In the Mauritian holiday calendar, one important day is the 12th of March – the day on which the Island claimed it’s independence from Britain. On that day in 1968, Mauritius emerged as a new sovereign nation, as is state in the pledge to the national flag, “in peace, justice and liberty.” On the same day in 1992, Mauritius also became a republic, doubling the importance of this date on the Mauritian calender. This ‘Mauritius Day’ is commonly associated with parades, political speeches and ceremonies, in addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history of Mauritius. Many politicians make it a point to appear at a public events to praise the nation’s heritage and pay homage to freedom fighters on this day. Cultural programs and flag-hoisting ceremonies abound.
Caremonies begin usually in the evening, most of the time at the race course ground at ‘Champ de Mars’. It is normally a very colourful affair with wide variety of artists from different cultures performing, singing, and dancing, not to mention the parading. Then the national anthem is played, as the multi-hued Mauritian flag gets hoisted ceremoniously, followed by a 21-gun salute. And then it is time for aerial displays. Aircraft including India-made Dhruv and Chetak helicopters fly past at a low height. This is a nation without an army or an air force, far removed from the theatres of armed conflict – but Mauritians do have the skill to embark on basic displays of aerial skills that would leave people in many a militarily strong nation quite amazed. Being innocent and pristine can mean many things, after all.
As dark envelopes the venue, it will be time for light and sound, and the cultural show, usually a highlight of the evening. Giant screens sould narrate the story of a people who braved great hardships when they set foot on the island – and who, by dint of their labour and perseverance, have built a country that ranks high among middle income nations today – with a per capita income several times that of India. There is something deeply heartening about this story; it is the tale of a people who suffered slavery, indentured labour and colonial rule, and fought for independence, overcoming the odds that came in the way of a life of fulfilment and dignity. The boys and girls in bright costumes, belonging to all races: black, brown and white, reflect the pride that is to be expected out of such heroism. And it is invariably the Sega dances that bring this yearly celebration to its close.
While the island bedazzles is with its beauty, discovering the affinity of its people for India is a moving experience indeed. Close to 70 percent of Mauritius’ 1.2 million people have Indian roots. Roots in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Mauritians feel an ‘umbilical’ connect with India, though this feeling is sadly on the wane today among the younger generation. In fact, according to Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, 12th of March was chosen as Mauritius’ Independence Day, as this was “the day Mahatma Gandhi chose to start his Dandi March in 1930.”
But once the confetti blows away, what does Mauritius retain out of this significant day ? While we at NRI Achievers grasp this opportunity to wish our Mauritian brothers and sisters a great day, we also urge each Mauritian to ponder more on this, and make Mauritius more of the Idyll it is today.