The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi/Volume I/May 1895 Petition to Lord Elgin

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[Before May 5, 1895][1]


P.C., G.M.S.I., G.M.I.E., ETC., ETC.



Your Petitioners representing the Indian community in the South African Republic venture hereby to approach Your Excellency with regard to Her Majesty's Indian British subjects in the South African Republic.

Your Petitioners instead of reiterating the facts and arguments embodied in a similar petition[2], signed by over 10,000 British Indians, and sent to the Right Honourable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, beg to append hereto a copy of the petition with its annexures, and commend it to Your Excellency's perusal.

Your Petitioners after mature deliberation have come to the conclusion that unless they sought the direct protection of Your Excellency as Her Majesty's representative and virtual Ruler of all India, and unless that protection was graciously accorded, the position of the Indians in the South African Republic, and indeed throughout the whole of South Africa, would be utterly helpless and the enterprising Indians in South Africa would be forcibly degraded to the position of the Natives of South Africa, and this through no fault of their own.

If an intelligent stranger were to visit the South African Republic, and were told that there was a class of people in South Africa who could not hold fixed property, who could not move about the State without passes, who alone had to pay a special registration fee of £3 10s as soon as they entered the country for purposes of trade, who could not get licences to trade, and who would shortly be ordered to remove to places far away from towns, where only they could reside and trade, and who could not stir out of their houses after 9 o'clock, and that stranger were asked to guess the reasons for such special disabilities, would he not conclude that these people must be veritable ruffians, anarchists, a political danger to the State and society? And yet your Petitioners beg to assure Your Excellency that the Indians who are labouring under all the above disabilities are neither ruffians nor anarchists, but one of the most peaceful and lawabiding communities in South Africa, and especially in the South African Republic. For in Johannesburg, while there are people belonging to European nationalities who are a source of real danger to the State, and who have necessitated only lately an increase of the police force, and have thrown too much work on the detective department, the Indian community have not given the State any cause for anxiety on that score.

In support of the above, your Petitioners respectfully refer Your Excellency to the newspapers throughout South Africa.

Even the active agitation, that has brought about the present state of things with regard to the Indian community, has not desired to bring any such charges against the Indians. The only charge brought forward is that the Indians do not observe proper sanitation. Your Petitioners trust that the charge has been conclusively shown to be groundless in the representation to His Excellency the Right Honourable the Marquis of Ripon. But assuming that the charge has some ground, it is clear that that could not be a reason for preventing the Indians from holding fixed property, or moving about the country freely and without restraint on their liberty.

That could not be a reason for making the Indians liable for a special payment of £3 10s. It might be said that the Government of the South African Republic has already passed certain laws, and that the Chief Justice of the Orange Free State has already given his Award which is binding on Her Majesty's Government.

These objections, your Petitioners humbly believe, have been answered in the accompanying petition. The London Convention specially protects the rights of all Her Majesty's British subjects. This is a recognized fact. Her Majesty's Government assented to a departure from the Convention and also to arbitration on sanitary grounds. And such assent to a departure from the Convention, your Petitioners are informed, was given without consulting Your Excellency's predecessor in office. Thus, so far as the Indian Government is concerned, your Petitioners venture to urge that the assent is not binding. That the Indian Government should have been consulted is self-evident. And even if Your Excellency were illdisposed to intervene on your Petitioners' behalf at this stage and on this ground alone, the fact that the reasons which induced the above assent did not and do not exist, that in fact Her Majesty's Government has been misled by misrepresentations is, your Petitioners submit, sufficient to justify them in praying for Your Excellency's intervention, and Your Excellency in granting the prayer. And the issues involved are so tremendously important and Imperial, that in view of your petitioners' emphatic but respectful protest against the allegation about sanitation, your Petitioners humbly urge that the question cannot be settled without a thorough inquiry, without injustice being done to Her Majesty's Indian British subjects in the South African Republic.

Without further encroaching upon Your Excellency's valuable time, your Petitioners would again request Your Excellency's undivided attention to the annexure and, in conclusion, earnestly hope that Your Excellency's protection will be liberally granted to the Indian British subjects residing in South Africa.

And for this act of justice and mercy, your Petitioners shall for ever pray, etc.

From a photostat of a printed copy : S.N. 451

1^ This petition, along with the preceding item, was forwarded by Sir Jacobus de Wet on May 30, 1895, to the High Commissioner, Cape Town.

2^ May 1895 Petition to Lord Ripon