Fall of Bastille – What it Teaches Us?

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

By D. Napal

The anniversary of the fall of the Bastille has again been celebrated in France, here and elsewhere, with the usual glamour claimed by the ‘Fête nationale française’. The local papers have given their reports of the celebrations. Unfortunately, we are left under the impression that the fête on the 14th of July has sunk into mere formalism. We often hear: la prise de la Bastille, but we fail to realise the significance embodied in these few words. Time seems to have obliterated the symbol of oppression which the Bastille represented – at least this is true of our own island. The basic facts about the Bastille and its fall seem to have been clean forgotten. But it is not so easy to forget the lessons of History.

The fall of the Bastille was the fall of tyranny of the most grinding sort; it was the victory of the hungry masses upon their oppressors who fathered themselves upon their sweat and blood.

The 14th of July is a date which naturally brings to the mind thoughts on the French Revolution, which ushered in a new era in world history. And to understand the French Revolution we should have an idea of the forces which launched it. It was as the bursting of a volcano which had for years in its bowels the elements of eruption. Oppression and injustice were rife in the France of the old regime.

The philosophers had long been at work. Jean Jacques Rousseau had expounded his theories in the ‘Social Contract’, of which the opening lines alone set one thinking: “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains.” But the philosophers Voltaire, Diderot and others based their theories on actual facts – on the oppression, injustice, starvation, and squalor which were the eye-sores of pre-revolutionary France.

A century before 1789, when the whole of Europe was astounded by the glaze and glitter of the reign of Louis XIV, the sun-King, in vivid words Jean de La Bruyère gave a picture of the peasantry when he wrote:

“Certain savage-looking beings, male and female, are seen in the country, black, livid, and sunburnt, and belonging to the soil, which they dig and grub with invincible stubbornness. They seem capable of articulation, and, when they stand erect, they display human lineaments. They are, in fact, men. They retire at night into their dens, where they live on black bread, water, and roots. They spare other human beings the trouble of sowing, ploughing, and harvesting, and thus should not be in want of the bread they have planted.”

These were the men who made the revolution, men who made life a heaven on earth for those in clover, while they themselves led a life of semi-starvation and died as dumb driven cattle. In the words of the bishop of Chartres, “men ate grass like sheep, and died like so many flies.”

Louis XV, in whose lifetime the populace had begun to show restlessness, had dismissed the situation with his usual indifference: “Après moi, le deluge.” And the deluge came. Louis XVI was by temperament unfitted to weather the storm. Indecision marked all his actions. He was weak and easily influenced, at one time by the young and lovely but the unexperienced and haughty Marie Antoinette, his wife whom the Parisians contemptuously alluded to as the “Autrichienne. He always meant well but ever lacked the firmness to tide over difficult situations.

The Bastille was the symbol of centuries of oppression. The populace had always looked upon it with awe and hatred. The King and his entourage laughed at the idea of its even falling under an attack by the canaille where the great Conde had failed.

In the month of July 1789, Louis XVI’s minister was Necker. He was popular with the Parisians but unfortunately hateful to the Queen and her courtiers. The King finally ceded to his wife’s remonstrations and dismissed Necker. The news roused the fury of the populace, especially as Necker’s dismissal was followed by that of other ministers who were all replaced by those who were notorious for their opposition to the popular cause. This was the immediate cause of the insurrection of the 14th July 1789. But the real cause was deeper. They were the oppression of centuries which had rendered the people desperate.

The Bastille fell without much opposition. The Governor Delaunay was decapitated. Other executions followed, especially that of Foulon who was reported to have told to the hungry populace to eat grass.

The fall of the Bastille, almost two centuries ago, is still vivid in the minds of people. A picture of the grim horrors perpetrated during the French Revolution shows one thing plainly – injustice and oppression cannot continue indefinitely. Sooner or later the day of reckoning comes.

May the fall of the Bastille serve as an object lesson to our Mauritian exploiters who take undue advantage of the weakness and helplessness of their less fortunate fellow-brothers.

4th Year – No 154 — Friday 19 July 1957

“Maintain friendly relations,” says Swami Dhruvanand

In the quiet, rustic surrounding of the Gayasingh Orphanage we went to meet Swami Dhruvanand. He is staying there since his arrival in January, with the orphans and destitutes.

Tall, well built, his mind is alert as any young man’s in spite of his 73 years. A scholar in Sanskrit and Hindi he is a very eloquent speaker. His sermons are illustrated with various examples drawn from the vast store of experience he has acquired. Swamiji hates publicity. Only after some hesitation he accepted to reply to our questions.

He was born in Brindaban, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, and was named Dhruvendra. In 1919 he passed the Shastri examination at the Punjab University. Nyaya (logic) being his favourite subject he took the Nyaya Bhushan of the Vidya Parishad which he passed in 1921. It’s then that started his career of strain and strife devoted to the cause of his downtrodden people.

In 1923 Dhruvendra Shastri was appointed Secretary of the All India Hindu Suddhi Sabha. From 1926 to 1930 he became Principal of the Gurukul Vaidya Nath Dham which is managed by the Bengal and Bihar Arya Pratinidhi Sabha. In 1930 while serving in the Indian National Congress he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment by the Patna City Court. In 1939 he took the leading part in the agitation against the suppression of civil liberties by the Hyderabad State. He was arrested and sentenced to 23 months in jail.

Youths have always attracted Swamiji. He did not miss an opportunity to help them. In 1941 he was made president of the All India Arya Kumar Parishad. Being himself a physical culturist, he sponsored the establishment of several gymnasiums in Bihar and in UP. Some even bear his name. From 1945 to 1949 he became president of the International Aryan League. On the 7th November 1954 when he was ordained Sanyasin he relinquished all his official functions.

Besides taking part in these social and religious functions, Swamiji held some very privileged positions. He was the Raj Guru (Royal preceptor) to five Indian princes, namely to the Raja of Kala Kankar, Maharaja of Shahpura, Maharaja of Devas junior, Maharaja of Sharguja, Raja of Nagargunj. Swamiji has done quite a lot of travelling. He preached the Vedic religion for six months in Burma. On the invitation of the East African Arya Pratinidhi Sabha he went to Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. Swamiji is leaving us for Nairobi by air on 21st July. As his mission is not yet complete, he intends coming back after three months’ stay in Nairobi.

To our question whether he had any knowledge of this colony prior to his coming, Swamiji told us:

“I had a very hazy knowledge of Mauritius. All that I knew was that sugar cane is the main crop and that Biharis are in majority. It was indeed a pleasure for me to find out that though the Indo-Mauritians are cut off from India for more than a century they still cherish their mother tongue, their religion and culture.”

Now that you have stayed with us for some time, we asked him, tell us the impression you have got of the Hindus.

“On the whole the Hindus of this colony seem to me to have faith in their religion, devotion to their family, they are hard working. But I would add that the womenfolk have conserved more of Hinduism than the men. A remarkable feature which cannot escape the visitors from India is that the adepts of all sects of Hinduism live in complete harmony. The spirit of provincialism is almost inexistent. And true to their religious concept, Hindus maintain good neighbourly relations with the other communities.”

– Have you found anything wrong with us?

“One aspect of Mauritian life which has shocked me is that people spend a tremendous sum of money on alcohol and tobacco. I seize this opportunity to make a fervent appeal to my brethren to cease indulging in these obnoxious habits. It is not only a drain on their purse, but it is doing them a lot of harm – physical, mental as well as moral.”

– What is your message to the Hindus, Swamiji?

‘First I have remarked that you are doing little concrete work. You haven’t got any lending library of your own, you haven’t got any Hindi daily paper, there is no gymnasium worth the name, there is no school where Sanskrit and Hindu culture are taught. You should fill these gaps. Second, you should give more thought to moral and physical upliftment. Third, Mauritius being your country of adoption, work for its prosperity and maintain the friendly relations with the other communities.”

* Published in print edition on 22 December 2020

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