Talk under the joint auspices of ODI/Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund
Under the joint auspices of the Organisaton for Diaspora Inititatives (ODI) and the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund (AGTF), a talk was held on Friday 20 November on the topic ‘Contribution of Beekrumsing Ramlallah (BR) to Mauritian Society’. The function was held in the auditorium of the Aapravasi Ghat at 5 p.m. to a house full audience and in the presence of former President of the Republic Cassam Uteem and Deputy High Commissioner of India Shri Ashok Kumar, and Vidisha Maitra, Second Secretary.
After a few words from Rajen Gangoosingh of the ODI, Mrs Ranjita Bunwaree acted as Master of Ceremonies and requested Mr Dhuny, Chairman of AGTF to intervene, which he did in a short address highlighting some points in the life of Shri Beekrumsing Ramlallah. She then proceeded to invite the speakers, namely Dr R Neerunjun Gopee and Mr Yvan Martial to make their presentations.
The first speaker was Dr Gopee, who gave a biographical overview of Beekrumsing Ramlallah’s life in a few slides on Power Point. He then narrated how he had first seen and heard Shri Ramlallah in 1962 when he had attended with a group of his HSC classmates at the Royal College Curepipe the proceedings of the Legislative Council. BR had responded to the debate on the Balogh Commission Report following the intervention of Minister Maurice Paturau, and next he had held up a shoe worn by schoolchildren and commented on its quality. Dr Gopee said that what he most remembered about BR’s intervention was not the contents, but the vehemence with which he spoke, as well as how his speech resonated in that closed space.
He actually met BR at his residence in 1990 a few months after he had sent in articles which had all been published in the Mauritius Times. He recalled the simplicity and how warmhearted Chacha was, and the connect that became established since then through speaking in Bhojpuri. This was to continue as he went to meet BR at regular intervals over the years until he passed in 2000, during lunch hour from the Jeetoo Hospital where he was then posted.
Citing several relevant examples, Dr Gopee highlighted the contributions of BR as a believer in institutions and an institution builder; his work in the social, religious and cultural fields; his lasting interest in health matters and setting up the health education division in the Ministry of Health when he was Parliamentary Secretary there for four years until 1969, before he moved to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. He concluded by reading two extracts from the editorials of BR in the Mauritius Times – one in 1955 – ten months after the paper had started appearing and which expressed the spirit of the paper. The other was a homage paid to NMU editor of Le Cerneen who had died and whom he described as a political opponent and not an enemy, as they had crossed swords over the issues of Indian culture and the forthcoming independence of Mauritius.
Mr Yvan Martial began by saying that we ought to have come by boat to the Aapravasi Ghat, which is a great legacy of BR. He recalled the steps taken by BR to identify and get this site officially recognised. His speech was laced with several touches of humour, but seriousness took over when he showed his appreciation of BR as a no-nonsense politician, one who was not afraid to speak the blunt truth and say things as they are. He wondered loudly why BR had never been a minister – he was not one to ask for any such privilege or force himself with the help of lobbies, etc., his objective was to press for social justice for all, and the good of the common man.
He said that BR must have given a real hard time to SSR with his forthrightness and wished that there were more politicians like him today. He expanded on the need for BR’s rebuttals to NMU in the early years of the Mauritius Times, which were justified given the virulence and aggressiveness of NMU’s writings.
Mr Martial elaborated on the episode that led to the public demonstration against the Newspapers and Periodicals Bill which finally had to be amended by the then government following the sit-in in front of Government House in 1984, and the prominent leadership role that BR had played in this struggle to maintain the freedom of the press. He lauded the Mauritius Times for the high quality of its contents rather than the gloss and superficiality that characterized the more recent titles, and praised it as an enduring legacy of BR along with Aapravasi Ghat.
The function ended with refreshments that were served to the guests, which was also an occasion for the latter to share some more thoughts about what they had heard from the two speakers, and also about BR and the Aapravasi Ghat.
* Published in print edition on 27 November 2015