“What people look for is justice, and they are confident they can get it from the Privy Council”

Interview: Sada Reddi, Historian

* ‘There was never any question of sale of Diego by Ramgoolam
That is clearly evident from all the documents presented to the International Court of Justice’

* ‘Fairness, an independent judiciary and social justice have been enduring legacies of the British in Mauritius’

The demise of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch in UK history, and the memorials will give rise to what promises to be a mega international TV event broadcast in many parts of the world. The fondness of Britons for their endearing monarch is understandable, but its appeal even in former colonies which had to face the uglier aspects of the “Empire on which the sun never sets” can be somewhat surprising. Historian Sadda Reddi visits the issues globally and in the Mauritian historical and sociological context leading to independence.

Mauritius Times: with people all over the world enthralled by the pomp and pageantry surrounding the British monarchy, it’s expected that the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II early next week is destined to be “the biggest live TV event in history” according to Carolina Beltramo, TV analyst at WatchTVAbroad.com. How would you explain this fascination about the monarchy despite the view that it had been the central institution of British colonialism and everything that came along with it?

Sada Reddi: People all over the world have a fascination for royalties as well as for celebrities in the field of sports, cinema, etc. The Queen was a world personality, head of state, queen regnant of 32 states since her coronation and 15 states until her death this year. She was also the queen of some other Commonwealth realms.

We have to keep in mind that a vast public relations exercise has always tended to endear the Queen to the masses through royal visits, royal celebrations broadcast all over the world. This also includes her pictures, portraits, films, books and various kinds of memorabilia. The royalty and the Queen play an important role in British tourism attracting millions of people to the UK. Most Mauritians who have been to England would not have missed a visit to one of the Queen’s residences – whether at Buckingham palace, or Windsor castle or Sandringham. For all these reasons the Queen occupies an important place in the minds and hearts of people.

Finally, nobody is forced to pay or not to pay respect to her; it is the people’s choice beyond state protocol.

* On the other hand, historians in Africa are today recalling the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau freedom movement in Kenya during the 1950s, leading to the massacre of tens of thousands of people. Similar sentiments are presently being echoed in India with memories of colonial era massacres and the brutal repression of the Quit India movement, not to mention the horrific partition of 1947, said to have been committed under the royal insignia of the British monarchy, coming back. Yet the Indian national flag was flown at half-mast on September 11 as decided by the Indian government as a mark of “respect to the departed dignitary”. Has India moved on even if colonisers have been seen to be generally averse to any form of remorse, reparation or even apology?

We are all aware of brutalities associated with British colonialism whether in India, Malaysia, Africa and other parts of the world.

But the masses do not in my view associate those atrocities to the Queen or the royal family. After all, many will point out that the Queen reigned but did not rule. Many will also feel that she formed part of their history.

In 1972 when she visited Mauritius during a state of emergency when many politicians were imprisoned, people thronged in great numbers to acclaim her. It is not an exaggeration to say she has a place in the hearts of many Mauritians.

Historians would blame Winston Churchill for his decision leading to the Bengal famine – not the queen. Similarly, the same could be said as regards the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, just like many people will today blame George W. Bush and Tony Blair for the destruction of Iraq and the suffering of the Iraqi people – not the queen though there are certainly many people who will also hold her responsible for the war and subsequent atrocities.

It is also true that people generally tend to be freely forgiving and let bygones be bygones. But forgiveness does not mean forgetting. So it is with India: remember how the Indian government went on to nominate Lord Mountbatten as the Governor-General of India despite his role in the partition, considered a holocaust by many historians and the people as well.

The Queen as head of state of the Commonwealth commanded such a respect that at the biennial Commonwealth summit in 2019, it was easy for her to request publicly the confirmation that they endorsed Prince Charles as their next leader. She was able to do so because consensus had already been reached among the 53 states that would otherwise have found it difficult to elect a successor.

* The Mauritian national flag will also be flown at half-mast on the day of the funeral of the Queen. Although we have not known any massacre nor famine here under British colonialism, how had been the experience of Mauritius with British colonialism?

British colonialism has not been unduly oppressive in the minds of many Mauritians for a number of reasons. Though the British condoned the slavery system after their conquest of the island, they thereafter abolished slavery in Mauritius. They also abolished racial discrimination in 1829 which had been so oppressive for the Coloured under general Decaen. It was said that under General Decaen, the Coloured people went to bed free but woke up as slaves because the new laws had deprived them of rights obtained during the French Revolution in the colony.

The British also initiated steps for the education of slaves and the coloured under Rev Lebrun. They encouraged the introduction of Indian indentured labour, which was being exploited by the plantocracy, but they also provided various correctives in terms of laws, institutions and commissions of inquiry with a view to limiting gross abuses.

The introduction of English language provided Mauritians with a neutral language but also another international language without having to compulsorily use French with its inherent assimilative tendencies, but also other languages thus enhancing the pluralist culture of Mauritian society

In the 20th century, the process of constitutional development initiated as from 1945 and which ultimately led to Independence was done with extensive consultations with the people and their representatives at various conferences and consultations so that contrary to several myths, the Mauritian constitution in fact reflects the aspirations of Mauritians of these times.

The people of Mauritius did not view the British as the direct oppressors as opposed to the perception they had of the earlier plantocracy. They were right in their assessment because they had seen the British very often acting as a buffer between the planters and workers. The British did so by introducing laws and setting up public institutions and even intervened personally against gross abuses. It is well known that Governor Gordon protected Adolph de Plevitz after he was assaulted by a representative of the planters. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 September 2022

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