Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By S. Bhuckory
It is fifty years since Manilal came to Mauritius and on the 13th of October of this year will be celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival here.
For all that Manilal has done to bring about a better way of life in the island, he deserves the gratitude of all progressive and freedom-loving people. Indians, in particular, owe him a special debt for what he has done to liberate their forefathers from the shackles of oppression.
Fifty years ago, the pattern of life in Mauritius was different. The white community was as assertive as ever and would not listen to sharing the power that was in its grasp. The coloured population, however, was very alive and active and it was up and against the bastion of oligarchy. At that time Indians were labourers mostly. Some of them were small planters and merchants. The rank and file had not yet produced any leader of their own.
Our little island was going through a stormy period when Manilal came in 1907. It was in that year that a political movement under the name of Action Libérale was started. The leaders of the movement were G. Guibert, E. Nairac, R. Merandom and Dr Eugene Laurent. The Indians sided with it in the hope of bettering their lot.
And that was a time when our colony had to face an economic crisis. The economic condition was so desperate that the Chamber of Agriculture had recourse to the Imperial Government for a loan. The Imperial Government was not prepared to grant any loan unless and until a Royal Commission reported on the economic position. The Chamber of Agriculture was averse to having a Royal Commission but the Action Libérale was wholeheartedly in support of it. Eventually the Royal Commission came in June 1909.
The coming of the Royal Commission afforded a splendid opportunity to the oppressed Indians to ask for the redress of their grievances. As they had no leader from their own ranks to champion their cause, it was Manilal who carried their tales of woe and suffering to the Commissioners.
The Indians had been in Mauritius for seventy-two years when the Royal Commission came. It is noteworthy that it was not for the first time that somebody from outside Mauritius was fighting on their behalf. De Plevitz had identified himself with their cause thirty-seven years before when another Royal Commission had come in 1872.
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Royal Commissions do not go to paradise islands. They go to danger spots and they indicate troubled times. So, it can be averred that when Manilal came some twenty months before the arrival of the Royal Commission he came at a time when the island was sitting on the brink of a volcano. Only a man of undaunted courage and strong determination could have raised his voice against the exploitation and oppression that were then prevalent.
Manilal came to Mauritius from Bombay on the 11th of October 1907. It is said that he came here at the request of Mahatma Gandhi who paid us a visit of ten days in 1901. Just like Mahatma Gandhi, Manilal was a barrister and both of them came from Gujrat. Manilal’s full name was Maganlall Manilal Doctor. He had the degrees of M.A., L.L.B. Soon after his arrival he registered himself as a barrister at the Supreme Court and was called to the local bar.
Four months before the arrival of the Royal Commission, Manilal started a weekly paper called The Hindustani. The motto of the paper was: “Liberty of Individuals; Fraternity of Man; Equality of races.” The paper was bilingual: English and Gujarati. Later Gujarati was replaced by Hindi. Incidentally that was the beginning of Hindi journalism.
Manilal fought from the press as well as from the platform. He always spoke in Hindustani. But his fights did not end at the press or on the platform. He used to carry them on even in the courts of justice.
Manilal served the oppressed and the down-trodden for five years in Mauritius. He went away but he left his name and his glorious deeds behind. His impact on the social, economic and political life of the labouring class has been immense.
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We cannot forget such a man. It is to perpetuate his memory that a group of people are today endeavouring to erect a suitable statue in a suitable place in Port Louis.
Manilal came to visit us in 1950 when we celebrated the proclamation of the Indian Republic at Champ de Mars. He was then an old man. His old and weary heart must have stirred at seeing the present generation living in the world of his old dream.
Manilal passed away in January of last year. The news of his death cast a gloom around those who understand what his service and sacrifice mean to Mauritius. While the anniversary of Gandhi Memorial School was being celebrated last year at Tranquebar, a committee was then and there set up with Vanprasthi Dhoorundur as President and Mr M. Sangeelee as Secretary with the idea of paying a fitting tribute to Manilal by erecting a statue in his honour.
The committee has done excellent work so far. A large sum of money has been collected and an English sculptor has been engaged to make a life-size statue in bronze. And it has applied to the Municipality of Port Louis for a suitable site. Now a Working Committee has been formed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the coming of Manilal here in a fitting manner on Sunday the 13th of October in Port Louis. Many personalities have accepted the invitation of the Working Committee to participate. On that day the highlights will be a public meeting and a fancy fair.
The statue will be unveiled later on because it is not possible to have it by then. On that day, however, the Committee is planning to lay its foundation stone. The celebration will be marked also by the publication of a symposium on Manilal.
We appeal to one and all to make of this celebration a success. Rich and poor must contribute generously. Let the memorial of Manilal stand as a landmark in our history. The oppressed will derive hope from it and fighters of all times inspiration. It would be cruel to let the memory of such a man slip into oblivion.
* Published in print edition on 16 March 2021
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