Children of indenture

My dear Billy, 


The 2nd of November has been proclaimed a public holiday to enable descendants of Indian indentured labourers to pray for the souls of their pioneering ancestors who had come here.

Mauritians today can never be grateful enough to their forebears who came from so many countries to sow the seeds of a nation in the fertile Mauritian soil. As it has been so very appropriately said, we came by different ships but we are now in the same boat.

 But one question that keeps popping up in the mind is what lessons are we collectively deriving from our common past and how much of it are we using in our daily living today?  What values are we adhering to? What traditions are we keeping and perpetuating? What lessons are we teaching our kids?

Indeed, how are we honouring our dear departed, what kind of homage are we paying to them? Self-seeking  politicians, self-styled social workers, so-called religious leaders, self-appointed historians and self-proclaimed others never miss a single opportunity to paint passionate, often exaggerated pictures of the sufferings undergone by  our forebears at the cruel hands of their inhuman masters.

True, our forefathers and foremothers did suffer, my dear Billy. And a lot. There’s no denying the fact, much less obliterating it. But the way some people deal with this human tragedy that concerns us all, ignominiously turns the whole episode of misery into an outrageous farce. l’ll explain. When Creoles talk about it, they only refer to the atrocities endured by the slaves coming from Africa. They claim a compensation for the rash treatment meted out to them, volunteering as legal pecuniary heirs to the blood, sweat, and tears shed by their ancestors.

When it is Hindus talking, they only point to the plight of the indentured labourers who came from India, giving the impression that they were the only ones who suffered and that indentured labourers came from nowhere else. Muslims generally don’t talk about that period, and the Chinese rather choose to restrict themselves to the contribution of the Chinese development of trade and commerce.

As for the Whites, well, a history book by Barnwell and Toussaint was banned and removed from the secondary syllabus because it was replete with glaring inexactitudes, especially concerning slaves and indentured labourers. Some “historians” have written history according to their own whims and fancies.

Our ancestors are worthy of veneration, my dear Billy, and need to be revered, if only for having come here, voluntarily or otherwise; but also for what they have done, for the work accomplished, often in execrable conditions, to build a society in which their progeny could evolve and grow and live happy, decent lives. They went without food so that their children could eat, they shed tears so that their descendants could smile, they suffered humiliation so that those coming after them might live in dignity. They died so that others might live. Their labour of love is not lost, thank God, but how are we paying them back for all the sacrifices and hardships that they have swallowed? It will be no exaggeration to say that it must be breaking their hearts to see how a great number of their heirs are behaving today.

A former Indian Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Mrs Meira Kumar, visited Mauritius a few years ago and observed that in spite of all their hardships, those labourers preserved their simplicity, spirit of hard work, and honesty.

Simplicity, hard work and honesty. Three plain, uncomplicated innocent words, my dear Billy, but how pregnant with significance. There is no doubt that it is these primordial virtues that enabled them to overcome their ordeals and look forward to a bright future for their children.

But what has happened to these traits? It would seem that in the course of history, and the meandering of evolution, these qualities have been defiled and have lost their true meaning. Simplicity, hard work and honesty are vain words today, meant only to embellish the rhetoric of politicians on certain occasions. Their intrinsic value has been washed out.

Simple living is considered as miserliness. The way in which people discard, or exchange, goods that are still perfectly serviceable, is appalling. Cars clothes, Tv sets, computers, washing machines, hi-fi sets, etc., are changed as soon as newer models hit the market. This is done just to satisfy the ego and impress people.

As for hard work, fewer and fewer people now believe in it. We all have a tendency to settle down to an easy life of comfort and enjoyment, my dear Billy, with no sense of commitment or responsibility. We are now facing a phenomenon where tens of thousands in our country are jobless while we have to import foreign labour to run our machines in our factories.

“Honesty is the best policy.” This might have been true enough in the days of Benjamin Franklin. No longer. Today, people make nothing of cheating their dearest and nearest for their own advantage.

Each new day that God gives takes its heavy toll of rapes, drugs trafficking , burglaries and assaults. Abominable crimes perpetrated; destruction and violence have been let loose. Rabid materialism, the pursuit of wealth are wrecking humanity; corruption fills the air, values are thrown to the dogs. Fraud and deceit have become a way of life. Hatred, hypocrisy, lust for power, vanity and double-standards are guiding man’s actions. 

Is that the society our ancestors had in mind while constructing Mauritius, my dear Billy?


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