Tribute to the Martyrs of Belle Vue Harel

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Martyrs? Day In the years immediately following the Belle Vue Harel tragedy, commemoration ceremonies were regularly held in one village or another in the neighbourhood of that sugar estate in the Rivière du Rempart district. In general, the organizer of such ceremonies was Hurryparsad Ramnarain, one of the island?s leading trade unionists in those days. In the mid-1940s, Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the nominee on the Council of Government, Guy Rozemont, Secretary General and later President of the Labour Party, and Jay Narain Roy, a former Labour Inspector, used to attend. However, in the 1950s, after Ramnarain fell out with Ramgoolam, Sookdeo Bissoondoyal used to be the guest speaker at the annual commemoration of what was known as ?Balidan Diwas? or Martyrs? Day. Why was there a need for a Martyrs? Day? In order to answer that question, in September 1952, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Belle Vue Harel tragedy, Sookdeo Bissoondoyal explained that: ?La fusillade de 1943 devint un tournant dans notre histoire.? In 1963, Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, as leader of the Independent Forward Bloc (IFB), organised the 20th anniversary commemoration of Martyrs? Day at Poudre d?Or Hamlet. It was the last time that such a ceremony in memory of the Belle Vue Harel martyrs was held. More than a decade later, the General Workers? Federation (GWF), a pro-MMM trade union federation, managed to save Anjalay Coopen and her slain companions from certain oblivion, when they started laying wreaths on a memorial erected in their honour at Cottage. A Martyrs? Memorial On one particular 1st of May, in the 1970s, members of the GWF, who had been delegated to go and lay wreaths at Cottage, did not even know the exact location of the memorial which had been left in total neglect for many years. It befell to a well-known resident of Cottage, Chandraduth Peerthum, to show the president of the GWF and his comrades where the memorial for the Belle Vue Harel martyrs was located. In the early 1950s, Hurryparsad Ramnarain collected funds from ordinary labourers in Cottage and other villages in Rivière du Rempart district to erect a memorial for Anjalay Coopen and her slain companions. More than three decades later, in 1983, a new memorial was erected on the same spot by the Syndicat Solidarité Travailleurs Agricoles which was inaugurated by Governor-General Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam to mark the 40th anniversary of the Belle Vue Harel massacre. It is not an accident that it is on the initiative of a coalition government, in which the MMM is the co-partner, that the 60th anniversary of the shootings of Belle Vue Harel is being commemorated in a manner worthy of this significant landmark in our country?s modern history. This can clearly be seen in the unveiling of a new stele, which symbolises the great tribute that the Mauritian nation is paying to the martyrdom of Anjalay Coopen and her slain comrades. Furthermore, while the names of the four Belle Vue Harel martyrs have been engraved on the new stele, hopefully, their names will also be etched in the hearts and minds of all Mauritians for a long time to come. The Belle Vue Harel Massacre On 13th September 1943, a major strike began at Belle Vue Harel Sugar Estate. The striking labourers demanded a wage increase and their interests were represented by Hurryparsad Ramnarain and Sharma Jugdambee on the Conciliation Board. On 17th September, at a meeting of the Conciliation Board, the Labour Department, which supported the interests of Mauritian sugar planters, put some pressure on the two labour representatives to sign an agreement that would put an end to the labour dispute. Unfortunately, without consulting the workers they represented, Ramnarain and Jugdambee accepted the proposals of the Belle Vue Harel owners, who had the strong backing of the Labour Department. In Promises to Keep, Uttam Bissoondoyal accurately explains: ?Ramnarain was caught in his conflicting roles; he worked as a propagandist within the Department of Information and therefore could not really oppose his Head, the Acting Director of Labour who was the Chairman of the Conciliation Board.? Fortunately, the labourers of Belle Vue Harel were wise and dignified enough to reject the agreement, which had been reached, and they decided to continue their work stoppage. The striking labourers insisted that they would only go back to work if a new Conciliation Board was appointed and a new agreement signed, which satisfied their demands. On Friday, 24th September, the sugar estate owners announced that workers, who would not abide by the agreement, would have to leave the sugar estate by Wednesday 29 September. With each passing day, the situation became tense at Belle Vue Harel as the owners of that sugar estate, the Department of Labour and the local police were bent on ending the strike by any means necessary. Despite a deadline hanging over their heads, the labourers of Belle Vue Harel vowed not to go back to work until their demands were met. On Monday, 27th September, the workers organized a baitka in the estate camp itself. Early on that same morning, Constable Thancanamootoo of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) was sent to the camp to find out what the striking labourers were doing. He was recognized as a police informant and beaten by one of the workers. The injured policeman returned to the estate manager?s office and waited for his superior officer to arrive. More than an hour later, Allan Bell, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, showed up with a police detachment. He was informed of what had happened to Thancanamootoo and decided to arrest the constable?s assailant. On his way to the sugar estate camp, Bell was joined by Mr. Fondaumière, the Assistant Superintendent of Police, who had just arrived from Line Barracks with a police detachment. The Deputy Commissioner of Police proceeded with more than three dozen men to the camp, where they encountered a crowd of between 200 and 300 men, women, and children armed with sticks and stones. The police ordered them to drop whatever they were holding in their hands and to disperse, which they refused to do. The attacker of Thacanamootoo was spotted and, as the police arrested and took him away, the crowd became hostile and threw their sticks and stones at the police. The labourers advanced towards the policemen who were almost surrounded by the hostile crowd. In panic, the police fired sixteen shots at the striking workers, which left three dead, 5 labourers with bullet wounds and 12 others slightly injured. The three dead labourers were Soondrum Pavatdan, or better known as Anjalay Coopen, Kistnasamy Mooneesamy, and Moonsamy Moonien. Nine days later, a fourth labourer, Marday Panapen, died at Civil Hospital in Port Louis, as a result of his bullet wounds. Even after the shooting, many of the protesting labourers stood their ground as an act of determined resistance against their tormentors. As a last ditch effort, one police officer threw a powerful tear gas grenade at the labourers, which caused them to disperse. However, the panic-stricken policemen, under the command of DCP Allan Bell, regrouped and beat a hasty retreat to the sugar factory of Belle Vue Harel. Thus, between 10 and 11 o?clock on Monday morning, 27th September 1943, when the hour of truth came, on the field of honour, the soldiers of the Mauritian labour movement fought against their oppressors and triumphed, even though it cost some of them their lives. The Belle Vue Harel Martyrs Today, six decades later, the martyrdom of Anjalay still remains a powerful symbol of the ultimate sacrifice, which some brave Mauritian workers were willing to make during the early history of our country?s labour movement. Through her death, she became the mother of all Mauritian workers who has taught her fellow countrymen and women the importance of resisting tyranny, the struggle for one?s rights and the dedication to a cause, even if it meant sacrificing her own life for the noble cause of freedom. Therefore, it does not take a far stretch of the imagination to realize that ?Anjalay in her death had become the mother of all? and that ?she was the first lady martyr? of this country?s working class movement. Anjalay Coopen was a 32 year-old pregnant woman, who was shot in cold blood and, as a result, her child never saw the light of day. She was born on 3rd March 1911, in the district of Rivière du Rempart, and her ?ti nom? or alias was Anjalay. During the early 1940s, she lived in the estate camp of Belle Vue Harel and, just prior to her pregnancy, she was a monthly estate labourer who worked in the ?grande bande?. Kistnasamy Mooneesamy was born on 13 January 1906, in Rose-Hill, and at the time of the shooting, he was 37 years old. Just like Anjalay Coopen, Mooneesamy was a monthly estate labourer of the ?grande bande? at Belle Vue Harel and he was also involved in organising the labourers of that estate to fight for their rights. In December 1942, along with three other labourers of Belle Vue Harel, Andrée Moonsamy, Hurrynanan Boykount and Sirkisson Seenath, Kistnasamy Mooneesamy signed a letter on behalf of the estate workers, which he sent to the Director of Labour. They complained about being paid very low wages by their employers. Thus, one of the Belle Vue Harel martyrs was on the forefront of the struggle for his fellow labourers to obtain better wages. Moonsamy Moonien was a 14-year old boy and he was born on 14 February 1929, in Quartier Militaire. He worked in the ?petite bande? at Belle Vue Harel Sugar Estate. The deaths of Anjalay and her two comrades were officially recorded on Tuesday morning, 28th September, at Civil Hospital in Port Louis, after their autopsies had been performed, during the previous night, by Dr Maingard, a police medical doctor. In addition, their death certificates were issued, on the same day, to their relatives at the district courthouse of Pamplemousses. Earlier that same morning, their bodies were collected by their loved ones at Civil Hospital for the cremation ceremony, which was performed a few hours later in Cottage. The funeral ceremony was led by Pandit Basdeo Bissoondoyal, a famous Hindu missionary and leader of the Jan Andolan. The story of the labourers of Belle Vue Harel and the terrible tragedy of September 1943 will be related in its entirety in a forthcoming book entitled ?27th September 1943: A Landmark in the History of Modern Mauritius?. This work, which also looks in detail at the early history of the Labour movement in modern Mauritius between 1936 and 1944, will be launched on 12th September in honour of the Belle Vue Harel martyrs. Dr Satteeanund Peerthum Satyendra Peerthum
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