Can we afford to be passive any longer?

Law and Order

By Krishna Das

A wave of violence and horrendous crimes has been a common feature in Mauritius for some time and this culminated in the unsolved murder of the Irish lady, Ms Michaela Hart who was brutally murdered in a hotel whilst on honeymoon in Mauritius. Many other crimes have yet to be solved. The fact that a crime is not solved is not necessarily the responsibility of the authorities. There may be many reasons for that. But not doing anything about the law and order situation is a matter of grave concern. No civilized society can condone such matters. Condoning does not necessarily mean active participation in the act. Condoning can also mean remaining passive in a variety of ways.

Many sociologists tend to explain a rise in crimes by invoking a difficult financial climate. This may be so but a deteriorating law and order situation cannot be placed at the door of poverty and a poor economic environment alone though it is a powerful contributing factor. People tend to believe that harsher laws and harsher punishment would solve the law and order situation. People are made to believe that the courts are too lenient with offenders. People believe that the police are not doing enough. Of course any country committed to the rule of law should regulate the conduct of its people through the criminal law while preserving their fundamental rights so as to safeguard them from arbitrary practices. Of course the courts should be harsh in inflicting punishment where this is warranted. Of course the police should perform their duty and be given the means to do so. But an arsenal of laws and a host of police officers are not adequate answers to a deteriorating law and order situation. Informing people and educating them is also vital.

If the economy goes on deteriorating worldwide, Mauritius will be hard hit. This will have severe repercussions on the social fabric, a situation that is already a reality in Europe, the USA and many other countries. Mauritius is now experiencing what many European countries are at present and that is hostility against foreign workers. Europe is going through its worst economic crisis since the 1930s and many leaders as well as the population in general tend to blame immigrants for that. The United Kingdom has even reduced the number of foreign students who can come to study there. This is a clearly a move in pursuit of stricter immigration. The economy and the hostility against foreign workers may lead to a worsening of the law and order situation in Mauritius.

Already we are witnessing frequent attacks on banks, petrol stations, residences, individuals and even the police. Whereas in some cases these daring unlawful acts are the doings of real crooks and recidivists, we cannot offhand exclude the relationship of some of those daily occurrences with the economic situation. We are living in a world where technology is exhibiting to the people the world of luxury, the world of super gadgets, the world of the haves and it is no wonder that those who are labelled the have-nots would deploy any means to afford the fantasy of wealth which the world of technology is bringing before them. In addition the commercials appearing in newspapers that make loads of money out of them add to this rather unpleasant situation.

Members of the public go on the rampage at the slightest shortcoming of the authorities. People go on the rampage when a road traffic accident happens. They stage riots when there is power cut or a water shortage. They go and beat up teachers or doctors. These people are simply reacting to situations to vent their anger because they believe or have been led to believe that this is the only form of redress open to them. Unfortunately not much is being done to remove those preconceived ideas from the minds of people. On the contrary we see many politicians preying on the ignorance of people and encouraging them in holding fast to these beliefs. The latest incident in Roche Bois that has witnessed clashes between Bangladeshi workers and people of Roche Bois should not be dramatized but it should not either be minimized.

Unfortunately there is tendency these days to react to situations rather than act to take preventive measures. It is true that some religious leaders, social workers and NGOs are trying their best through outreach and social contacts to educate people on civics. This should be a task for our schools that have become institutions that churn young children with brilliant results and young people with equally brilliant SC and HSC results. We are fast becoming a nation of intellectual robots. While the work of social workers and some religious leaders cannot be minimized, it is not enough. There need to be a national emergence of a movement towards educating the public on proper behaviour. The starting point should be the home and followed by the school.

Navin Ramgoolam is being accused of having watched passively over the collapse of law and order. Paul Berenger and Sir Anerood Jugnauth are accusing him of lethargy. Pravind Jugnauth has made hardly veiled accusations against the government on its relationship with drug barons. A law and order situation does not become better through attacks on political adversaries but by firm action and at times the help of the Opposition may be needed as it is a matter of national concern. Today the law and order is near disastrous. People are raped, killed maimed attacked and robbed and the police are helpless. When the police go in search of suspected drug barons, people in some areas claim that this is their own territory and the police have a hard task to do their job.

Law and order is first and foremost the concern of politicians because if the social situation is bad and poverty is rife, then crime goes up. It is a simple equation like two and two make four. It is also the concern of parents and teachers and social workers. We rely heavily on tourism for our economy. Yet it is dramatic to witness regular attacks on tourists. At a time when we rely on tourists in a difficult economic environment such a situation may have adverse consequences. Those who speak of law and order should first of all make a stock of all the police officers who guard the houses and kith and kin of ministers and their close associates. The Prime Minister should one day come out publicly with these figures and let the public judge to what extent the police force that is being paid with their money is being put to virtually private use. This situation is simply alarming as there is a race to volunteer for such assignments in the police force, as it is a fast track to quick promotion without the experience of real and constructive fieldwork.

We must be bold enough to take the bull by the horns and apply harsh measures immediately if we do not want to be caught in a vicious circle or in the grips of a mafia-type organization that would resort to all kinds of crimes accompanied by threats. This country cannot afford to tolerate any group or lobby to take the law into its own hands and thus compromise the security and well-being of others. Firm action is urgently required. But any such action should also be accompanied by an aggressive education campaign. People cannot be the victims of demagoguery and go on the rampage to satisfy the ambition or interest of some.

* Published in print edition on 21 September 2012

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