Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By D. Napal
The controversy round the question of the teaching of French has started again. This time Mr Cabon has come into the fray. He seems to ignore what has so often been said or rather he deliberately does so.
French is not the mother tongue of Indo-Mauritians. It is but too true that French is remarkable for its beauty, elegance and what not. But after all that is said in its favour, it remains a language which can find but a secondary place among us. We might say that it should occupy a third place, English being the official language in the colony. Our first love goes to oriental languages. The sentiments which animate you, Mr Cabon and those who consider French as their mother tongue, fail to move us.
We too take pride in the tongue which we learnt on the lap of our mother. And to force French on our children is unjust if not sacrilegious. They should be given facilities to learn their mother tongue. The pity of it all is that government has been slow to realise the full importance of this fact. In Wales, for example, the mother tongue, that is Gaelic, is the medium of instruction in standards I, II – English being taught only from Standard III. Mr Cabon realises this for he spoke of Welsh in a previous article. Yet he errs, in that what he brings to support him, when considered deeply, condemns him. His whole trouble is that he cannot bring himself to understand that French is not the mother tongue of Indo-Mauritians.
What is worse is that while competing for the primary scholarships the Indo-Mauritian student has to face a great setback because French is a compulsory language. Until quite recently French was compulsory in the English Scholarship Examination, with the result that it was very difficult, if not well-nigh impossible for Indo-Mauritian students to carry off the palm. The future of how many Indo-Mauritians students have not been blighted but for this fact!
Even today what injustice is not committed in the name of French. Take this year’s Entrance Examination of the College of Agriculture. The French Paper is exaggeratedly stiff. And the consequence! Indo-Mauritians are barred. There are cases even this year when many an Indo-Mauritian has failed in French only. And many of these students have either passed the GCE in French or hold the School Certificate with credit in French. What has Mr Cabon to say to this?
Authoritative opinions as those of Royal Commissions have been pronounced on the injustice of forcing French on Indo-Mauritians. The Royal Commission of 1872 recommended that the medium of instruction of Indo-Mauritian children should be an Indian dialect. It recommended English as the second-best language, on the ground of its being the official language. In 1909 again, the Royal Commissioners recommended the establishment of schools where “simple instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic and gardening should be given as far as possible in the mother tongue of the child”.
In the Ward Report again the language question cropped up. His recommendations were set at naught by the committee appointed to study it. Needless to add that most of the Members of that committee were Francophiles. The coterie influencing government policy always stood for French. Dr Ramgoolam sat on the committee. Credit goes to him for having defended Oriental languages but all to no purpose. His voice was drowned in the universal uproar against his suggestions.
Mr Cabon would make us believe that French is the mother tongue of the Indo-Mauritian. At least he argues in that sense when he contends that the Indo-Mauritian child is conversant with the Patois which he seems to say is the twin sister of French. No, Mr Cabon, any amount of argumentation on your part will leave us unconvinced – we may learn French but only after our children’s birth right to learn their mother tongue is not lightly dismissed.
What is wonderful is that in his over-earnestness in the defense of the policy which forces French on our children, he drags in the treaty of 1810. He writes:
“L’Angleterre, qui sait tenir parole, nous a bien promis, quand elle a pris ce pays, de respecter notre langue française. Et comment pourrait-elle mieux la respecter qu’en faisant ce qu’elle fait depuis 1810 ?” What has the treaty of 1810 to do with the controversy, we do not know.
We should remind Mr Cabon of some basic facts concerning that treaty, which was ratified in important matters by the treaty of Paris in 1814. Do you forget, Mr Cabon, that in 1810, 69 p.c. of the population were not Indo-Mauritians? Again, do you forget Mr Cabon that three quarters of the population were slaves who had no voice in the making of the treaty? With the march of time, new problems have come to the forefront and it is fruitless to raise the ghosts of the treaty makers of 1810 to withhold long exploded theories and beliefs. A word more, Mr Cabon. Let us view the question with fair play. Would you have liked Hindi or any other oriental language to be a compulsory subject in the schools and colleges? How would you react if an oriental language were thrust on your children? The tragedy of it all is that there are still in this blessed colony some intellectuals of pre-French Revolution formation (les ultra-royalistes) who cannot understand why the Indo-Mauritian does not willingly submit to French being rammed down his throat.
The Indo-Mauritian has a mother tongue. And that makes a lot of difference, Mr Cabon! He justly feels his pride hurt, as a good Malagasy would feel it, if Swahili were forced on his child while his mother tongue was not taught.
To those brave intellectuals who accuse us of communalism, we would ask: “Who are in fact communalists? You who want to force on us a language which is neither our mother tongue nor the official language of the country OR we who say that it should become an optional subject?”
4th Year No 147 – Friday 31st May 1957
* Published in print edition on 18 September 2020