What prospects for our villages?
We should expect that like-minded people taking on board the better educated younger generation of young men as well as young women will invest in the general development of all the rural areas from Bambous, Rose-Belle, Rivière Noire to Flacq, Moka and the myriad of villages
— Nita Chicooree
After more than four decades of independence the most visible ‘development’ that took place in the biggest village of the country – Triolet — was a pavement all along the road after so many accidents had taken the lives of the good people. The too narrow ‘royal’ road itself was somewhat rebuilt and that was some kind of improvement in the life of the locals and other people including tourist coaches and the local princes speeding in long black limousines flanked by bodyguards to the Congress Palace located next to the five-star Royal Palm hotel in Grand Bay.
Road congestion was becoming a daily pain in the neck when fortunately the new road to Grand Bay relieved the ears of the villagers of the noise pollution caused by the deafening drone of the Tata buses and the fleet of expensive second-hand and third-hand cars clogging the royal road. Otherwise, taking advantage of the windfalls of economic prosperity in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, a myriad of businesses cropped up randomly catering for the various needs of the people. This was done at the expense of traditional housing settlements with a nice front garden and a backyard planted with fruit trees and vegetables. As land is not extensible, gardens disappeared to give way to a random construction of businesses, and new houses for the different members of families whittled away backyards and in the process, sugar cane fields receded farther back.
The rising demography does not create ideal living conditions with brothers, sisters, uncles and in-laws crammed on exiguous bits of land. With every inch of land being contested by new businesses and houses, what quality of life do villagers and especially, the younger generation enjoy? What has not changed is the few football grounds available to the village boys. Forget the girls, little attention has been given to girls and women for decades and we should like to think that once the material living conditions begin to improve and people get more educated and demanding, an improvement in recreational facilities for all inhabitants, irrespective of gender, should follow.
It is high time for the villages to be endowed with effective political village institutions to address the concerns of the people and set up proper infrastructure to improve the quality of life. Would it be too demanding to reserve or acquire lands for a public park in some villages? A well-kept place with fountains and flowers where people of all ages, grandparents, children, adults having a break from multiple-jobs, can walk around and relax. A soothing place where you are at peace, jahan man ki shanti milté hein, where you get a rest from the mental and physical strain of daily work, from the nerve-racking drone of the Tata buses and second-hand vehicles on the road and from the uncomfortable sitting position imposed at work, in buses and behind the steering wheel of your car.
A megapolis like Shanghai manages to have public parks well-protected from the constant din of the traffic. There should an awareness campaign of the harmful effects of sedentary life on our health, not to mention the ill-balanced diets most Mauritians are accustomed to. No wonder there is such a record of high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol among a big section of the population.
There used to be a few sports clubs for boys and free classical dancing lessons for girls but they have disappeared for want of the time and energy that volunteers are willing to devote to non-lucrative activities. Apart from yoga courses in a few places and football grounds for boys only, sports activities and recreational parks for young children are non-existent. Only one village is endowed with a swimming-pool.
Notwithstanding the shrinking territory of individual households, not much thought has been given to address the deteriorating and monotonous quality of life in the villages. As far as leisure is concerned, there should be other alternatives than watching stultifying Indian films for which you leave your brains at the door and the big chunk of crap in the distressing Reality TV shows dished out to people all year round. The Ministry of Culture is probably very busy working for the cultural uplift of the people but not much of its benefits can be felt in the villages. The drama clubs that used to be active are not much heard of, not to mention the teaching of music, classical and modern dance.
Above all, what should be a top priority is the opening of a public library in every village, a proper library which provides reading material in all fields of knowledge. As the headmaster of one school in Triolet decades ago, my father took the initiative to open the school library to all the villagers around, which enabled people from all social backgrounds to borrow books even during the holidays. Imported books are highly expensive in Mauritius and it is up to the good people to assess the relevance of high taxes on books. A country like Seychelles has a library in every village. A few years ago, I raised the point of the absence of a library in such a big village as Triolet some time before the general elections. The outgoing PM, who was then in the opposition, took up the point in one the electoral meetings but subsequently, the project has been thrown in the dustbin of the village in so far as it is not worth racking your brains in vote banks which are taken for granted.
Everything is fine as long as socio-cultural organizations keep up their role of bodyguards of the vote bank, local capitalists are rewarded with juicy contracts in the hotel industry for financing electoral campaigns and the so-called minorities receive handouts in such favours as Crown Lands being generously given to them. The shivalah with its run-down façade for years is the mirror of the village; it has only been painted over recently. Not a lucrative business.
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country, President J.F Kennedy said. A country should also be built on ideas, not just on possessions; a society without ideas is a dying society. In the public sector, there should be a more significant decentralization of statal bodies in the rural areas, which would alleviate the concentration in the capital and instil more life in the villages. Do not expect others to stoop down to pay attention to the welfare of villagers. It is also up to forward-looking people to come up with ambitious projects for rural development.
We should expect that like-minded people taking on board the better educated younger generation of young men as well as young women will invest in the general development of all the rural areas from Bambous, Rose-Belle, Rivière Noire to Flacq, Moka and the myriad of villages. For this dynamism to materialize, a change in the mindset of the rural population will be necessary to raise local taxes for an effective administration. The starting point is, of course, the political will from Port-Louis to set up new political structures which will empower the locals to come up with brighter prospects for the welfare of the village inhabitants. And it is high time that the political discourse aired on electoral platforms does not remain paroles en l’air.