Hit that snooze button off!
— HONITA C
‘Ayo, mone degouter are politik ek are sa bane politiciens la moi! Mo pa pu alle voter!’ The many times I heard this phrase being uttered by multitudes of 18 to 25year-olds over the past month sent me into consecutive sentiments of surprise, frenzy and despair. Born in a young, independent country that actually earned its independence thanks to the efforts of a man who at the age of 24 became the leader of the London branch of the Indian National Congress; a country whose population has forever feasted upon a privilege of free education — it is inevitable that such politically apathetic attitude unapologetically displayed by university-going sudents and the new workforce rings an alarm bell indicating that something is seriously wrong! Rather unfortunately though, it is not only in their political behaviour that the Mauritian Generation-X has proved sneeringly dormant; this disinterest extends itself to any other issue that requires taking action towards making a tangible change or anything that promises to trigger public reaction and mobilisation.
Of course, you see them on and off going about feeding the old, the poor, the orphans and the handicapped, or in activities aimed at raising funds for social causes, organising exhibitions to increase awareness about certain critical issues in our society, etc. But however much we love to appreciate such displays of concern towards the downtrodden and marginalised, we get the impression that these are today no more than mechanical duties that ‘must be done’. The passivity assumed by the young towards the blatantly bleeding realities of Mauritius is becoming a cause for concern especially so at a time when today’s youth are empowered by technology and structural facilities – Twitter, Facebook, online newspapers, forums, financed student bodies. Is it too much to have some expectation of political and social awareness and activism on their part?
We are not expecting drastic awakenings à la Rang de Basanti or à la Dead Poet Society but is it too much to expect that students express themselves on political and social issues? In their defence, many individuals of this targeted population might claim that they do engage in political and social discussions in their immediate cohorts and some even on online forums or on online newspaper websites. All good, I say. Nevertheless, strong disagreements, criticisms or a nod of approval given online is not enough – these do not bring in the collectivism required to launch substantial movements into play. History bears testimony to the fact that every revolution, though it may have sprung from the mind of one, required the collective many to bring it to concrete realisation.
Gandhi alone could not have brought independence; the common Indian who burnt his Lancashire tailorings in the Khadi Movement and the crowds who walked in step with him in the Salt March were equally instrumental in giving the movement its impact. Even SSR enunciated this belief in his article in R.K. Boodhun’s ‘Indian Centenary Book’ wherein he emphasised the need for ‘a great mass movement’ for the reconstruction of the old inequitable Mauritian political and economic system. When they can gather in large numbers to enjoy the youth festivals like Jump Around and such likes, why can the Mauritian youth not gather similarly for politically and socially constructive causes?
Two events of socio-political relevance were held on the campus of the University of Mauritius with the organisational collaboration of the Student Union during the recent electoral campaign. Both hosting societies had, as mission, to sensitise youngsters about the various unjust and undemocratic dimensions of the electoral campaign carried out by the major political parties. Shock, horror! – Only the two front rows of the immense chamber were occupied and none of the members of the Student Union themselves could be bothered to attend. However the ultimate irony of the situation was that at the very time when these two events were being conducted on the university premises, hoards of students were lazing around on the greens or howling in the canteen! One look at the University’s yearly calendar of events and you can clearly identify the pattern of interest of that young population: academic events by the Law Society, Engineering Society et al, alternated by the Diwali and Dance parties. Thus, our students are either concerned by their staunch academic interests or opt for complete entertainment. None of them have the time or initiative to undertake what could easily fit as extracurricular activities: organise as a group of students, identify a cause for action and mobilise to seek reaction at national level – seems too much to ask for!
Not that there is a dearth of issues to advocate! Being academically well-versed and carrying a baggage of theoretical knowledge, university students would have been a powerful force to push for a public debate between the leaders of L’Alliance de L’Avenir and L’Alliance du Coeur, or for a technical discussion of the dynamics of each of their proposed programmes. Somehow they instead opted for what was staggeringly simple and extraordinarily obvious: flood in Swami Vivekananda Centre dressed in absolute reds or sprinkle upon the area around the Municipality of Port Louis dressed in solid purple! There are also other important matters which they could have addressed and pressed for more investment in academic research and IT facilities and scholarships. Or they could even denounce the proliferating addiction to cough-syrups and glue and other easily available drugs to which everyone seems to be turning a blind eye. We can draw up an endless list, but in the end, it all depends on the willingness of our university-goers to get involved.
Similarly, the new workforce, comprising of those new graduates freshly fished from the national institutions and from universities abroad; those who gleefully smiled in their graduation pictures, eyes shining with ambitions – only now to be deflated of those ambitions and even reaching an unfortunate stage of inertia of interest and pro-activeness. The zeal, energy and drive to do something meaningful that you would expect from someone of the age of 25 to 30 is non-existent for most of them are too content with a 9 to 4 job, their monthly thick wads of notes and a few Happy Hour Fridays. Their excuse for critical socio-political inactivity is that the field is dominated by the small-heads-with-big-purses, the dynasts and the caste chieftains. Rather than giving contemptible prodigies the space and opportunities to proliferate their parasitic control on politics by simply sitting on the bank and criticising them, isn’t it time for us all and the youth especially to stake our claim on our civic rights and responsibilities and use them to monitor their actions?
It seems that applied to the case of the Mauritian Generation-X, the invigorating words of J.F.Kennedy ‘ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country’ would simply fall flat on its face. The unprecedented rate of electoral abstention in this election obviously enhanced by the political antipathy of the Mauritian youth, the humdruming pace of their objectives, their individualistic attitude and their itching readiness to flock into airplanes to fly away to better salaries is making the contemporary Mauritian youth an unbankable future. There clearly is an attitudinal crisis among this section of our demography which requires to be rectified as quickly as possible. The solution? A reality check, a realization of their abilities, power and influence as civilians of the nation, an injection of patriotism, a sharpening of their sense of reaction: such and many more can act as catalysts to wake up this snoozing population.
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