Petition of Old Immigrants and the De Plevitz Pamphlet

MT 60 Years Ago —

2nd Year – No 70 – Friday 9th December 1955

Glismpses of Mauritian History

«Pourquoi ce mépris général, dans le public, pour tout ce qui est du ressort de la Police et pour tous les agents? Ceci s’explique facilement. C’est parce que ses employés ne sont pas tous à l’abri de la censure, n’étaient pas d’un côté assez rétribués, et de l’autre ne se respectent pas malheureusement eux-mêmes. »

— Remy Ollier

The Indian Immigrants were helpless before the harshness of the Labour Law of 1867 and the Ordinance and Regulations of 11th Nov 1868. They could expect no mercy from the police. Rarely, if ever, they had justice at the hands of the local magistrates. They had many grievances to complain of but to whom to do so? They were not conversant with English and French and must have had a very poor command of Creole. Worst of all they were in an alien land where the people from whom they might expect justice were the most interested in making them the victims of their grabbing selfishness.

Fortunately for them they found De Plevitz taking interest in their cause not because he had anything to gain from this but because he was imbued with feelings of humanity among inhuman employers. As soon as they came to know that he sympathised with them, the Indians began to come to him with the stories of the atrocities perpetrated on them. At last they had found a man who could guide them to formulate their grievances. At the request of these Indians, De Plevitz, as he himself said later, drew up the petition which was translated into Tamil and the Nagri dialects. Copies of these translations were circulated throughout the island through agents who undertook the task, not for lucre, but convinced of the noble nature of their sacrifice. De Plevitz also went about the island accompanied by an Indian boy who explained the contents of the petition to those Indians who showed interest in it.

In spite of everything done to discourage De Plevitz, the petition was signed by nearly 10,000 a fact which in itself shows the utter despair in which the Indians found themselves. The value of the petition lies in the fact that apart from the complaints of a general nature made by the Indians against the police, the local magistrates and the Protector of Immigrants, De Plevitz had taken care to append to it individual cases in which the petitioner gave a detailed account of his being victimised on some occasion lately. To give an idea of these cases, we think it relevant to mention the following two cases:

(I) Suroop, Old Immigrant, No 18 682, gardener at Mr Bouquet’s estate, Nouvelle Decouverte

In the month of January 1871, I was informed that my friend Lalchurn at Poudre D’or, was very ill – accordingly I started to go and see him. I was near Mr De Chazal’s estate, when I met a Sergeant of Police, who arrested me, locked me for the night, and brought me next day before the magistrate at Poudre d’Or. I showed my ticket and police pass to the magistrate, but the pass being for the district of Pamplemousses, I was condemned as a vagabond to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

(sgnd. Suroop)

(2) Rajchunder, Old lmmigrant No 138,928

In December 1865 I went in the Depot to have my photograph taken. I had to go on five successive days, and was each day turned out with violence. There were peons there with rattans, who struck me with them and turned me out; I remonstrated against this. I had to travel 100 miles backwards and forward, and pay 4s before I could obtain the photograph.

(sgnd. Rajchunder)

The Chamber of Agriculture watched with indignation every move of De Plevitz. The president of that body Dr lcery, wrote to the Governor that a monster meeting had been held at Montagne Longue, which De Plevitz had presided. In fact it was not a meeting at all. What was imputed as such was only the considerable number of Indians who came at a shed or ‘hangar’ adjoining Mr De Plevitz’s house and whose grievances were taken down in writing either by Plevitz himself or one of his assistants. The Chamber of Agriculture was not always impartial.

Commenting on the clamour of Dr lcery for the application of the rigour of the law against De Plevitz, the Royal Commissioners of 1872 bring out that 25 years earlier a president of the Chamber of Agriculture, Mr Currie, denounced the application of the same law when Governor Sir William Gomm attempted to restrict some of the meetings and proceedings of the Merchants’ and Planters’ Association.

On the occasion Mr Currie wrote: “You will not fail to mark the extreme illiberality of that law and its flagrant opposition to the spirit of British legislation…

“But however illiberal that law may be, and inconsistent with British freedom, Sir William Gomm’s interpretation of it goes still deeper into arbitrary rule, and aims at the total prohibition of anything like associations. Indeed, His Excellency is evidently desirous of extinguishing in this colony every means of collective representation on the measures of the local government.”

Such was the conception of justice of the Chamber of Agriculture. The same law which when applied to the planters was found obnoxious and yet it severely censured Governor Sir Arthur Gordon for not applying against De Plevitz.

To the petition De Plevitz appended his observations. The recruiters of immigrants in India, Protector of Immigrants, the Magistrates, the Legislative Council, the employers, and the police were all of them severely censured for their attitude towards the immigrants. He lamented the fact that the poor Indian had no one to attempt, at a redress of their grievances. He referred to the attempt of Mr Kerr and Advocate Bolton to oppose the labour laws, adding that “their treatment was sufficient to deter others from following their example. That they should convert the planters to their way of thinking was about as probable as the success of any one who in the days of undisguised slavery should have asked them to liberate their Africans. Redress can only be had from England; to obtain it here is absolutely impossible.”

He did not rest satisfied with the petition and the observations appended to it. He had the petition and the observations issued in the form of a pamphlet, numerous copies of which were despatched to England and India.

De Plevitz was inwardly convinced of the justice and humanity, which were the motives of his action. His sacrifice was destined to bear fruit. The Royal Commission was soon to come and justify his deeds. As for Indians it cannot be denied that he was a god-send to them.

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