Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago – 1st YEAR NO. 13 – Saturday 6th November 1954
‘A Short History of Mauritius’
by Barnwell & Toussaint
The Book That Should be Banned
By D. Napal BA (Hons)
(Mr P. J. Barnwell, ex-master of Royal College and Dr A. Toussaint, Govt. Archivist, have written for the Government of Mauritius a well-documented little book – ‘A Short History of Mauritius’. The book has been recommended by the Education Department for use in our schools and colleges.
In the absence of another book on local history in English, it is read by tourists and sometimes quoted abroad by journalists, authors and politicians. Naturally we expect a book which is intended to occupy a very important place in the understanding of our country, to be unbiased in its opinion, the more so because the Government of Mauritius is its publisher.
The authors have not only slurred the reputation of the labourers but, in their eagerness to justify the action of the employers they have gone so far as to give as example a century-old English employers’ plea for not paying sufficient wages to their employees. To-day the right thinking English employers feel uneasy when they are reminded of the excuse of the employers of old of refusing to pay more to their employees because of the alleged laziness and the supposed habit of squandering money in drinks, gambling, etc. Some years ago a young teacher wrote a geography book for primary school children. For its conciseness it was readily adopted, but Government found that there were inaccuracies in it and ordered that it should not be used. We do not contend the action of the Education Department in that case but we submit that should the ‘Short History of Mauritius’ be found prejudicial, either the objectionable part of it should be removed or the book be completely banned from our schools and colleges. Any parent even the thinking capitalist, we doubt, would tolerate that his child be given partisan education. Such education in any way does not fit in the democratic frame of the Western World.
We specially commend the criticism of our contributor to the judgment of the Colonial Secretary, to the Liaison Officer of the Education Department, to the members of the Education Board and to the Members of the Legislative Council. – Ed.
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A Historian who sets about the task of writing a book, which will not only be read, but learnt by heart for years by young, easily impressionable and innocent souls, should be conscious of the responsibility he assumes. He should not allow his personal opinions to have the better of his judgment. Messrs Barnwell and Toussaint in their ‘Short History of Mauritius’ have swerved from the historian’s path and seem to have at best ranged themselves as pamphleteers on the employers’ side in a paper war. Let the facts speak for themselves.
Anti-Labour and Anti-Indian Sentiments
The book in question was published for the Government of Mauritius by Messrs Longman, Green & Co. Recently it has been adopted as a textbook for Form I in the Government Secondary School and in the Upper Forms of the Primary Government and Aided Schools. We shall not concern ourselves with the merits and demerits of the book as a whole. What concerns us is Chapter 22 which contains certain blatantly noxious passages. After reading it carefully one is left under the impression that the authors have deliberately advanced anti-labour and anti-Indian sentiments. They attribute the labour disturbances which occurred in the North of the Island in 1943, not so much to low wages and bad standard of living as to agitators who fanned the flames of discontent. They write: “Agitators (some of them, inspired by nationalist movement of “India for Indians” went round the districts making speeches against the Government and against the chief planters) increased the discontent and in 1943 there were further fatal riots.”
Cause of riots – wages unduly low
Nowhere in the Report of the Commission of Enquiry which enquired into the disturbances referred to, do we find such sweeping assertions. Over and over again we read in the Report that the causes of the riots were “that the labourers’ wages were unduly low and that their grievances remained unremedied although they had taken steps to make it known.” In section 143 of the Report, we read: “We consider that the acknowledged economic grievance was the primary cause of the disturbances and the manner in which it found out overt expression was a secondary and subsidiary cause.”
For one thing, we are certain: to write on the labour disturbances of 1943 one must base oneself on facts gathered from the Report which Messrs Barnwell and Toussaint seem to have completely ignored. Their comments and opinions (which nakedly reflects those of the medieval conservatives) on the discontent of the labourers against starvation wages occupy an unduly long space.
An exploded theory is made an axiom
Throughout history whenever the worker has demanded higher wages the employer has replied that increasing wages would tend to make him work for a lesser number of days. This conservative plea not to increase wages is, we all know, an exploded theory, but Messrs Barnwell and Toussaint take it for an axiom. They write: “Most planters however knew that if labourers were paid more for each day’s work, they would work fewer days: instead of working six days a week for a rupee a day, a labourer would work say only four days a week if he were paid two rupees a day, or only three days a week if he were given three rupees a day. Exactly the same problem had been noted with uneducated English labourers and workmen a hundred years before and the English employers made the same complaints: that the more they paid their workmen, the less those workmen worked and the more those workmen spent in strong drinks enfeebling their health and their working powers.”
Labourers accused of drunkenness
The authors’ pet theory about the laziness and lack of responsibility of the labourers who are mostly Indo-Mauritians falls to the ground, when we consider the fact that most of the small planters have evolved from one-time labourers. Besides, reliable and competent authorities have paid glowing tribute to the thrifty and industrious characteristics of the Indo-Mauritian labourers. There are certain passages in the book which are really revolting. The authors have not been sparing in their generalisations; they write: “It was then noted (by whom?) that more and more of the wages of the labourers were spent in the rum shops, less and less on food for the labourers’ wives and children; the more money a labourer received at the end of the week, the more he drank, the less he worked, and the less was he able to work, his health being spoilt by hard drinking and insufficient food.”
Who are the reliable authorities?
We know that the only authority on the labour disturbances of 1943 is the Report we have already mentioned and which was published on the 4th of May 1944. This Report does not mention such facts. Yet the authors write: “A few months later, in December 1944 the Government report concerning the labour troubles of 1943 contained similar ideas.” We ask the authors whether their ill-founded statements about Indian agitators do not leave in the child’s mind the impression that the Indo-Mauritian leaders want to make of Mauritius an Indian Colony? Are not the labourers’ sons attending school humiliated by the stigma of laziness and drunkenness which has been thrusted on their fathers? It is quite clear that the opinions of the authors and those found in the Report are divergent. Who are the most reliable authorities: Messrs Barnwell and Toussaint or the Commissioners (Hon. S. Moody the Colonial Secretary, Hon. E. Laurent, Hon. Osman, Justice G.E. Noel and His Honour R. Neerunjun)?
What is most unfortunate is that the Report will never reach the classroom to wipe out the wrong impressions created by the ‘Short History of Mauritius’ in the impressionable mind of the young child. Let Government see to it that such ideas to not poison our children’s minds. The publication of such a book by Government and its adoption as a textbook in our schools are not to the credit of Government policy in our island.
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It must be said
In his Opinion du jour of 5.10.54, Mr NMU wrote: “La France ne doit pas servir de prétexte et d’aliment aux querelles politico-raciales qui sont la plaie de ce pays.’ Yes, France should not be used as a political stunt, but why should India be! India is not inferior to France in any field. Since some time there is a small group of people (and especially Mr NMU) who has taken the liberty of vilifying India and Mr Nehru and the representative of India. They say, write, and publish anything which is anti-Hindu and anti-Nehru. No one, still less Mr NMU and his clique, has the right to slur India and Mr Nehru. Whether Mr Mendès-France supports or deserts the EDC is not our business and no one has the right to slur him; similarly, whether Mr Nehru is doing his work properly or not is the concern of the Indian taxpayers.
Mr Nehru can be criticized by statesmen of the calibre of President Eisenhower, Sir Winston Churchill, Mr Mendès France, Mr G. Malenkov but not by simpletons swarming in a remote colony who are unable to sit at his feet and to learn the elements of political history or statesmanship. Again if there is someone who should refrain from making any malicious allegations against Mr Nehru or India or against his representative he is no one less than Mr NMU the Director of Le Cernéen.
In the CIDI of June 1954, Mr NMU writes: Le Commissaire de l’Inde. “Nous avons eu jusqu’ici trois Commissaires de l’Inde dont les débordantes activités n’ont pas toujours semblé proportionnées aux occupations normales d’un Consulat ayant à s’occuper de quelques dizaines de sujets de la République indienne. Mr Sahay ne semble apprécié de tous les Indo-Mauriciens du pays. On a appris avec surprise qu’il a été giflé par l’un d’eux alors qu’il invectivait contre un cortège hindou qui immobilisait son auto sur la voie publique (italics ours).
Mr NMU accuses the Commissioner for abusing a Hindu procession. Can he prove that?
* Published in print edition on 7 November 2014