By Chit Dukhira
The Aapravasi Ghat, whose mere mention evokes the name of Beekrumsing Ramlallah, is considered the symbol of the disembarkation of all Mauritians’ ancestors – European, African or Asian Remembering Manilal Doctor & de Plevitz
Mauritius Times came out in special edition on 3 February 1956 in homage to Manilal Doctor, following his death a week earlier. He had battled for Indo-Mauritians’ uplift during his stay in the country (1907-11). By 1959, to perpetuate his memory, Beekrumsing Ramlallah convened a meeting at the Hindu Maha Sabha’s seat where the Manilal Doctor Memorial Committee was set up. Vanprasthi Dhurundhar and Mootoocomaren Sangeelee were made chairman and secretary respectively, while he chose to be its vice-chairman. A bronze statue of the Indian emancipator was then erected at the Jardin de La Compagnie in Port Louis, facing the Sabha’s building. Beekrum did not forget the contribution of Adolphe de Plevitz, the first to struggle for the cause of the country’s Indian workers in the early 1870s. He had a statue made for him as well in 1998. He met the entire cost of the making of this statue from his own resources. He had it installed in the yard of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute (MGI), with the consent and support of its then director, Uttama Bissoondoyal.
In the late 1960s, Beekrum spotted the historical steps at the Coolie Ghat, Immigration Square, as used by indentured immigrants upon their disembarkation. He was the first to observe, annually on 2 November, a day of remembrance for these pioneers. It was in 1970 that Beekrum started the practice of organising a public religious ceremony, at the site of disembarkation of the Indian indentured workers. The practice has continued after his death, and since 2003 the day has become a public holiday. Moreover, in the 1970s, he advocated the creation in Delhi of a Ministry for Overseas Indians – perhaps the first time such a suggestion was made; it is now a reality.
Also in 1970, Public Assistance Commissioner Ramnarain Ramsaha, discovered the records (photos and other documents) of the Indians’ first arrival stacked in a disorderly manner somehere in his own office building, then located in the Immigration Bureau. He saved them from being annihilated and contacted Beekrum. The latter did all within his power to convince the authorities of the importance of transferring the Indian immigrants’ register to the national archives. However, its then director, empowered to accept or reject any document to be archived, was unsympathetic. Such responsibility was later entrusted to the Minister concerned. The documents, meanwhile dumped at the archives, were further secured and properly stored at the MGI by 1975.
Symbol of Immigration
In June 1976, when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Mauritius, Beekrum successfully convinced Prime Minister SSR to change her established programme, allowing her to consecrate the Coolie Ghat. He had even cabled the Indian PM to this end.
In 1978, upon Beekrum’s suggestion, a commemorative plaque with its new name was placed at this spot now called Aapravasi Ghat and later declared a historical site (1985). By 2006, it became a World Heritage Site – the first official recognition of this humanity’s landmark. The Ghat Interpretation Centre is named after him.
The landing spot symbolises Indian, and even general, immigration, across the world. The ancestors of almost all Mauritians disembarked at this area, through the steps already referred to or otherwise in the vicinity, coming from Europe, Africa and Madagascar, undivided India (before 1947) and China, so that our present society proudly represents the various complexions, races, cultures and religions noticeable globally.