Beware of communal trap


As was to be expected, there was a profusion of commentaries on the joke cracked by the cadre of Alteo, Pierre Noel, at a private lunch in a chassée. Rightly, there has been an appeal by political leaders of the opposition to not awaken le démon communal. And we hope that this has been heard by all concerned. However, this is such a serious and sensitive issue that it deserves to be probed a little more, because in concentrating on the blague aspect, some others which can potentially touch sensitive chords have been left out.

To start with, it must not be assumed that the people are so naïve as not to be able to understand or appreciate our local folkloric blagues which we all share. So there’s no quarrel on the accent imitated, the jokes about the menu and so on. But there are those who are sharp enough to know when the thin line that separates humour and satire from disdain is crossed. And at a certain stage during the narration this happened, and that’s what is condemnable.

It would be recalled that for derogatory remarks that were made about the Creole community in the matter of allocation of NHDC flats at Bassin, Quatre Bornes, there was a tsunami of reactions across the whole gamut of the media against the minister concerned, Hon Soodhun, who finally had to resign. The remarks were felt to be repugnant by all right thinking citizens. Why then the hullaballoo about the similar indignation expressed about those bits of the joke that are felt to be as unacceptable, if not more? And the responses are a mere trickle compared to that tsunami!

Further, at such a volatile time in the country when the government has been challenged by protest marches, isn’t one justified in querying what was the motivation of the video being made viral, clearly by one of the guests there who filmed the episode. Was this a surrogate form of hitting at the government through a blague on the community to which the leader of the government belongs?

There is a constance here which must be done away once and for all: extending the calumny felt against the government to the whole of the community to which the PM belongs simply because he happens to be a Hindu, despite it being an undeniable fact that from the very time of independence, every government issuing out of the elections always comprised members from the various ethno-religious groups of the country. The point is clarified by former Minister Dharam Gokhool in his interview to this paper last Friday: ‘… there are people who will continue to take a myopic, monochrome view of the world and their world. Their social relations will be conditioned by what I would refer to as the binary algorithm, wherein either “you are with us or against us”. This is a cultural deficit due to ignorance of others.

‘Let me illustrate this point through an analogy. I often come across people who view the present Government as a “Hindu” Government and they make the argument that all “Hindus” are benefiting from the favours being dished out by the Government. In effect, Government privileges are going to a handful of close relatives, and political cronies, referred to as “the clan”.

‘By taking short-cuts and associating a whole community with a “clan” is highly disturbing and objectionable. This mode of reasoning may lead people to adopt an antagonistic posture towards all “Hindus” and exacerbate communal tensions.

‘Inadvertently, some protesters are reinforcing an erroneous perception that the PKJ Government is a “Hindu” government and all “Hindus” are enjoying the privileges of power. Can a community be equated to a clan? This is a potentially dangerous amalgam which some people are making and it can undermine the solidarity and unity that people should display when confronted with problems that cut across all communal lines, be it the proliferation of drugs, loss of purchasing power, corruption, nepotism or favouritism. Each one is not in her/his own ship; we are all together in the same boat… or mess.’(italics added)

Underlying the simple blague, therefore, is this widespread ‘myopic, monochrome’ perception that is revealed by the remark at the end about repeating the joke at the manifestation of 29 July – whose origins are thereby partly uncovered as well.

‘Le démon communalshould not be awakened, as rightly demanded by the opposition, especially in a multi-ethnic society like ours, but it requires constant and sincere efforts by all sides to create harmony and instill the spirit of ‘le vivre ensemble’.

* Published in print edition on 22 September 2020

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