Move Cautiously


We should be getting worried if mischief-makers ignite further social discontent, triggered by the scattered sparks from insensitive and brutal police overreaction that’s been going round on social media these days.’ This response gleaned from online sources speak of the unease of members of the public who have taken cognisance via their smart phones and tablets of different video clips which show what look like instances of brutal police interventions in some places. We understand that some of these are faked videos of instances of police brutality having taken place elsewhere, but are being wilfully and criminally used here to rouse public anger against the police. The police is taking action in this matter, has assured the PM at his press conference. No videos showing policemen being attacked whilst attending to their duty during these difficult times have found their way on social media, though this is also happening according to the police authorities.

What is causing annoyance however are the video clips depicting real-life situations involving a number of police officers manhandling some members of the public who would have not respected the curfew rules. That the Commissioner of Police has deemed it necessary to come out and take a strong stand in this matter would indicate that the Government and the police are very much alive to the harm that irresponsible and insensitive behaviour on the part of some police officers can do to public peace and harmony. There may be good reasons for the police to deal with particular situations the way they are presently going about it, or there may be none at all. The disturbing thing about this is that such videos might create a negative perception of excessive police brutality being directed against a section of the population.

It takes very little to whip up a ‘soulevement’, especially during these stressful times when psychosocial stress caused by home confinement for a number of days may be exacerbated by householders’ legitimate concern regarding a secure and regular supply of food for their families at a time when vegetable markets, round-the-corner shops and supermarkets have been ordered to close down. Lots of families of the working class go buy their ‘rations’ at the end of each week, so they might not have foodstuffs stocked at home. There are also people who buy food items on a day to day basis at the local corner shop. These are ground realities that, understandably, may have been overlooked in the urgency of implementing the restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19. The distribution of food packs will hopefully mitigate the problem. We understand from the Prime Minister’s press conference last evening that the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry is preparing a plan of how to go about distributing food and we hope that the needs of such people as mentioned above will be considered.

On the other hand, we must realise that, other than the medical and health dimensions, there is another aspect of equally critical concern: that the provision of food, especially vegetables, is also a matter of livelihood for hundreds of small to medium scale vendors who meet the daily needs of those categories of people who do not have the means to do bulk buying at supermarkets. As no one knows how long this crisis will last and the restrictions maintained, some serious thinking will have to be done involving the vegetable growers’ representatives, and work out how to make sure that our citizens have access to vegetables and fruits, as well as ensuring the livelihoods of those engaged in this sector.

In the meantime, while we can very well understand that there are no two ways to contain the pandemic, we will make an appeal to the police to not aggravate an already tense situation, and to citizens to act more responsibly for the sake of the maintenance of peace, law and order.

* Published in print edition on 27 March 2020

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