Glimpses of Mauritian History
The planters feared that the slaves who were liberated in 1834 might refuse to work in the fields. Their worst fear came to be true. Eugene Bernard, who lived in those times testifies to the fact that, “les affranchis ont un si grand mépris pour tout ce qui rappelle les obligations de leur premier état, qu’ils se croient…”
Paul Carie, in a lecture delivered on the 11th April 1919, uttered some words which are to the same effect. He said, “Le souvenir de l’esclavage les à tout jamais éloignés du travail des champs. »
Very few of those who had worked under the whip, agreed to go the cane-fields once they were free. Many of them emigrated to the towns where they took to crafts or to idling; others settled down on the coastal villages where they snatched a living from the sea. Those who accepted to work for the planters only did so for exorbitant prices. Disaster stared the sugar magnates in the face. The “affranchis” refused field-work which cruelly reminded them of their servile toil – many of them still bore the marks of the corrective whip upon their bodies.
“The chief charge against the negroes,” writes Rev P. Beaton, “after their emancipation was that their women instead of working in the fields as they had been wont to do before, preferred remaining at home nursing their children.”
The planters turned towards India for the recruitment of labourers to save themselves from threatening ruin. It was in 1834, Mr Arbuthnot, an agent of Mauritian planters was able to recruit 36 labourers. By 1837, 7000 Indian immigrants had already landed in our island.
Immigration was not looked upon favourably in India. In England, the Abolitionists who had done so much for the abolition of slavery did not want indentured labourers to be only another name for slaves. Lord Brougham denounced immigration in the House of Lords. In January 1838 a resolution was moved which condemned the Order in Council which had permitted immigration from India to Mauritius and to the West Indies. The motion of Lord Brougham was defeated in spite of all that he did to have it passed. However, the agitation in England round the question of immigration had its effect in India. A public meeting was held in Calcutta which moved resolutions against immigration. Commissions were appointed both in India and in Mauritius to study the question.
Meanwhile, the suspension of immigration had come as a bombshell upon the planters. Public meetings were organised in the island demanding that Indian Immigration should continue. In the book of Edwards on Mauritius, we read: « Le 12 octobre 1838 les colons réunis en plusieurs meetings demandèrent l’immigration indienne pour remplacer les esclaves aux champs… On fit droit à la requête, des colons et l’autorisation formelle de l’immigration indienne causa beaucoup de joie aux planteurs. »
There is no denial of the fact that had Indians not come to the rescue at such a critical period of her history as that which immediately followed the liberation of the slaves, Mauritius would have been lost. Most of the writers who have written on this subject pay glowing tribute to the swarthy Orientals who by the sweat of their brow and their brawny sinews helped to make of this island what it is today.
“Il est vrai,” writes the author of L’Evolution Nationale Mauricienne,” que l’Indien nous a rendu service en cultivant notre sol abandonné par le noir, et en nous permettant ainsi de lutter avec succès contre la concurrence mondiale.”
Clement Charoux has drawn a graphic picture of Indian Immigration in the following passage : « Le voie est ouverte à l’immigration asiatique qui d’abord timidement, par la seule initiative privée, plus tard officiellement organisée, permettra le développement sans cesse plus considérable de notre industrie. Les cultures, les sucreries se multiplient. L’île Maurice va planter, vivre… »
(Friday 15th July 1955)
- Published in print edition on 6 November 2015