Sunday June 16, 2024

Diversity in action

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
July 21, 2017

I am writing this article during my visit to Mauritius. Laden with amazing beaches, wild waterfalls, wonderful lakes, lush forests, unique wildlife and rocky mountains, Mauritius is, no doubt, one of the most popular destination for tourists from all over the world.

Once the plane lands in the island nation, the diverse nature of society in Mauritius becomes evidence. It is a society that accepts various ethnicities, cultures, traditions and religions. The national flag comprises stripes of four different colours to depict the peaceful coexistence of a diverse set of people in the country.

According to recent statistics, the most practised religion in Mauritius is Hinduism (51.9 percent of the total population). This is followed by Christianity (31.4 percent), Islam (15.3 percent) and Buddhism (0.4 percent). Different religious communities have lived in the country in a peaceful manner. So far, no instances of violence triggered by religious intolerance have been reported. This is due to the people-friendly policies of the government.

Mauritius is also known as the island of temples, mosques and churches. Ganga Talao, a crater lake situated in a secluded mountain area, is considered to be a sacred place for the Hindu community. There are different temples located on the banks of the lake. On the occasion of Shivratri, many local pilgrims travel barefoot from their homes to the lake. The first mosque – which is now officially known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque – was built in Port Louis during the early 1800s. The Jummah Mosque in Port Louis was built in the 1850s. The tomb of Jamal Shah, a sufi saint from the Subcontinent, is also situated next to the mosque. There are also many churches and other places of worship across the island.

Historically, the island of Mauritius was discovered by Arab sailors in the ninth century. In the beginning of the 16th century, Portuguese sailors also managed to set foot in Mauritius but decided against living there. Before the end of the 16th century, the Dutch captured the Grand Port and established a small colony. Afterwards, Port Louis was established by French rulers and became the capital of Mauritius.

Mauritius is the name given to the island by the British. Hundreds of labourers belonging to British India migrated to Mauritius for work. As many as 8,500 Indian soldiers were also sent to the island. Mahatma Gandhi also visited the island. During his visit, he urged locals to focus on education to improve their standard of life.

Mauritius gained freedom in 1968 and Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became its first prime minister. Today, Mauritius is an independent and sovereign country with    a parliamentary republic. Under this system, the president is the head of state, the prime minister is the head of government and the people elect their parliamentary representatives every five years.

Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim is the current president of Mauritius.. She is the first female president and a renowned scientist. She has won a number of awards in the fields of politics and science.

When I got the opportunity to speak to her, I found her to be humble, polite and down-to-earth with a commitment to serve humanity. She has a positive view about Pakistan and hopes to strengthen bilateral relations with us. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth holds the office of prime minister. Opposition leader Paul Raymond Berenger is also a prominent politician.

The political situation of Mauritius also reflects the positive values of tolerance, diversity and social harmony. As far as the national economy is concerned, Mauritius – which enjoys the highest GDP rate in the region – is a prosperous country. Regardless of their differences, the people of Mauritius are committed to serve their country.

It is quite unfortunate that the Indian lobbies are increasing their influence in Mauritius while the Pakistani Embassy in Mauritius remains ignorant to these developments. The same situation can be observed in other countries as well.

The government of Pakistan must appoint qualified and talented envoys in their foreign missions. The principle of hiring the right person at the right place must be followed and favouritism should be discouraged. This will ensure that progress is achieved.

After my return to Pakistan, I plan to organise a seminar to highlight the principle of coexistence in Mauritius. I would also like the embassy of Mauritius to offer cultural and media exchange programmes for Pakistani nationals.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani