Anjalay Coopen: Tamil Lady ‘Kabali’ of Mauritius
This year marks the 76th anniversary of the Belle Vue Harel massacre, which took place on 27th September 1943. During this terrible event, four sugarcane workers, including Anjalay Coopen, were killed and became the martyrs of the Mauritian working class movement. She died in a gunshot in protest for the right of her co-workers, at young age of 37 with her unborn child.
Anjalay Coopen, an important historical figure of early modern Mauritius, has become a tangible and iconic symbol of the Mauritian people, struggle for their human rights against British colonial tyranny and sugar planters in the 1940s.
Who is Anjalay Coopen ?
Anjalay Coopen (Anjalai Kuppan) born Soondrun Pavattan and also known as Anjalay Tassalam Twakaran is a Mauritian born Tamil activist, born February 17 or the March 3 , 1911 in the district of Rivière du Rempart (Mauritius) and died on September 27, 1943 at Belle Vue Harel.
For some, Anjalay Coopen was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time but for others she was a real activist who knew perfectly well what struggle she was fighting for. Few things are really known about her involvement in the labor movement but her character is highly symbolic of the struggle against oppression, including the struggle of the workers for their rights and the struggle for the liberation of women. Her death is often compared to a sacrifice or martyrdom. Several works and places in Mauritius have been dedicated to Anjalay Coopen.
Prelude to the Massacre & Slaughter of the innocent
On September 13, 1943, a major strike began on the sugar plantation Belle Vue Harel. It follows several months of clashes between homeowners and workers. Just like on other sugar estates throughout the island, the labourers demanded a wage increase and better conditions. On 17 September, the worker’s two representatives, Hurryparsad Ramnarain and Sharma Jugdambee, agree to an agreement with the sugar companies without consultations. Farm workers refuse to recognize this agreement but are ordered to accept the terms or evacuate the property before 29 September. Nevertheless, the strike continues and the situation becoming more and more tense, the police are called to the rescue.
On 27 September, the workers hold a religious ceremony on the sugar estate. A policeman tells his boss that he was beaten by one of them. Reinforcements arrive and find 300 women, men and children armed with sticks and stones who refuse to disperse. The hostile crowd starts throwing projectiles at the police, which react by firing live ammunition.
Several people are injured and three die on the spot: among these three victims is Anjalay Coopen, 32 years old and pregnant with her first child. Her death was registered on 28th September 1943 at Civil Hospital in Port Louis. The other two victims are Kistnasamy Mooneesamy and Moonsamy Moonien. Nine days later, Marday Panapen, a fourth worker dies of his wounds in the same hospital.
The emotion is very strong in the country: 1,500 people gather for a funerary ceremony organized for the deceased by the Pandit Basdeo Bissoondoyal. The first three victims are cremated in the village of Cottage on land donated by an inhabitant of the neighborhood.
27th September 1943 is a date, which shall forever live in infamy and a day of noble sacrifices in the annals of early modern Mauritius. This was the day when four previously unknown labourers became a powerful source of inspiration to more than three generations of Mauritians of tamil etnic.
Legacies, Monuments and Official tributes
Shortly after the death of Anjalay Coopen, a Tamil author Permal Soobrayen wrote a famous poem tittled “Anjalay”. “Anjalay”, a sixteen – page play by Henri Favory, published in 1980.
On December 13, 2000, a stamp is published with the effigy of Anjalay Coopen. It has a face value of 9 rupees Mauritian. In September 2003, a monument was unveiled in Cottage, on the spot where Anjalay and her fallen comrades were cremated. Carved in a single block of stone, measuring one meter twenty and weighing two and a half tons, the stele was created by the artist Harold Gentil. It is unveiled by the Ministry of Arts and Culture in the village of Cottage where the workers were cremated in the presence of then Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth and Deputy Prime Minister Paul Berenger.
Four years later, on 29th August 2007, her statue was unveiled in the yard of the new Human Rights Centre of Mauritius, near the Supreme Court in Port Louis. In September 2012, the Equal Opportunities Commission announced its intention to celebrate an Equal Opportunity Day every year on 27 September, in reference to the death of Anjalay Coopen. The President of the Commission states that Anjalay is a symbol because “we find at her place several discriminations recognized by law, ie race, gender, social origin, family situation since she was pregnant”.
On March 8, 2015, Anjalay Coopen is one of two women officially honored by the Mauritian Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Source / Credits:
- Satyendra Peerthum
- Pyneesamy Padayachy