India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj paid tribute to the ‘girmitiyas’, the nearly half a million Indians who arrived in Mauritius to work as indentured labourers in the 19th century, saying their sacrifice did not go in vain as they went on to become the architects of a resurgent and confident new Mauritius.
In a speech at the commemoration of the 180th anniversary of Aapravasi Diwas here, the day the first batch of 36 Indians arrived in 1834, Sushma Swaraj said the Indians by dint of their hard work and sacrifice “paved the road for the freedom and prosperity that are enjoyed in Mauritius today”.
Nearly half a million Indians, mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, were sent to Mauritius in the 19th century to work as indentured labourers in the sugarcane plantations or to sail on to further destinations, such as Guyana, Suriname and Reunion Island.
She said by remembering the historic date of Nov 2, 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”.
Sushma Swaraj, who is here on a three-day visit, said the Indians would not have imagined the immense suffering and drudgery that they would have to undergo as indentured labourers.
“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,” she said.
She said the Mauritian and Indian struggles for independence “fed inspiration and energy into each other”.
She said Mahatma Gandhi 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” during a brief stopover enroute to India.
The brief stopover “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”.
“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,” she said.
An international Conference is being held in Port Louis from Nov 2-4 to mark the 180th Anniversary of the first arrival of Indian indentured labour in Mauritius at Aapravasi Ghat. It is being chaired by Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam and is attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.