indian Members in all the Legislative Councils of India. Indians vote at these elections as well as the Europeans. The franchise is certainly limited. It is also circuitous, as for example: the Corporation of Bombay elects one Member to the Legislative Council, and the Corporation consists of Members elected by the ratepayers, mostly Indian.

There are thousands of Indian voters for municipal elections in Bombay from which class, or a class similar to which, are drawn most of the Indian traders in the Colony.

Furthermore, posts of the utmost importance are thrown open to the Indians. Does that show as if they were considered unfit to understand representative government? An Indian has been a Chief Justice—an office that carries with it a salary of 60,000 rupees or £6,000 per year. Only recently an Indian, belonging to the class which most of the traders belong to here, has been appointed Puisne Judge in the High Court of Judicature at Bombay.

A Tamil gentleman, to whose caste belong some of the indentured Indians, is a Puisne Judge of the High Court at Madras. An Indian has been entrusted with the very responsible duties of a Civil Commissioner in Bengal.

Indians have occupied the Vice-Chancellor’s chair at Calcutta and Bombay.

Indians compete for the Civil Service on the same terms as the Europeans.

The present President of the Bombay Corporation is an Indian elected by the Members of the Corporation.

The latest testimony to the Indian’s fitness for an equality with the civilized races comes from the London Times of 23rd August, 1895.

The writer of “Indian Affairs” in The Times who, it is well known, is no other than Sir William Wilson Hunter, perhaps the most eminent Indian historian, says :

Of the acts of daring and of the even more splendid examples of endurance by which those honours were won, it is difficult to read without a thrill of admiration. One Sepoy who received the Order of Merit has had no fewer than thirty-one wounds, “probably,” says the Indian Daily News, “a record number”. Another, shot in the defile where Ross’s party was cut up, quietly felt out the bullet in his body and with both hands forced it, fearless of the agony, to the surface. When at last he could get it between his fingers he pulled it out, and then, streaming with blood, he shouldered his rifle again and did a march of twenty-one miles.
But if the gallantry of the native soldiers who obtained recognition stirs within us a pride in having such fellow-subjects, the paltry rewards doled forth in cases of equal pluck and steadfastness awaken very different feelings. Two water carriers of the 4th Bengal Infantry were singled out in the dispatches ‘for the gallantry and devotion exhibited by them during the action at Koragh’. Indeed, nothing could exceed their magnificent self-devotion to their comrades in that deadly pass. Another man of the same regiment was mentioned for ‘the conspicuous gallantry and devotion exhibited’ while with the party which brought the late Captain Baird into Chitral fort . . . . The truth is that the Indians are earning the right to be regarded as worthy fellow subjects in more ways than one. The battlefield has always formed the short cut to an honourable equality among races. But the Indians are also proving their title to our respect by the slower and more difficult methods of civil life. There never was a greater experiment made in the constitutional government of dependencies than the expansion of the Indian Legislative Councils on a partially elective basis three years ago (the italics are mine). Nor in any part of India did the issue of that experiment seem more doubtful than in Bengal. he Lieutenant-Governorship of Bengal contains a population numerically equal to that of the Madras and Bombay Presidencies put together, and from an administrative point of view much more difficult to manage.
Sir Charles Elliott bears generous testimony not only to the absence of factious opposition but to the valuable practical aid which he has obtained in maturing this necessarily complex measure (The Bengal Sanitary Drainage Act) from his Legislature as expanded by Lord Salisbury’s Statute. Many of the discussions have been most helpful, and so far as Bengal is concerned—the province in which the elective system seemed fraught with the greatest difficulty—the experiment, after a severe trial, has proved a success (the italics are again mine).
The second objection is that the Indian in South Africa represents the lowest-class Indian. The statement is hardly correct. It will not, of course, be true as regards the trading community, nor will it be so as to all the indentured Indians, some of whom belong to the highest castes in Indian. They are certainly all very poor. Some of them were vagabonds in India. Many also belong to the lowest class. But I may be permitted to say without giving any offence that, if the Indian community in Natal is not, nor is the European community here, drawn from the highest class. But I venture to submit that undue importance is given to this fact. If the Indian is not a model Indian, it is the duty of the Government to help him to become one. And if the reader wishes to know what a model Indian is, I beg to refer him to

my “Open Letter” where many authorities are collected to show that he is as much civilized as a “model” European. And just as it is competent for a lowest-class European to rise to the highest level in Europe, so is it for the lowest-class Indian in India. By persistent indifference, or retrogressive legislation, the Indian would be degraded lower still in the Colony, and thus may constitute a real danger which he was not before. Shunned, despised, cursed, he will only do and be what others in similar positions have done and been. Loved and well treated, he is capable of rising higher like any member of every other nationality. He cannot be said to be well treated so long as he is not even given those privileges which he enjoys or would enjoy in India under similar circumstances.

To say that the Indian does not understand the franchise is to ignore the whole history of India. Representation, in the truest sense of the term, the Indian has understood and appreciated from the earliest ages. That principle —the Panchayat—guides all the actions of an Indian. He considers himself a member of the Panchayat, which really is the whole body civic to which he belongs for the time being. That power to do so—that power to understand thoroughly the principle of popular government—has rendered him the most harmless and most docile man on earth. Centuries of foreign rule and oppression have failed to make him a dangerous member of society. Wherever he goes, and under whatever conditions he is placed, he bows to the decision of the majority represented by those in authority over him. For, he knows no one can be in authority over him, unless he is tolerated there by a majority of the body to which he belongs. This principle is so ingrained in the Indian heart that even the most despotic princes of the Indian States feel that they are to rule for the people. It is true that they do not all act up to that principle. The causes need not be discussed here. And the most astounding fact is that, even when nominally there is a monarchical government, the Panchayat is the supreme body. The actions of its members are regulated in accordance with the wish of the majority. For authorities to support my contention I must beg leave to refer the reader to the Franchise petition to the Honourable the Legislative Assembly.
“The Indian should not get the franchise because the Native, who is as much a British subject as the Indian, has none.” I have stated this objection as I find it in the papers. It is at variance with the fact that the Indian already enjoys the franchise in Natal. An attempt is now being made to disfranchise him. Without entering into comparisons, I would beg to state what are hard facts. The Native franchise is governed by a special law which has been in force for some years. That law does not apply to the Indian. It has not been contended that it should apply to the Indian. The franchise (whatever it may be) of the Indian in India is not governed by a special law. It applies to all alike. The Indian has his Charter of Liberty, the Proclamation of 1858.
The latest argument advanced in favour of disfranchisement is that the Indian franchise would do harm to the Native population of the Colony. In what way this will happen is not stated at all. But, I presume, the objectors to the Indian franchise rely upon the stock objection to the Indian on the alleged ground that he supplies liquor to the Natives and this spoils them. Now I venture to submit that the Indian franchise cannot make any difference one way or the other. If the Indians supply liquor they would not do so to any greater extent because of their vote. The Indian vote can never become sufficiently strong to affect the Native policy of the Colony, which is not only jealously watched but to a very great extent controlled by the Downing Street authorities. In fact, even the European Colonists are powerless against Downing Street in this matter. But let us, for a moment, look at facts. The analytical table referred to below, showing the position of the Indian voters already on the List, shows that by far the largest number of them are traders who, it is well known, are not only teetotallers themselves, but would like to see liquor banished altogether from the land, and if the Voters’ List continues to remain so, the effect of that vote, if any, on the Native policy will be for the better. But the following extracts from the Indian Immigration Commission, 1885-87, show that the Indians are not worse than the Europeans in this respect. In quoting them I disclaim any intention to make comparisons, which I have tried to avoid as much as possible. Nor do I wish thereby to excuse my countrymen. No one can regret more than myself to see any Indian found drunk or supplying liquor to Natives. I beg to assure the reader that my only wish is to show that the objection to the Indian vote on that particular ground is merely superficial and does not bear scrutiny.

The Commissioners, who were specially commissioned, among other things, to report upon the charge against the Indians of drunkenness and crimes resulting therefrom, at pp. 42 & 43, report thus:

We have examined many witnesses on this subject. Their evidence and such criminal statistics as are forthcoming fail to convince us that drunkenness and crime statistics therefrom are prevalent amongst Indian immigrants in a greater ratio than amongst other sections of the community, against whom no such restrictive legislation is proposed.
We do not doubt that there is much truth in the averment that natives readily obtain ardent liquors through the agency of Indians.... We, however, doubt that they are more guilty in this matter than the white people who traffic in liquor.
It has been shrewdly observed that the people who make the loudest complaints against the Indian immigrants for selling or disposing of liquor to the Natives are the very persons who themselves sell the liquor to theNative. Their trade is interfered with and their profits are lessened by the competition of Indian traffickers.

What follows the above is instructive reading as showing that, in the opinion of the Commissioners, the Indians in India are free from the habit of drinking and that they learn it here. The question how and why they take to liquor in Natal I leave to the reader to answer.

The Commissioners at page 83 say as follows:

Although we are convinced that Indians, and especially free Indians in Natal, surrender themselves to the drinking of intoxicating liquor to a greater extent than in their own country, yet we are constrained to record that there is no satisfactory proof before us that the percentage of drunk and disorderly persons is greater amongst them than amongst other races dwelling within the Colony.

Superintendent Alexander says in his evidence before the Commission (p. 146):

The Indians are to be considered a necessary evil at present; we cannot do without them as labourers; we cannot do without them as storekeepers; they are as good as the Natives; they have very much improved, but the Natives have gone down very much; nearly all the thefts are now committed by Natives; as far as my experience goes, the Natives obtain drink from Indians and from everyone else who will supply them; I find some white people as bad as Indians in this way; these are men out of employ, vagrants, who, to gain a sixpence, will supply a Native with a bottle of liquor.
In the present condition of Natal I do not think it is possible to substitute a white for an Indian population. I do not think we can. I can deal with 3,000 Indians with the staff that I have, but if there were 3,000 corresponding white British workmen, I could not. . . .

At page 149 he says :

I find that people generally suspect Coolies of doing everything wrong stealing fowls, etc., but I find such is not the case. Out of the last nine cases of fowl-stealing, all of which were laid to my corporation night-soil Coolies, I find that two Natives and three white men have been convicted of stealing these fowls.

I would further draw the attention of the readers to the recently issued Native Blue-book, and there they will find that almost all the Magistrates are of the opinion that European influences have brought about a change for the worse in the moral character of the Natives.

In the face of these incontrovertible facts, is it not rather unfair to impute the blame to the Indians entirely for the Native deterioration? In 1893, while there were 28 convictions against Europeans in the Borough for supplying liquor, there were only 3 against Indians.


“This country shall be and remain a white man’s country and not a black man’s, and the Indian franchise will simply swamp the European vote and give the Indian political supremacy in Natal.”

With the first part of the statement I do not propose to deal. I confess that I do not even understand it fully. I would, however, try to remove the misconception that underlies the latter part of the statement. I venture to say that the Indian vote can never swamp the European vote, and that the idea of the Indian trying to claim political supremacy is contrary to all past experience. I have had the honour to talk to many Europeans with reference to this question, and almost all have argued upon the assumption that there is “one man one vote” in the Colony. That there is a property qualification was an information to them. I must therefore, be pardoned for reproducing here the Section of the Franchise Law dealing with the qualification.

Every man, except as hereafter excepted, above the age of twentyone years, who possesses an immovable property to the value of £50 or who rents any such property of the yearly value of £10 within any electoral district and who is duly registered in the manner hereinafter mentioned, shall be entitled to vote at the election of a member for such district. When any such property as aforesaid is occupied by more persons than one as proprietors or renters, each of such occupants, being duly registered, shall be entitled to vote in respect of such property, provided the value or, as the case may be, the rent thereof be such as would entitle each of such joint occupants to vote if equally divided among them.

From this it is clear that it is not every Indian who can get the franchise. And how many Indians are there in the Colony, compared with the Europeans, who have immovable property of the value of £50 or who rent such property of the yearly value of £10? This law has been in force for a long time, and the following table will give some idea of the relative strength of the European and the Indian franchise. I have compiled the table from the latest lists published in the Gazette:


1 Pietermaritzburg . . . . 1,521 82
2 Umgeni . . . . . . 306 Nil
3 Lion’s River . . . . . . 511 Nil
4 Ixopo . . . . . . 573 3
5 Durban. . . . . . 2,100 143
6 County of Durban . . . . 779 20
7 Victoria . . . . . . 566 1
8 Umvoti. . . . . . 438 1
9 Weenen . . . . . . 528 Nil
10 Klip River . . . . 591 1
11 Newcastle . . . . . . 917 Nil
12 Alexandra . . . . 201 ‘‘
13 Alfred . . . . . . 278 ‘‘
9,309 251
Grand Total 9,560

Thus, out of 9,560 registered voters only 251 are Indians. And only two divisions have Indian voters worth mentioning. The proportion of Indians voters to the European, roughly speaking, is 1:38, i.e., the European vote at present is 38 times as strong as the Indian vote. According to the Report of the Protector of Indian Immigrants for 1895, out of the total Indian population of 46,343 only 30,303 are free Indians. Adding to this the trading Indian population of, say, 5,000, we have, roughly, 35,000 freed and free Indians. At present, therefore, the Indian population that may compete with the European population as to voting is not so large as the European. But I believe I am not wide of the mark in saying that more than half of the 35,000 are only a stage higher than the indentured Indians in point of pecuniary circumstances. I have been travelling in the districts surrounding and within 50 miles of Durban, and I may safely venture to assert that most of the Indians who are free are living from hand to mouth and certainly have not immovable property worth £50. Free Indian adults in the Colony number only 12,360. Thus, I submit that the fears as to the Indian vote swamping the European in the near future are entirely groundless.

The following analysis of the Indian Voters’ List further shows that most of the Indian voters are those Indians who have settled in the Colony for a very long time; that out of 205 whom I have been able to get identified, only 35 have been at one time indentured Indians, and that they have all been in the Colony for over 15 years.


4 years’ residence . . . . . . 13
5 to 9 “ . . . . . . . . 50
10 to 13 “ . . . . . . . . 35
14 to 15 “ . . . . . . . . 59

Free Indians who have once been under indenture, but who have been in the Colony for over 15, and in many cases

over 20 years . . . . . . . . 35
Colonial-born . . . . . . . . . . 9
Interpreters . . . . . . . . . 4
Not classifie . . . . . . . . 46

Of course, this table cannot by any means be said to be absolutely correct. I think, however, it is accurate enough for the present purpose. Thus, so far as these figures go, the Indians who come under indenture take 15 years or more to be able to have sufficient property qualifications to get on the Voters’ Roll. And if the freed Indian population were excepted, no one can say that the trading population alone can ever swamp the Voters’ Roll. Moreover, most of these 35 freed Indians have risen to the status of traders. Of those who have originally come on their own means, a large majority have taken a long time to be able to get on the Voters’ Roll. Of the 46 whom I have not been able to get identified, a great many, by their names, appear to belong to the trading class. There are many Colonial-born Indians in the Colony. They are also educated, and yet on the Voters’ Roll there are only 9. This would show that they are too poor to have the sufficient qualifications. On the whole, therefore, it would seem that taking the present List as a basis, the fears as to the Indian vote assuming threatening proportions are imaginary. Of the 205, over 40 are either dead or have left the Colony.

The following table is an analysis of the Indian Voters’ List according to their occupation :

Storekeepers . . . . . . . . 92
Merchants . . . . . . . . 32
Goldsmiths . . . . . . . . 4
Jewellers . . . . . . . . 3
Confectioner . . . . . . . . 1
Fruiterers. . . . . . . . 4
Tradesmen . . . . . . . . 11
Tinsmith . . . . . . . . 1
Tobacco Merchants . . . . . . 2
Eating-house Keeper . . . . . . 1
Clerks . . . . . . . . 21
Accountants . . . . . . 6
Book-keeper . . . . . . . . 1
Salesmen. . . . . . . . 6
Schoolmaster . . . . . . . . 1
Photographer . . . . . . . . 1
Interpreters . . . . . . . . 4
Storemen. . . . . . . . 5
Barbers . . . . . . . . 2
Barman . . . . . . . . 1
Managers . . . . . . . . 2
Vegetable Dealer . . . . . . 1
Farmers . . . . . . . . 4
Domestic Servants . . . . . . 5
Fisherman . . . . . . . . 1
Gardeners . . . . . . . . 26
Lamp-lighters . . . . . . . . 3
Cart Drivers . . . . . . . . 2
Constables . . . . . . . . 2
Labourers . . . . . . . . 2
Waiter . . . . . . . . 1
Cooks . . . . . . . . 3

This analysis also ought, I think, to assist unbiased men in removing their fears as to the Voters’ List being swamped by undeserving or lowest-class Indians. For, by far the greatest number belongs to the trading or the so-called “Arab” class who, at any rate, are acknowledged to be not quite unfit to vote.

Those classified under the second heading either belong to the trader class or to that class of Indians who have received a tolerably good English education.

Those belonging to the third division may be termed labourers of a higher order—far above the average indentured Indian. They are those who have settled in the Colony for over 20 years with their families and either own property or pay good rents. I may say also that, if my information be correct, most of these voters can read and write their own mother tongue. Thus, if the present Indian Voters’ List is to serve as a guide for the future and assuming that the franchise qualification remains as it is, the List is very satisfactory from a European standpoint. First, because numerically the voting strength of the Indians is very poor, and secondly, because most (more than 3/4) of the Indian voters belong to the trading class. It should also be borne in mind that the number of the trading Indians in the Colony will remain almost the same for a long time. For, while many come every month, an equal number leaves for India. As a rule, the incoming ones take the place of the outgoing ones.

So far I have not imported the natural proclivities of the two communities into the argument at all but have merely dealt with the figures. Yet, the natural proclivities will have not a little to do with the political activity of the two. There cannot be two opinions about the fact that the Indians, as a rule, do not actively meddle in politics. They have never tried to usurp political power anywhere. Their religion (no matter whether it be Mohammedan or Hindu, the teaching of ages cannot be obliterated by a mere change of name) teaches them indifference to material pursuits. Naturally they are satisfied so long as they can earn a respectable living. I take the liberty to say that, had not an attempt been made to tread upon their commercial pursuits, had not attempts been made and repeated to degrade them to the condition of pariahs of society, had not, in fact, an attempt been made to keep them for ever “hewers of wood and drawers of water”, i.e., in a state of indenture or in one very much resembling it, there would have been no franchise agitation. I would go further. I have no hesitation in saying that even now there is no political agitation in the real sense of the term. But an attempt is, most unfortunately, being made by the Press to father, as it were, such an agitation upon the Indians. Leave them to follow their legitimate pursuits, do not attempt to degrade them, treat them with ordinary kindness and there would be no franchise question, simply because they would not even take the trouble to have their names on the Voters’ Roll.

But it has been said, and that too by responsible persons, that a few Indians want political power and that these few are Mahomedan agitators and that the Hindus should learn from past experience that the Mahomedan rule will be ruinous for them. The first statement is without foundation and the last statement is most unfortunate and painful. To gain political power is entirely impossible, if gaining political power means entrance into the Legislative Assembly. Such a statement presupposes the presence in the Colony of very wealthy Indians having a competent knowledge of the English language. Now, there are very few wealthy, as distinguished from well-to-do, Indians in the Colony and there is perhaps none capable of discharging the duties of a legislator, not because there is none capable of understanding politics, but because there is none possessing such a knowledge of the English language as would be expected of a legislator.

The second statement is an attempt to set the Hindus against the Mahomedans in the Colony. How any responsible man in the Colony can wish for such a calamity is very wonderful. Such attempts have been attended by the most grievous results in India and have even threatened the permanence of British rule. To make them in this Colony where the two sects are living most amicably is, I venture to say, most mischievous.

It is a healthy sign that it is now recognized that to debar all Indians from the franchise would be a grievous injustice. Some think that the so-called Arabs should be allowed the franchise, some think there should be a selection made among them, and some think that the indentured Indians should never be able to get the franchise. The latest suggestion comes from Stanger and is most humorous. If that suggestion were to be followed, those alone who could prove that they were voters in India would be entitled to it in Natal. Why such a rule for the poor Indians alone? I do not think they would object to such an arrangement if it were applicable to all. And I should not be surprised if the Europeans also were to find it difficult to get their names on the Voters’ List in the Colony under such conditions. For how many Europeans are there in the Colony who were on the Voters’ List in the States they have come from? If, however, the statement were made with regard to the Europeans, it would be received with the strongest indignation. It has been received seriously with regard to the Indians.

It has also been stated that the Indians agitate for “one Indian one vote”. I submit that the statement is without the slightest foundation, and is calculated to create unnecessary prejudice against the Indian community. I believe that the present property qualification is sufficient, at any rate for the present if not for all time, to maintain the superior numerical strength of the European vote. If, however, the European Colonists think otherwise, no Indian, I think, will take exception to a reasonable and real educational qualification and a larger property qualification than at present. What the Indians do and would protest against is colour distinction—disqualification based on account of racial difference. The Indian subjects of Her Majesty have been most solemnly assured over and over again that no qualifications or restrictions will be placed upon them because of their nationality or religion. And this assurance was given and has been repeated upon no sentimental grounds but on proof of merit. The first note was struck after it was ascertained beyond doubt that the Indians could be safely treated on a footing of equality, that they were most loyal to the throne and law-abiding, and that the British hold of India could be permanently maintained only upon those terms and no other. That there have been serious departures from the above assurance could, I submit, be no answer to the solid fact of its existence. I think those departures would be exceptions to prove the rule, they would not override it. For, if I had time and space at my disposal, and if I were not afraid of tiring the readers’ patience, I could quote innumerable instances in which the Proclamation of 1858 has been strictly acted upon, and is even at the present moment being acted upon in India and elsewhere. And, surely, this is not the occasion for a departure from it. I submit, therefore, that the Indians are perfectly justified in protesting against racial disqualifications and expecting that their protest will be respected. Having said so much, I venture to say on behalf of my fellow-brothers that they would not thus of objecting to any measure, with regard to the franchise, which may be devised in order to keep the Voters’ Roll clear of objection able men, or to provide against preponderance of the Indian vote in future. I am confident that the Indians have no wish to see ignorant Indians who cannot possibly be expected to understand the value of a vote being placed on the Voters’ List. They submit that all are not such, and that such are to be found, more or less, in all communities. The object of every right-minded Indian is to fall in with the wishes of the European Colonists as far as possible. They would rather forgo a crumb from the loaf than have the whole in opposition to the European Colonists and from England. The object of this appeal is to beseech the legislators and the European Colonists to devise or countenance only such a measure, if one is necessary, that would be acceptable also to those affected by it. To make the position clearer, I would take the liberty to show by extracts from a Blue-book what the most eminent Colonists have thought about the question.

Mr. Saunders, a member of the late Honourable Legislative Council, could go only thus far:

The mere definition that these signatures must be in full and in the elector’s own handwriting and written in European characters would go a long way to check the extreme risk of the Asiatic mind swamping the English (Affairs of Natal, C. 3796-1883).

At page 7 of the same book Captain Graves, the late Protector of Immigrants, says:

I am of opinion that only those Indians who have abandoned all claim for themselves and their families to a free return passage to India are justly entitled to the franchise.

It should be noticed that Captain Graves spoke of the Indians recognized by his department, i.e., the indentured Indians.

The then Attorney-General and present Chief Justice says:

It will be noticed that the measure drafted by me contains clauses which have been adopted from the recommendations of the Select Committee providing for the carrying out of the alternative plan mentioned in Mr. Saunders’s letter, while the proposal for the special disqualification of aliens has not been considered advisable of adoption.

At page 14 of the same book he says again:

As regards the proposal to exclude from the exercise of the franchise all persons of every nationality or race which is not in every respect under the common law of the Colony, this is a provision evidently aimed at the electoral rights at present enjoyed by the Indian and Creole population of this Colony. As I have already stated in my report, Serial No. 12, I cannot recognize the justice or expediency of such a measure.

The Blue-book in question contains much interesting reading on the franchise question and shows clearly that the idea of special disqualification was repugnant to the Colonists at the time.

The reports of the various meetings held in connection with the franchise show that the speakers have invariably argued that the Indians shall not be allowed to occupy this country which has been won by European blood and which has been made what it is by European hands, and show that the Indians are treated as intruders in the Colony. As to the first statement, I can only say that, if the Indians are to be denied any privileges because they have not shed their blood for this land, the Europeans belonging to other States in Europe should not receive the same privileges. It could also be argued that the immigrants from England also have no business to trespass upon the special preserve of the first white settlers. And surely, if the shedding of blood is any criterion of merit, and if British Colonists consider the other British dominions as portions of the British Empire, the Indians have shed their blood for Britain on many an occasion. The Chitral campaign is the most recent instance.

As to the Colony having been made by European hands and the Indian being an intruder, I beg to submit that all the facts show quite the opposite.

Without any comments of my own I shall now venture to quote extracts from the Report of the Indian Immigrants Commission referred to above, for a loan of which I am indebted to the Protector of Immigrants.

Says Mr. Saunders, one of the Commissioners, at page 98:

Indian immigration brought prosperity, prices rose, people were no longer content to grow or sell produce for a song, they could do better; war, high prices for wool, sugar, etc., kept up prosperity and prices of local produce in which the Indians dealt.

On page 99 he says:

I return to the consideration of the question as one of broad public interest. One thing is certain—white men will not settle in Natal or any other part of South Africa to become mere hewers of wood and drawers of water; rather than that they will leave us either for the vast interior or by sea. While this is a fact, our records prove, as do those of other Colonies, that the introduction of coloured labour which develops and draws out the hidden capabilities of the soil and its unoccupied acres opens out at the same time numerous unforeseen fields for the profitable employment of white settlers.
Nothing more clearly proves this than our own experience. If we look to 1859, we shall find that the assured promise of Indian labour resulted in an immediate rise of revenue which increased fourfold within a few years. Mechanics who could not get work and were earning 5/- a day, and less, found their wages more than doubled, and progress gave encouragement to everyone from the Burg to the Sea. But a few years later, alarm (a well-founded alarm) arose, that it[3] would be suspended (the records are there to correct me if I am wrong) simultaneously, down went the revenue and wages, immigration was checked, confidence vanished and retrenchment and reductions of salaries was the main thing thought of; and yet another change some years later in 1873 (long after the discovery of diamonds in 1868), a fresh promise of renewed Indian immigration created its effect, and up again went the revenue, wages and salaries, and retrenchment was soon spoken of as a thing of the past (would that this was so now).
Records like these ought to tell their own tale and silence childish race sentimentalities and mean jealousies.
In further and collateral corroboration of the effect of introduction of coloured labour on the welfare of white settlers let me refer to a speech made by the Duke of Manchester who has so identified himself with colonial interests. He had just returned from Queensland and told his hearers that the result of an agitation there, hostile to the introduction of coloured labour, had proved most disastrous to those very white settlers who had hoped by checking the supply of imported coloured labourers to destroy competition which they wrongly imagined deprived the white settlers of work.

At page 100 the same gentleman continues:

So far as concerns free Indian traders, their competition and the consequent lowering of the prices of articles of consumption by which the public benefits (and yet strange to say, of which it complains) it is clearly shown that these Indian shops have been and are most exclusively supported by the larger firms of white merchants who thus practically employ these men to dispose of their goods.
Stop Indian immigration if you will; if there are not enough unoccupied houses now, empty more by clearing out Arabs or Indians, who add to the productive and consuming power of a less than half-peopled country, but let us trace results in this one branch of the enquiry taking it as an example of others, trace out how untenanted houses depreciate the value of property and securities, how after this must result stagnation in the building trade, and those other trades and stores for supplies dependent on it. Follow out how this leads to a reduced demand for white mechanics, and with the reduction in spending power of so many, how fall of revenue is to be expected next, need of retrenchment or taxation, or both. Let this result and others, far too numerous to be calculated on in detail, be faced, and if blind race sentimentalism or jealousy is to prevail, so be it.

Mr. Henry Binns gave his evidence to the following effect before the Commission (page 156):

In my opinion the free Indian population is a most useful section of the community. A large portion of them, considerably larger than is generally supposed, are in service in the Colony, particularly employed as house servants in the towns and villages. They are also considerable producers, and from information which I have taken some trouble to gather, I conclude that the free Indians have grown about 100,000 mounds of maize per annum for the last two or three years, besides considerable quantities of tobacco and other articles. Before there was a free Indian population, the towns of Pietermaritzburg and Durban had no supply of fruit, vegetables and fish; at present all these things are fully supplied.
We have never had any immigrants from Europe who have shown any inclination to become market gardeners and fishermen, and I am of opinion that but for the free Indian population the markets of Maritzburg and Durban would be as badly supplied now as they were years ago.
. . . Were Coolie immigration to be permanently stopped, the rate of wages payable to European mechanics would probably not be affected one way or the other, but in a very short time after such stoppage there would cease to be as much employment for them as there is now. Tropical cultivation never has been, and never will be, carried on without Indian labourers.

The then Attorney-General and present Chief Justice thus gave his evidence before the Commission (page 327):

. . . In my opinion numbers of the Indians who have been introduced have in a great measure provided on the Coast for the failure of white immigrants, and have cultivated lands which would otherwise remain uncultivated, with crops which are of real advantage to the inhabitants of the Colony. Many who have not availed themselves of the return passage to India have turned out to be trusty and useful domestic servants.

That both the freed and free Indians have been very useful to the Colony generally can be proved by still more overwhelming proofs. The Commissioners in their report at page 82 say:

19. They show commendable industry in fishing and fish-curing. The Indian fishing settlement on Salisbury Island, in Durban Bay, has been of manifest advantage not only to the Indian but also to the white inhabitants of the Colony.
20. . . . In numerous localities in the upland as well as in the Coast districts, they have converted waste and unproductive land into well-kept gardens, planted with vegetables, tobacco, maize and fruit trees. Those settled in the vicinity of Durban and Pietermaritzburg have succeeded in winning for themselves almost entirely the supplying of the local markets with vegetables. It must be this competition by free Indians which has worked to the prejudice of those white Colonists who once had the monopoly of the trade
. . . In fairness to the free Indians we must observe that the competition is legitimate in its nature and that it certainly has been welcomed by the general community. From an early hour in the morning, Indian hawkers, male and female, adults and children, go busily with heavy baskets on their heads from house to house, and thus citizens can now daily, at their own doors, and at low rates, purchase wholesome vegetables and fruit, which, not many years ago, they could not with certainty procure even in the public markets, and at exorbitant prices.

As to the traders the Commissioners’ report at page 74 says:

We are convinced that much of the irritation existing in the minds of European Colonists against the whole Indian population of the Colony has been excited by the undoubted ability of these Arab traders to compete with European merchants, and specially with those who have chiefly directed their attention to the supply of articles, notably rice, largely consumed by the Indian immigrant population. . . .
We are of opinion that these Arab traders have been drawn to Natal by the presence therein of those Indians who have been introduced under the Immigration Laws. Rice is the chief food of the 30,000 Indian immigrants now in the Colony, and these astute traders have so successfully devoted their tact and energy to the supply of that article that the price to all consumers fell from 21s per bag in former years to 14s in 1884. . . .
It is said that Kaffirs can buy from Arabs at from 25 to 30 per cent lower rates than those obtaining six or seven years ago.
It does not lie within the scope of our Commission to discuss at length the restrictive measure which some desire to impose upon Asiatics or “Arab” trader. We are content to place on record our strong opinion, based on much observation, that the presence of these traders has been beneficial to the whole Colony, and that it would be unwise, if not unjust, to legislate to their prejudice (the italics are mine).
8. . . . Nearly all of them are Mohammedans, either total abstainers from alcoholic liquors or drinking them in moderation. They are thrifty by nature and submissive to the law.
Out of the 72 European witnesses who gave their evidence before the Commission, almost every one of those who spoke as to the presence of the Indian affecting the Colony has said that he is indispensable for its welfare.

I have quoted the extracts at some length not to argue there from that the Indians should have the franchise (they have it already), but to refute the charge that the Indian is an intruder and the statement that he has nothing to do with the prosperity of the Colony. “The proof of the pudding lies in the eating.” The best proof is that, no matter what is being said against the Indians, they are yet wanted; the Protector’s Department is unable to cope with the demand for Indian labour.

At page 5 of the Annual Report, 1895, the Protector says:

At the close of last year there was an unsupplied balance of 1,330 men to complete the year’s indent. In addition to this number, 2,760 men were applied for to arrive in 1895, making a total of 4,090. Of this number, 2,032 arrived during the year under report (1,049 from Madras and 983 from Calcutta), leaving a balance of 2,058 (less 12 men lapsed requisitions) to arrive during the present year to complete the last year’s indent.

If the Indian is really harmful to the Colony, the best and justest method is to stop further immigration and, in due course, the present Indian population will cease to trouble the Colony much. To have them under conditions that mean slavery is hardly fair.

If then this appeal has at all satisfactorily answered the various objections raised to the Indian franchise; if the reader accepts the assertion that the franchise agitation on the part of the Indians is merely a protest against degradation, which the counteragitation contemplates, and not an attempt to gain political power or influence, I humbly think I am justified in asking the reader to pause and consider before he decides to oppose the Indian franchise tooth and nail. Although the “British subject” idea has been rejected by the Press as a craze and fad, I have to fall back upon that idea. Without it there would have been no franchise agitation whatever. Without it there would probably have been no State-aided immigration. Very probably the Indian would have been an impossibility in Natal if he were not a British subject. I, therefore, appeal to every Briton in South Africa not to lightly dismiss the “British subject” idea from his mind. The Proclamation of 1858 was Her Majesty’s acts, presumably approved of by her subjects. For, it was done, not arbitrarily, but according to the advice of her then advisers, in whom the voters, by their votes, had reposed their full trust. India belongs to England and England does not wish to lose her hold of India. Every act done by a Briton towards an Indian cannot but have some effect in moulding the final relations between Britons and Indians. It is, moreover, a fact that the Indian is in South Africa because he is a British subject; he has to be tolerated whether one likes it or not. Is it not then better that nothing should be done that would unnecessarily embitter the feelings between the two communities? By coming to a hasty conclusion, or by forming conclusions on groundless assumptions, it is not at all unlikely that injustice may unintentionally be done to the Indians.

The question in the minds of all reasonable men, I submit, should be not how to drive away the Indians from the Colony (for that is impossible), but how to bring about satisfactory relations between the two communities. Even from a most selfish point of view, I submit, no good can result from an attitude of unfriendliness and hatred towards the Indians, unless there is any pleasure in creating in one’s mind an unfriendly feeling towards one’s neighbour. Such a policy is repugnant to the British Constitution and the British sense of justice and fair play, and above all hateful to the spirit of Christianity which is professed by the objectors to the Indian franchise.

I appeal more particularly to the Press, the public men throughout South Africa and the Clergy: Public opinion is in your hands. You mould and guide it. It is for you to consider whether the policy hitherto pursued is the right and proper one to continue. Your duty as Britons and leaders of public opinion cannot be to divide the two communities but to weld them together.

The Indians have many blemishes and they are themselves, no doubt, to blame to some extent for the present unsatisfactory state of feelings between the two peoples. My object is to induce you to believe that the blame does not entirely lie on one side alone.

Often and often have I read in the papers and heard that the Indians have nothing to complain about. I submit that neither you nor the Indians here are capable of forming an impartial judgment. I, therefore, draw your attention entirely to the outside public opinion, to the Press, alike in England and India, which is practically unanimous in coming to the conclusion that the Indians have a reasonable ground for complaint. And, in this connection, I beg to deny the statement that has been often made that the outside opinion is based on exaggerated reports sent from South Africa by the Indians. I venture to claim to know something about the reports sent to England and India, and I have no hesitation in saying that the reports sent almost invariably err on the side of underestimation. Not a single statement has been made which cannot be substantiated by unimpeachable evidence. But the most remarkable fact is that there is no dispute as to facts which are admitted. The outside opinion based on those admitted facts is that the Indians are not fairly treated in South Africa. I will quote only one extract taken from a Radical newspaper, The Star. The opinion of the soberest journal in the world, The Times, is known to everyone in South Africa.

The Star of 21st October, 1895, commenting upon the deputation that waited on Mr. Chamberlain, says:

These particulars are enough to throw light upon the hateful persecution to which British Indian subjects are being subjected. The new Indian Immigration Law Amendment Bill, which virtually proposes to reduce Indians to a state of slavery, is another example. The thing is a monstrous wrong, an insult to British subjects, a disgrace to its authors, and a slight upon ourselves. Every Englishman is concerned to see that the commercial greed of the South African trader is not permitted to wreak such bitter injustice upon men who alike by Proclamation and by Statute are placed upon an equality with ourselves before the Law.

If I could but convince you that the ‘greatest kindness’ is not shown to the Indian in South Africa and that the Europeans are also to blame for the prevailing state of things, a way will have been paved for a dispassionate discussion of the whole Indian question, and perhaps it will be solved without any intervention from Downing Street to the satisfaction of both the parties concerned. Why should the Clergy remain silent on this momentous question, momentous because it affects the future of South Africa? They do take part in politics pure and simple. They do attend the meetings convened to urge the disfranchisement of the Indians. But this is not merely a political question. Will they see a race degraded and insulted because of the ‘unreasoning’ prejudice against it and sit still? Is such indifference sanctioned by Christ’s Christianity?

I repeat again, it is not political power that the Indians want. It is degradation, it is many other consequences and measures that will flow from and will be based on the disfranchisement that they dread and resist.

In conclusion, I shall be deeply indebted to those who would read this and be kind enough to express their opinion about its subject-matter. Many Europeans have privately expressed their sympathy for the Indians and have strongly disapproved of the sweeping resolutions passed at the various meetings held in the Colony in connection with the Indian franchise and the bitter tone of the speeches made. If these gentlemen will come forward and have the courage of their convictions, I submit, they will have a fourfold reward. They will earn the gratitude of the 40,000 Indians in the Colony, indeed of the whole of India, and will render true service to the Colony by disabusing the minds of the Europeans of the notion that the Indian is a curse to the Colony; they will serve humanity by rescuing or assisting to rescue a portion of an ancient race from unwarranted persecution which they know exists in the whole of South Africa, and last but not least, in common with the noblest Britons, be the forgers of the links that will unite England and India in love and peace. I humbly submit that such an achievement is worth a little ridicule that the pioneers will be subjected to. To separate the two communities is easy enough, to unite them by the ‘silken cord’ of love is equally difficult. But then, everything that is worth having is also worth a great deal of trouble and anxiety.

The Natal Indian Congress has been mentioned in connection with this matter and has been much misrepresented. In a separate pamphlet[3] its objects and methods of working will be fully discussed.

While this was in course of preparation, Mr. Maydon made a speech at Bellair and a curious resolution was passed at the meeting. With the greatest deference to the honourable gentleman, I venture to take exception to his statement that the Indians have ever remained in a state of servitude and are, therefore, unfit for self-government. Although he invoked the aid of history in support of his statement, I venture to say that history fails to bear out the statement. In the first place Indian history does not date from the invasion of Alexander the Great. But I take the liberty to say that India of that date will compare very favourably with Europe of today. In support of that statement I beg to refer him to the Greek description of India at pp. 169-70 of Hunter’s Indian Empire, partly quoted in my “Open Letter”. What, however, of India of a period previous to that date? History says that the Aryans’ home was not India but they came from Central Asia, and one family migrated to India and colonized it, the others to Europe. The government of that day was, so history says, a civilized government in the truest sense of the term. The whole Aryan literature grew up then. The India of Alexander’s time was India on the decline. When other nations were hardly formed, India was at its zenith, and the Indians of this age are descendants of that race. To say, therefore, that the Indians have been ever under servitude is hardly correct. India certainly has not proved unconquerable. If that be reason for disfranchisement, I have nothing to say except this, that every nation will, unfortunately, be found wanting in this respect. It is true England “wafts her sceptre” over India. The Indians are not ashamed of that fact. They are proud to be under the British Crown, because they think that England will prove India’s deliverer. The wonder of all wonders seems to be that the Indians, like the favoured nation of the Bible, are irrepressible in spite of centuries of oppression and bondage. And many British writers think that India is under England with her consent.

Professor Seeley says:

The nation of India have been conquered by an army, of which, on the average, a fifth part was English. In the early battles of the Company, by which its power was decisively established, at the siege of Arcot, at Plassey, at Buxar, there seems always to have been more Sepoys than Europeans on the side of the Company. And, let us observe further, that we do not hear of the Sepoys fighting ill, of the English as bearing the whole brunt of the conflict .
. . . But if once it is admitted that the Sepoys always outnumbered the English, and that they kept pace with the English in efficiency as soldiers, the whole theory, which attributes our success to an immeasurable natural superiority in valour, falls to the ground. —Digby’s India for the Indians and for England

The honourable gentleman[4] is also reported to have said:

We (the Colonists) were entrusted with responsible Government in Natal under certain circumstances. These have now become absolutely changed, brought about by your refusal to sanction our Bill. You have brought about a condition of things that is so fraught with danger that it is our clear duty to hand back to you the authority which you gave us.

How contrary to facts is all this! It assumes that the Home Government are now trying to thrust the Indian franchise on the Colony, while the fact is that the Responsible Government is trying to materially alter the circumstances which existed at the time it was granted. Would not Downing Street be justified in saying, “We entrusted you with Responsible Government under certain circumstances. These have now become absolutely changed, brought about by your Bill of last year. You have brought about a condition of things that is so fraught with danger to the whole British Constitution and British notion of Justice that it is our clear duty not to allow you to trifle with the fundamental principles on which the British Constitution is based.”?

The time when the Responsible Government was accepted was, I submit, the time when Mr. Maydon’s objection might have been valid. Whether Responsible Government would ever have been granted, had the European Colonists insisted upon disfranchisement of the Indians is another question.[5]

From a pamphlet printed by T. L. Cullingworth, Printer, 40 Field Street, Durban, 1895

1^ Gandhiji sent copies of this pamphlet to Indian leaders like Lokamanya Tilak.

2^ Indian labour recruitment

3^ This is not available.

4^ The reference is to Maydon; “The Indian Franchise”, 16-12-1895

5^ For Press reactions to this pamphlet, vide the Early Phase, pp. 592-6.