The 2nd of November 2014 marks the 180th anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured Indian immigrants on Mauritian soil. The day is celebrated as a public holiday of national commemoration as a day of deep reflection upon the great toils and struggles of the indentured labourers and their contribution to the fashioning of modern day Mauritius. Through their hard labour and unstinting sacrifices of that period, these indentured labourers of Mauritius and their progeny have been able to play a major role in the lengthy process of transforming a rugged, little known island into a prosperous country that serves as a shining beacon to the rest of the world today. It is therefore that each year, on the 2nd of November, their achievements and legacy is honoured by the the Mauritian people and the Government of Mauritius. NRI Achievers spoke to Mahyendrah Utchanah, an opinion leader from Mauritius who is playing a key role in organising the Arrival Day celebrations this year.

Mahyendrah Utchanah is a senior Mauritian parliamentarian who has held numerous ministerial portfolios under various dispensations in the island nation. He is also the Chairperson of GOPIO Int’l, and the Chairman of the “Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund,” which is a central organiser of Arrival Day Celebrations every year. Mr. Utchanah was in India recently to attend the First Baleshwar Agrawal Memorial Lecture on “India’s Diaspora Policy,” which was delivered by India’s minister for external affairs & overseas Indian affairs Smt Sushma Swaraj. Mr. Utchanah was a special invitee for the event, especially so do to the fact that he cherishes many fond memories of his association with late Shri. Baleshwar Agrawal, who is quite well known for his work with the Indian Diaspora.

Mr. Utchanah’s organisation, the Aapravasi Ghat Trust, has an interesting background. It was set up by an Act of Parliament in 2001, with the express mandate of establishing and promoting the Aapravasi Ghat as a national, regional and international memorial site; set up a museum and create public awareness about the history of the site; and depict the arrival, settlement and evolution of the immigrants in Mauritius. It also has the mandate of identifying and acquiring historical sites, buildings and structures connected with the the arrival of immigrants, and promote the social and cultural aspects of the Aapravasi Ghat. The name ‘Aapravasi Ghat,’ in use since 1987, is a direct Hindi translation of “Immigration Depot.” Aapravasi is the Hindi word for “immigrant”, while Ghat literally means “interface” — factually reflecting the structure’s position between the land and sea, and symbolically marking a transition between the old life and the new one for the arriving indentured immigrants. Alluding to its function as a pit-stop to prospective plantation workers, alternatively called ‘coolies’, the Immigration Depot has also been known by an older name, the ‘Coolie Ghat’. Prominent use of the Hindi language in Mauritian naming conventions, apropos, is based on social and ethnic demographics; over half the national population is of Indian ancestry, a direct result of the Indian labour diaspora that passed through this Immigration Depot.

Mr. Mahyendrah Utchanah, speaking to the NRI Achievers editorial team, elaborated on the three-day long celebrations that would be organised by the Mauritian Govt., in close association with the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund to commemorate the 180th anniversary of the arrival of indentured labourers in Mauritius. The landmark event will begin on Friday the 31st of October and culminate on Sunday the 2nd of November 2014 at the capital city, Port Louis. Ceremonies will be graced by the President of the Republic of Mauritius Mr. Rajkeswur Purryag, and the Prime Minister Dr. Navinchandra Ramgoolam, among others. India’s honorable minister for external affairs & overseas Indian affairs Smt. Sushma Swaraj will be the Chief Guest. A special delegation of 180 people will also be flying down to Mauritius to participate in this event, who will also take part in a conference on the Indentured labour project, under the banner of the Apravasi Ghat Trust Fund and the chairmanship of Mr. Utchanah. Other main activities will include several ritual ceremonies, exhibitions, seminars and symposia, and a whole bouquet of cultural programmes performed by troupes from India, Mauritius and other Indian Diaspora countries.

It is also quite likely that the Beekrumsing Ramlallah Interpretation Centre, in the making for some time now, will be officially thrown open during the celebrations. It may be recalled that the Aapravasi Ghat, formerly ‘Coolie Ghat,’ was an immigration depot constructed in 1849 on the shore of Trou Fanfaron Bay in Port Louis harbour, to receive indentured immigrants who came mainly from India. Between 1849 and 1910, about half a million indentured labourers from various parts of the Indian subcontinent transited through the Ghat. In 1987 the depot’s name was changed from ‘Coolie Ghat’ to ‘Aapravasi Ghat’ when it was decreed a national monument.

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