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Hindus: Social mobility and cultural traditions

Dr Mrs Sarita Boodhoo

The Indo-Mauritian community has been under watch ever since its arrival and implantation in Mauritius, with the advent of the Indenture Labour System – the Girmit. But it was around 1860 that it started being viewed as a menace to the oligarchy. By then the demography of the Indian population had grown to two-thirds of the total. This figure of People of Indian Origin in Mauritius has been almost constant till the present day.

With the “grand morcellement” of rocky and uncultivable land, a large number of the old immigrants and new ones too started buying land and acquiring property with their meagre savings and economies. Thus it was that 35% of former indentures became small farmers, owning from small plots to several hundred acres of land. A few also became mill owners or estate owners.

Certain banks of the time refused to advance them loans for further developments. When Manilal Doctor arrived here at the request of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the early 1900s to take up the cudgel on behalf of the poor Indian planters and labourers, he advised them to open a Cooperative Bank. This Bank was operative till some decades ago when it was shamelessly brought to ruin by rogue clients and mismanagement.

Upward mobility – “L’Indien n’est bon que pour la pioche”

This slow but sure upward mobility has never been taken serenely by those in power then and even today by Hindu watchers. In the 1950s the political mobility and trade union agitation of the Indian community together with the Creole population was definitely a threat to the plantocracy.

Many insulting and humiliating remarks were thrown on their face or written in the press of the time: “L’Indien n’est bon que pour la pioche”!

They were even told that they are not Mauritians and should go back to India (NMU dixit). Other campaigns gained in force, such as “L’Entité Mauricienne” in the 1960s succeeded by “Le Mauricianisme” in the 1970s and 1980s. This ultimately gave rise to the concept of “A Rainbow Nation” and “Unity in Diversity”. Then came the phenomenal slogan of “Enesel le pep, enesel nation, enesel kiltir.” With growing impact of globalization, this led to the idea of “Multi-Culturalism”. Today the notion of majority population and minority population has slowly given way to the consideration that we are all minorities, a mutational concept that reflects a generational shift and acceptance of exogamy. Nowadays the theory of one identity has given way also to the concept of multiple identities, as borders and barriers collapse and the world is in constant mutation.

The politics of creating wedges within the Hindu community to reduce it to even smaller minorities continues. Press articles on caste delineation recently tried to insult the Hindu community but it remained silent in its overall wisdom. If the Hindu community had itself talked of these caste cleavages, then definitely they would have been pounced upon and taken to task. It was sheer aspersion.

Hindu Watch

Hindus are all the time being watched. They are not allowed to carry on their prayers and observances in peace and tranquility. The great trek of pilgrims to the Ganga Talao during the past week for over seven days at a stretch has kept the whole country focused and mobilized. Naturally, nobody could remain insensitive to such a huge massive move of hundreds of thousands of people with one breath, one aim to reach Ganga Talao in a pious spirit of faith. Everybody’s attention is retained by this extraordinary spiritual phenomenon.

In fact, pilgrims have been putting their energies together, especially the youth for over almost two months to build their kanwars. A kanwar is meant to be carried on the shoulder to bring back safely the gangajal from the sacred lake to their respective Shivalas for the great Abhishek on Shivlings.

Socio-cultural leaders have appealed to the kanwarthis to build modest small kanwars, but though some pilgrims have tried to do so, many persist and build huge ones.

Myths and Innovation

Nonetheless the kanwars of some pilgrims were stunningly innovative, reflecting ingenuity and creative artistic talents. They combined myths, mystery and mythology, symbolism with modern ICT techniques. Their youthful imagination knew no bound when one could see kanwars taking the shape of train, tanks and other war machines, aeroplanes, with Hanuman or Shiva majestically sitting atop of them! Hanuman coming out of the mouth of “mainak” of Ramayana fame was fabulous. All this reflected the innovative spirit of our youth.

However, socio-cultural leaders come only a few days before the Maha Shivratri to tell kanwarthis in press conferences to reduce the size of their kanwars so as not to obstruct the traffic and cause inconveniences. This campaign should start at least six months beforehand and committees should be held all over the hundreds of temples and reach local groups of youths in different villages and towns.

Attractive prizes and other incentives should be given to encourage smaller size kanwars while retaining the innovative ideas.

A total serenity and harmony

On the whole the Maha Shivratri Festival till the culmination of Rishi Bodh Utsaw at Nouvelle Decouverte by Arya Samaj revealed a total serenity and harmonious blending of solidarity, unity, involvement of youth, men and women. The spirit of service prevailed all over through voluntary distribution and of food, juice, hot tea, etc.

If in the past speeches by political leaders at Ganga Talao led to controversies due to political undertones, this year such was not the case. However socio-cultural leaders should be careful not to allow provocation to disrupt the serenity.

The Government of Mauritius put up a good Task Force which is not confined only to Maha Shivratri but to all major National celebrations such as Fête Pere Laval, Eid, Spring Festival, Cavadee, Ganesh Chaturthi, etc.

However, Maha Shivratri by its sheer magnitude and massive population movement, has naturally required more attention throughout.

Now that Char Prahar Ki Puja is over, one comes back to the normal pace of living. At the end of the day, the long and arduous walk is after all only an outward representation of the inward pilgrimage. The march is in fact inside ourselves when we try to reach Godhead – Shiva who resides at the “Sahasrara”, the peak of our own head.

An analogy is the proverbial deer which keeps looking restlessly for the perfume of the musk outside in the jungle, when actually it resides inside its own body. All is symbolical, and Maha Shivaratri is a symbolical outward gesture of the inner search and discovery of absolute peace.

Tags:    Sarita Boodhoo    Hindus Social Mobility and Cultural Traditions    Maha Shivaratri    Ganga Talao    L’Entité Mauricienne    Enesel Le Pep, Enesel Nation, Enesel Kiltir    Multi-Culturalism