The freedom to express thoughts, ideas and views on major topics relating to politics, governance, education, economic options, social issues, and human development is a right for which previous generations of men and women had to fight at different times of history across the world. Freedom of speech has not been served on a platter to people by benevolent rulers. Neither has it followed a linear evolution across the ages in different parts of the world.
Why don’t we mind our own business? And leave things to be eventually sorted out by others? After all, we are living in an age of individualism and hedonism. So we might as well attend to our personal interests and spend our precious time in the pursuit of happiness and well-being at all levels, relational, spiritual and materialist. Mainly polishing our relationship with ourselves, which is a permanent occupation, for our own betterment through different means, depending on our personality.
Then, spend our precious time with our closed ones in the family cocoon, and bask in the security, harmony and unity which family provides. Live life to the full by simply being together, sharing time silently or engaging in interesting conversations, sharing experiences, relishing in ever innovating and delicious food, joking and laughing merrily. And in our spare time seek the warm company of closest friends and relax while enjoying stimulating conversations over exquisite meals.
Live in communion with beautiful soothing Nature around. And if you are lucky, regularly hop in a plane, leave unpleasant ground realities of road traffic, noise, domestic violence, cheap political bickering, endless palaver, masochistic behaviour and so on, fly up among patches of snowy clouds, head towards different destinations and have a great time visiting around with family or friends in places which have more to offer in terms of culture and beauty.
Why bother about what is happening around? Which is often sickening, unbearable, revolting and mind-boggling, and makes ripples on the calm smooth lake of your inner being you strive to restore on a daily basis. Just let things go their own way.
Well, no. Our small unit is part of a bigger collective unit called community in a multi-ethnic society, it is a component of a country of which we are citizens, and the country itself is related to an international community which makes us world citizens. As a member of an ethnic group and a specific culture, we should feel concerned about the way it is developing or regressing; and similarly, be concerned about the human, social, economic and political development the country as a whole is set for while being constantly logged in to the international community at large.
Year in year out, expressing thoughts, ideas, opinions on different topics on radios and in the press may look like useless barking in a void. Just imagine if everyone stops doing it. Directly or indirectly, those who come out in the open are spokespersons of vast swaths of the public. In any society, the public expects to be informed, sensitized and guided by those who are in a position to do so. The point is how many citizens who have the mettle and knowledge to assume the role of spokespersons actually do so.
What is the use of free speech in a so-called democratic country if this hard-won right is not used by its citizens? How many of the younger generation coached by the University of Mauritius and other educational establishments of the country and outside formally participate in public debates? Anonymous comments and articles in social networks and in the press reveal the fear that prevents some people from coming out openly and freely.
Civil servants are afraid of airing views freely because governmental authorities might take retaliatory measures against them personally by arbitrary transfer, police arrest and harassment. What stares us glaringly in the face is the contradiction and widening gap between the authorities’ ambition of everything ‘intelligent’ and ‘smart’ in the country and the pervasive atmosphere of intimidation and fear created by them and imposed on the people for decades. Those who work in the private sector for a living cannot boast of being much freer to express themselves. Neither are journalists by the way.
How do we tackle and change things if we fear to name them? Naming and writing are important for people need to hear and read about things which matter to them. Though some might argue that there are actually fully-committed citizens who are selflessly working on ground reality to bring changes without much publicity. That’s true. But this is not the point. Well-articulated discourses and writings by relevant authors are necessary as references for the public to connect to. Nothing to do with publicity or ego. Some of us will be better off away from the spotlight of mediatized discourses for that matter.
The question that arises is: when will the political class grow up and become mature? And stop stifling free speech, persecuting citizens through authoritarian punishments and unleashing the police to hound innocent people and make life a hell for them? How long is the same breed of politicians going to rule over the country and keep others away from trying to change things? How come most of them who jump on the bandwagon of politics are below average? Or is it that politics is too rotten for high calibre people with proper credentials to join in? If it is, then, then the situation has to be changed.
To start with, academics and high-ranking civil service officers should be allowed to join politics, and given the opportunity to participate in the running of the country. This is what Sheila Bunwaree suggested in the pre-election campaign. High-profile professionals from other sectors should be encouraged to engage in public affairs.
Words, ideas and opinions do actually matter. They do find their way to people’s minds and hearts. Television is the best platform for communicating and raising awareness. The MBC is not free as long as it is subordinated to the government’s dictates. Yet it should be free since it receives a monthly fee from the viewing public.
Successive governments have deliberately adopted this strategy so that they could conduct public affairs with the cooperation of powerful lobbies among cronies in big corporates in all opacity with a view to retaining power, wealth and influence within a closed circle.
How long will the government block the advent of free private television channels to encourage a diversity of views aired by local TV channels?
A most relevant point is media censorship. A trend that has been gaining ground across the world specially in developed affluent countries. For ideological or editorial reasons, certain newspapers and television channels have opted for political correctness. In the West, the media has just started awakening again to pressing public demands for in-depth investigations and analysis. Half-truths lead to frustration and confusion.
Last but not least, how many people who are seething with energy and ideas come forward to express themselves by any means without fear and without waiting to be invited to do so? How many of them realize that by refraining from engaging publicly, they are shirking their responsibility and not performing their duty? For after all, what transcends our personal interest and well-being is a sense of responsibility and duty towards society at large. Surrendering to fear or lack of will amounts to spiritual enslavement. There’s a choice to make.