Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By Peter Ibbotson
There are nearly four million Indians settled all over the world, in Commonwealth as well as foreign countries. Many are in the United Kingdom, as permanent settlers or students or temporary visitors. Particularly numerous are the Indian students, from colonial territories too numerous to list but including the Caribbean colonies and Mauritius.
There is in existence a central organisation intended to help all these scattered Indians to keep in touch with each other. It is the Council for Indians abroad; whose honorary secretary is Dr K.D. Kumria, also well-known as the editor of the monthly African and Colonial World. The aims of this Council are two: to safeguard the interests of Indians overseas, and to promote better understanding between people of Indian origin and other communities in overseas territories.
Some time ago two Mauritians served on the executive committee of the Council: Mr R. Sewgobind (known to readers of the Mauritius Times) and Mr S. Buckhory; but at present the Executive Committee lacks any representatives from Mauritius. Countries which are represented are, at the moment, British Guiana, Burma, Fiji, India and Trinidad. A Trinidadian is the treasurer of the Council.
The Council will in future provide opportunities to meet and entertain distinguished Indians from all over the world who happen to be visiting London. Every month, on the first Friday, it holds a dinner at the Indian Students’ Bureau at 87 West Cromwell Road, London S.W.5. I strongly urge all Mauritians of Indian extraction who are visiting as students, as ordinary visitors, or on overseas leave to get into touch with Dr Kumria (his address is 70, St George Road, London S.E. I) and join the Council for Indians Abroad. Membership costs the modest sum of five shillings (Rs 3.35 a year).
Recently I attended a dinner given by the Council. It was attended by Indians from India, the UK, Trinidad and British Guiana; it is valuable to be able to make contacts with people from countries other than one’s own. In the interests of mutual understanding, such contacts are doubly valuable in a world so beset about with problems of international relations as it is today. Such contacts, too, help to bridge the gap between the Asian and the Western worlds; to bridge the gap between Asian and Western civilisations and cultures.
In the Conservative Party’s recent pamphlet on colonial affairs, ‘The Smaller Territories’ by Sir Hilary Blood (ex-Governor of Mauritius), the author says of Mauritius: “With the constitution of 1948, political power passed not only from the hands of the well-to-do, educated classes to the poor uneducated classes, but also from white to Indian hands.” In Sir Hilary’s opinion, therefore, if he means what his statement can only be taken to mean, the Indian is poor and uneducated while the White is well-to-do, and uneducated.
This is a gross libel on the Indian; many Indians are very well educated. I think that Sir Hilary Blood should get a copy of Mr Leclezio’s letter published in Le Mauricien and Advance. But there is a widespread impression that all Indians are uncultured whereas all westerners are cultured; and this is an impression carefully attempted to be fostered in the columns of the reactionary press: Le Cernéen and Le Mauricien.
Organisations such as the Council for Indians Abroad can do much to help to counteract this false impression.
Western friends of the Council, such as Mr Richter, secretary of the Royal Indian Society and editor of Asian Review, do much to put the fact of Asian culture and civilisation in its right perspective, but the best way for Indians to show the western world just how far their own civilisation is advanced, and just how glorious is the history of their race (who can do anything but admire a man such as Asoka?), is for them to join the Council for Indians Abroad and at its functions meet westerners and show by their example that the Indian is not the inferior of the westerner.
For inferiority has nothing to do with the possession of a different coloured skin. Nor with the fact of speaking a different language or professing a different religion. And international bodies such as the Council for Indians Abroad can do much to help to dispel illusions such as those which are held mainly by imperialist — or colonialist — minded persons who are attempting to justify their own predatory natures by reference to antiquated prejudices.
Mauritius has been called, and rightly, the forgotten island of the Indian Ocean. But suddenly, thanks to the efforts of a few disaffected persons, the Soviet Union seems to have become aware of the existence of l’étoile et la clef. Three times in the last five months, the Moscow multi-language weekly New Times has referred to Mauritius, in letters received from readers in Mauritius.
No one, I hope, objects to people reading New Times. As part of my political work, I have to read it myself. But it is clear, from what New Times has published about Mauritius from its readers’ letters, that a wrong impression of the Mauritius Labour Party is being given, and is being held, by those readers.
There is much misery and poverty in Mauritius. Myself, in various publications such as Tribune, Peace News, Reynolds News, African and Colonial World, Labour Teacher, and even the Daily Worker, I have written of the widespread distress, the bad housing, the low wages, and the parlous school conditions. But I have also given credit where it is due — to the Labour Party for doing what it can to ameliorate these conditions. Unfortunately, it does not yet lie within the power of the Labour Party (or for that matter of anyother political party) in Mauritius to better the dreadful conditions of life of many of the people.
At present, Mauritius is not fully self-governing. The Labour Party has rightly done much in recent years to advance the island’s constitution towards self-government so that, when self-government does come, (and with it a Labour Government), a big programme of social reform can be introduced. But such a programme could not be introduced as long as Whitehall had the last word — we recall that only a matter of four years ago, Mr Lyttleton (then Colonial Secretary) criticised the Government for estimating too much for social expenditure.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 June 2022
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