Na tir chalao, na talwar nikalo
Jab taup mukabil hai
To akbaar nikalo
In a potent way this Hindi saying developed during India’s fight for independence epitomises the adage that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Translated it reads: ‘Do not shoot an arrow or draw your sword. When confronted with a cannon launch a newspaper.’ So many times in the struggle for freedom, when faced with repressive forces, the champions of the downtrodden have used the power of the published word, the newspaper, the pamphlet, the book or in present times the blog or Twitter to usher revolutionary changes for a better socio-economic order. What motivated Beekrumsing Ramlallah’s decision to leave a secure teaching career to launch the weekly Mauritius Times on 14th August 1954?
In the history of our own struggle for independence, various newspapers were launched in the last century such as the Hindi language Arya Patrika (1924-1940) and Arya Vir (1929-50) both edited by Pandit Cashinath Kistoe and others as well as Aryoday (1950-55) edited by Pandit Atmaram as a forum to sensitise and mobilise the masses to unite to wrest freedom.
Similarly, the daily Advance was started by Jay Narain Roy (JNR) in 1940 from voluntary contributions he had raised as from 1937 and the proceeds of the sale of 5,000 copies of the pamphlet ‘Whither Indo-Mauritians?’ written by him. This pamphlet was published in Dr Edgar Millien’s newspaper L’Oeuvre in September 1937 as a sequel to the historic sugar industry strike that had taken place the previous month and was followed by the publication of the booklet ‘Towards Uplift’.
The Arya Patrika of 1 July 1938 wrote that Jay Narain Roy had managed to collect Rs 15,000 for a printing press. In the 31 December 1940 issue of Arya Vir, its editor Pandit Cashinath Kistoe announced with pride that the launching of the much-awaited daily Advance had become a reality thanks to its ‘Janamdatta’ (Life giver) Jay Narain Roy. In 1947, JNR founded the Hindi newspaper Janata (The People) and was its editor till 1953. His potent editorials were translated and read in the Legislative Council.
In the struggle for freedom, a newspaper is the soul of a nation mirroring its dreams and aspirations, its daily tribulations and echoing the rallying call to topple oppression and establish the sovereign rights of the people. For all these patriots, these newspapers were essential vehicles in their sacred crusade and fight for freedom to which they would devote all their energy and intellect.
Mauritius Times’ tryst with destiny
The same fire, crusading spirit and ideal of being the voice of the voiceless must have underpinned Beekrumsing Ramlallah’s decision to launch the weekly Mauritius Times on 14th August 1954. This date was a symbolic day as it was on this day in 1947 that Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India delivered his historic speech on the eve of India’s independence on 15 August:
‘Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.
‘At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, then an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity…’
What better rousing words to inspire and shape the underlying ethos of a newspaper set up to advance the cause of freedom? Running a weekly on a shoestring budget in a hostile pre-independence environment was no easy task. When Beekrumsing Ramlallah visited JNR for advice and support before launching Mauritius Times, the latter told him: ‘If you can afford to burn the midnight oil, then you should go ahead.’
Beekrumsing Ramlallah lived up to the challenge and Mauritius Times became an unwavering guardian of the people’s rights, the freedom of the press and a bulwark against poor governance in post independence Mauritius. 60 years is a glorious milestone in the journey of a weekly. First and foremost, it attests to the unstinted determination and resolve of its founder, Beekrumsingh Ramlallah, the current editor Madhukar Ramlallah and their supporting teams to carry on with immense merit with the challenging task of week in week out publish an opinion driven weekly for six decades through the ups and downs of the chequered history of Mauritius as from 1954.
It also attests to the commitment and loyalty of the successive generations of columnists who have contributed in sustaining the thrust of Mauritius Times’ uncompromising contribution to the national debate on all issues germane to the interests of the people and the country bearing in mind our own tryst with destiny and pledges made by the founding fathers of Mauritius for a better and inclusive order. Throughout those exhilarating 60 years Mauritius Times has enjoyed the unconditional support of its loyal readers through the common kinship of battles fought or yet to be fought for a better Mauritius.
In a media landscape which is largely partisan and bent on indoctrinating their audience with their own version of reality, Mauritius Times has progressively carved a unique niche and status in the local media. As a result of its particular style of editorship, it has been able to attract a pluri-disciplinary crop of regular contributors to continuously enhance the content of the weekly and broaden its readership and exposure of the paper’s opinion leaders through online access Today, it is primarily an independent platform of analysis, opinion and constructive proposals by its editor and a growing number of regular commentators on all topical issues or major policy options and strategies envisaged which have a bearing on the larger interests of Mauritius and its people.
Its particular format which focuses on solid content rather than the sensationalism of daily breaking news and gossip also includes a range of other interesting eclectic subjects which appeal to a broader audience. Its incisive, opinion making articles and comment on matters of national interest from contributors who are principally free thinking citizens wishing to share their views and very often with expertise to help hone our national strategies have become the hallmark of the weekly’s own brand of journalism. Its content and opinions are diligently monitored and heeded as it would be foolhardy not to do so.
Robert Frost words, ‘the woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep’ aptly summarises the local situation. There are still unfulfilled promises made to the people to keep. It is therefore important that Mauritius Times continues under the stewardship of its current Editor and the loyal support of its contributors as well as new ones and that of the public, to crusade for a better Mauritius.
To this end, it is equally important that the young of the country are more involved and seek to establish the primacy of good governance and a meritocracy driven level playing field in recruitment and the management of our human resources in both the public and private sectors. It is only through an emphasis on excellence that the nation can harness its best talent and expertise to boost up its think tank acumen to generate much higher growth and prosperity for the good of all. The social media provides a potent platform to the young to participate in the national debate and implicate themselves to help usher reform for a better order. It should be remembered that the tools of filming, photos and comment as well as apps available on smart phones enable stories in the corners of the world to become potent visual breaking news calling, as in the case of the tragic events in Gaza or the plight of Yazidis in Northern Iraq, for immediate attention and action of the world.
Mauritius Times therefore has the key role of acting, together with its opinion leaders, as a catalyst to mobilise public opinion and the young of the country to bring about a fundamental change in approach and management of all spheres of Mauritian life including in particular politics to establish a more just, efficient and truly inclusive society. As a crusader of a better order for all, such a role is tailored to the ethos of the weekly.
* Published in print edition on 14 August 2014