|Mauritius Table of Contents
Colonial rule amounted to a thin layer of British administrative and judicial officials attempting to preside over an assertive and powerful Franco-Mauritian elite. Although many members of this elite derived their status and wealth from owning plantations, some were senior police officials and magistrates. Below the Franco-Mauritians on the ladder of social status were the Creoles, descendants of African slaves, some of mixed white descent, who tended to be francophone and generally supportive of the Franco-Mauritians. In the nineteenth century, Indians were at the bottom of the social ladder until their economic opportunities broadened.
In 1831 the British introduced a constitution that provided for a Council of Government whose seven members were nominated by the governor. In an effort to win the support of the FrancoMauritians , who wanted a greater voice in government, Governor John Pope-Hennessy expanded the council to include ten elected members from nine electoral districts in the constitution of 1886. The franchise was limited to wealthy property owners, who constituted a scant 2 percent of the adult population. Elected municipal councils also appeared in the nineteenth century, first in Port Louis and then in four other major towns. The British established district councils at the end of the nineteenth century. . By 1907 the Creole middle class, led by Dr. Eugene Laurent, formed Liberal Action (Action Libérale), which sought to open up political and economic opportunities for themselves. Although it won Port Louis in the 1911 elections against the Oligarchs, Liberal Action dissolved shortly thereafter.
The Indo-Mauritians, who included both Hindus and Muslims, became active in the early twentieth century, thanks in part to the work of a lawyer from India named Manilal Maganlall Doctor. Sent to Mauritius in 1907 at the behest of Mohandas Gandhi (known as Mahatma Gandhi), Manilal was a tireless and eloquent proponent of Indian rights. He sought to inculcate a sense of self-respect in the community by teaching Mauritian Indians about their heritage, and he defended them in the courts against unscrupulous employers. Manilal also founded the Hindustani, a newspaper that expressed the concerns of the Indian community.
In 1926 the first Indo-Mauritians were elected to the government council. This small victory, however, did not lead to better conditions in the community. Despite incremental improvements in contracts, wages, and working conditions on the sugar plantations and in processing plants, the work was as hard and daily life as precarious as they had been 100 years previously. In addition, the boom-or-bust nature of the world sugar economy meant that only the upper classes were insulated from hardship during periods of low world demand. Dissatisfaction on the part of Indian workers and small planters sparked widespread rioting on Mauritius in 1937 and 1943, and a strike in 1938.
During this period, Indian and Creole Mauritians formed several organizations aimed at improving labor laws and introducing political reforms. Dr. Maurice Curé, a noted Creole politician, founded the MLP in 1936. The party attracted urban Creole workers and rural Indian farmers. Another important group was the Indian Cultural Association, and a notable member of this group was Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, who would become the country's first prime minister.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress