Ramjuttun’s Complaint & the Protector’s Investigation, 1872

On 9th April 1872 a band of 12 Indian workers were arrested by the police. Stating that they wished to meet with the Protector of Immigrants, they were brought under escort to the Immigration Office in Port Louis, capital of Mauritius to make a complaint against the Manager of the Riche Bois estate in the district of Savanne. Ramjuttun, their spokesman, made the following statement: 

Ramjuttun, laborer of Riche Bois Estate, Savanne, says as follows: “I come to complain of Employer’s having killed Ragoobur one of my comrades, on Riche Bois Estate, Savanne. On Friday last (5th April) at about sunset, I was bathing near the Canal on the Estate. Eagoobur and several others were a few paces – about 10 paces – in front of me: they were going towards their house. Mr. Castel met them. Ragoobur made a salam to him and said: - “Sir, we have a very bad house; there is not room enough in it for all of us.” Mr. Castel thereupon gave him a slap with his open hand: he then took his cane and gave Ragoobur two pokes with it in the pit of his chest. Ragoobur then fell on his face. While he was falling Mr. Castel gave him several strokes with the same cane on his back. Mr. Castel walked away. Ragoobur did not cry out. He did not utter a word after having been beaten. He was raised by Lallchund and others. Lallchund poured water into his mouth: he could not swallow it. I called out his name several times: he did not answer me. He seemed to have lost his senses. We took him towards Mr. Castel’s house, and laid him down near the house. He seemed lifeless then. I cannot say whether he was dead yet or not; but he could neither move nor speak. He was then ordered by Mr. Castel to be taken into the hospital. 

At a little after 6, I and several other men of my gang went into the hospital, and taking Ragoobur’s corpse, set out with it intended to carry it to the Police Station. Mr. Castel and a gang of men came after us; stopped us; and compelled us to lay down the corpse, which they took back to the hospital. We (I and 5 others) then went to the Police Station at Rivière des Anguilles and lodged our complaint. 

The next day, at about 12, the Doctor and a Police Officer came to the Estate, and made inquiries. The Doctor cut open Ragoobur’s body. The Magistrate did not come to make any inquiries. That is why we have come to you, Sir – We don’t wish to go back to the Estate on which our comrade has been killed.” 

 

The Protector of Immigrants, Mr Beyts, himself of Eurasian origin, referred the case to the District and Stipendiary Megistrate of Savanne, to whom Ramjuttun and the other Complainants were sent. The Protector informed the men that he intended ‘following them to Savanne, to inquire into circumstances of the case myself.’ On 10th April, the Protector interviewed Mohungoo who claimed that Mr Castel had only poked Ragoobur ‘gently’ and that the former had previously been sick. 

On 20th April the band of men, named as follows: Ramjuttun, Deelah, Radoo, Rajanauth, Polahdalie, Peroo, Takir Hamood, Seewoolall, Ballgobin, Ramphul, Jalee, and Lallchun, were back at the Protector’s Office. Ramjuttun made a second statement on their collective behalf: 

“I, and my comrades who have accompanied me, have come to claim protection – The Magistrate of our District has turned us away saying that he knows nothing of our case. We went to see him on Thursday last: we had been ordered to attend the Court of Souillac on that day. – We are afraid of going back to Riche Bois. We are afraid of being treated as Ragoobur was. Takoor, the Guardian, has already threatened to beat us, for having lodged a complaint against Mr. Castel or any of his Employés; but we nevertheless fear that we shall be ill-treated if we return.” 

 

Two days later, the Protector gave his final ruling on the matter in a letter to the Colonial Secretary. He noted that on his visit to the estate he had examined the dwellings of Ragoobur’s gang. He added: I found that 23 men and 2 women had been living in 7 rooms, 5 of which formed one hut; and that the 2 other rooms were near the extremity of another hut. In the last of them – a room of about 12 feet wide and 12 long by about 5 feet high at the eaves, - Ragoobur had been living with 5 others. … I therefore recommend that the Stipendiary Magistrate of Savanne be instructed to issue to the Manager of Riche Bois Estate an order referring to the dwellings of the men to whom I allude, in conformity with the provisions of that Ordinance; ie. Calling upon their employer to supply them with another dwelling, or to alter their present dwelling so as to make it sufficient within a certain period fixed by the Magistrate. 

Ramjuttun and his gang then went back to the Protector, on 20th April, stating that they were afraid of being ill-treated if they returned to Riche Bois. They charged a Sirdar named Takoor with having threatened to beat them if they returned. With no fresh evidence against the employer, the Protector advised them once again to return to their work, promising that steps would be taken to have them supplied with better lodgings and assuring them that he would personally visit the Estate in a very short time to see whether they would have any cause to complain of the treatment they would meet with from their Employer.