From the book: A Documentary History of Indian South Africans edited by Surendra Bhana and Bridglal Pachai

This document, dated 10 July 1909, was submitted to the Secretary for the Colonies in London at the time that a closer union of the South African colonies was on the point of being achieved. There were fourteen major signatories representing six organisations in their official capacities as presidents, vice-presidents, secretaries and treasurers. The organisations and the individuals were as follows: Natal Indian Congress ”” Abdoola Hajee Adam, Dada Osman; Natal Indian Patriotic Union ”” P. Subramania Aiyar, Anthony D. Pillay, V. Lawrence, L. Gabriel, and J. M. Francis; Anjuman Islam Society – V. Ismail Gora, N. M. Kadir; Hindh Sudhar Sabha ”” S. Gooroosamy, Chetty, S. K. Pather; Catholic Young Men's Society ”” V. Lawrence, V. B. Lazarus; Shri Vishnu Temple, Umgeni ”” Lutchman Panday. The petition was signed by 1 138 persons in all. Source: C.O. 179/253, 10 July 1909, Public Record Office, London.

(1)Your petitioners are British Indians resident in Natal, either by virtue of immigration to or birth in this Colony.

(2)At a time when the closer union of the South African colonies is on the point of being achieved, your petitioners humbly venture to approach you, with a view to placing before you a review of the many grievances under which they, as a community, labour, and to endeavour to secure redress before their affairs are handed over to be dealt with by a federal parliament composed generally of men hostile to the race from which your petitioners are derived.

(3) Since the grant of Responsible Government to this Colony, a lengthy programme of race and class legislation aimed at British Indians has been devised, and the grievances under which your petitioners labour have now become so numerous and so burdensome as to render the existence of any self-respecting British Indian in this portion of His Majesty's dominions almost intolerable. Having hitherto failed in securing redress therefore by all other methods of constitutional procedure, as a last resort they now appeal to His Majesty's Government.


(4)The major portion of the Indian community of this Colony were either introduced or are the descendants of those introduced into Natal under contract of labour from India, at a time when the Colony was verging upon ruin for lack of an efficient labour supply. In an address presented by the Durban Corporation, some 50 years ago, to Sir George Grey, praying for the importation of Indians, the document describes in effect the condition of the Colony as follows: 'On it (indentured Indian immigration) depends the advancement of the Colony or its certain and rapid decline.'

(5)When the contracts of service were entered into between the Natal authorities and the Indian Government, the former bound themselves to respect the rights of the immigrant labourers, to safeguard the interests, to mete out just treatment during indenture, to educate their children, and after the expiry of the indentures, inducement was given in the shape of free lands to the labourers and their descendants to settle down in this Colony and augment the numbers of the class of colonists necessary for the development and exploitation of the mineral and agricultural resources of the Colony. The European colonists, in view of the immense benefit accruing to the Colony, offered them sufficient inducement to remain in the Colony for another period of five years, in consideration of which they were given a free passage to India; but any one failing to avail himself of this free-passage system on the prescribed date forfeited his claim to its benefits. It is manifest, therefore, that this Colony was eager to encourage Indian settlement.

(6)The terms of the contract of service were faithfully carried out on both sides during the Crown Colony government.

(7)The importation of our countrymen from India under indenture still continues, the conditions being most unfavourable to the labourers, and laws and regulations are in force embodying a system that borders on slavery as has been recently declared by the Natal Advertiser,a local organ of public opinion. In this connection, your petitioners beg to be allowed to remind you of two of the three conditions which were laid down in 1843 by Her late Majesty’s Government when Natal became an integral part of the British Empire. The Proclamation reads as follows:

That slavery in any shape or under any modification is absolutely unlawful as in every other part of Her Majesty's dominions.

That there shall not be in the eye of the law any distinction or disqualification whatever, founded on mere distinction of colour, origin, language or creed; but that the protection of law in letter and in substance shall be extend impartially to all alike.

(8)By virtue of the provisions of Act 17 of 1895, those that come under indenture and their descendants, irrespective of sex, are subjected to an annual imposition of £3 per head, which in addition to the ordinary poll tax of £1 on males living in this Colony, inflicts great hardship on them.

(9)Defaulters of payment of this annual imposition, unlike others of similar offences, who are dealt with under the Small Debts Act in conformity with the civil process, are thrown into prison without discrimination to sex, and without regard for the merits and nature of the case, notwithstanding the solemn pledges given by this Colony to the Indian Government that the contravention of the provisions of this Act would not be dealt with penal offences.

(10) About two thousand Indians, owing to the fear of prosecution for failure to pay this tax under Act 17 of 1895, and unable to endure the respect of gaol life and semi-starvation, were induced to proceed to Lobito Bay, a foreign territory situated in West Africa where, owing to many causes, hundreds of them died, and the remainder, who eventually returned to Natal were, on account of a technicality, deported to India.

(11)For the reason that such severe hardships are imposed upon the labourers under contract, that cases of gross abuse and cruelty are becoming increasingly common and difficult to check, that the continued importation of this class of labour results in the imposition of increased disabilities upon the free Indian population, and for the purpose of securing the removal of the £3 tax, which was imposed in order to compel the return of the time-expired labourers to India, your petitioners venture strongly to submit that the time has now come, in the best interests of the Indian Empire and that of the Colony of Natal, when the importation of contract labour from India into is Colony shall cease.


(12)Your petitioners, on the ground that, in their own country, they did not possess self-governing institutions, have been deprived of the political franchise rights conferred upon them, in common with their European fellow colonists, by the grant of self-government.

An attempt is now being made to deprive your petitioners of the municipal franchise on the ground that they do not possess the parliamentary franchise, though there is no analogy between the two, and the attempt is a flagrant breach of faith with your petitioners, who were promised by the late Sir John Robinson, when Premier of Natal, that the municipal franchise should remain to them.


(13) In regard to the trading section of the Indian community, your petitioners respectfully submit that, at a time when this Colony was fast declining in prosperity, the Indian traders, like the immigrant labourers, worked for the expansion of commerce in the Colony. It is they who have been pioneers in introducing and extending trade amongst the aboriginal natives of Natal; and the existence in the Colony of the Indian, as a trader, has proved of incalculable benefit to the whole Colony. The Indian trader, by thrifty, honest, and industrious habits, has proved himself a useful agent in meeting the humble wants of those who are less fortunate in their means. But, as the Anglo-Boer war has brought into the country a large number of European traders, of whom a considerable proportion were aliens who frequently, moved by trade rivalry, urged that the British Indian traders shall be deprived of their ordinary civil rights, the tendency of the Government, in order to satisfy the demands of the electorates, has been to yield to these demands, and the inevitable result has been that your petitioners' commercial rights have been threatened at every point and many of your petitioners have been ruined.

In accordance with the provisions of Act 18 of 1897, unlimited power is entrusted to licensing officers, who are either themselves actuated by race and colour prejudice or are under the authority of those who are so actuated. These officials use their authority in an arbitrary manner and have caused endless loss to the trading community by refusing to issue new licences, to renew or transfer existing ones to British Indian traders.

(14) The policy of investing these officials with unlimited, indefinite and discretionary power is resulting in the gradual elimination of the Indian traders from this Colony, and past experience proves that in a state where arbitrary discretion obtains, law, liberty and security for vested rights ends.

(15)The licensing board has appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of the licensing officers, but the board, not being an impartial judicial tribunal, but being frequently composed of the British Indians' trade rivals, is biased in its findings, to the material disadvantage of the British Indian appellant.

(16) In cases respecting the grant of trading licences, miscarriage of justice has become very common, and the Supreme Court of the Colony has no appellate jurisdiction to right the many wrongs that are done by virtue of the Act referred to above.

(17)Owing to stringent enforcement of the aforesaid Act, no new trading licences are granted to British Indians, however qualified the applicant may otherwise be, and strenuous efforts are made with increasing frequency to terminate the holders of existing licences.


(18) Your petitioners have been excluded from government service and have been debarred from competing in the civil service examination, which they once had the right to do.

(19) Your petitioners' children have been removed from the government schools where they were at one time receiving education in common with European children, and separate schools were established with definite promise that your petitioners' children would receive education equal in every respect to that given to European children, but these promises, your petitioners respectfully submit, have not been fulfilled; and attempts have been and are being made to gradually diminish the aid which this Colony solemnly promised to afford towards securing educational facilities for British Indian children.

(20) Those of your petitioners who are the descendants of Indians who were at one time indentured in the Colony, even though of professional attainments, are subjected to the provisions of the municipal vagrancy regulations and are required to be within doors after nine o'clock at night, unless they carry a special permit securing them from molestation at the hands of Native policemen.

(21)By virtue of the provisions of the Income and Land Assessment Act of 1908, British Indians have been subjected to an avowed system of class legislation, in that your petitioners' occupation of lands as cultivators has been thereby declared to be non-beneficial. Subsection 2 of clause 34 of aforesaid Act reads as follows: 'Land owned by Europeans shall not be deemed to be beneficially occupied if the same was occupied solely by Natal Indians unless such land is not suitable for European occupation.'


(22) Placing implicit confidence in the sense of British fairplay and justice that your petitioners have always been taught to rely upon, many of your petitioners were induced to emigrate to this Colony, the responsibility for whose development they have been ready to share both in peace and in war, where they have built their homes, and brought up their families, in which they have invested their capital and have established themselves in various pursuits, agricultural, commercial, industrial, and otherwise.

(23) During the late Anglo-Boer war, the community represented by your petitioners assisted His Majesty's troops in every possible way in the capacity of stretcher-bearers, and they raised men and money to carry operationsof the Ambulance Corps, and were willing to share in active military service, but their request was refused by the military authorities; however, for the part they took in ambulance work, their services were mentioned in the despatches.

(24) Natal is the mother country of a very large number of the Indians whose parents, in some cases, were born in this Colony.

(25) In view of the fact that in the Draft Constitution for a united South, British Indian subjects of the Crown have been totally excluded from exercising those rights to which they, as natural-born subjects of His Majesty, are justly entitled and in view of the many grievances under which they have laboured in the past in this Colony, and as there is no prospect of a brighter future for them under the Union Government, your petitioners have to emphatically protest against the ratification of the aforesaid Draft Act until their grievances have been redressed.

(26) Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that His Majesty's Government will be pleased to make such amendments in the aforesaid Draft Act of South Africa as would give to every British Indian citizen in Natal equal civil rights with other British subjects in South Africa in the eye of the law, and also pray that a royal commission be appointed to investigate our grievances or give such other relief that you may deem fit.

For which act of justice, your petitioners shall, as in duty bound, for ever pray.