Beekrumsing (Beekrum) Ramlallah (1915-2015): Champion of Indianness & Free Press

Gratitude to Emancipators Manilal Doctor and Adolphe de Plevitz

Beekrum’s Mauritius Times (MT) came out in special edition on 3rd February 1956 in homage to Manilal Doctor (1881-1956), who had battled for Indo-Mauritians’ uplift on all fronts (1907-1911), following his death a week earlier. It was the country’s first tribute paid to Mahatma Gandhi’s envoy. By 1959, Beekrum convened a meeting at the Hindu MahaSabha’s seat to set up the Manilal Doctor Memorial Committee. He put Pandit Vanprasthi Dhurundhar and Mootoocoramen Sangeelee as its chairman and secretary respectively. Its vice-chairman, he remained the mastermind. With funds voluntarily collected by the committee, aided by his MT and individual supporters, Manilal Doctor’s statue was soon ready. With the blessings of the capital’s then MLP-controlled council, it was put up in its Company’s Garden, at a stone’s throw, across the road, from the HMS’s seat. Upon M. Doctor’s request, the Indian Atmaram Vishwanath, had continued publishing his The Hindustani (1909-1913), the first Indo-Mauritian socio-political paper. In 1923 came out, as sponsored by the nationally famous and respected social worker DookheeGungah (1867-1944), his 320-page Mauritius KaItihas; it is the country’s first book in Hindi and on Indo-Mauritian history.

Beekrum (born on 2 September 1915) did not forget Adolphe de Plevitz’s earlier emancipatory contribution. This Paris-born Polish, the first, in the 1870s, to struggle for the Indian labourers’ cause, was victimised by reactionaries and later financially ruined. After his departure for Fiji, the 1878 law, enacted following the 1875 Frere and Williamson Report, somewhat bettered their lot. Beekrum personally met the cost of the making and installing his bust in 1998 in the yard of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute (MGI), Moka, as supported by its director, Uttama Bissoondoyal, Sookdeo Bissoondoyal’s son and an MT’s collaborator.

Honouring Indians’ Arrival

In the late 1960s, Beekrum spotted the steps used by the indentured labourers upon their disembarkation. He personally cleaned them with his family members and other volunteers’ backing. As from 1970, he was the first to observe remembrance for them annually on 2nd November, a public holiday since 2003, through a ceremony that still continues. Dr Sarita Boodhoo, close to the family, chairs the organising committee. Amrita, wife of son Madhukar Ramlallah, MT’s editor as from 2000, is the secretary. In 1970, contacted by Public Assistance Commissioner Ramnarain Ramsaha, who had saved the arrival records of Indo-Mauritian ancestors, Beekrum vainly persuaded the then Chief Archivist to take this precious register under him. Thanks to him, the documents, later dumped at the archives, were further secured and stored at the MGI by 1975.

In 1976, when was scheduled Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s second visit to Mauritius, Beekrum, after cabling New Delhi, convinced PM SSR to change the program, allowing her to consecrate the Coolie Ghat. In 1978, upon his suggestion, a memorial plaque with its new name was placed there. Declared a historical site in 1985, the renamed Aapravasi Ghat was made a World Heritage Site in 2006. For his unique contribution to the preservation of this landing site, the world’s only such spot, the Interpretation Centre of the Aapravasi Ghatis was named after him. This Centre, of international stature, is meant to retrace the history of the site, with focus on its current location, including the initial two-night immigration depot of Indian workers. On 2nd November 2006, Government exclusively launched, at its annual ceremony, the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund’s first biographical publication, “Beekrumsing Ramlallah: A Man of Principles,”highlighting his pioneering efforts in heritage preservation.

Not After Honour or Appointment

After contributing much to national development for 60 years (1940-2000), Beekrum died an ordinary citizen. His wife Saraswatee (Champa), a once primary school teacher and daughter of Gopeechand Chuttur, supported him throughout in his public life. After retiring from active politics (1976), Beekrum accepted neither any official decoration or recognition, nor any state post. For his exceptional, voluntary efforts to promote Indianness, he is generally respected as its foremost champion in Mauritius.

After Dhundev Bauhadoor, founder-chairman, GOPIO Mauritius, his successor in 2005, ex-Minister and polyglot Mahen Utchanah, who had been earlier its secretary, now GOPIO International Chairman, does his best to further Indianness. He organises international events, including official visits, in Mauritius. Mahen also does so overseas including Francophone countries. He has been working selflessly, making great sacrifices. Since recently, he chairs, in Mauritius, the famous and vital Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund.

However, after his death, Beekrum has now been honoured, having his bust erected in the yard of the Aapravasi Ghat on Sunday 02 November 2014.