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

A provisional settlement was reached in 1911. But in the letter of 12 September 1913 reproduced below, A.M. Cachalia, chairman of the British Indian Association, explains to the Secretary of the Interior why the campaign was being resumed. The visit by G.I Gokhale in October and November 1912 had failed to secure a negotiated settlement, although Gokhale believed that everything had been settled when he left. In addition, the Searle Judgment in the Cape Supreme Court (March 1913) added another issue: marriages contracted in accordance with Indian religious rites were declared legally invalid. Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 12, pp. 183-6.

On behalf of the British Indian Association, I have the honour to submit, for the information of the Hon'ble the Minister, that, after having read your telegram of September 9, addressed to Mr. Gandhi, it has been most reluctantly and with the utmost regret decided to revive passive resistance, owing to the inability or unwillingness of the Government to concede the points submitted by Mr. Gandhi in his letters to you, which my Association has seen.

I venture shortly to explain the position that unfortunately faces the community represented by my Association.

Ever since the British occupation, the position of the Indians residing this province has admittedly grown worse than it was during the Republic-regime. In 1906 it culminated in the Bill of that year, which not only summed up the black past but foreshadowed a blacker future, and which, though then vetoed, was repassed almost as the first Act of the Responsible Government, and became known as Act 2 of 1907. As the measure was considered by the community to be humiliating, and as the circumstances surrounding it showed a policy deliberately hostile to a honourable existence of the community in the Transvaal, my countrymen solemnly decided in the month of September 1906 to adopt passive resistance. As is well known, my countrymen suffered over 3,500 imprisonments during the struggle, over 100 deportations to India took place, and even two deaths occurred, owing to the sufferings gone through during the crisis. Several families were rendered homeless, and they had to be supported from public funds. Then came the provisional settlement of 1911, which the Indians thought not only promised them what they had been suffering for but also meant an attitude of friendliness towards them such that, almost complete prohibition of Indian immigration being obtained, the resident Indian population would be free from the state of uncertainty it had lived in and might look forward to a steady improvement in its status, as a permanent element of the new nation that was forming in South Africa. Moreover, the inauguration of the Union gave it some hope, though it filled it equally with misgivings and threw on the passive resisters a responsibility for the whole of the Union instead of for the Transvaal only.

But the community was soon disillusioned. The administration of existing laws specially affecting it grew steadily harsher. The Cape Licensing Act, the Natal Licensing Act, the Gold and the Township Laws of the Transvaal and the existing Immigration Laws of the provinces began to be administered as they never had been before. What has been termed the 'northern' spirit began to pervade the administration in Natal and the Cape. Thus the spirit of the settlement certainly began to be broken as soon as it was affected.

The abortive Bill of 1912 showed that even the letter would be broken. The original draft contained serious flaws and was in conflict with the two principles of the settlement - the removal of the racial bar and the maintenance of existing rights throughout the Union. I must admit in fairness that, so soon as the acts were pointed out, there was willingness on the part of the Minister to remodel his objectionable clauses.But that Bill fell through, and fresh assurances were issued to the community that the settlement would be carried out. Then came the memorable visit of the Hon'ble Mr. Gokhale. High hopes were again raised. The position was made perfectly clear. And declarations were made by responsible statesmen inducing the expectation that a satisfactory Bill would be passed during the ensuing session, and that the iniquitous and admittedly unjust tax of £3 on certain ex-indentured men and women showed be withdrawn. The Hon'ble Mr. Gokhale declared at public meetings that he had every confidence that the tax would be abolished both for men and women.

But the last session dashed all hope to the ground. The draft immigration Bill broke almost every condition of the settlement of 1911, and it showed that the community was to expect nothing from the Government, who would have carried the Bill as it was, could they have done so. That the Act itself is a great improvement on the original Bill is due entirely to the unexpected option that the Government met from all quarters of both Houses of Parliament. The attempt of the Government to remit the £3 tax only on women showed also that they, at any rate, were not prepared to remove it from men. Notwithstanding such gloomy indications of the hostile spirit of the Government, Mr. Gandhi was authorized to enter into negotiations for a settlement by submitting proposals which, if accepted, would have just, but only just, sufficed to fulfil the letter of the provisional settlement of 1911 above referred to. The community had hoped that, if even such a settlement were effected, the terrible passive resistance could be avoided, and that other grievances could be pressed on the attention of the Government by means involving less personal sacrifice and suffering by the community.

But the Government evidently thought otherwise. They have not only rejected most of Mr. Gandhi's proposals, but they are showing by their administration of the new Act in Natal and by their having passed regulations under the Act, some of which are harsh and unjust, that it is their desire not only to keep out new immigrants, but also to keep out domiciled residents who, before the new Act, found no difficulty in re-entering, and to put obstacles in the way of wives of domiciled Indians entering the respective provinces.

In the circumstances, there is now no course left open to the community but to take up passive resistance again, which now naturally will not be confined to this province alone, and which, on this occasion, will be taken up by women as well as men. The leaders of the community fully realize their responsibility in the matter. They know also what they and their countrymen will have to suffer. But they feel that, as an unrepresented and voiceless community which has been so much misunderstood in the past and which is labouring under a curious but strong race prejudice, it can only defend its honour and status by a process of sacrifice and self-suffering.

Passive resistance has been recognized by the Government as a legitimate means of securing redress. It is, therefore, hardly necessary to assure the Government that the community has no desire to defy the laws of the land, to which it will submit by bearing the penalties provided for a breach of the obligations thereunder, which the community cannot discharge consistently with its honour and self-respect.

In conclusion, I beg to state that the struggle will be continued so long as:

  • (1) a racial bar disfigures the Immigration Act;
  • (2) the rights existing prior to the passing of the Act are not restored and maintained;
  • (3) the £3 tax upon ex-indentured men, women, and children is not removed;
  • (4) the status of women married in South Africa is not secured;
  • (5) generally, so long as a spirit of generosity and justice does not pervade the administration of the existing laws referred to herein.

And it is respectfully submitted that a smooth and just working of the laws is not possible until the Government consult the leaders of the community in the different provinces.