Emancipation of Slaves
Il n’ont pas osé mesurer leur vieille impudence avec notre jeune courage, eux qui s’étaient flattés cependant, de nous étouffer, à notre naissance.
— Remy Ollier – Sentinelle, Samedi, 27 mai 1843
« L’Ile Maurice, comme toutes les autres colonies britanniques, est appelée à voir changer toute son organisation sociale. Des événements de la nature de ceux qui se préparent ne s’opèrent pas seulement par la force des choses. De graves difficultés, même de grands dangers, sont à surmonter ou à éviter. Il s’agit pour la colonie d’être ou de n’être pas. »
Prosper d’Epinay, in these words, expressed the fears and doubts of the planters upon the burning question of the day – the emancipation of slaves. The humanitarian reform which was to open up an era of prosperity was not welcomed by the masters to whom the slaves were not human beings, sensible to feelings of sorrow or joy. They were no more than their tools, their sugar plantations or the cattle in their stables. They therefore raised the same outcries on the prospect of losing their slaves as they would upon the loss of their property.
In fact the liberation of slaves was to them but a violation of the rights of property. Accustomed as they were to rely on slave labour, it never entered their head that they could do without slavery which was at the root of colonial society. Their main objection to emancipation was that the freed slaves would become indolent, would refuse to work in the fields and would give free reins to their passions. Reasoning on these lines, they found in the emancipation of slaves but a measure which would ruin the colony.
When emancipation finally came and £20,000,000 was voted by Parliament to the planters as indemnity for the loss of their slaves, the planters of Mauritius resigned themselves to fate. At the time that the question of indemnity was being discussed in Parliament, Mauritian planters had in England a representative – Adrien d’Epinay who had been to England to discuss with the Secretary of State for the Colonies matters relating to the welfare of the colony – or we would say the interests of white planters. In his letters to the “Comité Colonial” whose delegate he was, Adrien d’Epinay kept the planters informed of what was happening in Parliament and at the Colonial Bureau with regard to matters of concern to the colony.
In one of these letters, dated, 1st June 1833, we read, “Que toutes personnes maintenant esclaves seront enregistrées comme apprentis laboureurs et pourront acquérir ainsi tous les droits et privilèges d’hommes libres, assujettis néanmoins à travailler pour leurs maîtres actuels, sous les conditions et pour le temps fixés par le Parlement. » In another letter he informs his friends that the Act of Abolition has been passed but that the freed slaves would be compelled to work for their ex-masters for seven years as apprentices. This measure postponed for seven years the problem of finding labourers for the cane plantations when the slaves would no longer be willing to harness themselves to field work.
In the Cerneen of Tuesday, 17th December 1833, is reproduced a French copy of the Act of Abolition. It is preceded by some remarks the gist of which can be gathered from the following quotation, “Quelque soit l’immensité des pertes que les colons sont appelés à subir et des chances qu’ils peuvent redouter, puisqu’il ne dépend plus d’eux de les détourner, les plaints et les regrets restent vaines.”
In accordance with this Act, all slaves were to be considered apprentices since the 1st August 1834. Those masters who were hitherto in possession of their slaves could have the right of keeping them as apprentices. The right of punishing their slaves – which had often been abused – were taken from the masters. Punishment could be inflicted on the apprentices by magistrates only. The question, which interested the planters most, was the question of the indemnity. This question was dealt with in the clause 33 of the Act of Abolition which stipulated that “il sera nommé par Sa Majesté, sous le grand sceau d’Angleterre, une commission qui ne devra pas être de plus de cinq personnes pour le partage du fond de l’indemnité, et pour statuer sur tous les cas relatifs à cette indemnité ».
The abolition of slavery had come at last. It closed one chapter in colonial history, a chapter dark indeed with all its woes and horrors.
That Which Matters
The social structure of this small colony is being ruthlessly disturbed by some irresponsible persons who have at heart mischievous designs. Their sinister arms, the press, whose vehement diatribes are being freely allowed to be sported to do more harm than good has been confined to a well-known group whose preachings of class hatred and other attempts to rouse the passions of one community against the other, and then to cause confusions into the minds of well intentioned people so as to divide and has now been unmasked.
Concerted vicious efforts of mind, money and power are at active work to paralyse and split up political relations amongst the united groups, to defer and retard the progress of the fast evolving nationalism of the poor oppressed Mauritians of this island and particularly the Indo-Mauritians who are travelling towards the stairs of consciousness, self respect and responsibility; because the Indo-Mauritians are evolving high in their standard of life, education and society, consequently severe obstacles must be put across their path. So, Indo-Mauritians should be branded Communists and communalists and they must be chased by NMU, and by the hired satellites of the reactionaries.
That is not all. The fanatics are showing their hatred against anything that is Indian – irrespective of the man, the country, the politics and the policies and the religion where Indian idealism exists and prevails. It should not be forgotten that India is the country whose culture, religion and philosophy cannot be destroyed by charlatans. India is one of the few countries which preach tolerance in politics and religion, give hospitality, grants concessions to all foreign nationalities. The Hindu religion has been rightly termed Sanatan (which has no end) and nothing in the world can vilify or destroy the Art, Culture, Religion and Philosophy of India. India has given what she had and she has not failed to accept from others what she could afford to give to others.
The great example set by India during the last seven years since she obtained her Independence without shedding any blood, and the progress India has already made has become a pattern to many a country. Let people of the caliber of NMU and others write anything absurd and rotten that their minds dictate them, they can freely blasphemy India and the Indians in whatever colours they wish, but such dealings of perverted people should not cause us to swerve from our righteous path.
Mauritius has lived and will continue to live notwithstanding the ravages and scourges of nature and the evil deeds of those at the helm of power. Mauritius has been ruled for a considerable time by the capitalists and they are now reaping the fruits of their obsessions and failures and infatuations for political supremacy; their despair is leading them down fast to oblivion.
Indo-Mauritians have always helped and contributed towards the prosperity of all the communities of this Island and they will continue to give their support to all that is for the benefits of humanity.
We defy anyone to prove that Indo-Mauritians are not cooperating with other sections of the Colony. If they are now politically minded and conscious of their duty, this cannot be denied to them.
We are now living in an era of awakening and reorganization.
It will be absurd to disregard the evolution and progress of modern society, for the dignity of men and women of whatever colour, rank or file must be protected and the problems are set to reconcile what humanity has achieved; the real solution should be found for setting at work the machineries that everyone could contribute for the progress, welfare, prosperity and freedom of the ordinary individual. As the emblem of Mauritius is the sugar cane, sweetness of thoughts and actions should prevail instead of envenoming the good relations that exists between the different communities.
(M.Times – 6th May 1955)
* Published in print edition on 12 June 2015