Horse-Racing & Self-Respect

Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago

By Somduth Bhuckory

Last Saturday was a race day which ten years ago would have been the biggest race day of the year. It was the day known as the Journée populaire. So great was this day that tradition has settled a press holiday for it. Yes, the dailies did not appear last Saturday as on every other journée populaire. But there was nothing striking about the day itself. The journée has ceased to be populaire. Tradition has had a break and the racing history of our island has taken another turn.

What has happened to the most colourful of race days? Why has it lost its colour and popularity? Where are the greasy pole and the surging crowd? That day is gone and gone forever to live only in our memories. But why? Because of self-respect. Indians were turning up in such vast numbers that the day had been contemptuously associated with them. To be true, it was their day. But the contempt turned out to be too much for them. And ten years ago, started a campaign that has borne its fruits as expected.

Ten years ago, Messrs Bissoondoyal Bros started the campaign of boycotting that particular race day. They appealed to the Indians. They made of the boycott a means to drive the lesson home that the self-respect of a community could not be trampled upon. The message was far from being a cry in the wilderness. It went straight to the hearts of the people concerned. What seemed practically impossible, was made possible.

Horse Racing – Champ de Mars – Port Louis 1958 – Photo -http://vintagemauritius.org/

On the 29th of this month, the 10th anniversary of the boycott is going to be celebrated not very far from the Champ de Mars – the physical target of the boycott. This celebration will no doubt make a lot of people ponder over self-respect. It will also, we hope, make a lot of others realize that much can be achieved given a good cause and sound leadership.

Ten years ago, it was nothing short of a revolutionary innovation to associate self-respect with horse-racing. We were inclined to take so many things for granted. The spirit of challenge has asserted itself since. After the Indians, it’s the coloured population that has been given the opportunity of pondering over their self-respect. And this brings us to the boycott of the races by Dr Millien, the Mayor of Port Louis.

* * *

It was in the racing tradition to invite the Mayor of Port Louis to attend the races every year and the Mayor used to attend them from his reserved place at the grandstand. From the time Dr Millien has become Mayor he has abstained from following in the footsteps of his predecessors. That is to say, there has been another break in the racing tradition.

At the meeting of the Municipal Council on the 4th of this month, the Mayor was asked to explain his attitude regarding his boycott. He was also asked why he did not attend the ceremony at the Cathedral in connection with Saint Louis. In both cases, the reason centres round discrimination. As we are concerned with racing only here, we shall not deal with the Saint Louis incident.

The correspondence that has taken place between Dr Millien and the Secretary of the Mauritius Turf Club has been published in the press. Refusing the invitation of the Mauritius Turf and the Mauritius Jockey Club, Dr Millien wrote: “J’ai le regret d’avoir à adopter une attitude que vous comprendez, j’espère. Il est de notoriété public que le Mauritius Turf Club n’admet parmi ses membres que des Mauriciens de la population blanche. Comme homme de couleur, et Maire de Port Louis, je me vois donc dans l’impossibilité d’accepter l’invitation à participer à une fonction de ce club.”

So, the stand of Dr Millien is clear: because the Mauritius Turf Club is an exclusive white club, he Dr Millien, who is a coloured man, cannot attend the races organized by that club. It is to be seen whether this attitude is going to be adopted by all coloured mayors henceforth. Anyway, Dr Millien has taken a courageous stand as far as he is concerned.

The irony of if all is, however, that the Municipality of Port Louis itself has leased the Champ de Mars to the racing clubs. It will be said that when the lease was granted the political climate was different. Well, if the racial discrimination of the clubs is resented, will the Municipality take any step now or in future about not leasing the Champ de Mars to the exclusive clubs?

* * *

The review of events involving self-respect would not be complete if we did not allude to the absence of the Indian and Pakistani flags on the stand on race days. The absence is striking when we find so many common and uncommon flags floating. Are so many flags unfurled there just to decorate the place or have they any meaning? The impression that we have is that anything western is welcome and anything not western is boycotted.

And to say that just across the street is the Indian Commission! The representative of a Commonwealth country has to bear this sight every time races are run. Surely, the racing clubs must be inviting him also to attend. We don’t pretend to be the spokesman of the Commissioner for the Government of India in Mauritius. But as an observer, we can’t help feeling that the race organisers seem to be deliberately ignoring to honour him and his country.

We hear far too much about entente cordiale in this place. It’s high time some emphasis was laid on the Commonwealth. Of the independent countries in the Commonwealth, India and Pakistan especially deserve to be fairly treated because of the great number of Hindus and Muslims who live here but who look up to India and Pakistan respectively for cultural inspiration just as others look up to France.

Now that the question of self-respect has come to the forefront, we hope that those who are responsible for dealing blows to it will realize that it is dangerous to be exclusive and to try to be friendly at the same time. We have seen how reactions have been sudden and far-reaching so far. Who knows what may happen next?

What has happened so far may be said to have only scratched the surface. The self-respect of the people may one day be so wounded that it will produce an indignation that will know no bounds. Then, it’s not one race day that a whole community will boycott and it’s not one man that will boycott all the races but all the affected people will boycott all the races as one man. What seemed impossible yesterday has become possible today. What is seeming impossible today may well become possible tomorrow.

4th Year – No. 162
Friday 13th September 1957


* Published in print edition on 20 April 2021

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