THE ROSE HALL DISTURBANCES IN 1913
At Plantation Rose Hall on the Canje River (in Berbice) it was the custom to grant two to four days holiday at the end of the grinding season. Because the men had done satisfactory work throughout 1912, with some of them even working on Sundays, the manager, Smith, generally regarded as an uncompromising Scotsman, promised them four days of holiday.
On the 27 January 1913, one week after the grinding season, the holidays were granted by the manager but with the condition that the labourers used the time to clean up the area in which they lived. However, the workers were dissatisfied with this requirement, and the displeasure increased when the manager cancelled the holidays on the very next day, claiming that planting had to be done. He promised to grant the remaining part of the holidays later in the year.
But the workers refused to obey this order, and even those who wanted to return to work were prevented by others from doing so.
On the 29 January, all the indentured labourers turned up for work, but at the end of the week Smith took legal action against seven men whom he felt had influenced others from not resuming work on the 28 January. The other labourers protested sharply to the manager saying that they had all on their own stayed away from work and asked him to withdraw the summons against their seven colleagues. Smith refused, and a large group of the indentured labourers marched to New Amsterdam to complain to the Immigration Agent. After hearing their case, the Agent managed to influence Smith to agree to his original promise of granting four days of holiday. The manager also agreed to withdraw the summons against the seven men providing they paid the legal costs. However, when the men made a plea for the costs to be paid in instalments, Smith angrily refused this request and re-instituted the summons against them.
On the day of the trial (during mid-February 1913) about 300 indentured labourers from Rose Hall gathered in the New Amsterdam court compound, and noisily protested the charges and threatening retaliation if their colleagues were convicted. In the trial itself, the defence counsel, Joseph Eleazer, advised the seven me to plead guilty and the magistrate fined them three shillings (72 cents) each and ordered them keep the peace for six months. But apparently, Smith was not satisfied, and on February 17, he asked the Immigration-Agent General for permission to transfer Jangi Khan (with his wife) and four other indentured labourers to other estates claiming that they had instigated the latest protests. However, the five workers were not immediately informed that they would be sent to other estates. The police, nevertheless, received orders to carry out the transfers but this action was not taken immediately. Some time after, the five persons were eventually informed of their impending transfers.
The situation deteriorated on the 4 March when some indentured labourers were charged for bad work and wilful deception. For the next nine days, the labourers refused to work and from time to time they issued threats to their supervisors. They openly called for the dismissal of the deputy manager and a driver, Jagmohun, and also insisted that the five workers should not be transferred. They also prevented other drivers and overseers from entering their workplaces and tried to stop non-indentured Indians from going to work. An air of tension prevailed and some lawlessness, including damage to estate property, also occurred.
On the 13 March, the day of the trial of those who were charged, the other workers refused to go to work and instead went to the court to hear the cases. At the same period, more policemen were sent to the police station at Reliance, Canje, on the request of the assistant manager of Plantation Rose Hall. (Smith was away on leave during this period).
On the same day, the Inspector General of Police and the Immigration Agent suddenly decided that since police motor-cars were present at the court house, the transfers of the five labourers could be done then. Jangi Khan, who was among those in the court compound, was held by the police and was being placed in a car to be taken away, but some of his colleagues, armed with sticks, pulled him away and prevented him from entering the vehicle.
The news of the planned transfers of the five persons spread very quickly, and this incensed the other workers. The five were not prepared to move so suddenly, and they were fully supported by their colleagues. The authorities, realising the strong opposition from the crowd, decided not to proceed with the transfers hoping to carry them out at a later date.
Later that day, a large force of policemen headed by the Inspector General of Police (equivalent to Commissioner) and a Police Inspector went to Rose Hall to prevent intimidation and acts of vandalism and to arrest five indentured labourers for threatening violence. These five included Ganga, who was regarded as one of the leaders of the indentured labourers. The crowd apparently felt that the policemen were about to seize the five to be transferred, since many were unaware that arrest warrants were issued for another five who had threatened violence.
The police called on the threatening crowd to disperse, and the Riot Act was read. The policemen then arrested Ganga, and they were immediately attacked by the crowd with sticks and broken bottles. The police thereupon opened fire and 14 men in the crowd were killed.
A Commissioner was appointed by the Governor to investigate the circumstances of the killings at Rose Hall. The Commissioner found that police did not inform the labourers very clearly whom they were about to arrest. He also stated that if they were told very clearly that the men who were to be transferred would not be removed by force, the tragic event would not have taken place. Despite this finding, no blame was placed on the police for the killings.