SOOKDEO BISSOONDOYAL LIFE AND TIMES
R. JEETAH, M.A., Ph.D Principal, Eastern College, Flacq, Mauritius
G. GANGARAM Port Louis MAURITIUS
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF
R. JEETAH “Education has been something that has interested me because I have seen, when I was a child, what it could be. I was a teacher when I took risks. I engaged myself in long controversies in the press...you must know how a country fights to find its own way to survive. To have a good education is a part of that struggle” —Sookdeo Bissoondoyal
SOOGRIM BISSOONDOYAL (1904-1939) the elder brother who did not live to witness Sookdeo Bissoondoyalâ€™s Epic Struggle
To write a biographical sketch of Sookdeo Bissoondoyal is an uphill task. One is amazed to find that his was a life of action at a time when inaction was the rule. He was born sixty nine years ago. From adolescence till his death he allowed himself no rest. Those were the years when events of great moment occurred. The biographer is astounded to see that he had something to do with almost all of them.
Sookdeoâ€™s biography will no doubt be read, not as the life story of an individual, but as the history of Mauritius, a colony of the British Empire, that struggled to be free. It is precisely the history of that important period that has not been written.
The local papers and even some British and Indian periodicals have had to take cognizance of his activities from time to time. The newspaper cuttings placed at my disposal created so great a confusion in my mind that once I almost gave up the idea of writing the biography. However I persevered, sifted them anew and relied chiefly on the local Hansard. I cursed the day I ceased writing. If the reader shares a part of the joy I derived in accomplishing the task I shall feel amply rewarded.
From humble beginnings Sookdeo rose to such heights that he came to be looked upon as a leader that Mauritius or any nation throws up only once in half a century. His countrymen, who in token of their gratitude for his services, had the most important square in the heart of the capital city Port Louis named after him, have paid him the homage he so richly deserved. Mention of the Sookdeo Bissoondoyal Square was made several times when the tenth anniversary of the independence of Mauritius was being celebrated. His rectitude, fearlessness, singleness of purpose and readiness to serve the people set him apart from the band of those who use any means to win popularity. He was never after cheap popularity. At the time of elections he never appealed to the baser instincts of the electors. Throughout his long career he sought to destroy the evil of nepotism. He will always be remembered for all the aims he stood for.
I have done my best to bring out in very few pages the qualities of head and heart of the hero of this biography. Have I been able to do him full justice? To this question only those who will do me the honour of going through the present work can give a reply.
R. JEETAH Central Flacq MAURITIUS 1980
THE TIMES The late lamented Mr Sookdeo Bissoondoyal is known to schoolgoers , or to put it in a different way, to the young and not-so-young as one who has been a great parliamentarian, a redoubtable debater. As is natural, those who belong to his generation know him better still. To them, he was a many-faceted man: a life-long teacher, reformer, patriot, freedom fighter, forceful speaker, writer, a man of sound moral character and, above all, a deeply religious man. Sookdeo was born on 25 December, 1908 with a silver spoon in his mouth at the remote and queerly christened village of Tyack, Riviere des Anguilles. Mauritius. The Island had a network of railways; the castle built at Benares that is not far from Tyack, by Sir Virgil Naz, a friend of Governor Pope Hennessy, had not been pulled down; the motor car was a novelty. The tonga or cariole could be seen carrying passengers at all hours of the day. Sookdeo’s father was a cariole-driver. Dr Desenne drove in his father’s cariole at least once a week. Goodursingh Bissoondoyal, his paternal grandfather, was married to the daughter of Fully, an overseer in the employ of the Virginia Sugar Estate, Grand Port. Indian immigrants had settled on the Island for four decades or so when both the families had succeeded in accumulating wealth. Books were then so rare that Goodursingh—so goes the story—who had a beautiful handwriting, copied out the Hindi Ramayana or Ramacharitamanas ( Lake of the Deeds of Rama ) written by Tulsidas in Avadhi. It was passed on to the villagers who could read Hindi. A lesson included in Parijat ( the Tree of Paradise ), a Hindi reader prescribed for school children in India, mentions Goodursingh Bissoondoyal.
CHILDHOOD It was in such religious atmosphere that Sookdeo was born and brought up. In the courtyard of the house he was born—and it is extant today—could be seen the poney that drew his father’s tonga, a cowshed where lay a cow that provided the family with fresh milk. Young and old had these friends been who, dumb that they were, enlivened the atmosphere. The well from which water was drawn can be seen even today though it is not in use. The train that passed within a stone’s throw of the house has been replaced by the bus. Goodursingh had passed away in 1906, and two years before had occurred his father Bisnathsingh Bissoondoyal’s demise. The resources of the family dwindled and, driven by poverty, it moved to Rose Hill in 1911, after the house, the cow and the poney had been sold. By 1913 the Bissoondoyal family had moved to Port Louis, a city rich in historic associations. It rented two rooms at the end of what was then La Paix Street. The spot is known as Trou Fanfaron. The place had been occupied by in 1810 by Sepoys who collaborated with British soldiers. The battle of Mauritius was fought, and thanks mainly to the valuable help they obtained, the British captured what was then a French Colony called the Isle de France. Sookdeo was too young to go to school. This depressed him much. Later the family moved to the Eastern Suburb or, to be exact, to the corner of Pamplemousses and Magon Streets. Dr Eugene Laurent of the Action Liberale fame, once held a public meeting in the garden nearby and Sookdeo, Soogrim and Basdeo—his elder brothers—were attracted by it without understanding a single word that came out from the orator’s lips.
EDUCATION Their father, who was a retailer, had opened a little shop. He had neither shop nor tonga when he shifted to Calicut Street. This street owes its name to the Indiam immigrants who had come all the way from Kerala or Malabar Coast as it was then called. This is the region where, at the end of their five years’ indenture, Indian immigrants chose to settle after they left the sugar plantations to come to Port Louis. This explains the Indian names that its streets have retained: Calcutta, Patna, Benares, Mahratta, Calicut, Goa, etc. Indian games like Guli danda were then played by both Indian and non-Indian children. Indian labourers had by then been in Mauritius for eighty years and the little Island had been converted into a little India beyond the seas. Paliaca Street separated the house of this family from the Jean Le Brun Aided School that had been opened in 1815 or five years after the capture of Mauritius. The father preferred Villiers Rene Government School in spite of the legs of the children—from Calicut Street. Two minor incidents that illustrate Sookdeo’s character cannot be omitted even in this short biography. He was never left alone. Basdeo and he were playing on the top of a low stonewall when he lost his balance and fell on the ground to Basdeo’s dismay. The elder brother was perplexed when Sookdeo did not so much as cry like other children of his age. Soogrim liked to collect beautiful pencils of various colours. In his absence Sookdeo removed them from the place where they had been kept and, what was worse, cut
some of them into pieces. This annoyed Soogrim who, however, did not punish his younger brother on whom affection was lavished by every member of the family. Villiers René, the illustrious Headmaster of the La Paix Street School that was not less historic than the one founded in 1815, was a great disciplinarian. His fair play, scholarship and impartiality have become legendary. Although Sookdeo and his brothers were at times tormented they would leave that famous school knowing as they did that they would be deprived of the valuable guidance that Rene provided them. Some sought to undermine their religion in an age of faith. Very often the prejudice of the parents prompted their children to offer gratuitous insults to Hindu and Muslim children. Jonathan Swift’s sneer is no doubt relevant: We are God’s chosen few All others will be damned There is no place in Heaven for you We can’t have Heaven crammed It was providential that a change for the better was brought about. Governor Hesketh Bell (1916-1924) sent during the days of World War I three prizes to be distributed among the pupils who could score the highest marks. One was a tennis ball, the other an illustrated magazine and the third a book. Rene gave free hand to his teachers to conduct tests in any one of the subjects they taught. In the evening René came to give away the prizes. Soogrim stood first in French, Basdeo occupied the same position in English. After a pause René could not help saying “Then the third should be Sookdeo Bissoondoyal.” In a flash it occurred to the Headmaster that being a Bissoondoyal, Sookdeo could not be the bottom boy of his class. In the Third Standard Sookdeo stood first in Arithmetic. The school children were in high glee. The air was rent with the cry “long live the Bissoondoyals!. “ Passing over the rest of Sookdeo”s childhood one remembers that he studied for the Monitor’s Certificate Examination and passed it. He did not join the Teacher’s
Training College as he preferred to be Soogrim’s pupil. Soogrim had meanwhile started coaching all those who chose to have him as their teacher. They came from all the nine districts of Mauritius. The house of the Bissoondoyal family that was—and still is—situated at Valonville Street, was converted into a Training College on Saturdays. In 1920 poverty had hit the family hard. The house at Calicut Street had to be sold to Hajee D.M.Vayid. It moved to Abattoir Road. The family no more had its own house. Soogrim was a petty clerk in a store before joining the Training College, Forest Side. Being destitute, the brothers were shabbily dressed and very badly fed. After 1924 the family rented two rooms at 19 Saint Denis Street. That very year the Government of India sent Kunwar Maharaj Singh to enquire into the conditions of Indians in Mauritius. Soogrim and Basdeo had come into close contact with him, one in Curepipe and the other at the Government House, Port Louis. This was the talk of the three brothers who were Primary School teachers. 19 Saint Denis Street was the spot where Manilal M. Doctor had founded the Arya Samaj in 1910. The Hindustani Press was housed there. It is that press which printed the paper Hindustani, started in 1909. The paper did not live long. What else could be better source of inspiration ? In 1925 Swami Dayananda’s birth centenary was celebrated in the Dayananda Dharmashala, now called Arya Bhavan. Pandit Mehta Jaimini, B.A.,LL.B.,the well known preacher, appreciated the efforts that had been put forth in the course of the early years of the existence of the Arya Samaj. He, however, felt that the youths had nothing to keep them busy. It is to this missionary that the Arya Kumar Sabha owed its birth. Soogrim became its General Secretary and Basdeo its Treasurer. The Arya Patrika, organ of the Arya Samaj, for seven years on end carried articles from the pen of Soogrim in English, Basdeo in Hindi and Sookdeo in French.
Sookdeo had made rapid progress. An Indo-Mauritian could at best use English. Use of French was a daring thing to do. But he who knew how to surmount difficulties was undaunted. At first he had not so much command of over French as is necessary for articles to be written in that language for the old dailies in a country like the ex-Ile de France. In 1937 he attained the maturity required to perform such a task. He came to the rescue of the ‘probationers’ who were poorly paid, although they were not inferior to the other teachers of the schools where they served. Mr Ingrams who had written a history of Mauritius, used the euphemistic expression ‘pocket money’ for the poor pay. That put the Indo-Mauritian teacher on his mettle. He wrote an article entitled “Dans l’enseignement”(in the Schools Department). It was carried by Le Cerneen—it is now 146 years old—in its issue of 2 February, 1937. The relevant passages are given below in his own words : “C’est au su de tout le monde qu’il y a actuellement dans le department des centaines de probationers travaillant aussi rudement que les assistants—et quelquefois plus rudement meme—pour la modeste somme de vingt roupies par mois… Depuis que M. Ingrams a malicieusement qualifie de pocket money les emoluments de ces humbles fonctionnaires, les coupures et d’autres malheurs ne cessentd’augmenter leurs privations. “ The two paragraphs could have been presented in English, but they would have lost their savour in the process. The biting words could not have been translated into a felicitous language. As Sookdeo was then a Government servant he could not but have recourse to a penname. He chose MAGISTER which had an interesting tale to tell. The primary school teacher had a smattering of Latin.
In the 1940’s Mr ward came with the definite object of organizing the Education Department. Mauritian Superintendents of schools like Lalouette, Paul Henri and Ahnee had been at the head of the Schools department that was separated from the department that was concerned with Royal and other colleges which are in fact high schools. Edgar Laurent, the then representative of the Port Louis constituency , was not satisfied with the way Lalouette did his job. Not that he did not like Mauritianisation. Sookdeo’s article was published at a time when probationers and volunteers were dissatisfied. The author of the article had no doubt put his finger on the weak spot of Ingrams and his like. Ward was given wide powers. There was an end to Mauritianisation. Ward was concerned with both primary and secondary education. He was not Superintendent of Schools but Director of Education like Emtage, one of his predecessors. He came to put things right. But he did his job the wrong way. He made a survey of the situation then obtaining, alluded to Tagore, drew a plan and wrote a report that gave rise to an unprecedented controversy. To do him justice it must be pointed out that he admitted that the managers of grantin-aid schools invited young men and women to form part of the staff of their schools without being remunerated in return. The Government schools had , as from 1938, no recourse to volunteers but in April 1941 there were still, in the Government schools, seventy three volunteers some of whom had served for seven years without being remunerated. The editor of a newspaper who analysed Ward’s report, condemned the system and went to the length of calling the manners of those who kept it alive moeurs de fripons. The fearless editor thus came very near approving MAGISTER’s observation made in good faith . The Cernéen article was timely. THE PORT LOUIS DEBATING CLUB The brothers were equally interested in debates. They were members of the Port Louis Debating Club. Other members included Headmaster Dabee (son of S. Dabee),
a nephew of Boodhun Lallah, the first Indo-Mauritian to practice as Attorney-at-Law, Ramsoondur Deelchand, Ramdoyal, Nundkessor Saddul, Mohun Deelchand, Vel Govinden, Guness Lobin, Hansraj Servansingh and Edwin Jhugroo. Ramkhelawan Boodhun, the first Indo-Mauritian Barrister, used to send his written message that appeared in the Divali number of The Arya Patrika, published by the Port Louis Deabating Club. Sookdeo used to write an article every year, using the pen-name Karma Lal. CONFIDENCES He did not stop at that. His regular correspondence with Basdeo, during the latter’s sojourn in India, first inLahore and then in Calcutta, was remarkable. He entitled his lengthy, informative and interesting letters Confidences, a title borrowed from Lamartine. The letters once enabled Basdeo to draft on the situation in Mauritius, a memorandum that was published in all the leading papers of India. Besides his articles on Indian culture, education, the working classes, etc., he was fond of writing short stories. One of the recent stories of his bears the title Le Temple. He devoted much of his time to reading. He would often have a good reading in the bus. Two things happened in 1928—Sookdeo passed the Second Class Teachers’ Examination. The brothers bought their house at Valonville Street, Port Louis. Though they were head over ears in debt, this had not deterred them from acquiring books to enrich their library. They soon added to it Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, various Oxford dictionaries, Le Dictionnaire Nationale and several encyclopaedias. Sookdeo looked intensely at words. They were his friends. He would now look up a word in a dictionary and assure himself of its meaning, then facts in an encyclopaedia . His power of expression could not but be enhanced. He preferred Le Petit Robert to Le Petit Larousse Illustre. He had likewise a preference for Dictionnaire Francais Anglais by Petit and Savage. He had a taste not only for literature and mathematics but also for history. This accounts for the fact that he knew almost everything about the generals, admirals and others who fought in the World War II. The history of India was at his fingertips. He was one of the organizers
of the memorial meeting held in Mauritius as soon as the sad news of Lala Lajpat Rai’s tragic death was received. No less an international figure than Romain Rolland had the greatest esteem for Lajpat Rai. He writes in The Life of Ramakrishna (1928) : “For Dayananda’s life it is necessary to consult the classical book of Lajpat Rai (the nationalist Indian leader, who has just died);The Arya Samaj (with an introduction by Sidney Webb), Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1915” Sookdeo was painstaking. At the time he started writing articles for the Hindi papers he sent some of them to Lahore when Basdeo was a student of the D.A.V College (1933-37). It took forty five days for the mail to reach India. He waited for months for his articles with the improvement made to get them published.
PROFESSION Sookdeo started serving as a teacher at the Villiers René School but, of his long career, he taught at the Western Suburb Government School for a considerable period. He made friends with other members of the staff and loved children. He showed an unusual interest in the rising generation. An incident occurred in 1931 when there was a football match at the Line Barracks, the police headquarters. The police meted out ill-treatment to the pupils of the Western Suburb Government School who had been to the Barracks to witness the match. He could not bear the sight and protested forthwith against this inhuman treatment. The result was that he was immediately laid under arrest. He would admonish teachers against ill-treating their pupils. Whenever there was an occasion he would not hesitate to nurse the teachers who had been taken ill suddenly. He treated children in the same way. He was a kind friend at school, always ready to help; a kind father at home having at heart the welfare of his nephews and children. Soogrim, the eldest brother, passed away in 1939 and was survived by a son. He did not differentiate between his nephew and his own children. He practiced self-denial to help them all. No one of them was aware of the difficulties he had to encounter, when, after Soogrim’s death, he filled the void. He saw to it that the children’s study continued unhindered. How was the country exhilarated when good results were obtained ! Mr. Ward, the then Director of Education, convened at the Villiers René School, a meeting of inspectors and heads of primary schools or their representatives with the object of bringing better understanding between the two warring groups. Sookdeo fired a barrage of questions at the Director. Others, including Christian Sisters,
requested him to put other questions. Ward visibly grew nervous and finally his anger exploded in an unguarded moment. “My inspectors are human beings,” said he. “And we, Sir?” retorted Sookdeo. A primary school teacher who was thoroughly equipped could cross swords with a Director of Education. It was left only for a person like Sookdeo to cast his lot with the class of people that suffered. His chief concern, both at the Council and outside, was neglected condition of 60,000 of his fellow-countrymen who did not have the two square meals a day. The policy pursued by Ward was in keeping with that of our masters. He was determined to put a stop to the teaching of Indian languages in the State Schools. And it is the modicum sum of Rs. 15,000 that was spent annually. In 1943, Ward was to address a meeting at the Port Louis Theatre. As soon as he stood up 500 Indo-Mauritians walked out of the hall. This was the first Satyagraha launched in Mauritius on the day of the anniversary of the ‘Quit India’ resolution passed by the Indian National Congress in Bombay. Needless to say that the boycott was inspired by Sookdeo. It will be realised that of all teachers he was not the one who could be long in the Government service.
After serving for 22 years (1923-1945) in the Schools
Department he abandoned his post in 1945. Tuition became the means of his livelihood. He was as good a coach as Soogrim. He did his level best to stay in Government service.
His detractors proved
themselves wrong when they pronounced his severance with the Department ‘foolhardy’ and even to the length of saying that he was inefficient. The truth is that although he had a long career he had never been under report. The Director of Education spoke his mind when Sookdeo went to his office on August 4, 1943. His brother Basdeo had been misrepresented to the authorities and it was Sookdeo that was made a victim. Sookdeo had all the time been living in Port Louis. He suffered from asthma, piles and chronic appendicitis, He was compelled to live with his relatives where he could hope to have prompt medical service. He was
transferred to Saint Julien, Flacq, when he produced the testimonials of reknowned physicians like Drs. Clifford Mayer who practised at Baroda when Sri Aurobindo was teaching English there, Duvivier and Arthur de Chazal. The transfer was cancelled. He has been working for four years on end in bad climate, i.e,, at l’Arsenal in 1941, Trou d’Eau Douce in the same year, and Rivière du Rempart in 1942 and 1943. He had been spared only for a short period. What did him considerable harm was his transfer to Saint Julien. And he was not in a position to move all his dependents numbering twelve, for want of proper lodging. His application for a post where it would be easy for him to travel daily was turned down. Was this not a willful policy to see that he led a wretched life? Persecution could go no further. This particular Department sustained a loss but the people on the whole had a servant whose sincerity of purpose could not be questioned. Three years went by and he was elected at the General Election in 1948 to represent South Mauritius. But he did not neglect the rest of the country. Ward was made to revise his opinion. He realised at last that he had met his match, that the Indo-Mauritians and Indians who had hailed him as an angel, were helpless. He was on his way back to the UK in 1950 when this news item was published: “E. Ward, Deputy Educational Advisor at Colonial Office, said that education of colonial peoples could not simply be a matter of imparting European culture.” “It must be our aim to work out for them an education which makes best elements in their own culture”. – Reuter
It was officially acknowledged that Indian culture had come to stay. Only four years earlier the then Secretary of State for the Colonies had sided with Governor Kennedy to tell a trade unionist bluntly that in Mauritius it is only European
culture that must live!
At long last the culture of the majority of the people had a
good innings. From Director of Education, Mauritius, Ward had been made Deputy Educational Advisor only to cover up the fact that he had been worsted. He could not be at the Colonial Office for the rest of his life. He now and then translated into good English French books written on Mauritius. Not that Sookdeo was ungreatful. He said at the sitting of the Legislative Council held on 4-11-58: We have had great men helping us in moments of despair. When I say that I remember a Jeremie, a Hall, a Darling, a Cameron, a Gordon, a Kerr, a Johnstone, great figures of our history.
(See Concise History of Mauritius pp. 23-24, 28, 51-53, 70-73, 90.) Basdeo, his elder brother, had started serving the people in 1939 after his return from India where he had spent six years. He was prosecuted and sent to jail. Sookdeo was deprived of his company. Basdeo was serving his third term of imprisonment in 1944. It was believed that the movement associated with his name had been buried. This belief led the Governor to conclude that one element of the population could easily be set against the other. By 1945 a constitution was going to be imposed that would give Indo-Mauritians onethird of the seats in the new Council of Government. The Indo-Mauritians section constituted two-thirds of the population. Sookdeo prevented the country from going to the dogs as a consequence of the acceptance of the proposed constitution even by some Indo-Mauritians. While Basdeo was in captivity he kept his movement alive. The flame was kept burning. When the prisoner was free he was agreeably surprised to find that his movement was as strong as ever.
The high officials were disillusioned. In 1946 a Constitutional Consultative Committee was set up and Sir Edgar Laurent, the Senior Member of Port Louis who has been sitting in the Legislative Council ever since 1926, expressed his disappointment on knowing that the 1944 Constitution that was communal through and through and gave a third of the population two-thirds of the seats allotted to elected members, had been set aside and that the hands of the authorities had been forced so to say. But the good knight was helpless. Communalism was held in check. In 1945 Sir Edgar had made a strong plea in favour of communal representation. Little did he know that 1946 would be totally different from 1945. Boodhun brought about in 1945 a revival of Indian Culture of which not a word was heard after six months. 1936 was no better. In 1938 a Society was founded and Western Culture became predominant. In 1946 came a liberating force. The Bissoondoyal family was in straitened circumstances when it left Tyack for RoseHill. The three brothers had worked hard and they had had a house of their own. But with the loss of the head of the family (Soogrim) once more it fell on evil days. As Sookdeo was a born fighter he performed a Herculean task when left alone. With a heavy heart he parted with some of his books which he highly prized. He was in debt.
MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATURE Sir Edgar Laurent had tried hard to prevail upon Governor Kennedy to let Mauritius have a constitution that could divide the population. The Governor cajoled him into accepting to replace the President of the Legislative Council from time to time and to forget all about communal representation. Laurent was grateful and wished to create the impression that the country owed its new constitution to that Governor. Sookdeo took exception to this and wrote the following article:
NEW CONSTITUTION IN MAURITIUS When, on his return from London, the Governor announced, towards the close of 1947, that Mauritius had been awarded a new constitution more or less to the taste of the majority of the people, the Member congratulated him in the name of the unofficial element. The Senior Member would not come in for criticism if he did not go in raptures over the Governors generosity and give the people of the land the impression that the council is only a seething mass of talk. The people outside the council knew for certain that their Governor had made a virtue of necessity. The first gesture made by him to place two-thirds of the inhabitants of the island at a disadvantage. The Governor is no friend of the Indians of Mauritius. If he could have his say, only those who possess the Sixth Standard Certificate would have had the right to vote. When the first Constitution Consultative Committee held its meetings a white member had thrown out a hint to the effect that women too might be given the right to vote. He was applauded by all those who think like the Governor. It had been decided that both men and women would go to the polls on the condition that they could show they possessed the above-mentioned certificate issued by the Schools Department. And it had been revealed in the course
of a famous case that some documents in the keeping of that blessed Department had been destroyed! There would be an increase in the number of electors but not an increase from 12,000 to 72,000. The chances were that in all the five constituencies non-Indians would out-number Indians. But the Indian members of the Constitution Consultative Committee were helpless as they were not backed by the bulk of the people. Those who could have the necessary backing were in custody. The activities of the eightyear-old movement (1939-47) about which the Indian press is supplying information at regular intervals had, so to say, come to a standstill. During those dark days all was terror and confusion in Mauritius. Before the first meeting, the prisoners had been released. Everywhere the people gathered in so great numbers that loud speakers were required. Public meetings were held, petitions circulated. The masses were re-organised. The Senior Member need not have lavished praises when there was no need for such a performance. The Governor deviated into sense as a result of forces over which neither he nor the Secretary of State can have control. It is the Editor-in-Chief of “L’Oeuvre” that wrote recently that the changes are the outcome of the struggle carried on during the last decade. Dr. Curé made a good start. When his movement began to show signs of giving way it was immediately replaced by the new movement. Without Bustanmente Jamaica would still have to wait for the coming of a new Constitution. What is true of Jamaica is true of Mauritius. People have been busy for the last 8 or 10 years. No Concstitution can be had for the asking. No Governor can be so generous as to give a colony a new constitution of his own accord. Governors and other British officials must be very tactful in those colonies where leaders cannot be easily doped.
The very day the series of imprisonment began, the then
Commisioner of Police left Mauritius abruptly. On the eve of the new elections a Colonial Secretary left the colony on pension or, as some would put it, left the Civil Service prematurely. All the praises given to them by MLCs could not come to their rescue.
The phenomenal rise in the number of electors is the first change that the New Constitution had introduced. The second change is the recognition given to Indian languages as well as Creole and Chinese. Some 70,000 Mauritians have become electors merely because they have been able to sign their names in one of the Indian languages, Chinese, French or English. Three constituencies out of five have a majority of Indian electors. The appearance of the virus of communalism is, however, not a change for the better. Every official document makes mention of the peoples of Mauritius. The forerunner of the fever of communalism had been diagnosed long ago. Highly cultured gentlemen paved the way by giving out at one of the meetings of the first Consultative Committee: Strong nationalistic tendencies have been developing in the colony for some time amongst the Indian community.
Those tendencies have been fostered by
systematic agitation and propaganda. Two years elapsed and they submitted a memorandum to the second Consultative Committee long after it had been dissolved. The Memorandum read in part: The organised agitation which had been going on for several years now among the Hindu populations, the resolutions,– invariably unanimous – voted at political meetings attended almost exclusively by Hindus, will have only served to give more prominence to the fact that the mass of this community is still politically immature. They were more precise because they were in a hurry to warn the authorities against granting a constitution that could favour the majority. Unfortunately for them they were arguing not with conservatives but with labourites who have themselves been blamed for no fault of theirs. It is pertinent to our purpose to make it known that if a demand appears to have been made by mostly Hindus, it is not because it is communal in nature but rather because Hindus are in a majority. Matters are much the same in India. L. W. Matters, a British writer has made this point clear: “Many high officials” writes he, “have encouraged the idea that the Congress is a Hindu body. The Congress must perforce have a substantial majority of Hindus for the simple reason that the Hindus are easily the substantial majority of Indians.”
The result of the recent elections has proved to be an eye-opener. It is not Hindus â€œnationalistsâ€? that have had the best representation. The coloured element has surpassed them. It is a coloured man that has been elected vice-president. Had all the Hindus showed gratitude with one mind, Dr. CurĂŠ could have been preferred to him. And even then a member of the coloured population would have had the honour of being the first vice president of the Council. In that case one who has really done good to the masses would have been honoured. Hindus then have been taken to task unnecessarily. It is not censure but praise that they deserve. The fourteen satyagrahis that went to jail were all Hindus. When the fight was over all Mauritians secured the same rights. It is not an irony of circumstances that those who have served the Mauritians best, those who have a record of distinguished service should be reproved? -The Pravasi January 1949 He longed to see the day when all children of school-going age would be admitted to the Primary Schools run by the State. The Legislative Council met on November 16, 1951. He was an MLC of only three years between the work of Social Welfare and Development and that of the Schools Department. He pointed out that in one case 74 million Rupees were being spent and in the other 1,065,711 Rupees. What was worse, according to him, was that 74 million Rupees were spent to no purpose while the Railway Department and the Sac factory were sending away a good number of their workers. A limited number of children were going to school and hundreds of adults were being thrown out of employment. Education, health and justice interested him most. All children did not find room in the schools; hospitals were few, justice was not meted out and the police were not up to the mark. In the same year he spoke thus and the doings of the police were the talk of everyone who read the papers :
â€œI have well understood, and that is not from yesterday, that we need a police. Without the Police, things, I am sure, would have been much worse. This conviction has grown with me with years. But at the time I was very young, I saw people complain but I could not go to the root cause of those complaints. When I grew up, at that time, in our schools there was something which could help school children to think, that could encourage them to make efforts of selfeducation, and then I got a certain inkling of what is the policy of the Police in the colonies. When my neighbours and my friends were the direct victims sometimes of the insolence of the members of the Police, and at another time their bullying, and at still another time their corruption, I could not trace the origin of all these things to one cause. But now with the experiences I have had I have traced that one root cause. Just as for education, the policy is to sabotage, in the same way the control of the Police in the Colonies- I do not say that Mauritius is an exception, but we are bound to speak of Mauritius- the office of the Police in Mauritius is to drive away what we call peace and order from our shores, never to let people rely on that Force which can make the mentality of the people trust that justice will be done to them I have very many cases to hand. There are cases of abuse of authority; disturbances in the villages. There are cases of theft that have not been prosecuted because the local Police authority had found that the matter was a trifle. There are cases of fire broken at Verdun last year where the suspected culprit had been found, but the Police had never cared to investigate. I know of two cases of rape, one at Long Mountain and as to the other one, I am told, the case is pending before court, so I prefer not to mention it. It is not yet before court. I understand that the person is himself taking the matter into his hands and is retaining some barristers to have the prosecution made. We have very recently seen what the Police can do to humiliate one community in the matter of religious profession. There are cases when someone comes to a Police Station to make a declaration. . .
That person becomes the object of base brutality and sometimes the great sorrow experienced by one is not at all understood by the Police Authorities. I have had to deal with a case of some eight or nine policemen entering at 3 o’clock in the morning a house of a person at Bon Accueil and taking away the blanket from a young girl of 14, I have cases of a doctor in Port Louis asking to see the Police Superintendent so that he may be able to visit someone who had been reported to have been injured by the Police. That doctor is a member of this House and a member of the Executive Council. He was not allowed to contact the Police Superintendent and therefore he could not visit the person reported to have been injured by the Police. Coinciding with that, a young lady made a declaration at the Line Barracks telling her grievances against a Police Constable. The declaration was made but was never followed by an enquiry. I have read for you, Sir, a part of the communique published in the Papers some days before the Labour Day was going to be celebrated in Mauritius and this is how it reads: “The procession may be accompanied by music, but the musicians shall cease playing when required to do so by the Police” When someone has no experience of the extent of injury that the police can do, he thinks there is nothing grave printed in these lines when referring to them. He thinks one simply tries to catch limelight or as very often people believe that what is said here in a certain language is simply said to get the applause of the public and that at the bottom of the references, there is no other motive. I have cases of theft that occurred at Plaine Lanzun, spoken of seriously in the Press, but of which we have heard nothing from Government or from the Police.”
He had been for six years member of the Council and was to represent his constituency for 22 more years, when on April 6, 1954 he made a long and interesting speech in the course of which he dwelt on one of the subjects dear to him:
“ If 40,000 children of school-going age can be deprived of education – and this is so because the policy followed is what it is --, can any man in his senses say that this country is running no risk and that no harm is being done to the people ? I have seen, in the papers, when at a curve of the main road a hole is being dug and some repairs are being effected, leader after leader is devoted to that minor point. Why ? Because it is feared one car might drop into that hole, one car might stumble down and one person or two or three or four might run the risk of hurting themselves. When it comes to a question of preventing a small accident, a minor accident of this nature, leader after leader of a paper is devoted to the matter and when 40,000 children of school-going age are being deprived of primary education, it is believed that this is not a national issue”.
As it did not do its duty the Press came in for criticism by the section of the community that was being cruelly neglected. He held that wooden schools would do in a country where such schools had existed for a century and more under the British rule, that what was important was the increase in the intake of pupils in order to impart education to the largest number of children. On January 21, 1955 Mr. James Johnson, a British MP, spoke in the same vein when he said in the House of Commons: “To leave one child in four without education is, to me, unthinkable. . . “ I suggest to the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs that we have set our sights too high and built too few schools of concrete instead of more wooden schools, which would have been cheaper, but which would have accommodated more children” The number of scholarships had been raised to 90 as a result of a motion. Mr.Ardill of the Education Department reminded the House of this, when in 1954 he chose to let know what was his reaction to Sookdeo’s motion concerning the Schools Department.
Six members were for the motion as against 18 that antagonised the mover. Among those eighteen were Dr. Bhageerutty, Messers. Forget, Koenig, A.M. Osman, R Seeneevassen and the Liaison Officer! Mr. Guy Rozemont abstained. Mr. Ardill congratulated Sookdeo. He expressed these opinions: “ We, all of us in the Department and in this House know what a very keen, personal interest Mr. Bissoondoyal has taken in education all his life and particularly in primary education…I refer to that (a motion which dealt with primary schools scholarships) again today because only two and a half years have passed since that debate took place.” Sookdeo had maintained that headmasters had access to the files of their teachers, that this was objectionable. Ardill agreed with him:
“ It is not a motion to decide on the language we are going to teach . . . The honourable Mover is right in one way. These personal files should not be in the personal posssession of the head teacher. . . I am thankful this debate has taken place….A number of candidates who were holders of the School Certificate or the G.C.E., for the first time have failed to get into the Training College. I was surprised myself that this should have happened. . . As a result of this debate I am fairly certain that some slight improvements may be made in the method of selection, of training and of final examination.”
This born fighter had to battle against tremendous forces. For quite a long time he was misrepresented. It was only at long last that he came to be hailed as a great Mauritian. He was, at the outset, dubbed “communalist”. Such a charge was laid at the door of much greater men. Speaking about himself Mahatma Gandhi was so to say reduced to tell the world in self-defence:
“Whatever service I have been able to render to the nation has been due
entirely to the retention by me of Eastern culture to the extent it has been possible. I should have been thoroughly useless to the masses as an anglicised, denationalised being knowing little of, caring less for and perhaps even despising their ways, habits, thoughts and aspirations.” Sookdeo was misrepresented since he did not like to see that some endeavoured to give a damaging blow to Hinduism. Soogrim had started a catechism class for Hindus at the Western Suberb Government School. This pleased him as he too tried his level best to arrest the downward rush. Pandit Kalikaram, an old Brahmin of Riviere des Anguilles, Savanne, had observed Holi in the traditional way. This landed him in trouble. It seemed that Ward’s dream stood the chance of coming true. By way of protest Sookdeo led a procession which started from Riviere des Anguilles and reached Souillac. The Pandit was in the front rank of the processionists. That was a virtual Padayatra. Pandit Kalikaram’s friends who were among the renowned, advised him to tender an apology! And one of them was the official representative of a great country. Governor Hilary blood (1949-53) could not but withdraw the police case as he had withdrawn Ward’s plan for the reason that a strong protest had been made. Sookdeo was at his best when he came forward with a motion about religious subsidy. That motion was epoch-making. His speech was as informative as it was inspiring. He began by saying at the sitting of the Legislative Council held on June 21, 1955: “ There have been two occasions in my life have on which certain words have created a very deep impression on me. On the first occasion I was a pupil of the VI Standard. Our teacher, in the course of a class, asked myself and my class fellows individually to what religion we belonged and what were our Scriptures. There is no doubt a large number of my class fellows could tell directly to which church they belonged and what were their Scriptures without any difficulty. Their answers, young as I was, I could guess. But when it was our turn to answer, we, Muslims and Hindus, and in this respect I will say Hindus, we were in a difficulty. Some said their religion was Indian, some could not express an opinion and when it was to
answer about the Scriptures, the answers were different, so much so that the teacher, very innocently, was prompted to turn into ridicule the Hindu element of the class.” “ From that day I could put to myself questions which have always been pertinent, whether one of the oldest races of the world could be in such a state that when questions were put to its members in a class there was no correct answer forthcoming.” “ Later on, I was present at a District Court to see and hear one great, one of our eminent members of the Bar, who is now a departed figure. We were curious to see how he dealt with his witness in the court because he was a reputed professional.”
He reminisced in a charming way. Thus some pages of the history of Mauritius were preserved. He went on to say:
“ I do not believe after all the centuries that have rolled by that anyone can believe there will be universal conversion and then alone all the members of our society will enjoy the privilege that at present is being enjoyed by only three churches and, at the same time, I believe all will concur with me that without taking our basis in belief in God we cannot move forward with the hope of doing good to ourselves or to our dependants, to our society.” “In a Mauritian society where a very large fraction of the society is not on an equal footing with the other part of the Mauritian society the environment cannot be called good. The circumstances are not normal. If one person can be allowed to go on with a feeling of frustration from his very childhood, to go on with a feeling that he is being persecuted, to go on with a feeling that he is unwanted, undesired in society, to go on with a feeling that he is a burden; if only a person can be in that state I am sure we are making room for the upsetting of society at some future time. The environment is bad and therefore all that we can do for some at the same time we are undoing it for others and generally the whole of society loses. If we simply look at the position of Europe at present, one unsatisfied nation has been doing a lot to create trouble in the world. I am not taking sides. I am not saying that X is right and Y is wrong. I am simply stopping at this point that the dissatisfaction of one has been a cause of a lot of misgivings, a lot of disruption of the good order, a lot of uneasiness to say the least. If we simply now transfer the data obtaining there to our little country, of course not in the same proportions but there is ground for someone to say upon reflecting upon our problems,
there is ground for someone to say that wherever there is that haunting belief that there is persecution it can do no good to anyone’. “It cannot be laid at our door as one paper has commented of late that this Motion has been presented to this House to withdraw the privilege that already exists for some churches. I make bold to say that I belong to a community which has from time immemorial a motto that has been so nicely put down by a Chinese poet, ‘If you have two loaves, sell one and buy a lily.’ I do not find in any literature any better example of a policy of peace than this”. “There is nothing in our Scriptures which is not known to the Europeans and in some respects they are better known for at a certain time, when one great Hindu teacher, Swami Dayananda, wanted to verify certain Vedic texts, he had to inform Max Muller, who was then living in Berlin, and he asked him to send some copies of the Vedas so that his verification might be without mistake. The European Universities spend millions of Pound Sterling - I am not speaking of Rupees - for the creation of special Chairs for the Eastern Science, for Eastern philosophy: Oxford, Cambridge, Berlin, Sorbonne and a lot of others. All those things are too well known. So when we here stand in this House and say: extend the privilege that exists to the three churches, we are not asking the support from Government for something about whose aim we may be in the dark. The first reason for asking for support is that there is justice in our demand’. “Without churches, without temples, without missionaries, how can we keep the light burning? How can we tell all members of the community what they should do and what they should not do? At present nearly everyone is being absorbed by three evils: the cinema, drink and gambling. Parents at their own places are creating such an atmosphere that the children are ever agitated and have not their mind at peace, so they cannot be in a position to be the recipients of some good advice or some good teaching. If we do not organise our society in the very near future we will have to reap a very bitter harvest. Men have developed the mentality to fear men and not to fear God at all. If that situation is to be prolonged for ever, we can imagine what kind of society we are going to give birth to. One way of transforming the present position is to allow all communities to be on an equal footing.’ “We are at a time when in the space of five years our criminal offences have increased from 8,000 to some 30,000. This is a warning to us. When a person’s notions about God are altogether blank, we can have very little hope about him. That does not
mean that when we have the word God repeated in our ears we overnight become creatures of perfection but I say there can be the possibility of someone rising up and doing something to save not his society alone but Government itself from uneasiness and from things that are not desired at all. I am laying stress on the idea of God and I do not mind what some of my colleagues might think. I do not pose as a man of God but I think that responsibility thrust upon me as a Member of this House, and a child having experienced certain of our difficulties to tell to this House in what state of mind we grow up and what can be the solution of our problems so that the society may approach perfection in a better way. We are listening too often to demands and to the needs of the marching society. Let this House be reminded that when Franklin visited France on the eve of the American Revolution, moving about to collect money for the War of Independence, he paid a visit to that great patriarch Voltaire. There was the grandson of Franklin with his grandfather. Voltaire was ailing on the eve of his death, he rose on his bed and lifted up his right hand saying: “Petit fils de Franklin: Dieu est la Liberte” “If anyone believes that granting subsidy to Muslims, followers of Confucius, or to Hindus is upsetting the Christian order, he is wrong. This is not a challenge to the Christian order, the more so because I believe when Christ himself said, “dans la maison de mon pere il y a plusieurs appartements,” he referred to the other races and to the other communities and made room for all humanity, for all mankind to have hope that they will not be abandoned.” “We have no longer the disabilities placed on any student going to Europe. As I have just mentioned, Roman Catholic laureates could not read in Oxford or Cambridge University. Now there is no such difficulty for the Roman Catholics, and it does not exist for any other community. I mean there has been a deep and sensible change in this matter” . “La Vache et Le Tigre” is a poem which deals with the resistance of a cow to the appetite of a tiger. The cow was so adamant in her resistance that the tiger had to yield, and UNESCO has selected this poem only to prove that Mahatma Gandhi was not wrong in expounding his principles of non-violence, which we call “ahimsa”. “That was a change in another matter.” “We have all come to stay in this country. I know that there was a time when certain communities were looked upon with suspicion. When Tippu Sultan sent his Ambassador to this country, that Ambassador was not received with the honour which his rank demanded. He was left in a ‘dependance’ with no proper light and only the
Indians – I mean the Hindus and Muslims – were allowed to visit him. He was coming to this country to help the French Government. All those who are interested in Mauritian and French History of that period can verify the statement I am making.”
“Mr. Nairac: Of whom is the Honourable Member speaking ?”
“Mr. Bissoondoyal: Of Tippu Sultan. That suspicion which then existed, does not exist. The Representative of Tippu Sultan came to make an offer to the French Government to send men against the British in India”.
“Mr. Koenig: And he was jailed !”
So, one Member was in so good a mood that he passed a humorous remark.
No dissident voice was heard. Dr. Arthur de Chazal was so moved that he expressed himself thus on the subject :
“ Before addressing myself to the subject-matter of the motion, I wish to tell the
honourable the First Member for Grand Port - Savanne how moved I was by his speech. I was moved by the sincerity of his arguments and I was also impressed by the fact that he got at the very root of this matter.” “The reasons which he has mentioned, namely the importance of a belief in God, the need for spiritual protection and the fact that there can be no solid foundation for morals and ethical education except on religion, are points which no thinking Member of this House who has at heart the spiritual good of all the sections of our population could possibly discard.” “ The Honourable Mover has referred to the feelings amongst certain people that other human beings like themselves have no “raison d’etre.” He might have said that they have no souls. He has referred to a feeling of frustration and persecution. I wish to assure him here as a Christian and as a Catholic that these feelings are very far from the Church to which I belong.” “ Sir, among the finest women that I have ever met, and whom it was my privilege to attend as a medical practitioner, was an Indian woman. She is now dead and I feel that she is now in heaven among the saints. I wish to tell the Honourable Mover that the Church to which
I belong has condemned formally and solemnly the beleif which still lingers in some minds that only Christians who have been baptized are able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“ The second reason for which I could not vote against this motion is the question of strict distributive justice. After all, Sir, there are 350,000 inhabitants of this Island who are non-Christians, who pay their taxes and who, in my view, are entitled to their religious belief and the practice of their religion.” “ The third reason which was in my mind, Sir, and which is in keeping with the plea made by the Honourable Mover is that for human beings it is better to have almost any religion than no religion at all.’ “ The Honourable Mover has shown that nowadays people who were known to be strict abstainers are drinking heavily.” Mr. Seeneevassen: “ It is not against religion.” Dr. de Chazal: “ It is against their religion. I know that a number of Hindus of the Brahmin caste are strict teetotallers. We are seeing in this country an immense consumption of drink by Hindus. I think it would be very dangerous for this Council to take any measure, be it a negative step, which will tend to deprive the masses of the people of their religion. “ This ordinary man held his country together for once. Let it not be said that he made unmerited complaints.” Chazal’s words, reproduced above, show that he had a better definition of Hinduism to give than that of his Hindu opponent. Had the latter been a little less garrulous he would not have cut a sorry figure. Given to boasting, he and those who pampered him shared a Britisher’s belief that fuel oil could be a substitute for the oil used on the Divali night. ( It is suggested that fuel oil be used for lighting lamps on the occasion of the Deepavali festival Communique of the Information Office dated October 21, 1946.)
Of all the years it is 1946 that the Britisher chose to come out with his suggestion to help the Hindus! In 1946 the Divali was observed at the Rose Belle temple. We are led to the inevitable conclusion that what was and will always be unknown to such “champions” of Hinduism is commonplace knowledge to Chazal. Sookdeo argued that it was too late to have resort to wholesale conversion. By the time he spoke he himself had had to prevent the authorities from trying to make a dream come true. The reader has by now come across R. Seeneevassen’s name. What notion he had of Hinduism is well known. He was out to strike terror into the hearts of selfless Indo-Maritians who after a day’s hard work devoted at least two hours to the teaching of Hindi. They did not receive a cent for the work they did. R. Seeneevassen hit upon the plan of bringing the private schools run by those teachers without obtaining financial help from the Government of the day, under the control of that same Government through the Schools Department. Those schools were an eyesore in those days. The press was interested in what was the burning question of the day. This account of a meeting of the Legislative Council, culled from a fortnightly paper, will no doubt satisfy the curiosity of all who wish to know what was the atmosphere at that time: Hon. S. Bissoondoyal had implored the Council to spare all those schools where the intention is to give religious instruction; not to allow them to be controlled by Education Department : Mr. Smith said: “ To satisfy the Hon. The First Member for Grand Port Savanne, I should like to suggest the following amendment to clause 7: (d) “ Any school in which the sole object and intention is religious instruction.”
The suggestion was welcome.
We read: Mr. Bissoondoyal: I accept. Mr. Seeneevassen: With the due respect to my honourable colleague, the idea is to exempt schools where in fact what is taught is religion. His proposal is “any school in which the object and the intention…” The object may be there, the intention may be there but what is being taught may not be same thing…” He in fact did not accept. In 1957 Seeneevassen out-Britished the British. The Readers that were in use in those schools could enable anyone to have an idea of the subject taught. Men in religion were unfortunately in the black book of Seeneevassen’s mentor who did not hesitate to speak his mind. The local Hansard has preserved his speech that reads in part: “ We have seen great preachers, Maulanas and other priests coming to this country to send us back to the other century.” The speech was delivered on October 11, 1949 and Seeneevassen spoke in 1957. Sookdeo had a whole host of co-religionists who would say ditto to our British masters. There was a whispering campaign that had for its object to belittle him by fair means or foul. His presence was embarrassing. It proved that the whole lot was in an awkward predicament. Smith and Ardill had almost hinted that it was next to impossible to face Sookdeo, that the officiousness of some members of the House was ill- conceived. Ardill had alluded to Sookdeo’s motion about the increase in the number of scholarships. That was admittedly desirable. The remarks passed by Sookdeo in this
connection on 6th November 1951 and the interruptions made now and then are given below: “ If we provide a second category of scholarship class some ( unfortunate students) will be able to fight their own battle. I know of a person related to me who learned geometry by himself and he secured the 20th rank in the scholarship class” Mr. Luckheenarain: “ That is a reincarnation of Euclid” Mr. Bissoondoyal: “I mean he had no teacher. His personal efforts led him to understand this subject which we all know is difficult.” Mr. Seeneevassen: “After having listened carefully to the speech of the Honourable Mover, I must say that in principle I do agree with him… I object to the cheap building.” Of all orators Seeneevassen could not be expected to be so great a master of English as to find fault with the expression used by the Mover. It is the awkward position in which he was that irritated him. Luckheenarain was not to blame. He had been a very famous coach. But he had not come across a school boy who without being guided by a teacher, could succeed in understanding so difficult a subject as geometry. That such a boy did exist was fortunately known to another MLC who smiled approvingly on that day and nodded assent.
Princess Margaret was to spend a few days in our midst. Sookdeo called for Satyagraha. The daily Le Mauricien insinuated that he had met with failure. This could not but cut him to the quick. The Press does not always do the right thing.
He addressed this letter to that paper and drew a parallel between the attendance in 1927 at the time of the visit paid by the father and the mother of the Princess and that of 1956:
To: The Editor
October 7, 1956
Le Mauricien Sir, I am indeed thankful to you for the keen interest you are taking in getting us to know the impression concerning the boycott movement I had set afoot, of individual correspondents of the big English and other newspapers who visited us recently. The purpose of this letter, however, is to draw attention to some mischievous harm, intended or not, that is likely to be done by biased comments ( unless your readers happen to learn of some essential facts in connection with the Royal Visit ) to the larger interests of the Mauritian population. If I called for a boycott it was to move world opinion. In one of your issues, excerpts of a London newspaper have been published wherein I am reported to have confessed to a failure. I understand the motive behind the hurry to disparage and condemn my movement. It cannot be otherwise. When at the end of the last century the first organised fight for colonials was fought in South Africa the comments of foreign news agencies were not more sympathetic to the leader who was no less a man than Barrister M.K.Gandhi. In another context, I still remember how a high official here some twelve years ago referred to a prisoner ‘enjoying’ a hunger strike. Let us consider that so-called failure, and when I say so I wish you could have taken notice of the comments and news published in The Sun , Baltimore, Daily
Telegraph, Daily Mail, to name only a few. You reminded your readers that in 1927, on a similar occasion ( when our population was but 375,000), Reuter’s correspondent, Mr. Lucas estimated the crowd at the Champ de Mars to have been 150,000. This time the foreign agencies’ estimate is 100,000. Le Mauricien’s forecast on the eve of the visit was that at the races the record attendance of 1953 ( coronation year) would be broken. But you have abstained from giving any figures after the event ! There is more than that. The B.U.P. correspondent while estimating the crowds when they were the thickest at the time of the Princess’ landing does not go beyond 75,000. We must bear
in mind the fact that these Press representatives know much more than we do about dense crowds. If the attendance at the Champ de Mars in no way was superior in number to that of any great meeting in the recent past for whose success no special arrangements (including financial ones) had been made, although our population now is 560,000 how can it be concluded that I have failed ? There is another point. Foreign correspondents kept streaming down Vallonville Street for three consecutive days to ascertain from me whether what they had learnt outside about contemplated demonstrations was in any way founded.. I had assured them that I had not envisaged any such thing, being given that my movement was symbolic. I mention this to emphasize that I was under no illusion whatsoever and that I knew that a large section of my countrymen was ready to execute my instructions in a vivid and disciplined way as was the case in 1943 ( walk out from Port Louis Theatre,) and in 1947 ( on the occasion of the boycott of the last races ). The boycott this time may have appeared less spectacular in Port Louis and
Plaines Wilhems, but no
reasonable and unbiased observer can claim to have seen in the events of the week before last the alienation from me of my countrymenâ€™s sympathy and support. I hope my next move will bear me out. Yours sincerely S. Bissoondoyal
The Princess was back home in 1957, and our primary schools received as many as 24,000 additional students.
Sookdeo had on the one hand to prevent some papers from misrepresenting facts and on the other to accept being humiliated, manhandled and insulted. In 1931 had begun his trouble with the powers that were. He had quite often to tussle with them. Those who knew him were at one to say that he would never let injustice raise its ugly head. He was once seen at the head of several of his countrymen who had come all the way from the district of Savanne. He took them to
the Line Barracks. Soon after one heard that he had to answer the charge that he had broken open the gate of the Barracks ! That was not the main gate. It was the one found at an out-of-the-way place. It could crumble at a touch. The police were about to make a lathi charge when he could find by his side a friend to whom he hurriedly handed over his spectacles and his papers that were kindly brought home in the evening. Sookdeo was no arm-chair politician. He did not escape scot-free. He served one of his four terms of imprisonment. A debate on the necessity of a Royal Commission of Enquiry concerning the Police Department gave Sookdeo an advantage over other MLCs. I.Benson, an African journalist, was swept off his feet when he heard the redoubtable orator speaking in 1957 at a meeting of the Legislative Council. Benson wrote : Mr Bissoondoyal, a former school teacher, arranged the pile of books and papers on the table in front of him, watched by all the members of the House, and then, starting very slowly, he began his long- awaited orationâ€Ś. Dr. Ramgoolam, himself a Hindu, found himself compelled to come to heel behind the fiery Independent. In the police debate, Mr. Rozemont never opened his mouthâ€Ś Mr. Bissoondoyal had touched into life a power-house of support.
If the police could be found fault with it was because of the resentful treatment they accorded to the workers. The representatives of the workers were in a fix. They were compelled to follow the lead given by the Mauritian who was passionately in love with his work; who throughout his whole life, had served the underdog. He had the backing of some of the other MLCs more because of their dread of public opinion than for the reason that they appreciated the efforts he put forth to help the have-nots. Fifteen votes were cast in his favour and exactly fifteen against. He
presented the motion anew and this time 16 votes were cast for and 16 against. A commission of enquiry had to be sent. He was careful to give facts and figures that could not be rejected. The leaders of other parties would not depone as they were not in possession of such facts and figures. One of the commissioners who formed part of the Police Commission made it his duty to tell him that he had told the Commission nothing but the truth. Sookdeo was the one public man who had departed from the beaten tracks. He was never the official representative of the working classes, but it is – thanks to him – that all their children or most of them found room in our schools. When he failed to have a majority in the Council he appealed to the people. After all, he was not a member of the Council when in 1946 he had a hold on the masses and was able to snatch a liberal constitution from unwilling hands. The weak-kneed leaders were satisfied in 1945 when the country came within an inch of being frustrated as a result of a constitution thrust upon it that would have divided the country into watertight compartments. What gave the communalists complete satisfaction was that they were convinced that they would be elected even if the Indo-Mauritian sector had 7 out of 21 seats. The division of the country into well-defined groups was not objectionable in their eyes. This is how they argued: “Only once two Indo-Mauritians had been returned. Now, instead of two, seven would be selected. That was enough.” Little did they know that the people had been roused from their lethargic state, that others had been active day and night. While he was being bullied there were those who refused to be corrupted and accordingly stood by his side. They admired him as he was one whose qualities of head and heart deserved to be appreciated.
His simplicity, his refusal to keep with himself anything beyond his immediate needs, and abstentious habits went a long way in helping him to tide over his difficulties. He was always ready to come to the help of everyone who required such help and came his way. The benches at his school at Vallonville Street, now called Sookdeo Bissoondoyal Street, were at the disposal of all those who required them. He nursed his neighbours, gave them good advice. He was often seen attending the funerals of the lowest of the low. He was then amongst hardly more than a dozen or two of the friends and parents of the departed soul. Those who did not have the means of pursuing their studies, were coached by him without receiving a single pie in return. Those who could pay, never knew who did not. Among his pupils were members of the Legislative Assembly.
He was mostly in a thoughtful mood. This accounts for the favourable impression his speeches and repartees made both at the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. More than a dozen booklets published from 1943 down to this day by the Hindoo Press, contain his memorable speeches. After all, I.Benson observed that he started to speak slowly. He was an MLC in 1959, when on the 8th April he moved a motion that was thus worded: This Council is of opinion that Government should consider the establishment of a Ministry of Justice to supervise and answer for whatever takes place in the dispensation of justice for the good of the country. It is as a layman that he spoke when he said on that day:
“ If we want to draw attention to certain big issues in life, professionals are perhaps – that is an irony – the last ones to come forward. And, when I say this I have the authority of one of the greatest luminaries of our times, Harold Laski, who has said
in one of his illuminating pamphlets that for the last hundred years every reform in law or every initiative for reform in law has come from outside the profession… “ We are at present witnessing the demolition of the detention cell in Port Louis on the premises of the Port Louis tribunal. The initiative which has ended in this ought to have come from members of the Judicial Department, from the Parquet, from members of the Bar because they are the first who should have come into contact with the situation in this respect. But unfortunately it was left to someone else, outside the profession, to touch with his finger a nuisance. “ in 1950 there occurred a case where one man was detained at the Rose Belle Police Station because he had a call of nature in one of the cane-fields in the vicinity. The amount of brutality that was indulged in against that person is better left undescribed. “ Members roared with laughter perhaps because they thought that it was my aim in public life to see whether there were such outlets or not. “ my interest in our lacunae on the premises of our tribunals dates as far back, if only we are to speak in relation to the new Constitution, as 1950 and from that date I have always been curious when calling at tribunals and courts to see how things go on. I will never over-repeat what is the degree of disappointment I feel when I find that people who have to dispense justice, could not see that without physical comfort, those who have to call at courts could not answer their charges in the proper frame of mind. Its appears that many people look at their job as mere functionaries and nothing more; but let us thank the British Government for the award of this Constitution and the right to vote to the little men which have enabled this House to know what are the difficulties of the little men in respect of justice. “ Mauritius has its place, I believe, on the maps of the world, not only geographically speaking. Mauritius, in its own way, has contributed to the progress of civilisation, and here when I speak, I believe that all people born in Mauritius are considered as Mauritian. Without the contribution of Professor Brown Sequard, without the contribution of Professor Riviere, I am sure the discoveries as regards the working of the glands and in electrotherapy, respectively, would not have put Mauritius on the scientific map. “ I have, as a layman, felt much dissatisfied with the way in which evidence is sought in the Courts, in the way judgments are delivered, in the way cross-examination
are conducted by certain counsels, in the Crown prosecutors represented by the Police appear before the Magistrate, in the way the inexperience of the witness or the accused party is exploited by the Courts. When I reflect over these things I am appalled! We hear people very often say that Mauritius is an advanced country, a civilised country, and yet, that is the position ! “ I will, as a layman, say what happens generally in a relatively serious case. First of all, illegal arrest, illegal search and illegal Court. He is made to understand that the black frock, or gown, the Police uniform and boots and the yells of certain people at the Bar, represent justice and he cannot avoid these things if he has been caught by the Police through the allegation of someone. He is rarely given an opportunity to explain his position.” There can be no doubt that, to him, evenhanded justice was a desideratum. He went to say:
“ Have our magistrates made a visit to the prisons, divested of their personality and their latin texts ? No, Sir. They never have what is called un cas de conscience. An MLC ( Dr. Dupre ) put in : They are above that.” “ No, they are too sure that they have done the only thing that should be done. They never have any doubt. If they had been to the prisons, they would have seen, how people condemned for 15, 12,10, 7 years are given to worship to the study of religious scriptures I looked at them when I went in 1947. I saw them there. I went in 1949, I saw them there. I went in 1957, I saw them still there. I asked them: ‘ You, so good, so much interested in God, so much of humanity in you how is it that you are here ?’ They smiled and say: ‘ No one cares to listen to our story.’ “ At last one friend of theirs listened to their story. After Sookdeo’s demise in 1977 all prisoners reminded their friends and companions that they owe the Hindu Temple and the Mosque found at the Central Prison to this kind-hearted Mauritian.
Two general elections had been held under the 1947 Constitution. The Labourites and the Conservatives attended several Constitutional Conferences
Sookdeo and the Independent Forward Block, his political party, were never given the opportunity to have their say. He was the last man to sit idle after the Constitution had been more than a decade old and badly needed to be amended. He wished to see the country take a new step.
He feared lest history repeated itself in a tragic manner. He was young in years when Sir Kunwar Maharaj Singh had spent three months here towards the end of 1924 and the beginning of 1926. Singh was a rare user of Hindi. His gesture was much appreciated throughout the length and breath of Mauritius. It brought about cohesion. After a year the general election gave the Indo- Mauritian the chance of returning two of their candidates
When the electoral campaign was in full swing in December 1925 and January 1926, J. Delvi, a Muslim of South Africa, was in our midst. His short visit was a god-send. He could give, in Hindustani, a short speech that electrified the masses. Delvi had a share in the success scored. Uncharitable non-Indians were angered beyond measure. He got into trouble with them so that he wrote this letter that appeared on February 6, 1926 in The Mauritius Mitra: “ For some time past my name has been the object of a controversy in the papers… “ I have some time ago published in some of the local papers that I came here simply on a holiday. I shall for further edification of the public at large state that I am a tourist.
“ Assuming that I am un pauvre bougre, did I ever stretch my hands to anybody ? “ I am not so self-conceited as many of my Muslim brothers believe me to be.” The fault-finders used the wrong expression when they attributed the unexpected success of the two Indo-Mauritian candidates to the cry khoon ka khoon that was supposed to have been raised. It was long the current belief that the Indo-Mauritians had done a nasty thing by voting for those who had blood ties with them and caring little for the ability of the candidates. The enthusiasm generated by Singh’s visit was short-lived. Efforts were being made to teach Hindi in the night schools. In Parijat, referred to at the outset, it is stated that Professor Basdeo Bissoondoyal was a primary school teacher before his departure for India; that, in 1926, he started teaching Hindi at Saint Julien Village. Soogrim, his elder brother, had in his turn opened a night school in Port Louis and Sookdeo had not been slow to second his efforts. The people who would not willingly let their love of Hindi die, saw that for the first time in the annals of Mauritius, young men who were proficient in French and English gladly helped the Sadhus and Pandits who had all along been the only ones to teach the mother-tongue by giving Hindi the importance it deserved. From 1931 down to 1948 no Indo- Mauritian was returned. Was enthusiasm to die down once more ? After 1939 illiteracy had been removed at a rapid pace. Somebody had cursed Indo- Mauritians in these words in 1935: “Politically the Indo-Mauritians are most primitive in their outlook. Only in 1926 did they show any human consciousness… These are doomed to live the life of political outcasts as if they counted for nothing in the hierarchy of statecraft.”
Curiously enough, the critic would not lift his finger to encourage those who were popularising Hindi. He choose to address villagers in English and his speech was translated into Bhojpuri every time he condescended to talk to those of his fellow countrymen who were” primitive” and deserved nothing but contempt. It was indecent to write off one’s co-religionist as “primitive”. Since the Indians had a rich heritage it was not necessary for them to be “educated” to be worthy of their less primitive neighbours. They had given a good account of themselves, saved the sugar industry from ruin, acquired land, turned the country from a jungle into a garden. In 1901 Gandhiji was our guest. At a reception held in his honour he spoke of the contribution of the Indians to the progress achieved by the sugar industry Their detractor’s argument was exactly the one adduced by Broome, an acting Governor. We read in his dispatch of October 31, 1882: “ If the vote of the lower Creole and Indian population became predominant the electoral power would pass to an ignorant class” To use the words written in the twentieth century that power would pass to those who were devoid of human consciousness! What was written when the last century was wearing out was repeated in the present century at the time when the centenary of arrival of Indians was being celebrated. Without being highly educated the IndoMauritian could shine in the political field. Sookdeo educated public opinion. Ever since 1946 he had been contending in his speeches and articles that universal adult suffrage was a desideratum. The Labourites and the Conservatives were unfortunately of the view- a view shared by Governor Scott (1954-59)- that the country could wait for another five years. Sookdeo was not a person to wait until such time as the Governor and the parties
protected by him would share his view. From 1946 to 1958 he had stirred public opinion sufficiently to force the Colonial Office to grant what the colony badly needed. The Secretary of State gave all the three a rap on the knuckles. He wrote to the Governor in 1956: â€œ Since Mauritius enjoys as high a level of cultural and material attainment as other territories in which universal adult suffrage has been achieved, and despite the complexities of its racial, religious and social structure, I would be unwilling further to delay the introduction of universal adult suffrage. I therefore propose that it should be introduced at the General Election due to be held in 1958â€? The Secretary of State had made the important point that responsible Mauritians who were in favour of adult suffrage richly deserved to be given satisfaction. Those who had patience enough to wait for some years more had been to London on a useless errand. They had even reduced the position of Mauritians to that of the inhabitants of such countries as had a comparatively lower level of cultural and material attainment. Mauritius could not be proud of them. Encouraged by the decision, Sookdeo organised a mammoth rally at Rose Hill on July 31, 1960. The meeting was filmed. His political party had the chance of being represented at the 1961 London Conference. He had the approval of a majority of the people. He had opened his Rose -Hill meeting with Hindu, Christian and Muslim prayers said by the representatives of the respective communities. It became impossible to refuse permission to the representatives of this political party to go to London. When Benson gave his impressions of a sitting of the Council, Sookdeo was an Independent. On April 13, 1958 he founded the Independent Forward Bloc( IFB ). It was at Rose Hill that the people first heard of what is called the High Powered Tribunal ( Ombudsman). Terms like Satyagraha, Ombudsman, etc. gained currency
in the Mauritian tongue. Mauritius was, as it were, linked to South Africa, India and Sweden. The antagonists had not been completely beaten. They were again at their old game. Rumour was afloat that the IFB was against independence !
This article from Sookdeo’s pen throws considerable light on that Conference. He wrote under the date August 4, 1961: “ One has only to read what the organs of the so-called Labour Party are daily or weekly publishing to misrepresent the stand taken by the IFB, the only political organisation in existance now that can effectively work out a dramatic alteration of the present trend in local politics and of the management of public affairs, to understand the reason why the blackout is maintained on the proceedings of the London Talks. “ Hundreds of millions are soon to flow into Mauritius. Our borrowings imply heavy annual interests to be paid to our creditors. Every year we dig big gaps in our potential revenue….. “ A campaign of vilification was being led and he reminded his readers what happened exactly 30 years earlier: “ It is known that when Mahatma Gandhi returned to India after the 1931 Round Table Conference, a most despicable propaganda in India and abroad had been set afoot to discredit him. When he landed on the Indian soil, he narrowly escaped being literally trampled down by crowds of organised hooligans who called themselves communists. This miracle was due to the timely, vigilant and physical protection afforded by Sarojini Naidu.”
Unbridled criticism was the order of the day because, as the author of the article pointed out, the Colonial Office was not inclined to publish a White Paper on the
proceedings of the London Talks, as its avowed object was to salvage the sinking Parliamentary Labour Party. The treatment meted out to Mahatmaji and the Congress in 1931 was accorded to the IFB in 1961. It is a little known fact that on the eve his departure Sookdeo was mischievously reported as saying that he would not go to London ! One can read in the Legislative Council Debates, April 11, 1961: “ Mr. Bissoondoyal: I have heard it reported at the M.B.S. that I have said in this House that I would not go to London Conference if the Bill on Riots passes. “ Mr. Speaker: If the Hon. Member has any complaint to make regarding this, he could raise the matter on the “adjournment”. “Mr. Bissoondoyal: There is no “adjournment” tonight, Sir, and next week will be too late.” Speaking about a delegation the same day Sookdeo reminded the House that the political party going by the name Ralliement which had secured 2 seats, was given 2 delegates to form part of that delegation whereas his (Sookdeo’s) party that had 3 seats, did not have a single delegate. A burnt child dreads the fire. The qualities Sookdeo displayed in London were the same that won him admirers when he spoke at the Legislative Council. He always marshalled his facts. He was speaking at the Council on April, 17, 1956 when there was a death-like silence and his listeners would not let a word escape them. The rulers kept harping on the danger attending what they called a “Hindu hegemony”. In the midst of his speech he observed: “ What have the majority, as they are called, the Indo-Mauritian labourers asked ? They have asked for a public fountain and that is called swamping ( the non-
Indians ); they have asked for a school under straw, a cemetery within a radius of six miles. They have been asking for fodder; they have been asking for employment; they have been asking for minimum wages which they have not got in the past three years, but asking for such trifling things brings gratuitous charges against them.” “ This is what the Governor says: ‘ The Indo- Mauritian category includes some 76, 000 Moslems ( 1952 Census) whose own anxiety about their minority status manifests itself in numerous ways; nevertheless demographic factors inevitably give some support to the fears of the ‘ General Population’ in regard to Indo-Mauritian domination, particularly in the absence of wide comprehension of the need to tolerate differences of race, religion and culture in the interests of a common citizenship.’ “ Can there be a more gratuitous charge than this: Hindus profess separateness; they are not tolerant; they keep aloof ?’ What is hidden in these sentences ? a hatred, an inborn hatred of someone who thinks himself superior to those whom he thinks inferior and doomed to remain inferior. I am not answering this challenge here. I am answering it in public. “ The Governor makes such a sweeping judgment after having been here for only seven months. Miss Mayo did not do that although she had been delegated to vilify the whole country, India, in the interests of imperialism… It is said very often that we should forget the past but in the same breath, why is it not said to the minority to ignore the future where they feel coming down by one millionth of an inch from the level they occupy now ? “ What is the greatest interest, the great concern of the minority ? Shrimps. For the past three or four years, there were 4,000 licences for firearms. Now there are 6,000 licences and these are issued solely for protecting shrimps in reservoirs. While we are fighting for, I will not say la semaine de la bonte but la minute de la justice, they are fighting for reservoirs, barachois, for the privileges of insurance companies. They have deer and when someone happens to turn himself into a poacher, he can be murdered and the police will not sympathise with him as it has happened in the south…. When someone is alleged to have murdered somebody, he is detained at the Beau Bassin Prisons; he can bring with him his pillow, his bed, mattress, the springs of his bed and when someone has not paid a fine of Rs. 2, he is detained publicly in view of everyone at a police station and he becomes a sort of curiosity and an object of
contempt for every passer-by. The Hindus have always been on the defensive. Do we forget in 1925 we had the visit of an Indian, a Christian Indian, Sir Kunwar Maharaj Singh ? A stooge was made to say in a local paper that just now we will have a lot of people occupying the theatre. Mind you, one man is coming and behind that man there will be an invasion of this country. And then the late poet Leoville L’Homme had to reply that if Tagore were to come to Mauritius, he would be respected, that is to say, if you want to have some dignity, some status, you must be Tagores. But how many Tagores can we have ? This can only mean, you will not be respected in this country. The menace, the provocation, comes from one quarter. “ At a certain time it was not the cry ‘ Hindus will swamp,’ the cry was ‘Pagans will swamp.” “ In 1948, on the 10th of August, my friend, the late Guy Rozemont called at my place at 4 o’clock in the morning. The election was going to take place on that day. ‘My situation is difficult’ said he to me. ‘ I caused posters to be placarded and I had a demonstration of bullock carts carrying big blackboards. On one side there was “ Votez Rozemont” and on the other “Votez Millien”. Now, can this small occurrence be disregarded ? Can it be said that such things will not occur in the future ? At Quatre Bornes stones were thrown at me by Hindus. If I had not a strong will I would have run away from the place; but I held my own. Can it be said that these things will not occur, the Hindus will ever be a bloc ?’ ” “ Hindus and Hinduism had not been shown to advantage even in India. At first it was believed that Christianity would be a substitute for Hinduism. As Hinduism did not die out, it was brushed aside as antiquated and a bar to progress. W.R.McAuliffe’s
Modern Asia Explained contains this paragraph: ‘ If India is to develop, Hinduism must be rejected. Whether 350 years of Western influence can defeat 3,500 years of Hindu tradition remains to be seen.’ ”
The book appeared in 1952 and Sookdeo had to put in a strong defence in favour of the Hindus in 1961 and 1965. He had not yet thought of saving the Labour Party when the 1963 election was held.
He was determined to convince that party that the time had come for Mauritius to achieve independence. The IFB unhesitatingly joined forces with the Labour Party. They worked with might and main to make the country free. Even before 1963 the Labourites knew in their heart of hearts that the leader of the IFB wished to serve the common fatherland. And yet Sookdeo was antagonised by some of them. In 1962 only one Labourite symphatised with him He made no secret of the antagonism in this article that was published on February 20, 1970 : “ Ten years ago at a mammoth meeting held on the grounds of the Rose Hill District Court the campaign was launched to secure for Mauritius the services of an Ombudsman. In 1961, at the London Constitutional Conference the delegates of our Party formally moved that this country should have an Ombudsman. In 1962 the United Nations had a seminar in Stockholm on the subject. The Colonial Office had asked our Government to send a delegate of our Party as an observer there. There was an attempt to brush aside the request. But when a timely protest was made the local saboteurs could not but comply with the instructions of the Colonial Office. “ For years the public were told that there was a remedy for corruption practised by people in the services during those years; the nature and degree of that corruption was not what it is now. Those who are in that filthy business ( the TV or newspapers have shown you some of the notorious faces ) feel that they are well protected. That sense of immunity from deserving punishment they seem to have has led them to ply their trade in the open. It looks as if we can be cured of tuberculosis, of leprosy and even of cancer but of the Mauritian variety of corruption at practically all levels we cannot be freed. “ But here we are mistaken. If now some people make up their minds to help eradicate the evil that not only is giving a bad name to the country but is also inducing even these to make some more money and have deposits in foreign banks, there is hope the country will be clean – the only way to have means to feed decently the whole population.
“If we desire the office of Ombudsman to be a success we have to be vigilant , patient and co-operative. Some months ago the country forfeited the fruit of the labours of all its heroes through the cunning of some men. We have an Assembly of 70 members ( 72 say the experts) but it can serve no useful purpose. True representation is
dead. The workers cannot expect redress because they cannot go on strike as the machinery for a legitimate stand on their part has been rendered inoperative. If we are not vigilant, patient and co-operative, the Ombudsman will be but a decorative figure, another white elephant in the country. “ In the present circumstances almost no one at the top anywhere can like to see the authority of an Ombudsman exercise itself in the spirit of the institution itself. One or two decades ago the sugar magnates, the heads of departments, the privileged people cursed the right of universal suffrage and of a truly representative Council or Assembly. The big campaign for political reform, the frequent big marches leading to the imprisonment of the organisers of those campaigns and marches coinciding with some world events caused the collapse of the resistance of the magnates and their stooges. “ It is acknowledged that history is created by the organised might of the people and not by kow-towing to the masters.” The country had a liberal Constitution in 1947, the year India obtained her freedom. General elections were held twice under that Constitution, the first time in 1948 and the second time in 1953. For purposes of election Mauritius was divided into five constituencies. Three of them returned three representatives each. There was no block vote system, i.e. the electors were free to vote for three or less than three candidates of their choice. Being the capital, Port Louis had four representatives. Plaines Wilhems and Black River, the biggest area, returned six. The new Legislative Council had 9 + 4+ 6 = 19 elected members. With separate electorate it would have had 21. After the award, by the Secretary of State, of universal adult suffrage it remained for Mauritius to throw off the yoke of alien rule.
Rodrigues, its dependency was in a better condition than the Seychelles Islands that ceased to be a dependency in 1903. Rodrigues became independent on March 12, 1968 along with Mauritius and the Seychelles archipelago nine years later. It was Sookdeoâ€™s cherished dream to see an independent Mauritius. Eugene Laurent had left Mauritius in 1920 broken-hearted. He had tried his best to bring about a change for the better but he could not convince the rulers that the Island stood in need of a liberal Constitution, that the 1885 Constitution was antiquated. Pezzani and Edouard Nairac, later failed to have constitutional reforms introduced. Some concession was given when a delegation reached London in 1932. Lack of continuity and perseverance prevented the country from wresting other concessions. The tendency to let the people keep marking time was not to Sookdeoâ€™s liking. He found that he had to rouse the leaders from their lethargy. Gandhism had been hailed as a blessing ever since the last days of 1939. It is to that we owe both the 1947 Constitution and universal adult suffrage. The 1963 election had proved that no party could singly succeed where Eugene Laurent, Pezzani and Nairac had failed. It dawned on Sookdeo that his dream would come true if he prevailed upon the Labour Party that had formed the government to be up and doing. He joined the Government without any hesitation. He could forgive and forget. From 1963 to April 1969 he could get a great amount of work done.
HIS WORK AS A MEMBER OF THE CABINET Some Members of the Cabinet grumbled secretly. A campaign was set on foot to cut short his stay among the Ministers. Sookdeo saw that austerity could save the ministers. On being asked to give an example of austerity they gladly accepted to have their allowance reduced. This step was so popular that it brought the members of the cabinet closer to the people. Nevertheless, not all of them were happy. They looked upon the newcomer as a kill-joy. He had agitated to have an Ombudsman appointed. It is worthy of note that the present Ombudsman is an ex- pupil of his. In 1965 the country took giant strides. The beginning of the year was less eventful than its end. In January Sookdeo, together with five other ministers, visited India. Among the names of the great Indians of modern India, the first one, Sookdeo and his brothers had heard of, was that of V.D Savarkar. Manilal M. Doctor was leaving Mauritius broken-hearted as Eugene Laurent was to do later, when he left behind five copies of Savarkar’s Indian War of Independence, 1857. That was surely a gesture that would not have won Gandhiji’s approval! Practically every IndoMauritian who had a smattering of English went through it so that all five copies were torn to pieces. The three brothers had a tattered copy. Two of them read it out in turns and Sookdeo kept listening. In fact, the habit of reading our books had become so characteristic so far as the brothers were concerned that it is in this way that at La Route Chateau d’Eau which was then a neglected area of Tranquebar that was itself desolate, the brothers read or rather devoured Tolstoy’s War and Peace done into French. Soodeo had the strong desire to know more about Savarkar. On meeting the great Indian in Bombay he spoke of Madanlal Dingra. Savarkar did not expect that a Mauritian would be
able to know so much about the hectic days he and Dingra spent in London in the opening years of the present century. The Sunday Standard sprang a surprise when it gave the following account of Sookdeo’s activities. “ One of the peculiar things about certain Indian communities overseas is the outmoded way in which their names are spelled. “ A prominent politician from the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius, for example, spells ‘Sookdeo Bissoondoyal’ whereas here it would be plain ‘Sukhdev Vishnudayal.’ “ Mr. Sookdeo Bissondoyal, Minister for Local Government and Co-operative Development in Mauririus, arrived in Bombay, on his way to New Dehli and other cities as a guest of the Union Government. He is one of the members of a team of Ministerial guests from the Island. “ Aged 56, Mr. Bissoondoyal belongs to a family which is reputed for its contribution to the spread of Indian culture in Mauritius. He has been a Minister since 1963, a turning point in his political career which for 16 years earlier was highlighted by almost continuous opposition to Government policies. “ A curious fact worth mentioning was his desire to see Veer Savarkar, whose prestige as a revolutionary obviously remains far higher among Indians abroad than in India. “ Hindi is widely understood in Mauritius and Mr. Bissoondoyal often addresses political gatherings there in Hindi. A few days ago at a farewell dinner given at Raj Bhavan by the State Governor, Dr. P.V. Cherian, the Mauritius Minister made a brief speech in Hindi which surprised those present.” Free Hindustan was a little more explicit: “Hindus in Mauritius from practically all over India had migrated there and they represent all linguistic groups. Still they speak Hindi at public functions. About 45 per cent of the land in this small Island belongs to Indians but practically all the sugar mills are either owned by the French or the British. Shri Bissoondoyal’s family had migrated to Mauritius about four or five generations back from Bihar. He was born on the Island in 1908. The first thing that he said on his setting foot in India was that he wished to see Veer Savarkar and his wish was fulfilled. “In his short interview he had with Veer Savarkar he paid the latter his respects.
“Veer Savarkar presented him with a set of his books.” The Mauritius Ministers paid a visit to Sir C.P Ramaswami Aiyar, the elder statement and scholar. They met Dr. C.V.Raman, the Nobel Prize winner, as well. The doctor was much pleased when the conversation Soodkeo had with him turned on the Calcutta University. It is Sookdeo’s presence that heightened the prestige of Mauritius. Others had to be satisfied with the role of listeners. India was unknown to them. The suggestion they made to the effect that some time would be usefully spent if it could be devoted to merrymaking and dancing, called forth his indignation. The time came when he parted company with his merry-go-luck companions. He was alone when he had the darshan of the Saint Vinoba Bhave. Such darshan is out of the ordinary and can be fittingly compared to a draught of cold water in the desert. To see modern India was as important as to meet Saints. Even those who are not attracted by the saintly lives of some modern Indians have had to write about Acharya Vinoba. It was too late by the time it occurred to others that a visit to Vinoba was a must. They take much time to learn what is taught. A book entitled A travers l’Inde was the literary result of Sookdeo’s sojourn in India. Towards the end of the same year he attended the last Constitutional Conference. He was then a Minister. Sookdeo was accompanied by four other members of the IFB. The 1965 London Conference was held at Lancaster House in a tense atmosphere. Compared to this Conference that of 1961 was a tame affair. It has been stated that in early 1965 Sookdeo had been to India with five other ministers when the long yearning of his life was fulfilled. Ha was himself a Minister, as the Government and the Opposition had buried the hatchet. In Mauritius Sookdeo had refuted the argument of the then Governor who openly espoused the cause of those who saw that Hindus were communalists. The Conservatives had, in
1945, submitted to the Constitution Consultative Committee a memorandum which referred in these terms to the Indo-Mauritians who were to their liking: “The so-called ‘general population’ have, throughout a long history, upheld European standards. In many ways, those standards have been adopted by the Indian immigrant community. This natural process of ‘rapprochement’ between the Indian and general population should be further encouraged” How could it be expected that such Indo-Mautitians as had been referred to by the Conservatives would refute the arguments adduced by the latter and the Governor? They could not partly through lack of ability and in part by inclination, make it plain to the Colonial Office that Hindus would not swamp or oust non-Hindus. They were rootless. Sookdeo was poles apart from them. It is only if they were forced into the background that success could be scored. Abdool Razack Mohammed, the leader of the CAM, held the view that Muslims were not in favour of Independence. He got a rebuttal from A.W. Foondun of the IFB, a Muslim scholar and patriot, who said that, as for him, he was in its favour Sookdeo had to make renewed efforts to present his standpoint which was the same as that of the under-privileged. It is admitted on all hands that he was the mouth-piece not only of the IFB but also of the Labour Party. He began by arguing that if there was someone whose weakness had led a governor to brand all Hindus as downright communalists, that one was the Hindu who had, at a byelection held in 1957, set a Hindu candidate against Dr. Curé, the founder of the Labour Party. Sookdeo’s candidate was Curé. He spoke about a non-Indian lady who was on the point of accepting a timely help by him (Sookdeo). She was advised by a non-Indian leader to decline such offer. The systematic propaganda made against the Hindus, he added, had no leg to stand upon. The passage of arms was between Jules Koenig, a front-rank barrister and parliamentarian of long-standing, and a primary school teacher. It is the latter that won the day.
Sir Bede Clifford was reported as saying that he was happy to see that Mauritius would achieve independence. He is known to have submitted a plan. His Excellency had no reason to be jubilant. It is on communal representation that he had let his choice fall. If he had his way, 11 Indo-Mauritians would not have been elected in 1948 when elections were held under the new Constitution. The memorandum quoted in part contains the observation that it would be fair to give each of the three big sectors 7 seats. Sir Bede was no friend of the Indo-Mauritians. He gave them 7 out of 21 seats. Out of 19 seats, according to his plan, the Indo-Mauritians deserved only 6. An official of the Colonial Office remarked smilingly: “Yours speech was very interesting, and provocative too” The snake was scotched, but not killed. The Banwell Report on the electoral system appeared in 1966. It is not so bad, commented a leader of the Labour Party. This enraged Sookdeo who took the decision of holding a mammoth meeting by way of protest. He triumphed. Those who hesitated to take part in it were present when tens of thousands of Mauritius came to Port Loius on June 5, 1966. According to the Banwell Report if a political party could manage to secure 25 per cent of the votes cast throughout the country even if one candidate of that party was elected it would have 25 per cent of the seats. It would, in other words, have 17 seats. The Organiser published an account of the protest meeting. It read in part: “Four political parties held a mammoth meeting on June 5, 1966. The secretary of State for the Colonies had accepted the Banwell Commission’s Report in full. The meeting was so great a success that some of the recommendations of the Report had to be set aside. London was in a position to know that serious people, not people in a holiday mood, met and were resolved to do or die.”
Star, a Mauritian daily, wrote that Hon. S. Bissoondoyal was the ‘Architect of the United Front!’ A debate enabled Sookdeo to say at the Legislative Council on June 7, 1966: “We are living in an age where no king, no queen has a veto power; no elected president, whether he be of France or of the United States has a veto power. But the Banwell Commission has attempted to give the veto power to a few people.” By “a few people” he meant the Conservatives who were backed by governors. He continued: “All this device is only an attempt to force down our throat proportional representation. When there were interruptions the Speaker intervened to say: “We are debating a highly explosive issue and any interruption is liable to make the situation still more serious.” An Hon. .Member insinuated that Sookdeo had not been able to tell the Police Commission the truth. This put him on his mettle. Then there was a repetition of what had happened in London. He asked: “Do you know what one of the Commissioners said to me? He paid me a visit as a Minister and he said that I was right.” This is how he wound up his speech: “After World War I a responsible man said: ‘I am very much disappointed with the First World War,’ and when he was asked why, he said: ‘A coloured man can now look in the eyes of a white man.’ I won’t withold his name. It was Count Sforza of Italy who had said that. I believe in the U.K. This is not the sort of mentality that prevails. There should be no fear of a coloured man looking in the eyes of the great man. The greatness of the great man
is in believing in truth, in accepting the spirit of the wind of change, in accepting that the good of the majority is the real good that we should care for.” (Applause) Mr. Stonehouse was sent here and the Banwell Report was modified in the sense that Sookdeo wanted it to be. The up-and-coming generation must know that his was a fight to the finish. Independence has been wrested from the colonial power. It has not been given on a platter. Sookdeo did a fair amount of constructive work. Indians in other colonies have failed where he has succeeded. Proportional representation has been imposed in British Guiana and separate electorate in the Fiji Islands. Without Sookdeo, Mauritius would have shared the same fate as of these countries. Here those who would not give evidence before Royal Commissions were put into the shade. In season and out of season the impression was sought to be created that the FrancoMauritians had more rights than the Indians who were looked upon as late-comers. In their memorandum they referred to the political problem of Mauritius having ‘its peculiar historical background’. They further stated that ‘European civilisation and ideals constituted the fundamental structure of this colony.’ Mauritius has had no indigenous population. The bulletin A Monthly Survey of Commonwealth Affairs made this misleading statement in 1954: “Mauritius is an unusual Colony in that the European minority constitutes the aboriginal population. The pledge given the Whites or Europeans was that on surrender, they should preserve their religion, laws and customs.” This could not prevent the rulers from allowing Mauritans to have equal rights. Moreover, when Sookdeo was backed by the whole Legislative Council and religious subsidy was granted to non-Christians there could be no doubt that the pledge had become outdated. Sookdeo saw that it was time Mauritus had its independence. The hurdles had been removed one by one. It remained for him to tell the Colonial Office some plain truths. Other lacked vigour and courage. He made it clear that neither the Indians nor the coloureds were
late-comers although he would not go so far as to bring into bold relief the fact that amongst the first European settlers there were Indians, that Indians lived in the Isle of France, that at the time of the capture of the Island in 1810 there were 6,000 non-Christians who were Indians out of a population less than a lakh strong. His attitude is the only one that freedom fighters would do well to make their own. It is to be regretted that Indians overseas did not adopt such a course elsewhere. Not that all Indians in Mauritius were at one with Sookdeo to put up a fight and let the country grow from strength to strength. Their silence at the Lancaster House may even lead one to the conclusion that independence had no remarkable advocates among them. Sookdeo was of a different stuff. Since the Indo- Mauritian element had outstripped all other elements the need was felt to humour the Franco-Mauritians who had been the de facto rulers for more than a century. Curepipe, situated almost in the heart of the island, is their stronghold even to this day. As Minister, Sookdeo was given several opportunities to address the inhabitants of Curepipe. He spoke French so well that he was applauded. It became clear that Indo-Mauritians were not at the helm of affairs by sheer force of numbers, that as they brought about a change for the better it was natural for them to become the rulers. Sookdeo was for a fair deal. The rural areas constituted 56 per cent of the population and plumped for independence while the remaining 44 per cent composed mostly of the inhabitants of the urban areas wanted to have some sort of association with Britain. The unemployed had been provided with work for four days every week and they were called â€˜relief workersâ€™. For want of funds their number was going to be reduced. Sookdeo would not agree that the townfolk could be spared at the expense of villages. A religious chief was pleased with those who wished to neglect the villages who fought for independence. It is because the working classes had implicit faith in him that unpopular measures could be taken.
Sookdeo bore no ill-will to the educated inhabitants of the urban areas. The IFB, the Labour Party and the Muslim Committee of Action (CAM) were for independence in 1967, the year of the decisive general election. It is worthy of note that when Sookdeo was Minister of Local Government, the town councils – four in number—were converted into municipalities. They began to have a comparatively greater number of councillors. Sookdeo was giving the country the taste of independence. In fact, it is to make it possible to have
a greater number of parties in favour of
independence that he joined the
government. The harmonious relations that then existed between the Minister and the Municipalities that owed their existence to him led the Curepipe Municipal Corporation to invite him to open a flower show. He spoke in French. Under the significant heading Another Original Speech the daily Action published the speech in its issue of October 20, 1964. This paper had a month earlier favourably commented on another speech of his. It wrote that several speeches of the Minister were noted for their thought content, that his way of looking at our problems and finding solutions to them were certainly new. Express agreed with Action. Whatever he said was thought-provoking. His ideas were seminal. In the course of his address at Curepipe he dwelt at length on the garden described in Paul and Virginie. He was congratulated by men of letters of note. As against three books in English—one being on the sugar industry – he has to his credit two French, one being A Travers l’Inde and the other Relation de Voyages in which he deals with his sojourn in the U.S.A. Instalments appeared in the dailies. It was on being appreciated by the reading public that he thought of publishing his articles in book form.
His Hindi speeches too won him praise. The one he delivered at the memorial meeting held after Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri’s demise is remembered to this day. He is the first Mauritian who has addressed meetings in chaste Hindi, French and English and has therefore given the lie to the fallacious argument that knowledge of Hindi is a handicap for all those who wish to have a command over French or English. His example has unfortunately not been followed. There are far too many orators who do not care to mend their broken Hindi but who pose as popularizers of this language. Dr. Curé was still in the land of the living when new Municipalities were born. Sookdeo had no patience with those who would let slip an opportunity of preparing the country for selfgovernment. Most of the Councillors later became MLCs. They were able debaters. Edgar Laurent’s eloquence earned him the praise of one and all. He spoke in French, but when the time came to shift from French to English he suddenly used English and made himself understood. The municipality proved to be a training ground. Sookdeo was pleased when four Municipal Corporations were brought into being while Curé was still interested in politics. The good doctor had continued a tradition when, in 1927, he had made a move to have a Municipality at Curepipe. He had gone to the length of circulating a petition and collecting tens of thousands of signatures. In the last century Sir Virgile Naz, amongst others, was out to place Curepipe on the same footing as Port Louis by obtaining for it a municipal corporation. All those attempts, however, met with failure. On the eve of the 1976 elections the most widely circulated daily thought it useful to call Curé and Sookdeo ‘ the most progressive politicians’ of Mauritius, on account of whose efforts the old Constitution of October 1885 was replaced by the Labour Party that was in
power in the U.K. A new one was awarded in 1947 and General Elections were held in 1948. Sookdeo who had great regard for Curé wrote, in the latter’s appreciation, an article that Le Mauricien published on October 16, 1957. The author of the article compared Curé with some famous leaders who made history. He pointed out that this son of mother Mauritius could be placed by the side of C.F. Andrews, whose biography H.Tinker has written, if Mauritius were to be likened to India. He continued: “ It cannot be said of Tom Paine that he was a Britisher for the simple reason that he was a citizen of the world. For such souls geographical frontiers exist not. They do not exist in Curé’s case too.” The popular paper that gave an estimate of Curé and Sookdeo had not taken into account the Mauritius Labour Party that did not then have Curé for leader. Nor did it deem to think highly of the other leaders. The daily pointed out, so to say, that the two genuine leaders had proceeded along the right lines, had been in the thick of the fight and accordingly spoke authoritatively; they did not choose the line of least resistance. Between 1885 and 1947 a host of leaders had come and gone. Their list is impressive: Sir William Newton, Dr. Beaugeard, Coriolis, Dr. Eugene Laurent, Dr. Rohan, Edouard Nairac, Pezzani, Amand Esnouf, Tranquille, Edgar Antelme, Rouillard, Sir Virgile Naz, Sir Edgar Laurent, Philippe Raffray, Sir Henri Leclezio, Gebert, Raoul Rivet, Arthur Rohan, Dr. Edgar Millien, G.M.D. Atchia, Raymond Hein and many others. But their performance was not out of the ordinary. The situation was analysed covering a whole page. The flash-back ended on a pessimistic note. It recalled that one who was in the good books of our masters suddenly grew eloquent and said that to serve the country it was necessary to put a spoke in the wheel of the Bissoondoyals.
This is Seeneevassen’s language. He was in sore need of the backing of his revered friend. It is precisely these two Indo- Mauritians who were nominated members of the old Council. The Port Louis Municipality was granted City Status in 1966. Of the five municipalities, two have rendered Sookdeo posthumous homage. He who co-operated with the Labourites, drove them to accept him as a helper, could not but like his job. He was Minister for Local Government and Co-operative Development. This speech of his embodies his ideas on co-operation: “ Government is planning the creation of a co-operative school. Associated with that school, Government is planning a sort of collective farming. With the school and with the training on the farm, Government hopes that the youngsters will not feel that they are to lose their dignity if they do some manual work and receive academic training. If we do not return to the soil, if we do not try to cultivate love of manual labour, there is no hope….. “ The co-operative movement has great prospects. I am one of those who believe that it can cure the ills of this country. First, a co-operative store, a co-operative society, a cooperative school are places where all the communities can meet on an equal footing… The only way of saving the youngsters from the evil created by bad politics is to foster the cooperative spirit. Co-operation can enter any field. We want it to play its role in industry….. Trained hands give you a trained head and you will be in a better position to understand the problems of your country and the solutions to solve those problems but if you are not trained in a craft, if you are not given opportunities to mix with others, to discuss on an equal footing with others, you will be simply like ‘dumb driven cattle’ and you will never be able to play your part in or contribute your part to the development of your country. In Sweden, for example, 70 per cent of industrial activities are done by co-operatives. Shipbuilding, not to speak of handicraft workshops and so on, and things like these are done by co-operatives. In India the supply of milk and butter and cheese to the City of Bombay where you have a population of 5 million is done exclusively by a co-operative. It is such a thing that we hope to introduce into this country on a small scale. Of course this depends on the goodwill of one and all….
It (Ministry of Co-operative) has at its disposal 93 acres of land in Nouvelle
Decouverte and in a few weeks it proposes to exploit these lands under the supervision of the Co-operative Department as a pilot scheme. We are trying to depart from the practice of giving a specific plot to an individual. We want them to be on a collective basis so that the
idea of possession will not take hold of the individuals and collective co-operation will be understood. “ We are importing too many things which we can produce in this country and we have to start producing somewhere and at some time…. and one way of solving the question of unemployment is to bring back to the earth the thousands of educated youngsters who do not find a ‘ debouché’ in Government Offices, in Town or District Councils or in the private sector. But we do not want them to go directly to the land. We want them to pass through the co-operative school which we want to be residential. This will give them the status that they feel is lacking with the conditions of manual workers. If we succeed with one school it will be our responsibility to open such schools in large numbers all over the country and that would be a barrier to everything that is an attempt at breaching peace here. If three people of three communities are at the same table, sleep under the same roof, talk of the same subject at least for three weeks in a month, when they go back to their individual villages, they cannot think in terms of their individual communities. They will be bound to think in terms of the country and that is the way of building up a nation. You do not build up a nation by speaking of quota for your community or for your sect. You build up a nation by calling upon the youngsters to come and live together and accept the same conditions of life. But to achieve in this direction we must have a lot of conviction, a lot of honesty. …. But to be able to do it there is one thing that we should teach in our school, in our club, in our public meetings and in our press, it is the all- important question of honesty….. Co-operation opens very large prospects to the small man.” A site had even been chosen for the school. Had his plan been accepted, peaceful coexistence would no doubt have been welcomed by the young. But that was not to be. The IFB was antagonised and left the Council of Ministers at the time the first anniversary of Independence was being observed. It was left for that party to safeguard the independence that had been achieved after a long struggle that began in the 30’s of the century.
In the year 1969, the country came to know that if Sookdeo had only wished to be the Prime Minister he would have ousted the then PM in a trice. The IFB had 12 MLAs including Sookdeo. Others were to join him to give him a majority that would have drowned the PM’s parties. The members of the IFB who were likely to change sides would not disagree, knowing full well which side their bread was buttered. Their subsequent behaviour has served as a pointer. It is when some found that they could make capital out of their betrayal that they crossed the floor. They had four predecessors who had paved the way for them. Their business is not to owe allegiance to this leader or that. All that is worth remembering is that have an axe to grind. The progress of the country is not their concern. Bertrand Rusell was well advised to tell the world: “The desire to understand the world and the desire to reform it are the two great engines of progress, without which human society would stand or retrogress.”
THE MAN It is customary to compare the performance of a representative of the people with that of a predecessor of his who did not shirk from doing his duty in fair weather or foul. It is in part thanks to Sookdeo that patients were cared for little better in the hospitals. The number of hospitals went up as did that of the schools. Journalists recollect that Gebert, a representative of Grand Port, made it his duty to go and see if patients had no complaint to make. If he confined his visits to the South or Grand Port, Sookdeo went outside the South too. Even before he was elected by grateful electors he spoke of the 60,000 Mauritians who did not have two square meals a day. This resulted in the grant of the old-age pension. There was a faint echo of the complaint made as regards those who often went without a meal. In the booklet entitled Introducing the Training College, published by the Government in October 1948, a conversation is given in which P.Seeneevassen, R. Seeneevassen’s elder brother, Miss Platt and others took part. In it a reference has been made to the stress laid by the Principal of the Training College on the necessity of breakfast immediately after physical exercise. What is relevant to the subject is reproduced below for the edification of exacting readers. The principal: So if we can train the children’s bodies to become straight we can be sure that our bodies will work better and they will be generally better in health. P. Seeneevassen: that all sounds very idealistic; but have you considered the living condition of some of the children…. How many of them come to school without breakfast? From that day it was realised that provision should be made for pupils to have a meal at school.
Both the old and the young were better cared for. World War II had been brought to a close but the poor could not buy rice, dal, butter, etc, as the rise in prices was staggering. He made suggestions that were acted upon for quite a long period. The rising prices did less harm. In his anxiety to see that justice is done, he would not spare even his friends. A question put by him fetched an evasive reply. He came forward with a motion that read: “This Council considers that reply made on the 2nd of September, 1952 to the Question put by the First Member for Grand Port – Savanne on the important matter of profit in respect of a purchase of newsprint by the Controller of Supplies is unsatisfactory and that a Commission should forthwith be appointed to enquire into the facts and circumstances attending this transaction and to report to Council”. “ The Council further considers that for the reasons set forth above this Commission should hold its sittings in public.” The public, to Sookdeo, deserved to know all about that affair. He always took the public into confidence. Dr. Millien who had been of some service at crucial moments thought he was aimed at. The doctor was Editor-in-Chief of the daily L’Oeuvre. He was once given for publication a letter written by Creech Jones to a Trade Union leader and he did not publish it. But when Basdeo was behind the prison bars and Sir Edgar Laurent launched an attack on him, L’oeuvre published a reply made by a friend of the prisoner. Dr. Millien would go far at a time others would not budge an inch, but he would not go far enough. To Sookdeo, there was something irregular about the purchase of newsprint. He was for a strong control.
Dr. Millien struck Sookdeo who followed the procedure that was in vogue when such incidents occur. As a youth, Millien had seen one MLC assaulting another. He followed suit. Sookdeo met the Colonial Secretary who would have nothing to do with the matter. Did he secretly cherish the desire to see Sookdeo at loggerheads with Millien? Anyway, Sookdeo lost patience for once and gave a resounding retort and nobody dared to intervene with the exception of D.Luckheenarain who congratulated him privately. The neglect of the masses by the rulers and the injustice done to them had only to be laid bare by this Opposition stalwart to see reforms being introduced in a trice. Sookdeo’s disapproval of Wards’s anti Hindi policy coupled with the satyagraha he launched in 1943 when Ward delivered a lecture at the Port Louis Theatre under the auspices of a newly founded Hindu association paved the way for the advent of a new era when antagonism was to be replaced by harmony. He came and a new note was distinctly heard. ‘Divide and rule’ was a motto that the rulers took along with them when they left the colony for good. On the one hand the Britishers who were in the service when Mauritius ceased to be a colony and the Franco- Mauritians who had been ousted were proud of a Mauritian who could deliver the goods and on the other the masses that saw in him a liberator, like Remy Ollier or De Plevitz, admired him. There was no necessity of a bodyguard accompanying him like his shadow. Sookdeo’s Ministry was known for its efficiency. He would see the files, make suggestions in a very friendly way and be present daily for hours together.
He had to meet Indo-Mauritian planters. Whenever he addressed them he would not hesitate to speak in Hindi so that they never failed to realise that he was one who did not have a superior air. It was the general opinion that in the Cabinet his colleagues appreciated him especially after he had made this statement in public on the eve of the achievement of freedom: “ It is no use fighting the cause of the Hindu worker or artisan, the Creole worker or artisan, or the Mussulman worker or artisan. We must fight on behalf of the workers and artisans of all races and religions because it is all one battle. “ Every man or woman who is exploited, who does not enjoy his full rights before the law, or who has any grievance at all must be fought for. “ There must be justice for all, equality for all, opportunity for all. “ The workers and artisans, all the small people, must join together as we have joined together – because it is all one fight. “ The fight for prosperity is the fight for freedom. It is one fight for all our people. And it can be won with independence. “ It is a fight in which I am proud to join. I ask you all to join with us in what will be a great victory. We will make Mauritius great – in peace, in performance and in prosperity.” These noble thoughts were – alas! - not appreciated at their true value. His countrymen failed to set store by the honesty, impartiality and patiotism of one who was born to liberate lakhs of Mauritians. On the occasion of the 1967 election it is he who gave the name Independence Party to the united front that was formed. For the last time a communal riot broke out. The interested parties fanned the flame. The old house where Gandhiji had been given a reception in 1901 was burnt down and the culprits escaped the vigilance of the Police. Embers were carried by the breeze and thrown
on the corrugated iron roof of Sookdeo’s house at Vallonville Street. That was symbolical of the extinction of the fire of hatred. Mahatma Gandhi was for a quite a long time a bugbear. But since Gandhism had come to Mauritius to stay, the Mahatma’s enemies began to swear by his name. Dr.Arthur de Chazal had found a Saint in an ideal Indo-Mauritian lady. Mahatmaji became the first one to be hailed as a Saint by one and all in this country. The Hindu lady comes next. In independent Mauritius a change for the worse was discerned. Even some of those who were admired for their selflessness came to believe that in a free country it is an easy life that could suit them. The social reformer in Sookdeo rose in revolt. The country had been given a new image on December 12, 1943 when in Port Louis a Maha Yagna attended by 60,000 Hindus and nonHindus had been performed ( See The Illustrated Weekly of India, August 22-28, 1976). The 25th anniversary of the great ceremony that was a milestone in the history of the colony was being celebrated when Sookdeo sadly observed that it was easy to grow slack even after success had been scored thanks to the sacrifice of the people. A regular reader of the Mauritius Almanac, a yearly publication that supplied interesting information up till 1940, he found in its 1926-27 edition this remark that pleased him: “The outstanding feature of the labour problem is the extraordinary adaptability and docility of the Indian labouring population. They have accepted the altered condition due to the falling sugar market without murmur and a not inconsiderable number appear to have returned to the field from the less productive commercial and industrial occupations.” Indo-Mauritians who were ‘uneducated’ and had lost ‘human consciousness’ could have the courage to go back to the fields in an agricultural country. They did not lose sight of the dignity of manual labour. It is this dignity that was going to be inculcated in the young if Sookdeo’s dream of having a school for co-operators came true. A spoke was put in his
wheel and the country suffered. It is the noble behaviour of the labouring population that helped Mauritius in the ‘20s. Sookdeo had been in the forefront of leaders who never tired of urging the government to see to it that the country produced food enough for the whole population, that cow-keepers had the necessary encouragement to increase the number of cows, that the tea industry prospered. Sookdeo could find time for articles dealing with the importance of the anniverssaries of events of great moment. He was a poet, a freelance. He crossed swords with intellectual giants. He wrote this account of the anniversary of the great ceremony: “The 25th anniversary of the Maha Yagna was held, as announced, at Rivere des Anguilles. A finer weather for such a celebration could not have been imagined. Although people from almost all villages were present there, it was evident that at many places our friends chose to attend other functions to please individuals. At a time when every community here is trying to get together all its members for collective initiative we seem to have no other social purpose in life than to please individuals.” “The attendance was not bad. A good number of villages where the organizers realised the significance of the event sent scores of their people to participate in the function. But the attendance could have been larger. If such a Movement which has been active for twenty nine years has on such an occasion to compete with wedding parties then it is evidence of decline and finally ‘rira bien qui rira le dernier!’ (he laughs longest who laughs last.)” “Those who attended had the good fortune of seeing things which could not have been arranged for twenty five years ago…” “There were two demonstration of Charkha in operation- a fitting thing in the Gandhi Birth Centenary Celebration Year. The team for this purpose came from Lallmatie.” The IFB is a little party that is serving the people honestly. Those who are grateful have not yet forgotten that its leader, who was an honest Mauritian for whom truth and sincerity were virtues, shuffled off his mortal coil on August 18, 1977 only to plunge the fatherland into 6
sorrow. We seem, in Tagore’s words, to hear him and his friends telling the country he served so well: “ At the end of our task, let us proudly bring Thee our scars and lay at Thy feet the soul that is ever free and life that is deathless.”
AN IRON WILL Sookdeo had an iron will. He cared very little for what could happen to the body. With him it was the soul that mattered. The spirit was dominating the body. He worked hard and would not let a day slip uselessly away. He rose regularly at 4 a.m., himself dusted his blackboards- and they were many- and saw if he had written lessons on them the previous night. His indifferent health would not stop him. At a meeting held in Bambous, he had to be carried somewhere else. This led friends to speak of Le Lion devenu vieux. Whenever he tabled a motion there was no knowing if he would be able to finish his speech. Once in the middle of a speech he had to resume his seat. He was driving in a car when he fell unconscious. He was the member of a family most of whose members had died young. His mother passed away at the aged of 27, Soogrimâ€™s demise occurred in 1939 when he was only 35 years old; his father died at the age of 40 and his sister at the ade of 49. In the â€˜70s life had been nearing its final stages. He once had the distressing news that some of his friends in the Ministry of Local Government, at the head of which he was for some years, were being bullied at the Line Barracks. He would not let them down. Sookdeo hurriedly reached the place of occurrence. There was an unruly crowd that had unhappily been misled by a religious chief. The people he served pelted stones at him. One even hit him, but he remained adamant. It was a sad experiment, as sad as the two previous ones- that of 1931 followed by that of 1957. Writing about Sookdeo no author can forget what happened at the Line Barracks. Sookdeo laboured under a great disadvantage. For exactly half a century he had been very active. As a primary school teacher he had made his mark. In the political field he left behind his contemporaries. It was at last admitted that he was self-made. It will be appropiate to reproduce here this conversation that took place in the presence of Madame Denis between Diderot and Voltaire, the bicentenary of whose death has been commemorated in 1978:
“These two remarkable men were disputing on the works of Shakespeare. Voltaire was careful to dwell only on the faults of his plays. Diderot warmly defended the English poet. ‘I do not understand you people,’ said Voltaire ill-humouredly ‘ you are infatuated about this buffoon. I really believe that you would without hesitation give him the preference over all that we have produced in the same style.’ ‘No, Sir,’ replied Diderot; ‘I am not unjust enough to compare the Belvedere Apollo with St. Christopher of Notre-Dame (a colossal statue in the nave of Notre-Dame). But you will agree with me that, in spite of all its defects, there is something venerable and imposing in this Gothic colossus.’ ‘Could you tell me,’ interrupted Madame Denis,‘who produced that monument?’ ‘I do not at all know,’ replied Diderot after some reflection; but he added ‘ he was a mason.’ ‘yes ,yes, a mason,’ said Voltaire; ‘that is the right word. ‘yes, Sir,’ said Diderot, ‘he was only a mason, but the greatest men can pass between the legs of his colossus.’ Sookdeo was the Mauritian mason (see AppendixΙI). He was no impostor. Friends would hesitate to talk to the elder brothers in as friendly a manner as they did when they met Sookdeo. They would jokingly remind him of the remark made to the effect that he played a minor role and his brothers a major one. The speeches and writings of Soogrim and Basdeo fed such speculations. Those who would be more explicit would give out that Sookdeo could at best only repeat what the brothers used to say at home. The truth is that without having Villiers René as a guide or going abroad for higher studies he was superior to many a university graduate. Basdeo was in Culcutta when he received a rare letter written in English by Sookdeo. It was submitted to some graduates who attended postgraduate classes and who complained that all the letters coming from Mauritius were in French. One was happy to pronounce it excellent adding that most Indian graduates would not be able to write such a letter.
Sookdeo was 'the Mauritian mason.’ If Soogrim ever wrote for Le Radical or other papers his articles were always written in English. So, Sookdeo’s articles in French that appeared in Le Mauricien and Le Cerneen or his poems that were published by L’Essor could not have had Soogrim for author. Besides, Soogrim was no poet. Basdeo’s articles that were carried by The Mauritius Mitra were invariably written in English. Moreover, how could he have written for Sookdeo during his six years’ absence ? Basdeo’s articles were published in France and India in 1932. To deduce from this that he helped Sookdeo to write two articles weekly for Le Peuple Mauricien at Anquetil’s request would be to make a statement based not on truth but on fallacy. Basdeo knew very little about the working classes at that time in those days. Was Basdeo present even once at the Legislative Assembly to prompt Sookdeo when he had to give a repartee that would silence the unfortunate member who dared to interrupt him by making stupid remarks ? Who can forget that when he was once challenged to have a duel out of the Council, he said smilingly: “ Should there be a duel there would be two widows.” No. Sookdeo was no creeper that required high and majestic trees to grow. He could shine by his own light. Borrowed feathers ill-suited him. In 1976 he had only to side either with the Labour Party or its powerful opponent to have a dozen of seats. He was not after seats. He did not fight for securing them. He set the country above the parties. Let it be said that he was unsuccessful if by saying so some are pleased. Success is not measured by the number of seats secured at an election. Had he accepted the recommendations of the Banwell Commission the IFB could have more than 12 seats, but as the Commission was communal in its outlook he rejected its Report. Short-cuts were not to his liking. Singleness of purpose, integrity and honesty were much valued by him. He was not in favour of letting down an independent country. The London Times reproduced these meaningful words that fell from Sookdeo’s lips – words that
generations to come will not fail to remember: ‘We do not mind development but we do object to the future of the country being forfeited in this way, because overseas loans will have to be paid back. We urged restraint in government spending, but were ignored.’ Corruption was the one thing that he condemned in unequivocal terms. He would not neglect his elders, he loved children and wished to give them the chance of becoming honest citizens. He would not look upon the country as a vast sugar mill and be a Bara Sirdar
only to do the bidding of the mill-owner. To be a ‘successful’ administrator is
one thing, and a patriot is another. He was no weather-cock. He was not required to be told that ‘pretty nearly,’ as someone has put it, ‘half the time evil seems to triumph over good.’ His example was followed. It is Shri Ramnath Jeetah, a member of the IFB who chose to defend the small planters and see that they had their due. When well-meaning friends are not trusted the country is bound to suffer. To stand up for all those who are neglected is the duty that the IFB has set itself. Sookdeo came twice to the rescue of the rural districts. The villages are, as a rule, deprived of almost all the amenities of the towns. In the ‘30s villages had to pay house-tax. They groaned under the burden with the result that the then government grew unpopular and ceased to exact the tax. Forgetting that even when Mauritius was a colony, villagers were not required to pay housetax, the rulers in free Mauritius imposed it on them. Sookdeo and the IFB led a countrywide campaign against the new measure. They stuck big posters throughout the island. At every meeting held by them they dwelt upon the ingratitude of those who, from obscure figures—who would earn their livehood with difficulty – rose to be big men. The villages had done their duty in 1967. The rulers came to power and the country won independence thanks to the unsophisticated people of 300 villages. To please their friends of the urban areas they punished those who deserved to be praised.
The campaign led by the patriots who showed gratitude ultimately had the desired effect. Sookdeo’s suggestions were those of someone who had the welfare of the country at heart and who had always been in the thick of the fight. He could not tolerate the rulers who squandered public money. Mauritius was the venue of the African organisation known as the OUA when he tabled this historic motion : “ This Assembly wishes to voice its concern regarding the holding of the thirteenth OUA Summit Conference in Mauritius, being given that belief is gaining ground that: (d) the lavish expenditure for that Summit meeting is unprecedented in spite of our
overwhelming debts; (e) Mauritius has been infringing in letter and in spirit the resolutions concerning trade
and other links with South Africa; and (f) Mauritius is being asked to adopt policies which, if implemented, can be most
disastrous to itself, in case the good they are supposed to do is not satisfactorily proved.” Did he commit the error of chastising Mauritians and sparing the British rulers ? At the Legislative Council his motion relating to religious subsidy won him the praise of the whole House. But outside the Council the reaction was different. Le Cerneen, in its issue of May 17, 1955, pounced on the author of that motion arguing that ‘the aim was to have the age-old assistance given to certain churches suppressed.’ It is his personality and his power of persuasion that impressed the entire house. The powers that were could not but be passive witnesses. It is interesting to note that Le Cerneen accused Governor Blood for the passivity that was discerned. The blow struck was ruthless. British prestige was at a low ebb. Ever since the capture of Mauritius, the British and the Whites formed a group that denied others the right to follow their traditions. Since a new era had been ushered in, the mental equilibrium of some could not but be disturbed.
At the time of writing all the little political parties are thinking of bringing to fruition Sookdeoâ€™s project of forming a united front to work for the betterment of the condition of the working classes and the small planters. It is realised today that he who served the country selflessly was of the opinion that limits must be set to mechanisation to prevent it from throwing innumerable workers in an over-populated country out of employment. Gandhism is relevant here as it is in India. Sookdeo had sounded a note of warning, said a leader of one of the parties, but as the time is more favourable now the united front must be formed. Sookdeo was abreast of the times. One who, by common consent, was in a position to have a close look at Sookdeo did it and objectively too. Justice R.Neerunjun, the first Hindu laureate and first non-white Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, i.e., one who was given almost daily to the sifting of evidence, was for sometime an MLC. That was when he had been made Procureur General. Sookdeo appreciated him for his integrity, independence and wide attainments. He once presented our Chief Justice with a copy of a little book. The gesture pleased Mr. Neerunjun. At a time precaution was taken by every big man to make a secret of the fact that he had something to do with Sookdeo the Chief Justice sent his friend this letter: Chief Justiceâ€™s Chambers, Pope Hennessy Street Port-Louis, Mauritius. 18th July.1966 Dear Bissopndoyal: Thank you very much for the book you sent me on Friday last. I read it through the weekend and found the historical sketch on Indian culture well schemed and very interesting.
I shall be glad if you will kindly accept as a souvenir of our old-time association my personal copy of Erskine May. I appreciated your talent as a most effective debater in the Legislature and hope the ‘grammar of parliamentarians’ will supply you with additional material to enhance your worthiness. I shall continue to watch with friendly interest your increasing contribution to the welfare of Mauritius. Very best wishes Yours sincerely Rampersad Neerunjun A journalist has recalled in the beginning of March the time when the Centenary of Indian Immigration was celebrated. Mr. Neerunjun was the Secretary of the Organising Committee when, according to this journalist, he showed interest in the expansion of Indian culture. It is one who was a connoisseur that gave his opinion on the scheme made. For four decades, genuine lovers of Indian culture who came into contact with the masses, have been busy preserving that great culture. Only those who have a well-thoughtout scheme, a literature in Hindi, English and French can save Indian culture. Will India ever know this? Our Chief Justice did his duty uprightly to the last. Dr. Curé paid him a handsome tribute when he passed away in 1966. Both were laureates of the Royal College. Curé was Neerunjun’s senior by two decades. The kind doctor died at a very ripe age in 1977. To keep body and soul together by any means was not the thought that was uppermost in their minds. 1977 is the year when Curé and Sookdeo ceased to be with us. They were named in the same breath by a journalist who wrote about them and made it clear that but for them the 1885 Constitution would not have been replaced by the 1947 Constitution that paved the way for Independence.
CurĂŠ would not pass over in silence Neerunjunâ€™s contribution and Neerunjun in his turn gave Sookdeo his due. The example set by these three sons of Modern Mauritius will guide every Mauritian who wishes to serve his fatherland in the true spirit.
THE LAST JOURNEY It is after Sookdeoâ€™s demise that it came home to one and all that he can be easily included among the handful of people who have it in their power to change the course of history. The 10th anniversary of the independence of the Island was going to be celebrated. On the one hand guests were being welcomed and the daily paper were publishing their special numbers and on the other an assessment of the services rendered by the genuine leader was being made. An orator gave out boldly that Sookdeo is certainly the Father of the Nation. Rich tributes will for ages to come be paid by fearless Mauritians. It will be unpardonable to omit all mention of what happened on August 18 and 19, 1977. As soon as the sad news was received, labourers stopped work in the canefields and went back home. The whole country was in mourning. On the night of the 18th, groups coming from every nook and corner of the Island recited Ramacharitamanas and the Gita. On the 19th for hours together from Vallonville Street to the Cremation Ground there was no traffic in the thoroughfares. Everyone wished to carry the bier but not more than a second could be allotted to a group of a dozen persons. Young and old sobbed. The cars were kept far from the ground that lies in a natural amphitheatre. Only a sea of heads could be seen. Although not officially, homage was paid on that day by the whole population. The body was placed tenderly on the pyre. Prof. Bissoondoyal laid chips of sandalwood on it. After the rites it was reduced to ashes. The voice that was heard uninterruptedly in small and big gatherings for well-nigh half a century was stilled. A paper reported that the Professor looked in the void.
APPENDIX I A Memorandum
Sir Jules Leclezio, Messrs. P Raffray, A.Raffray, T. Mallac, P.Hugnin, R.Hein, H.G. Robinson, A.Gelle, R. Maigrot,
J. Koenig, M. de Speville, Drs Mayer and Duvivier submitted this
memorandum in 1945: Mauritius presents a political problem of its own with its peculiar historical background: its characteristic culture and economic evolution, its heterogeneous population largely illiterate, its geographical position in the Indian Ocean. On the basis of the recent census, the broad distribution of population is as follows: (a) Indian population 265,247 (b) General population 153,938. The “general population” subdivides itself into the white and coloured communities. It will thus be seen that the population of the Colony resolved itself into one numerically superior Indian community, on the one hand, and on the other, minorities totaling more than 1/3 of the population. Mere consideration of numbers, however, would give a completely misleading picture of the situation. There is no doubt that the economic and cultural rights and interests of the aforesaid minorities more than counter-balance those of the majority… It is submitted that any constitution which would give political preponderance to the Indian community, without providing adequate safeguards for the protection of the “general population”, would be open to the gravest objections. Only such a Constitution, therefore, will be acceptable as will preserve the fundamental structure of the colony.
We shall now, in the light of the above preliminary remarks, proceed to examine in its broad outlines, the plan that has been proposed. A preliminary point of a general character which we wish to make is that the measure of social distinction introduced into the plan or the draft constitution gives to such constitution a definite communal complexion. (a) Discrimination is made between candidates of the Indian and the general populations. (b) Seats are reserved for candidates of those two populations… We are of opinion that if the new constitution is to admit of communal distinctions at all, such distinctions should be carried to their logical and proper conclusions. In other words, each community, coloured, Indian and white, should elect its own representatives. Such was the basis of a plan submitted by His Excellency Sir Bede Clifford in 1940, the elected element consisting, in that plan, of seven representatives for each of the three communities. We maintain that, in that case, such representatives should be returned by an electorate registered on three separate rolls, one for each community. Such a system of representation has many supporters and, though we realise the practical difficulties of establishing separate rolls, we do not consider that such difficulties could not be overcome – From L’Oeuvre, 22.4.45. It is more or less a constitution that was to the liking of the conservatives and the IndoMauritians who were the nominated members of the Legislative Council that was going to be palmed off on the people. Meanwhile Sookdeo Bissoondoyal’s elder brother had served several terms of imprisonment. The two brothers would not own defeat. The result was that Governor M. Kennedy gave out in 1947:
â€œHad the proposed constitution been put into effect at the beginning of 1945 it is possible that it would not have led to such general dissatisfaction as it would certainly create today, especially in those sections of population which, though not previously or perhaps even now very interested in politics, would feel themselves defrauded if a more liberal constitution were not given to the colony and would become increasing fertile ground for the sowers of political tares. It is now clear that the proposal, which might have been accepted in 1945 will certainly not be generally acceptable in 1948.â€? The masses had been galvanised into life. The armchair politicians were helpless. They could no more serve their masters.
APPENDIX II THE LION Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. - Louis Aragon
Sookdeo Bissoondoyal has left the stage but his contribution to the evolution of the Mauritian society from the yoke of colonialism to freedom shall ever remain a memorial to the man who, throughout his life, has provided his countrymen with the greatest profile in fearlessness. Today even his political opponents reckon that no matter what the issue, he spared neither his allies nor his foes whenever destiny beckoned him to champion a cause he deemed just and in the interest of the poor masses who, in turn, looked upon him as their leader. Bissoondoyal’s entry in politics was neither accidental nor incidental. Like a messiah, the role of champion of the underdogs was thrust upon him and he, in return, responded with all his heart and soul. He preferred to quit the Education Department rather than make compromises – however rewarding – with the principles he held sacred. Quitting the service did not mean that the teacher in him suffered any setback. On the contrary, liberating himself from the confines of the classroom he widened the spectrum of his activities, drawing students from all over the country. He coached them not only to academic success but also tried to revive in them the pride in being the inheritors of the cultural heritage brought over by their forbears from the Gangetic plains and preserved despite the shackles of serfdom imposed by the past imperial masters. Indeed, in collaboration with his brothers, Soogrim and Basdeo, he has contributed in a large measure in the spread of oriental languages at a time when everything Asian was looked down upon – sometimes even by the Asian elite of that period. The task, therefore, was not easy but Sookdeo was undaunted. He knew that the only way to emancipation for
his lesser fortunate brethren was through education. Soon all the baithkas in the island became the centre of social, religious, cultural and educational activities under the guidance of the Bissoondoyal brothers and volunteers trained by them. The involvement of the Bissoondoyal brothers in social and cultural activities gathered rapid momentum. Whereas the elder brother Basdeo spread the message of message of the Holy Scriptures all over the places, Sookdeo soon found himself in the vortex of political activities. Came the constitutional reforms and in 1948, he entered the Legislative Council where, for almost three decades, he played the role of the watchdog of the poor and the unprivileged and militated for independence and the uplift of his countrymen from the grips of poverty and despair. To him, independent Mauritius meant the beginning of an era of social justice and economic uplift* of the downtrodden. Thus he looked at independence not merely as the end of the countryâ€™s struggle but as the start of a new chapter in the history of the nation. Attaining political freedom is one thing. The consolidation thereof is another. It entails strenuous efforts towards rapid economic growth and equitable distribution of the countryâ€™s wealth amongst all its citizens. Otherwise, like so many newly independent nations, the country could end up becoming a pawn in the game of superpowers in search for satellites. This then was the vision of the man who somewhere along the line became a legend in his own lifetime. To many, it still sounds unbelievable that he has left the scene of the battle. Perhaps he has not , for although he is physically gone, his memory shall live in the minds of his countrymen. And to perpetuate the memory, there are, besides all his achievements, the signs of continuation of his struggles-- struggles that sound like an epic, just as his sudden and unexpected end marks the end of an epoch. Today many a budding demagogue attempt at measuring themselves up to Sookdeo Bissoondoyal. Living lambs, however, can never reach the stature of the lion that died. -Cerberus *See Appendix III
APPENDIX III Future of Mauritius Forfeited Mr. Sookdeo Bissoonndoyal, the members of whose political party (the Independent Forward Bloc) are disciples of Gandhi, is a disarming politician. He is not on the telephone and does not own a car. At 64 he still works as a teacher. Mr. Bissoondoyal led his party out of Government in 1969. “We urged restraint in Government spending but were ignored,’ he said. “We do not mind development, but we do object to the future of the country being forfeited in this way because overseas loans will have to be paid back”. The Times, London, 5.3.1973
Mr Sookdeo Bissoondoyal Mr Sookdeo Bissoondoyal addressing a public meeting
Mr and Mrs Sookdeo Bissoondoyal
House occupied by the Bissoondoyal family at the corner of Little Bridge and Calicut Streets, Port Louis from 1913 to 1930
CONCISE HISTORY OF MAURITIUS
Authored by SOOKDEO BISSOONDOYAL
PROFESSOR BASDEO BISSOONDOYAL 1906-1991 Scholar, Socialist, Patriot
Sookdeo Bissoondoyal in London surrounded by some of the Mauritians who had settled or were studying in the UK (1965)
MR RAMNATH JEETAH The Living Legend Famous for his loyalty to the Bissoondoyal brothers and the Independent Forward Bloc
Mr Ramnath Jeetah and Mr Gunnoo Gangaram in front of the statue of SOOKDEO BISSOONDOYAL
ABOUT THE BOOK This short biography of the late Sookdeo Bissoondoyal whose book CONCISE HISTORY OF MAURITIUS (a Bhavan’s publication) has gone through four editions –an unprecedented event—has for its author R. Jeetah, the young Principal of Eastern College, Flacq, Mauritius, an institution that is a centre of learning where Hinduism is a subject that finds favour. This College is setting the standard at a time when everyone wishes to see the Island that has attained independence in 1968 going from strength to strength. R. Jeetah has chosen to write about a Gandhian who has not been forgotten two and a half years after his death. At the time of writing the news about a famous school in East Mauritius will soon be renamed Sookdeo Bissoondoyal School is gladdening the hearts of patriots. Sookdeo Bissoondoyal symbolized the new Mauritius. He was both a historian and a maker of history. With his advent dynamic changes punctuated the history of his fatherland. Of all Mauritian authors, R. Jeetah is best qualified to write the biography of such a Mauritian. His main interest is in the speeches and writings of Mahatma Gandhi. One fine morning R. Jeetah received a letter from the Office of THE COLLECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI in which he was thanked as he had got Gandhiji’s speech delivered on 5 December 1931 at Paris typed and sent so that it might be published. This speech had escaped the attention of the Editorial Board. The author’s endeavour in the present work is to bring Mauritius as close as possible to Gandhi’s India. This book is meant for all the elements of the Mauritian population. Nor will readers outside Mauritius be less interested in it. “ I have been to Vinoba Bhave’s Ashram. I have seen an Advocate of the High Court, almost 55 years old, leaving his practice to join the Ashram, tilling the soil for five hours a day. I have seen young girls having passed their Master of Arts, leaving the university and going to Vinoba Bhave’s Ashram to till the soil, engineers too, and this not for one year or two years simply as a demonstration on the eve of an election, but for eleven years “