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External Affairs Minister’s Speech at the Commemoration of the 180th Anniversary of Aapravasi Diwas in Mauritius

November 02, 2014

“हम अपन बात शुरू करे से पहिले ऊ सभी पूर्वज लोगन के याद और उनकरा नमन करे चाहब, जोन एक सौ अस्सी बरिस पहिले अपने देस के छोड़ के मारिशस देश आइल रहलन जा और जोन अपन खून पसीना बहाके ई धरती के सिंचलन और मॉरीशस देस के नींव डललन जा ।”

Your Excellency Mr. Rajkeswur Purryag, President of the Republic of Mauritius,
Your Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam,
Hon’ble Foreign Minister Dr Arvin Boolell,
Hon’ble Minister for Arts and Culture Dr. Mookhesswur Choonee,
Chairman of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to be present at the Aapravasi Ghat on this august occasion, as we pay homage to those who commenced their journey here 180 years ago. By dint of their hard work and sacrifice, those ancestors of ours paved the road for the freedom and prosperity that are enjoyed in Mauritius today.

The commemoration of the day of arrival of the indentured labourers from India is an occasion for grateful remembrance as well as introspection. By remembering the historic date of 2 November 1834, we pay tribute to all those resilient ancestors who landed on the shores of this rainbow island from India and other parts of the world. Through their toil and tears, sweat and sacrifice, they enabled later generations to live in comfort and security.

Friends, each one of the bricks and stones of the historic Aapravasi Ghat tells a saga of perseverance, struggle and bravery. It is a story of those who converted adverse circumstances and harsh environment into what is today justly called a heavenly paradise. It is this very legacy that guides and strengthens the people of Mauritius today.

180 years ago, on this day, the ship MV Atlas struggling through the rough waves of the vast Indian Ocean carried the first group of indentured labourers from colonial India. The ship docked a few feet away from where we stand today. As the footsteps of the indentured labourers fell on the sixteen stone steps, these pioneers would not have imagined that what lay ahead was nothing but immense suffering and drudgery.

Yet it is these very first footsteps that went on to change the course of history, not only for Mauritius but also for India’s relationship with the wider world. The tireless men, women and children who landed on these shores survived disease, deprivation, and injustice, and went on to become the architects of a resurgent and confident new Mauritius.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site is a shrine to the pain and anguish of those early pioneers, without whom the human progress that surrounds us today, would not have been possible. These are living testimonies to the very spirit of humankind, and it is this memory and legacy that we honour this morning.

The sacrifices of these brave ‘Girmitiyas’ did not go in vain. Emerging from the grim colonial experience of slavery and exploitation of indentured labour, Mauritius today can boast of impressive accomplishments that India and all of humanity is proud of. You have consistently ranked very high in various indices of human development, be it governance, standard of living or economic competitiveness. The Mauritian society is a model of peaceful, democratic, vibrant and pluralistic mosaic of ethnicities, religions, and languages, which others around the world can follow to their advantage.

Friends, India and Mauritius enjoy a unique and truly exceptional bond of friendship, anchored in a shared historical and cultural heritage. The Mauritian and Indian struggles for independence fed inspiration and energy into each other. When the SS Nowsheramade a brief stopover in Mauritius in 1901 on its way to India from South Africa, one of the passengers onboard was an extraordinary young visionary barrister – the young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Gandhiji became acutely aware of the deplorable condition of a vast majority of the immigrants, especially that of the indentured labourers who had no civil and political rights under the colonial administration. This brief stopover by the man who went on to become the Mahatma and Father of the Indian Nation, set in motion a process of cultural, social and political emancipation that was carried forward by Mauritius’s very own architects of freedom. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the Father of the Mauritian nation, stood tall among them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For India, the success of Mauritius embodies the triumph of the principles that are so precious to India: democracy, rule of law, tolerance, social harmony and human enterprise. India has always been, and will always be, a steadfast friend and partner of Mauritius.

I have no doubt that you have heard the words of Shri Abhimanyu Unnuth, a Mauritian literary doyen whose words are inscribed on these very walls. These words ring so true on today’s auspicious occasion that I cannot help but recall them to end my talk:

“आज अचानक
हिन्द महासागर की लहरों से तैर कर आयी
गंगा की स्वर-लहरी को सुन
फिर याद आ गया मुझे वह काला इतिहास
उसका बिसारा हुआ
वह अनजान अप्रवासी…
बहा-बहाकर लाल पसीना
वह पहला गिरमिटया इस माटी का बेटा
जो मेरा भी अपना था, तेरा भी अपना”

Translation of the above:

“Listen to the melodious ripples of the Ganga,
Riding on the great waves of the Indian Ocean
We remember again those dark days,
That unknown, forgotten, immigrant
He who first had watered this land with his sweat and blood
The first immigrant, he, son of this land
He was mine, he was yours, he was our very own.”

Jai Mauritius! Jai Hind!



(C) MEA Website