A Landmark in the History of Indians in Mauritius

Mauritius Times 60 Years

By D. Napal

(Tomorrow is the 49th anniversary of the foundation of ‘The Hindusthani’)

Manilal Doctor has a claim to our gratitude for more than one reason. During the few years that he stayed among us he militated with remarkable zeal and undaunted courage in favour of Mauritians of Indian origin. He pleaded their cause and voiced their grievances before the Royal Commission of 1909. He agitated for the suppression of the double cut, which made the poor indentured labourer forfeit his pay for ten days for a day’s absence. He led a vigourous campaign for the abolition of indentured labour, which was but an euphemistic term for slavery, with all the horrors which it implied. He demanded to put an end to Indian immigration, which was resorted to by the white planters to procure cheaper labour on the market, regardless of the interests of those Indians who had made of the island their home.

The Royal Commissioners of 1909 while drafting their Report were more than once inspired by the evidence of Manilal Doctor on these and many other aspects of the Indian question. In many of their recommendations regarding the Indians, we can find an echo of this evidence. But towering above all his achievements, is the foundation of The Hindusthani. Manilal Doctor realised the role of a newspaper in shaping public opinion. He realised it the more as no local paper would have anything to do with matters affecting the Indians. The Conservatives were hostile; it was a tradition with them to do so. And those papers which called themselves democratic or liberal supported the cause of Indians only so long as they needed them to break the influence of the Conservatives. They too often joined the Conservatives in the common outcries against the “Asiatic spectre”. Manilal Doctor had the financial help of some rich merchants of Port Louis belonging particularly to the Muslim and Tamil communities in the foundation of The Hindusthani. The first issue appeared on Monday the 15th March 1909. Boldly displayed on top of it were the words: Liberty of Individuals! Fraternity of Men! Equality of Races!

This issue announced that on Saturday the 13th of March 1909 the organizers of The Hindusthani and their friends offered thanksgiving prayers to God in order to invoke His blessings upon the inauguration of the paper.

There was also a short article explaining the paper’s motto.

In this article we read among other things: “The fraternity of men which denotes love amongst human beings as fellow creatures, fellow workers and fellow sufferers follows logically from the essential nature of man as cast in the image of God.”

Here were expressed the same ideas which were embodied in Remy Ollier’s famous words: L’homme à quelque rang qu’il appartienne est le fils de Dieu et à ce titre un frère. Going further in our comparison of The Hindusthani with the Sentinelle, we do not fail to notice the similarity of ideas in the prospectus of both papers. There is this essential difference, however: whereas Remy Ollier admittedly fought for the liberation of coloured men, for their dignity and self-respect and their rights, Manilal Doctor fought for the oppressed Indian community. And this community was oppressed indeed! Those were the days when Hon. Duclos alluded to them as “hordes de barbares” and many other members of the Council followed suit in flinging similar epithets at the Indian community.

The Hindusthani too, as Remy Ollier’s Sentinelle, preached an entente among the different communities. It appealed to all Hindus, Muslims and Christians to bury their petty differences and to work for common ideals. Again, as the Sentinelle, The Hindusthani stressed the fact that such an entente could become a reality only if all the communities were held in respect and not looked down upon by some communities. The Hindusthani repeatedly wrote on the importance of the Indian community in the moulding of the destiny of this island. In the very first issue it gave a warning reminiscent of Rev. Patrick Beaton’s words. Here it is: “Take away these Hindusthani merchants and the colony will come to standstill, take away Hindusthani labour and the country must perish. In short, the Hindusthani traders and the Hindusthani labourers are the breadmakers of the colony without whose co-operation the nabobs and their queens must starve in their cool palaces at Curepipe.”

The whole collection of The Hindusthani must constitute an important document which can be of great use in the writing of the history of Indians in Mauritius. It is an unfortunate fact that only a few copies of this paper are found at the Archives. These valuable copies convince us of its militant nature and of its ceaseless fight against the forces of oppression and colonial prejudice. We deplore the non-existence of the whole collection of The Hindusthani at the Archives. We feel as if a veil were drawn on an important aspect of Manilal Doctor’s work for the Indian community.

We therefore end this article with the note of appeal to anybody who may have copies of The Hindusthani to forward them to us. We shall take the necessary steps to make the Archives authorities purchase them for their collection. In case the owner of such copies would not like to part with them we could have them on loan so that the photocopies of these precious documents may be kept at the Archives. Their value to future historians of Indians of this island is invaluable.

5th Year – No 188
Friday 14th March 1958

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 8 April 2022

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