By Nivriti Sewtohul
The Swettenham Commission Report of 1909 sounded the death toll of indenture. Manilall Doctor had deponed before it. In 1910, he wrote to Gandhiji in Natal, South Africa, requesting him to put an end to it for good. The latter applied to Gokhale in India and the result was that the practice of indenture was to stop for all colonies.
Only one last batch would be brought to Mauritius after that date, and that, too, would be fruitless and all the workers would return to their country. The Indians knew that they would have to stay back in the colony forever. Realism on their part urged them to carve a place for themselves under the Mauritian sun. They had been making exemplary efforts during the Grand Morcellement of the 1880s, providing up to 30% of the sugar canes to the mills, thus saving the sugar industry from ruin. The authorities looked on with amazement when the Surra decimated all cattle in 1902 and the brave, hard-working Indians did not hesitate to harness themselves in the place of the oxen in carts to pull canes from out of the fields to the factories.
Meanwhile, quite a few of them had become relatively rich by acquiring land, either for agricultural or real estate transactions. Pandit Sajeewon made his fortune in a short time out of the latter practice in Triolet. By 1911, Goolam Hossen, Seegopaul and Deonarain Bissessur were sugar factory and estate owners in the village. Big land owners were coming up in and around the village. The second generation of Indians was dynamic and intelligent people. They were at the forefront of developments and abreast of progress in a variety of fields being a resilient race of people. They were keen at setting up their own society in the newer environments. One name, that of Pandit Shivprasad Ramloll whose true name was Pandit Shivprasad Ramlal Tiwari, stands out in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
Panditji ran a newspaper of his own, The Oriental Gazette, to defend the cause of his Faith. Manilall Doctor had him appointed life president of Maheshwarnath Institute to administer the Temple, in a large gathering of illustrious Indians at Maheshwarnath baithka. Ramloll would help to popularize the co-operative movement in the company of Wilberforce from India. He would found the first co-operative enterprise in Triolet in 1913 but it would not last long. Montagne Longue is credited with the longest lasting co-operative shop in Mauritius. He would set up the Agricultural Bank which would provide funds to pay up the debts of the new landowners and save them from economic decline. In 1919, he became an attorney-at-law at the age of 52. During the Legislative Council Elections of 1921, he stood as candidate for Pamplemousses and was beaten by Emile Sauzier. Between 1910 and 1923, he was considered to be the greatest Indian alive in Mauritius, according to Pandit Atmaram.
Among his achievements, the founding of Maheshwarnath School has pride of place. He did it in the company of his bosom friend, Adnath Chicooree Mahaton, with whom he had made the first official pilgrimage to Grand Bassin in 1898. Adnath Chicooree gave his house and most of the 3000 to 4000 rupees for the purpose. Ramloll was the brain and the driving force behind the project. The Indians were feeling strongly to have a school for their children since long. The promoters had children of their own requiring formal education. Confessional schools had their own specificity that was not conducive to all.
In 1901, Gandhiji in Mauritius, and himself educated in England, asked the hesitating parents to adopt western education, which was in line with his open-windows philosophy. He sent Manilall Doctor to see to it that the advice tendered was followed. Triolet was the ideal village for the experiment because the inhabitants were an intelligent lot. They would be the first to adapt to all changes and stay in the forefront to take up challenges whenever they came. Socio-economic associations under the aegis of Maheshwarnath came up with novelties observed in the offing and realized with mutual help. For example, the tobacco-growing and curing permit of Sukhram Sukai bore number seven. Once their doubts cleared, they set their hearts to the projects to make them succeed. It was realism at work.
Pandit Ramloll was aware that only the Christians knew English and French. He would employ them in his school giving them all the facilities that were humanly possible in those days when indenture was still on. Hindi and Indian Culture, too, were on the school syllabus among other subjects. The model of the school curriculum existed already. It was the content that was different. Students from all communities would attend, just as teachers. Mimi Alexandre would come all the way from Trou aux Biches, Abdool Raman Osman from Morcellement St. Andre, Ramchurn from Pointe aux Piments, often with free rides in ox-carts, and even the future Dr Ghoorah from Ripailles. The first school that the indentured labourers started was also the first non-communal institution in the country, with due respect to Jean Le Brun and Charles Telfair whose schools did not survive long.
Maheshwarnath baithka turned school was a costly project but essential to the community at large. Emile Sauzier, the representative of the district of Pamplemousses in the Legislative Council, inaugurated the school on the 23 September 1911, and he was all praise for the initiators because they valued education above all. He spoke about the benefits that it would bring to all who came to acquire it. The prestige of Pandit Ramloll would help to make Maheshwarnath School become Maheshwarnath Aided School in 1913. His brother, Raghoobir Ramloll, became the first president of the board to be followed by Dr Jhugroo Seegobind in later years. Educators would come from as far as Queen Victoria and Vacoas to make it functional. This is why even to-day the names of Gopichand Chuttur of missionary zeal, the very active Beekrumsingh Ramlallah, Madho Gopaul, Hennequin and others are taken with respect.
Maheshwarnath would become the school model to emulate. Chuttur Master would found one in Ecroignard, Flacq, in 1926, Pandit Cashinath Kistoe with Vacoas Aryan Vedic School, the Reetoo in St. Julien and a few others. The originality of Maheshwarnath was that it transcended all caste, communal, religious and linguistic barriers in its make. All people indistinctly living in Mauritius started rubbing shoulders sitting on the same bench in the same room, listening to the same educator dressed in suit and tie teaching the same subjects. The schools as we know them today, cutting across artificial barriers, started in the village of Triolet. No wonder, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam chose the place as his constituency for his political career.
‘Maheshwarnath Government School Centenary Book 1911-2011’ was launched under the aegis of the Human Service Trust on the 7th April by the Deputy Prime Minister Anil Baichoo in the presence of Honorable Mukheswar Choonee, Minister of Arts and Culture, and Reza Issac, PPS.
* Published in print edition on 20 April 2012