By Pashchiema Bhatia
History of Indian Diaspora in Mauritius
- Portuguese were the first to discover the island of Mauritius in 1510. But they were just travelers who were on their way to some other place. The first settlers were the Dutch who arrived in 1598 but they also left in 1710 as they discovered some better place to reside. The main contribution of Dutch was to give the island its name – after Prince Maurice of Nassau.
- Five years later, French arrived in Mauritius and their occupation lasted for a hundred years and hence the influence of French language and culture can be noticed in the population of Mauritius. It was during this period of 1729-31, that 300 artisans from India, mainly from Pondicherry which was then a French possession, were inducted for the purpose of development of this newly acquired colony.
- The next Indians to arrive the island were prisoners who were dumped by British- Indian government during 1816-20 for the purposing of serving their imprisonment.
- In 1834, the Indians began to settle in Mauritius and by 1920; as many as 420,000 Indians were inducted for labour. Most of them were from Bihar, with a large number of Telugu and Tamil people amongst them.
- Non-indentured migrants from India had their origins mainly in Gujarat, with smaller numbers of population coming from Punjab and Sindh. As free settlers, these people were commonly employed by the British in the armed forces, police forces, as security personnel, especially those from the Punjab and Bombay Presidency with a substantial portion of immigrants from Gujarat and Sindh settled as traders, businessmen and merchants.
- As the population of Indian Diaspora was increasing, the British rulers were making attempts to prevent a united Indian community from gaining any real power. With their popular policy of divide and rule, they separated Hindus from Muslims in electoral rolls and encouraged the Tamils and Telugus to demand separate seats from themselves in the legislature.
- Mauritius finally gained its independence on 12 March 1968 under a government lead and dominated by PIOs.
The Present Day
Most of the Indians are the descendants of indentured Indian labourers who had arrived in the Island more than a century ago. The Indian Diaspora in Mauritius is still rooted to its Indian culture and their history and hence preserving what they remembered of it. With the major population of Hindus, the Indian classics such as Ram Charit Manas and Hanuman Chalisa are recited with Dhol, Ektara and Ghugroo, after each day of labour in cane fields.
- Most of the Mauritians are of Indian Origin and most of the Indo-Mauritians are Bihari mainly from Gaya, Bhojpur, Chhapra and Gopalganj. The influence of Bhojpuri migrants and their traditions is clearly visible as it is reflected in every facet of life of ‘Indo-Mauritians’. Roti, Faratha, Bhajiya and Samoussa are the commonly used words from the Bhojpuri language even by those whose mother tongue is English or French. Most of the Hindus festivals are public holidays. The Indian influence can be felt in religion, cuisine, arts and music.
- Perceiving the religious practices, followers of every possible Hindu sect are found in the island- the Santana Dharma and the Arya Samaj, the Ramakrishna and the Chinmaya missions, Shivananda and Yogasharam and Brahmakumari Raja Yoga Centre, Sai Baba Mandirs, Kabir Panths and many more.
- Various TV Channels and Radio stations regularly broadcast programmes in Indian languages transmitted by satellite from DD world and AIR. .
- Indo-Mauritians wield political dominance because of their majority as a whole on the electoral platform.
- However, Indo-Mauritians have not yet been able to participate in the country’s economic growth. They barely own 10% of the island’s big companies and hence they are still at the lower end of the economic ladder.
The Indian Diaspora in Mauritius is considered unique and significant as they currently make up more than 68% of the Mauritian population dominating the political and cultural facets of the Island.
Pashchiema is an intern at NewsGram and a student of journalism and mass communication in New Delhi. Twitter: @pashchiema5