Bakerman, bake me my slice of the ethnic cake!
‘La famille hindoue/marathi/telegou/rajput/ravived/ kreol/musulmane/chinoise/tamil… panne gagne so part gateau…’ We are all invariably familiar with such pronouncements. They are pronounced with a scarily confident sense of outrage by self-proclaimed leaders of socio-cultural and ethnic groups, usually following a benevolent grand distribution of opportunities or wealth by the government. Adopting a rather accusatory tone, these people pose as exclusive chosen victims of the government. They paint their community in sympathetic light and highlight the apparent injustice inflicted on them as compared to the other communities. Yes, the argument is always based on the following observation: zot fin gagner, nu pa fin gagner! More than anytime else, we are bound to hear these words in the coming next few weeks where one’s ordained ‘part gateau’ will determine which party/person will get one’s vote.
Whenever I hear or read this on TV, radio or in the newspapers, my brain rushes into a violent mental deliberation with itself. I feel the sudden urge to step into Deven’s shoes (of the ‘Deven d’un Trait’ fame) and draw a caricature of our Prime Minister donning a pristine white Bakerman hat, cutting slices of a monstrous cake and handing them over one by one to the lined members of such and such socio-cultural and ethnic groups!
A quick google-ing of the subject brought to my screen few of the several instances where certain named people of the Mauritian society evoked the above argument. Ram Mardemootoo in May 2009, Dinanath Sungkoora and Jocelyn Grégoire in October 2009 and most recently in January 2010 coming from the Vaish community – are some who hit the headlines. More than often, these statements were triggered after recruitment procedures in the civil service or following the allocation of ministerial portfolios after general elections. Mr Mardemootoo’s discontent lay in the fact that of the 1069 jobs available within the Ministry of Health; only 24 were allocated to citizens of Tamil origin as compared to other communities who got bigger shares of the job placement opportunity. Dinanath Sungkoora of the Rajput community expressed his disappointment for having been sidelined during the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Jocelyn Grégoire complained of the insignificant size of the Creoles’ share. And recently, infuriated by the absence of the PM and deputies at an event of theirs, the Vaish community’s alleged representatives warned ministers of their community that they might withdraw their support in case more of them are not recruited into the civil service. All the above suddenly justify the grimacing ‘Ayo! Fonctionaire!’ with which civil servants are greeted. What do we expect if the general condition for recruitment is your socio-cultural origin instead of your capabilities?
Whenever I express my above concerns to people experienced and tolerant enough to listen to me, they try to persuade me of the opposite, saying: Face the facts, this is how it is! We are a country of multiple ethnicities, so each and every community and sub-communities has to be pleased! So, then, is everything a dogmatic mathematical calculation? Anyone ever heard about ‘meritocracy’? As according to the words of the PM stated on the historical 31 March 2010 that ‘il faut recompenser l’effort’, the general rule should be, you work, you deserve, you get — and not you are a Hindu/Muslim/Christian/Chinese so you get. Is your belonging to a caste, sub-caste or religion the sole criteria for eligibility to opportunities in Mauritius? What about your slice of cake as a human, a citizen, a capable professional of this country? The irony of our situation is on the one side we moan of brain drain, of the unemployment of graduates, of bureaucratic incompetence, while at the same time, we absolutely demand to be awarded for being born in the religion, caste and creed that we are born in!
Is this event not an embodiment of doctrinaire bigotry? A prejudice almost legalized during this period of pre-election! Up to the eve of the Nomination Day, we will encounter concrete examples of such divisions: parties will present candidates according to the ethnic profile of the constituency, voters will vote according to the ethnic belonging of the candidate and in so doing, will kill competence at the altar of ethnic popularity.
Let me ask you one simple question: when your loved one is ill, do you opt for a doctor as per his/her ethnic belonging or simply because he/she is a good doctor and can cure the patient? Why is it then that when the nation needs medical assistance, we do not select doctors according to the colour of their skin and the language they speak? In a country containing highly imbalanced ethnic proportions – and within them, highly imbalanced caste proportions, it is a mathematically-proven demographic imperative that there will be inequity in the distribution of opportunities. But does this unevenness of opportunities not alternate from election to election? Whether we agree or disagree, history has shown that the communities favoured over progressive elections have forever changed to match the composition of the leading alliance or party. At the same time, neutralizing the above scenario of unevenness, there are mechanisms like the Best Loser System and the Equal Opportunities Act that ascertain the maximum possible equal ethnic representation and distribution of opportunities among the different communities.
Standing at the threshold of the general elections, my sympathy lies with our current and prospective leaders who have a hard task lying ahead: that of dividing the monstrous Mauritian cake into equally tiny pieces amongst the various cultures, ethnicities, statuses, classes, castes, sub-castes, sub-cultures, genders and other such self-concocted micro-dimensions of our united Mauritius. Clearly, pulling the juggernaut seems a peanut of a job vis-à-vis the above ordeal! Maybe ‘Chez Christian’ can here help assuage the ethnic cake-hunger by increasing the diameters of their baked goodness. In conclusion, I have a special word of advice for today’s leaders and prospective candidates: borrow your children’s mathematics books and make sure to revise the chapter on fractions on the eve of assuming your duties!