12th March in a Free Country

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Independent Mauritius grants the right to freely express opinions, ideas and thoughts to all citizens, and most Mauritians strongly value such freedoms, speak out their mind fearlessly, and warm-blooded as they are, call a spade a spade. They have also not given in to political correctness and the tyranny of the ‘offended’ class composed of all manner of oversensitive minorities on matters pertaining to gender, feminism, ethnicity, religion, race, colour, which are undermining free speech in western democracies these days.

Folks here have a propensity to engage in heated debates on a wide range of topics in relation to politics, economy, international diplomacy and so on. Just as there is the Argumentative Indian, we can rightly label our average countryman over here as the Argumentative Mauritian. Undoubtedly, the legacy of a millennia-old tradition of dialectics, philosophers and thinkers flows in the blood of many citizens. Free modern education granted by the government in the 1970s played a key role in giving wider access to knowledge. Over the years it has helped helped people become less emotional in discussions and talks, and adopt rational and nuanced views.

It is up to the public to develop a mind of their own and not let comments driven by emotional outbursts on social networks or selective coverage of current topics on international television channels influence their way of thinking. Freedom to publish online comments does not mean that all comments are enlightened – the more so whenever the authors hide behind fake names and prefer anonymity to an open and frank interaction with others in the press and the internet.

The more enlightened and well-informed the public is, the less does it waste time on hot air blown right and left in the name of free expression. Neither are policy makers expected to be intimidated by social network cacophonies and frenzied refrains in the media. There is no obligation for local seasoned analysts to parrot Time magazine’s view that 2020 was the annus horribilis. It brushes in one stroke all the horrors that marked the 20th century in the world. The dark tunnel from the 70s until around 1986 that kept parents praying for better days and urged educated young Mauritians to fly away for a better life has certainly not faded from collective memory.

It is glaringly obvious why in this free country some people indulge in self-censorship, invent taboo subjects where there are none, keep mum over a few significant issues while they noisily jump to the ceiling all year round to defend all aspects of democracy as if they were living in Cuba or Iran. Has it occurred to anyone why Slavery Day was hardly commented in the media this year? A serious sociologist or any keen observer of events is likely to put it down to the unprecedented honeymoon that implicitly claims to have brought two different social groups together since July 29th and September 12th. Unsurprisingly, the media toed the line. Not a word from those who have a propensity to outline significant historical dates such as May 1st or Women’s Day in press articles. Are they embarrassed by a deeper survey of slavery over centuries across the world?

A new style of crimes is surfacing in the country, merciless and ruthless. Only the case of a drug-related delinquent who violently rammed into an ADSU female police officer and dragged her body for 500 meters raised an outcry. Is it surprising that some recent crimes did not lead anyone to express outrage in the media? Pen-pushers lost their voice. In October 2020, in Grand Bay, a married young woman, mother of two children, stabbed one of her young lovers mercilessly and turned the knife in his belly, giving him no chance of survival. Upon witnessing such violence two women passing by fainted. Not a word on radios and in the press. Comments toned down since the identity of the perpetrators is being divulged in the case of the three bullets fired by young men riding a motorcycle. A crime committed out of revenge, apparently. Last month a 29-year-old drug addict slit his mother’s throat; two years ago, another young man killed his mother and cut her body into pieces. Victims deserve compassion regardless of their identity and social class.

On Women’s Day, an incident of wife-beating in a car drew the kind attention of a journalist who did not hesitate to give out names, comment the video and all. Another article in the Mauritian press referring to a case of rape in India and the judgment of the Supreme Court of India was decried. Running out of ideas? Similarly, Qatari television channel Al Jazeera chose to report on domestic violence in India and women’s rights in South America on Women’s Day as if, in comparison, the Middle Eastern countries were a paradise for women. When it comes to reporting on violence and women, India stands out as a favourite place to direct the spotlight on for media outlets which are oversensitive, touchy and too insecure about the cultural backyard they identify with. Selective reporting is a convenient strategy to shove one’s dirt under the rug, look away and divert attention to other countries. Such tactics are not only grotesque and laughable, they are downright pathetic.

On the 53rd celebration of Independence Day everybody is free to wave the national flag and sing the national anthem even if it might still be a case of sour grapes for those whose parents did not vote for Independence. Among key economic challenges to be addressed in a post-Covid era, the issue of dynastic accumulation of wealth and economic power in the private sector, which empowered a few lobbies to use their bargaining power to hold elected rulers as hostages and remote-control demonstrations for their own interests, calls for serious review. This situation cannot last forever. It is high time to operate a shift and open the sector to more potential investors and buyers from Asia, mainly from Japan, India, South Korea and Singapore.

Hopefully, an additional Year of Gloom may herald a new era of Hope, a definite turning point in the economic sector, which can be further enhanced by tremendous gains from the ocean economy in Agalega and retrocession of Chagos regions in a near future, which is likely to change the economic landscape completely.

Among the most outspoken people who do not mince their words and are unfettered by self-censorship, political correctness and fabricated taboo issues, a more organized and lasting platform is needed to freely debate and express themselves in private and public groups and make up their own mind on where to draw the line.

* Published in print edition on 12 March 2021

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