The “Father of the Nation” who was a Bihari

“Wait, what? But Mahatma Gandhi is our ‘Father of the nation’  then why are you calling him a ‘Bihari’?”  That’s the question which must have popped in your mind when you read the title, right? The ‘Father of Nation’, whom we are talking about here is Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. He is Mauritius’ “Father of the Nation”. Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was an ardent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and he fought for the Independence of Mauritius against the Britishers. Like  Gandhi, he too exercised the means of non-violence and made sure that there was no bloodshed in the struggle for independence. He got the honour  of being named as ‘The Father Of Nation’ for his struggles and sacrifices he put through to get Mauritius independence from colonial rule on, 12 March 1968.

At the age of 7, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (Often referred as Chacha Ramgoolam) lost his labourer father, and left alone with his stepmother, two stepbrothers as well as his own elder brother. Even before he could recover from this loss, another tragedy fell upon him. When he was 12, he lost his one eye in an accident. But his damage of sight didn’t cost his vision, which is uncommon even to men with perfect sight.

He was a very bright student since his childhood. With the help of his elder brother and uncle, he continued his studies. He got his early grounding in Hindi, Indian Culture and Philosophy through ‘Baitka’ (A kind of local evening school). Baitka is responsible for teaching the vernacular language and glimpse of Hindi culture to Hindu community. They teach the student Sanskrit prayers and perennial value that are taken from sacred scriptures like Gita, Mahabharata, etc. However, he was not very happy with Baitka and one day he followed the older children and reached the real school where he can learn about Mathematics, Science and other academic subjects.

His tenacity to learn gave him the opportunity to study in ‘Roman Catholic Aided School’ which was only for particular students. He finished his primary and secondary schooling from Mauritius and to pursue his tertiary schooling, he went to the University of London and learned Medicine. He always has to face numerous hurdle in his journey of education. Many a time he confronted with financial deficiency to the extent that he even decided to leave his studies in between. His elder brother and some of the other friends helped him to finish his studies. Besides having an admirable interest in studying he was also very interested in politics. He always used to listen to the political discussions that his uncle and their friends used to get indulge in.  Eventually, he got himself aligned with numerous political parties, including the Indian National Congress (London Division).

In the year 1935, he returned to Mauritius. He was distressed by the living condition of indentured labourers who were oppressed, uneducated and ill-treated by the colonial masters. Though he was initially a fervent defender of Britishers, loved their literature as well as the lifestyle but at the same time he couldn’t digest or ignore the prevailing poor conditions that the people were subjected to by the Britishers. He visioned to lead Mauritius to its independence. Congeneric to our Father Of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, even Chacha Ramgoolam owned a newspaper and had already established his authorship among its readers. With his vision of Independent Mauritius, he joined the Labour Party, and within a very short span of time, he took up its leadership. He later cooperated with the Independent Forward Block (IFB) and the Committee D’action Musulmane (CAM) who have the same ambition as Chacha Ramgoolam. They together formed the independence party and movement which eventually led to Mauritius independence after contending for 20 long years. In 1963, the British Conservative government was relying heavily on him to form an All-Party Government in Mauritius and to facilitate this issue, he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 12 June 1965.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became the first Chief Minister and later the first Prime Minister of Independent Mauritius. He has been praised and highly revered for his work for free education, social security & free healthcare. To honour this, Mauritian Currency (Mauritian coin and highest note of Two thousand rupee) has his portrait. Besides, that various streets and public places in Mauritius bear the name of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam. For example; Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, a statue at the Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis, etc. A similar status is erected in his forefather’s village in Harigaon, Bihar, India.

In 1973, United Nations awarded him for outstanding achievements in the field of human rights. His whole life was devoted to Mauritius’ betterment by being in the government. His last position in the office was Governor-General of Mauritius. And he served his nation on this post until his death. His ashes were scattered in the holy river of Ganga, India. 

He was the reason that Bhojpuri is a national language of an African country, Mauritius. A country which is world famous for its beauty and natural resources. His legacy was then taken forward by Navin Ramgoolam, his son, who served as the Prime Minister of Mauritius twice (1995–2000 and 2005–2014). Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam’s sacrifices for the locals Mauritians as well as the Biharis in Mauritius is unforgettable. And he and his values will always be retained by them.

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Quote of the day:“Sooner or later, those who win are those who think they can.” 
― Paul Tournier