We cannot afford to set parts of the population against others: this is no serious agenda for a country which has been carving out its destiny as best it can
In an interview which was published in l’express newspaper of 6th October last, Reverend Father Jocelyn Grégoire, priest of the Roman Catholic Church, stated that he was contemplating the creation of a local political party, distinct from the Fédération Créole Mauricien, a socio-cultural movement, which he heads currently.
In his view, that party to be called the Fédération des Minorités Mauriciennes (FMM), would be a distinct entity on its own, open up to the “Musulmans, aux Chinois, aux Blancs, aux Tamouls, à toutes les minorités, y compris les minorités hindoues, les laissés-pour-compte, les basses castes”. In other words, what is left behind, notably the rest of the Hindus, should not be the FMM’s preoccupation.
On reading these thoughts, reminiscences of the elections of 1967 and the election campaign preceding it flashed back to mind. The whole atmosphere was then charged with the undercurrent of our communal separateness and all the animosities it brought in its wake. I was too young or not involved enough to get a full measure of the acrimonies that were being levelled by the political parties against each other in this context but I felt that we were on the brink of some social disaster which, fortunately for the country, did not come about. More than 45 years later, it appears that we have not been able to put behind the divisiveness which prevailed at the time. That could be the reason why it is still being evoked today as some sort of a remedial fallback position by pitching the minority set of the population against the rest.
Want of economic success is frequently stated as being the reason why this kind of divisiveness comes up in the social agenda. But we are seeing new strands emerging even within the rich countries of the world which have nothing to do with the economics of the situation. For example, spectators at soccer matches in certain European countries make derogatory racial or other belittling remarks against dark-skinned players. This is not done solely as a psychological pressure to undermine the players’ morale during play. It is the expression of deeply held racial prejudices and contempt against those who are considered as sub-human and, hence, cast out from their acceptable flock. No matter if it is these very players who actually give the game all its thrills and dazzle; for the prejudiced, they only deserve to be despised and don’t have a place over there.
Recently, a Roma schoolgirl, Leonarda Dibrani, was heavy-handedly expelled to Kosovo for being in a “situation irrégulière” in France. The teenager was taken out of her school bus in the sight of her classmates while she was on a school trip together with them in eastern France. There was outrage at this act among the school population in France but Manuel Valls, the Socialist Interior Minister soared in opinion polls with an approval rate of 68% compared with only around 23% for the beleaguered French President François Hollande.
‘Me’, and the ‘others’
In France, the UK, Germany and other European countries, extreme right anti-minority, anti-immigrant feelings have been going up, not because those people are “stealing our jobs” but rather because they are believed to be destroying, by sticking together with their native cultures over there, intrinsic alternative values that the original people of the land have always stood for. It is on the explosion of racial feelings of the sort that the German army was motivated to go out and conquer lands during the Second World War. The idea of ‘me’ on one side, and the ‘others’ on the other side, contains the seeds of destruction.
On the flip side, one has to consider how societies have evolved towards greater integration the world over. In the more distant past, it was a story of groups of barbarians and others invading sequentially individual countries, defeating them, sometimes even laying them waste and subjugating them for the spoils to take away. Many of us would have read about the incursions of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan and marauders of all sorts who laid waste peoples and their civilisations in their unquenchable thirst for wealth, power and dominance in society.
However, much more enduring adventures on a much larger and global scale go hardly three centuries back to the 18th century. In the 1800s, steamships started plying across the world’s oceans. New lands were captured by European colonizers in quest of empires. Colonization was not inhibited by pre-existing geographies and ethnic divides; it swept across vast tracts of land across Asia, Africa and Latin America, irrespective of racial and cultural differences.
The sole objective was to lay hands on resources and exploit them to the benefit of colonial masters. There was no undue preoccupation with the well-being of the different conquered peoples: they could be mixed up together in any one cocktail so long they helped consolidate the fundamental objectives of the colonizers to enrich themselves. This is how waves of labour from different parts of the world were brought into Mauritius, making up for its rich cultural diversity today.
In fact, to better subjugate the colonial people, colonizers often deliberately suppressed the native genius of the countries and civilisations only to super-impose their own ethos of racial and cultural superiority of the new masters. The development of railroads in the next sequence took this exploitation of colonies a lot further into the economic hinterlands and thence to the ports and airports for the benefit of the new metropolitan “motherlands”: Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, England, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The telegraph was the next technological breakthrough to complete this trilogy of men, machines and efficient administration coming together to dominate those who did not have such advantages.
In the process, borders and racial demarcations gave way to the colonial imperative, linking together distant lands across oceans and bringing together in distinct places peoples having been drawn from different origins, sensibilities and cultures. It was the job of those who had been “taken in” and left behind to create a shared expression for themselves under a process of give-and-take.
A new native genius
Once the colonial masters left the places, it was an extraordinary challenge for them to come up with their own harmonious ideals and give them concrete shape. It was not by fencing themselves into separate compartments that they could set a successful trajectory for themselves. The next goal could have been to pull together a new native genius to face the world – and we’ve done quite a bit at this level so far — not to battle it out internally but to go out into the vast outside world and make one’s mark as a collective unit.
Those who may have doubts about this direction to take may, for a moment, set their sight on what is going on in America with its recently averted ignominious shutdown and potential debt default. The Republican right – and white – referred to as the Tea Party, having lost last year’s presidential election to the Democrats and to Barack Obama, feels that the nation has become “unmoored from its founding principles”, race being at the centre of this deep sense of Republican angst.
Republicans feel that “their” country is increasingly becoming “minority”. Their hostility towards President Obama goes beyond reproaching him his policies and pronouncements. They see him as an immigrant, a fraudster, a non-American assisting immigrants and fraudsters to overtake American ideals. Unable to come to terms with the country in which they are living, their reckless obstruction in Congress and the Senate showed that their sense of alienation was so strong that they were indifferent even if the country descended into chaos.
It would be worthwhile seeing to it that Mauritius does not reach a station similar to the confrontational situation likely to dominate America at least in the near future. We cannot afford to set parts of the population against others: this is no serious agenda for a country which has been carving out its destiny as best it can in a world becoming increasingly ruthless towards non-performers. There is more to it in a united Mauritius than one wearing the vision of its different parts battling it out among themselves.
* Published in print edition on 25 October 2013