Manilal Doctor, as a representative of Mahatma Gandhi, played a pivotal role in securing the rights and freedom of Indians in Fiji.
Although slavery was abolished in the 1830s, the harsh treatment of Indians in Fiji continued in different forms that were not officially labelled as “slavery”.
The French established an indenture system in Fiji in 1826, which was later adopted by the British in 1830, instead of the slavery system.
In 1907, Manilal arrived in Fiji and although he stayed for only four years, he brought about revolutionary changes. He assisted the indentured Indian labourers in obtaining their rights and freedom.
According to an anecdote, the island’s Indians were so eager to have a leader that they collected 172 pounds — enough to cover Manilal's transportation expenses, as well as provide him with a house and law books.
A French newspaper Le Mauricien documented, “He is remembered among Indo-Mauritian historians to have founded the Young Men’s Hindu Association, the Local Arya Samaj Movement, and The Hindustani, a bilingual daily.”
Manilal addressed the “Double Cut” and “Corvée” systems that were widespread in Mauritius. By incorporating his legal expertise into the judiciary, he ensured that Indian labourers received fair treatment.
As the indentured labour system began fading out in 1916, he then focused his efforts on helping the Indians get political rights.
The Indian Imperial Association of Fiji was inaugurated on 2 June 1918, and as a result of many meetings and efforts, it saw the end of the indenture system of labour on 1 January 1920.
Manilal Doctor provided assistance to more than 60,965 Indian labourers before returning to India, where he passed away in 1953. But the impact of his work lives on.