HC Deb 30 June 1904 vol 137 cc157-8

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if his attention has been drawn to the statement in the Annual Report for 1903 of the Protector of Indian Immigrants in Natal that there had occurred in that year no fewer than thirty-one cases of suicide, being at the rate of 741 per 1,000,000; if he is aware that eight of these cases occurred among the free Indian community numbering 51,259, whereas twenty-three were those of the indentured class numbering 30,131, showing that the indentured labourers committed suicide in an overwhelmingly large proportion; and, if so, can he say whether the local authorities have been able to trace the causes to which this voluntary destruction of life is due; and, if not, will he at once order an inquiry to be made by an independent Commission into the matter.


I have seen the Report referred to. The rate per 1,000,000 among Indians generally appears to be, from the figures given, 382 per 1,000,000 and not 741 as stated in the Question, the rate among free Indians and indentured Indians being 157 and 766 respectively. The Report states: A magisterial inquiry is made into the circumstances attending each case of suicide, and whenever the evidence tends to show that the fatality in any way resulted from ill-treatment received from an employer or employé, I make a personal visit to the estate and inquire myself into the circumstances. In one instance, and one only, did the evidence tend in this direction, but my own inquiry did not confirm this suspicion. Generally speaking witnesses state that they can give no reason for the suicide, and, if those who are supposed to know decline to give any information, it is impossible in many cases to arrive at even a probable cause. I may say that the general rate among Natal Indians in 1902 appears to have been 333, and in 1901 383, so that the rate for the year 1903 is not altogether exceptional. This rate has been exceeded in Paris. I am not at present able to compare the rate with that which obtains among Asiatic races generally, and I understand that there are no returns of suicide in India. In any case I do not see that on the facts there is any ground for taking the unusual course suggested by the hon. Member.