Dinabandhu Manilal

 By R. K. Boodhun — 

MT 60 Years Ago

3rd Year No 78 – Friday 3rd February 1956

•       The statesman shears the sheep, the politician skins them. – A. O’Malley

Manilal is no more. Let us say Manilal of India is no more for the sake of the younger members of the present generation who are more acquainted with his name than with the story of his public career.

It is true that the sorrowful news of his death has been tardily communicated to us through the organ of the Mauritian press in general but this fact alone cannot preclude us from offering a tribute however small to the memory of the prime leader of Indo Mauritians and pioneer of Indo-Mauritian movement for political recognition. It is materially beyond the scope of this journal to receive a detailed narration of the labours of Manilal’s life freely given in the interest of portions of humanity kept in subjection at a period of history when human conscience was moving niggardly in its evolution and was under a godless, grinding social system. Suffice it to say here that Manilal’s endeavours have not been unfruitful throughout the years following his departure from Mauritius shortly before or after the First World War. He did not worry much about the results of his work. As a steadfast worker and responsible individual devoted to the well-being of his fellowmen, spiritual principles mattered more to him than material success. Society indeed needs men of character – men who can courageously denounce moral wrongs, not self-seekers and axe-grinders who confound the means with the end.


If this is really what society demands, the subjective aspect of Manilal’s life is as important, if not more so, as the objective aspects. Material gain to this man was no consideration. The sincerity of purpose and the spirit of sacrifice displayed by Manilal were the dominant characteristics of his public life. He was of a sensitive nature and so he was quick to avenge an insult not with the sword of steel but with the word of the tongue or pen for he belonged to the professions of law and journalism which open up extensive field for human service in general however minor may be the issues at stake. His outspokenness and straightforwardness in his dealings with private or public men were remarkable features of his buoyant temperament. Duplicity was foreign to his social or political behaviour. In the political realm therefore, Manilal was a trustworthy leader of men – not a dealer in national honour but a leader of independent thinking. The search after truth in whatever form was the beginning and end of activities. If he had a massage to deliver to us, it would have obviously been one of sincerity to self and loyalty to truth.

Manilal may be remembered by the young men and women of the present time as a man who concentrated himself selflessly to the cause of the voteless and voiceless thousands of indentured agricultural workers whose manhood was knocked out of them. This brave fighter lost no opportunity to impress in manifold ways on the backward Indo-Mauritian element of the population the fact that progress comes in the first place, from within, and then from political action.

He may be remembered not only as a man of truth to whom the end must be justified by the means but as a politician who struggled hard to awaken in the Indo-Mauritian people the latent forces of self-realisation. Manilal’s self-imposed mission was to carry the torch of light wherever ignorance and darkness prevailed. In the prosecution of this work, he kindled the spark of patriotism from house to house, from place to place and from country to country. And in the fulfilment of this sacred duty, he knew not fear.

He brooked neither insolence of might nor stooped to the power of riches. Such was Manilal the friend of the poor. His love for the poor was universal and unquestionable for it was genuine and sprang from the deep recesses of his heart. Whatever might have been in the past the reports of the British Government on the life-long political struggles of Dinabandhu Manilal, it cannot be said that he defied or deified the colonial authorities in Mauritius. Indo-Mauritians as a whole are beholden to him for having brought from darkness to light the condition extant during the period of his political work among the Indo-Mauritian people and for having placed on the forefront of the battle ground the serious problems affecting the Indo-Mauritian community.

When he came to Mauritius a few years ago to witness and perhaps preside over the commemoration proceedings relating to the foundation of the first Republic of India, it was a relief to hear him express the view that since the Indians could no longer be regarded as strangers, their destinies were naturally bound up with those of the other ethnic elements of the Mauritian population. And this was an appropriate answer to charges of propagating poisonous communalism or egotistic nationalism levelled against him from different quarters. Indian nationalism which Dinabandhu Manial advocated like all his countrymen in India was justifiable against the alien rulers as a legitimate instrument of action to reach the ultimate goal of his country’s freedom. And yet nationalism was not everything to him certainly not the end of everything. His attitude or outlook was not a passive one. It was not a negative something either. It was positive and expressed itself in unification, not separation; in co-operation not isolation. Manilal’s fight for equality and equity became stiffer and stiffer as the people were subjected more and more to awe and fear. Physical and moral coercion was commonly known to be the usual method resorted to in the past to curb the spirit of men who sought redress of their true and legitimate grievances.

Fear kills, fear kills Mauritians. So said a Colonial Secretary attached to Mauritius some 25 years ago. Be Strong. Such were the words of the ‘Mantram’ impaired to the patriots of India by the late Deshbandu Reverend Andrews of India. Indian nationalism in India was often treated as sedition and a disintegrating element. It was an awfully disturbing nightmare and held in absolute abhorrence during the British occupation. To revert to Mauritius, every gesture or every attempt to breathe air of freedom was once looked upon as a dangerous manifestation of the spirit of nationalism.

In fact, nationalism whatever may be its aim wherever it seeks expression has been regarded with grave apprehension and suspicion and even identified frequently enough with communism. Such was the atmosphere which was suffocating and thus the whole position was almost unbearable. To combat such widespread and deep rooted ideas, Manilal had to deliver battle against heavy odds — against the powerful forces of imperialism and capitalism. He had to overcome also tremendous obstacles placed in his path by the very people for whom he put his life in their service. The people were not ready to receive the gospel of intellectual freedom. They had no sufficient moral education to develop a consciousness of moral responsibility. The high message of hope and resurrection which Dinabandhu Manilal brought with him to Mauritius fell on a decadent or backward generation which showed no sign of real life. The redeeming feature of the almost hopeless situation of the time however is that the silver lining to the dark clouds which hung in the skies in the gloomy days of yore become more and more apparent today.

Insuperable difficulties lay in the path of Dinabandhu Manilal which was rough and rugged but his supreme ideal was revealed nevertheless as duty to country, love of truth, fighting for the oppressed and submission to sacrifice Chambers.

R. K. Boodhun

Tags:    Mauritius Times,    R. K. Boodhun,    Dinabandhu Manilal,   Reverend Andrews,

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