The new Beekrumsing Ramlallah Interpretation Centre displays historical documents and artifacts related to the Indian immigrants
Nov 04, 2014
On November 2, 2014, the 180th anniversary of indentured labourers landing in Mauritius, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj commemorated the historic day by inaugurating the Beekramsingh Ramlallah Interpretation Centre. Mauritius and India have a strong relationship, and India will always support the island, she declared during her speech at the ceremony.
Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam was present with other ministers and dignitaries at this well attended ceremony that started with Indian dancing and the famous Mauritian ‘sega’ dances. The new Beekrumsing Ramlallah Interpretation Centre displays historical documents and artifacts related to the Indian immigrants who arrived on this island to work in sugar plantations owned by the colonial European masters.
Their hardships and tribulations followed by their gruelling struggle to obtain their basic human rights is the foundation for the independent island state today. They suffered the worst form of racial discriminations and the worst form of unabashed institutionalised exclusion. The island’s Labour Party led by the late Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, father of the current prime minister, campaigned for human rights and independence that dawned in 1968.
The persistent efforts of Beekrumsing Ramlallah, founder, publisher and editor The Mauritius Times, to bring up the Aapravasi Ghat since 1970 as a memento of Indo-Mauritian history has culminated in this ceremony. Earlier, this spot was called Coolie Ghat and it was renamed to honour these immigrants who built this nation.
Two researchers of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute summed up Ramlallah’s contribution to the Aapravasi Ghat in one sentence: “On the suggestion of late B. Ramlallah, a commemorative plaque was installed on June 4, 1978, in memory of the arrival of the indentured labourers on November 2, 1884, and the abolition of the indentured system on May 31, 1924.”
Ramlallah made special effort to include a visit of the then Indian Prime Minister, late Indira Gandhi, in 1970 to this venue and that speed up matters to honour the immigrants. Since then, all Indian Prime Ministers and other dignitaries make it a point to visit Aapravasi Ghat to offer their homage. The Mauritian government has in 1985 included the Aapravasi Ghat in 1987 as a National Monument of Mauritius.
Researcher SJ Reddi writes, “In the 1830s, the British government abolished slavery in 1835, and in Mauritius the planters were seeking a new type of labour which could meet the requirements of the sugar industry. Thus the system of indentured labour was developed.
“Between 1834 and 1920, about half a million of labourers were brought to work on the sugar cane fields and factories. The result of this new form of labour exploitation was to bring about a sugar revolution in Mauritius. Whereas in 1812, Mauritius produced 467 tons of sugar, by 1878, it produced 130,732 tons. The labourer was beaten, often his wages withheld. If he was ill and absent for one day, his wages was cut for two days.”
A noted leader of Mauritius Sir Satcam Boolell wrote: “Just as the Jews cannot forget their Holocaust, in the same manner the descendants of those labourers can never forget their tribulations. We do not want to harbour those sad memories as a weapon of revenge. We simply want the generations to come to be fully vigilant so that human dignity is never trampled upon so cruelly…”
If Beekrumsing Ramlallah has succeeded in spite of the modest means at his disposal to help rekindle the once fading memory of his ancestors, he was fired with a sense of firm commitment to a cause. Following her speech, Sushma Swaraj unveiled a bust of Beekrumsing Ramlallah and toured the centre to appreciate its displays.
Sushma Swaraj continued her visit at the Human Service Trust at Calebasses, founded by Swami Krishnanaand Saraswati, a former judge from India in 1983, and now engaged in various educational, social and religious activities. Here she talked about the strong cultural bonds between the two countries and how Indian culture is alive and well in Mauritius.
* Published in print edition on 7 November 2014