By Jaya Ramchurn
World history recalls episodes of flu, plague destined to ruin others but not us, zilwas. My brother sends me ‘500 Positive Philosophical Thoughts’ tonight; indeed a bit of Plato or Aristotle could do me some good during these dark times. But, honestly speaking, how dark is this period?
There’s no comparison to what other countries have known in the past or to the misery faced by Afghans, Syrians, Congolese. According to UNICEF, in 2019 more than 16 million cases of malaria were reported in Congo, making them more vulnerable to this outbreak. Yet we feel that what we’re going through is the worst of all.
Since Mauritius has been lucky enough to be spared atrocities of the kind faced by the people mentioned above, our incapacity to face such situations can be understood. Our liberties, often taken for granted, are highly endangered in times like this. And the possibility of losing them due to the confinement is to anyone, myself included, daunting.
I recently read in the Atlantic that whenever a nation is faced with an epidemic, the mob translates its fear into violence. Nowhere else has this been truer than in Mauritius. Riots have been almost inexistent in the island since its independence. No war was waged against us in more than a century. The lust for blood and violence has however always been there. An island that has never known real violence should have brought calm and thoughtful citizens; instead individualism has turned each one of us into selfish beings who would do whatever it takes to survive and win the race, often resulting in turning a blind eye to the real solution. This time things were different, the jungle were the supermarkets, grocery stores, gas stations where one would indulge in hoarding so that if it were really the end, he alone would survive.
Stubborn by nature, the Mauritian refuses to go home – I wonder how this was not anticipated by the authorities when images around the world had clearly shown that people didn’t always abide by the confinement laws. Sitting comfortably in our homes, we lash upon those who were verbally or physically abused by the law enforcers. Why? I guess it can only be blamed upon our love for the misery of others – d’où le mot merveilleux “Schadenfreude”, that is pleasure derived from somebody else’s misfortune.
NO, it should not make us laugh when the first words uttered by a law enforcer is “G….” or “L….…” . It should instead make us ponder how power is utilized when one is in a position of authority. And power is no joke, but a fatal weapon. There’s no denying that Mauritians should stay in and respect the curfew, but let’s not pretend that law enforcers in Mauritius will stop the virus, when they themselves are often unprotected and in regular contact with the population.
“How fickle is the Mauritian mind?” I constantly ask myself.
A few months back, law enforcers were accused of many a thing and now they are perceived as saviours. Is it the fault of social media that constantly dictates our feelings? The sudden shift in emotions towards them makes us think that Mauritians do not have a stand as such when it comes to matters of importance and can easily be carried away by trends. Yes, our law enforcers are working day and night, yet crimes are committed even during this lockdown, almost as if it didn’t matter anymore because one day during the confinement, law-enforcers were able to keep the invisible enemy at bay with batons and insults, thanks to which Mauritians were sent back to their homes.
Times like these reveal our true nature and let us not forget that our worst natures are often revealed during challenges. The choice to remain decent and generous lies in our hands. And so does the choice to think clearly and not be perpetually carried by emotions, stirred by videos via social media. Our usual aversion and lack of respect towards law-enforcers changed into making them the heroes of the pandemic, as if they could cure the infected.
We switched from caring about each other to taking selfishness to another level, often leaving nothing for the less fortunate. It’s not about the virus. We have a worse disease taking possession of us, stopping us from expressing ourselves clearly, often leading to confused views attributable to our constant exposure to viral videos and this is highly vicious for a multiracial island. Fear is instilled in each of us, fear of death, fear of not abiding by the rules, fear of not being in line with the rest, fear of having differing opinions regarding the current issues. The crucial often gets erased, fear and popular opinion get the best of each one of us.
* Published in print edition on 24 April 2020