First Leader of Indo-Mauritians

By Jay Narain Roy —

MT 60 Years Ago

3rd Year No 77 – Friday 27th January 1956

•           “I have made mistakes, but I have never made the mistake of claiming that I never made one.” – J. G. Bennett

First Leader of Indo-Mauritians

Manilal Doctor’s is a name to conjure with. In the history of the Indians in Mauritius, he has played a pioneering role. He was a veritable hero among men, fighter and one indeed who had handled the first flame of political consciousness among the Indians of this colony.

The whites have a rather long tradition of reaction. Political opinion began to be formed much before the reactionary Adrien d’Epinay had raised his banner. The same spirit, in varying measure of reaction has continued to this day.

The coloured population has been politically vocal since more than a century. The stalwart Remy Ollier was by no means its first leader. The tradition of asserting its right has come down to this day.

But the real attempt to stir mass consciousness among the Indian immigrants was first made by two outsiders: De Plevitz and Manilal Doctor. De Plevitz’s movement was largely humanitarian but the political and cultural spark was flared up by the latter.

Manilal Doctor gave to the Indo-Mauritians a newspaper which fearlessly denounced some of the social and political evils of the time. Through this agency he made himself the target of attack when the opponents were too powerful. But he resisted bravely, and, giving up his work, had plunged himself into the political arena.

He had courageously championed the cause of the immigrants before the Royal Commission. Although the odds were against him and the Indians had not been able to shake their yoke to support him, he had succeeded in raising the voice of the Indians up to the gates of Whitehall.

The subsequent history brought his work in greater lustre. It can therefore be said that the real political struggle of the people dates back to the days of Manilal Doctor.

It is a remarkable fact that the history of publication in the Hindi language also takes its source from this great man. It is no secret that those who worked with him as compositors later became the soul of Hindi publication. Alas, that generation has just passed away. They formed a galaxy of men whose devotion for the Hindi language was by no means dimmed by the stare of adversity. They had kept up the glorious traditions.

Today the Indo-Mauritians as a community are fairly conscious of their political, economic and cultural rights. It would be the height of ingratitude if we were to forget the man who in the dim and dreary past had raised the banner of our emancipation.

In fact, it is even true that Manilal Doctor had come to Mauritius about the time when Gandhi had gone to South Africa to fight the battle of the Indian settlers there. Both Gandhi and Doctor were barristers from Bombay province who had begun their noble career outside their country.

Whatever impression the great man with his failing faculties may have created in 1950 (when he paid his second and last visit to Mauritius), this community owes a deep debt of gratitude to him. It was meet for us to organise a meeting of condolence and to recall his great services in the cause of the Indians. I am happy that the Mauritius Times is dedicating this edition to commemorate his death.

It was no less necessary to raise a memorial in the form of an institution, or at least a bust for him. People of lesser calibre have statues erected for them and quite a few mediocrities have town streets commemorating them. Cannot one of the streets of Port Louis be named after him?

I appeal to the Indian Community to put up a committee to raise funds with the idea of erecting a bust for that great public benefactor.

*  *  *

His Last But Only Regret

By Bissoon Hazareesingh

The  news of Mr Manilal Doctor’s death reached us through the press. To the lakhs of Indo-Mauritians for the emancipation of whose forefathers he had valiantly fought, it must have been a shocking news. But since I last saw him in Bombay I was expecting to hear of his death at any moment.

I can recall vividly how I came to meet him in Bombay. It was on 12th June 1954. A cab took me from Andheri to the Raj Bhavan in Walkeswar where I was received by the late Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the then Governor of Bombay. Shri Bajpai had had many opportunities before India achieved Independence of meeting Indo-Mauritian students in London and Paris from whom he became acquainted with Mr Manilal Doctor’s great achievements in Mauritius. When I was about to take leave of him, Shri Bajpai asked me if I had met the M.D. who had performed successfully a very delicate political operation in Mauritius which gave new life to thousands of Indians settled in that island. On my asking him whom he meant, he told me that Mr Manilal Doctor (whom he referred to as the “M.D. from Mauritius”) was in Bombay and urged me to pay him a courtesy visit as a gesture of gratitude for what he had done towards the emancipation of our forefathers. And since I left Sir Bajpai, I had a burning desire to meet that great redeemer.

That same afternoon a stroke of luck took me to a part in Andheri where I met a Mauritian girl settled in Bombay since long and whose mother was the landlady of my host in Bombay. All the time we were going round the flower beds we were talking about India and Mauritius. Some ten minutes later an old man supporting himself on a cane strolled on towards us and my friend greeted him reverently. She introduced me to him and so happy was he to meet an Indo-Mauritius that he hugged me. He was Manilal Doctor. I could hardly recognize in him the man I met in my village in Mauritius a couple of years back. Life was ebbing away from him. Speech was becoming difficult and he seemed to be on the brink of the Great End. Later I learnt that my friend and Mr Doctor were fast friends meeting almost every afternoon in that park.

We settled down on a bench all three of us and had a long and rather intimate conversation. Though it was difficult to follow him yet it was interesting to listen to him. I felt all the warmth that one feels when one is in the company of a great man. Old age and long and hard struggle had made of this once bold man and valiant fighter a meek child. He would speak to me at times of Flacq (how he remembered that district!) and of its tragedy and then of his library he had left behind in Aden. Tears would often roll down his cheeks and he would end up his sentences in a sob.

He told me that he felt the end approaching (as I quite noticed it myself) and that his affection was equally divided between his own children who had reached manhood by then and thousands of children he had left in Mauritius who had attained political maturity. To the former he had given physical birth but to the latter he had given political and spiritual birth.

Since that day and until I left for Mauritius we used to meet daily in that park where he would talk and talk up to the time we separated to meet again the following afternoon.

From his conversation I gathered that his last visit to Mauritius had made a profound wound in his heart that was profusely bleeding. He had hoped to see the Indian community united but he was disappointed.

The last day we sat together on that bench was the 21st of June, the eve of my departure from Bombay. I knew then that I would never meet him again; he would soon have to undertake a far more important voyage.

May his soul rest in peace!

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