A Special Report from Mauritius:

Mauritian Tamils Rise up to Protect Tamil

Article: Two Mauritius Tamil Writers

Photos: A Mauritius Tamil Photographer

(Names withheld on request)

TAMIL TRIBUNE, August 2000 (ID.2000-08-01)

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A cold shower swept the Tamil community in Mauritius on October 30,1998 following the release of new bank notes series by the Bank of Mauritius. The ranking on bank notes used to be English first, Tamil next and then Hindi. On the new release, the ranking was reversed - Hindi in the second place and Tamil in the third. No specimen of these bank notes was rendered public before the official release. Viewed as a sinister move, Members of Parliament, during Question Time, seized the Parliament with all the aspects and reasons for the reversal of order in the bank notes.

The Tamil Community that represents about 15% of the total population was spontaneously mobilized during the whole of November. Protest movements were organized at different strategic points and they ended with the withdrawal of the new bank note series by the Government of the Republic of Mauritius. The cost to the exchequer is some MUR 53 millions wasted. The Governor of the Bank of Mauritius, Mr. Dan Maraye (a political nominee) and the Managing Director, Mr. Gudjadur were requested by the Prime Minister to step down. Other ethnic communities and political leaders praised the Tamil Community for the spontaneity and solidarity in its reaction and the peaceful means used to demonstrate its hurt feelings.

It is during the time of the French colonizers that people of Tamil origin first came to this small island nation in the Indian Ocean some 550 miles to the east of Madagascar; they are here now for some 269 years. They were renowned for their craftsmanship and had constructed colonial buildings, castles, churches, road networks, etc which are still extant. At the time the British took over the Island in 1810, Tamils were the first to offer allegiance to the British crown. And during the British reign, because of their acumen, sense of dedication, versatility and responsibility, there developed mutual trust between the British and the Tamils. Such being the situation, Tamil scripts were first printed on bank notes following the English scripts in 1933 (some say in 1876). It is also true that at that time Tamil language was in use in the business field as well as in day-to-day communications.

In the same way as some countries are attempting to rewrite their history, a few people in Mauritius also seem to want to do the same now, after 30 years of independence. This is tantamount to a rape of history and a malicious intention to mop up the contributions of the Tamil people in the process of nation building. Some people in power probably thought to take political advantage with the new bank notes by pleasing the Hindi speaking Mauritians, a major ethnic group because of their higher percentage. It was also thought that the reversal would go unnoticed and would be accepted without grudge by the Mauritians of Tamil origin in view of their wide acceptance of Sanskrit as the language of rituals in most of their Hindu temples. Their acceptance of the Aryan culture and form of religion as their own and their docility and low profile may have been considered as a weakness. In spite of that, Tamil people have shown their organizational skills when confronted with a danger from without. And, that is why those political forces failed.

Now it is time that everyone take stock of the threat that the future presents by the promotion of "Indianness" by Television, backed by the patronage of the Indian Mission. More and more, they are feeling insecure within the Indian fold, where the "big brother" (Hindi speakers) is relishing the fruit and labor of the minorities from within (Tamil people). They are also becoming conscious of their Tamil origin and that Sanskrit is not their heritage. Within this perspective, a program is under preparation by the Mauritius Tamil Temple Federation for the coaching of priests to perform in Tamil while at the same time reducing the dependence on Brahmins from abroad. A separate Tamil identity, safeguarded by the constitution, would provide protection for the welfare and interest of the future generations. This matter needs to be followed closely.

PHOTOS:

Demonstrations in the Street (in front of the Bank of Mauritius)

Burning the Effigy of the Governor of Bank of Mauritius

Picture of Banknote with Hindi in Second Place and Tamil in Third Place (withdrawn after protest by Mauritian Tamils

Picture of Banknote with Tamil in Second Place and Hindi in Third Place (issued after protest by Mauritian Tamils

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