Racism and Communalism: the larger context and perspective

Those who preach most loudly, in particular on public platforms, about the need to practise the true values of Mauritianism and brotherhood, respect for others, etc., are the ones most likely to be the worst defaulters

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Although science has established, through genetic and related studies, that there is no such thing as a ‘pure race’, yet the notion is still widespread and persistent, and its most acute manifestation is currently visible in its most violent form in the US. There, the Black Lives Matter or BLM movement has pitched Blacks against White policemen as a result of several deaths of Black individuals by the latter in public shootings, and protests associated with collateral violence (arson, looting, vandalism) is continuing in several cities.

Where there is racism, communalism is not far. Our shores have not been spared, and in the wake of street protests that have recently taken place here, social media has added some fuel to the fire. Communalism, in particular, always seems to lie in the background, at times perniciously so. It was monstrous during the pre-Independence period. But most sensible Mauritians would agree that in spite of one or several hydra heads of this ogre rising up from time to time, it is rapidly contained and drowned in the open views that are expressed about it or the particular event that gave rise to it. Until the next time round, which usually undergoes a similar fate – but this time the fire is yet to die down completely.

Some years ago, a case that polarized opinion was the accident that involved a minister and another person. Mauritians from all segments and communities of the country were very vocal about it, in the immediate aftermath and for a few weeks afterwards when the trial was taking place. But not everybody belonging to the minister’s community expressed support for him, and this was also the case for the other person.

As a matter of fact, most Mauritians perceived this incident as the arrogance of power pitted against the ordinary citizen – and this is what was salutary about that unfortunate incident. The communal angle receded in the background, because no citizen of whatever hue is prepared to tolerate the arrogance of power, knowing full well that any of us at any time can be the victim of it.

But the country went one step further: when the judgement was eventually delivered, with the acquittal of the minister, hell didn’t break loose. Again, in a democratic manner, some citizens expressed their surprise, and dismay, just as others thought that justice had been done. Finally, though, the verdict of the Court was accepted. In other words, despite all the criticisms against the legal system and its presumed weaknesses, by and large people acknowledged that there had been a due process of law that had been adhered to, in other words the legal system was given its due credibility.

And that is how it should be: one of the strongest ways to tackle communalism is through strengthening our systems and institutions. And there is a patriotic reason for it. The reasoning for this starts with looking at the reality of communalism in a wider perspective.

All of us have the communal instinct or tendency hardwired in us, most likely as a vestigial survival of our early human evolution when belonging to a tribe was vital for our living in terms of food and basic security mainly. Commonsense applied to the world situation today will show us that there is a widening circle of allegiance – which is what communalism is essentially about – that, starting with the family, is as follows: close relatives, close friends, one’s community (usually based on faith), the wider society and lastly the country. When it comes to beyond the country, both at individual and collective level it is more pragmatic considerations that matter, barring extremists or radicals who are influenced by their preferred ideology.

But what is the reality? Even within all the groups listed above, not infrequently there are very divided opinions or sometimes even open antagonisms. However, whenever any of these allegiances, except to country (patriotism), overrides all other considerations in one’s handling of a given situation when playing one’s role in the country – private or lay situation, professional or officer in public service or private sector workplace –, this is where the danger of communalism may surface and is unacceptable.

Concrete examples include seeking employment or being due for promotion in one’s place of work, or interactions with the personnel in the public service or private organizations. Where communalism does harm is if someone is favoured over another simply because of one’s affinity with the opposite party on the basis of family, relative, friendship or religion.

Looking back from the perspective of the approaching dusk of my life, and having chosen to come back after long and hard studies to live here because I loved to be in my country and still do, it has been my experience over and over again that those who preach most loudly, in particular on public platforms, about the need to practise the true values of Mauritianism and brotherhood, respect for others etc, are the ones most likely to be the worst defaulters.

In contrast, those who genuinely foster and live these values do so silently and peacefully, as they go about their lives serving and/or interacting with their fellow compatriots in webs patiently woven over time at the workplace, in professional or social relationships which even become consolidated in links of deep friendships and why, even family and relative at times. That is the lame de fond (deeper reality) of our vivre-ensemble (living together) that never needs any validation on public platforms.

From a national standpoint, the larger issue about communalism/racism that is of the utmost importance here is: by favouring someone of ‘my own’ am I strengthening the system or the institution in my country? That should be the fundamental criterion, all other things (e.g. qualifications) being equal. And the rationale is simple: I live in this country, and it is definitely in my interest – as well as that of my family, relatives, friends and community – to have a well-running country of which I can be proud and whose systems I can count on to deliver. If say, teachers or doctors are appointed who are not the best suited for the positions, will I trust my child or my life to them, even if they are ‘my own’?

Everybody knows the answer: a BIG NO!

For that matter, even if I decide to emigrate, I can’t take everyone of ‘my own’ along! There will always be many left behind. Do I leave them to their ‘fate’, or do I contribute to leaving behind a country worth living in?

The antidote to communalism is not endless debates on the semantics: it is genuine patriotism. Whenever we are faced with having to take a decision in our dealings in the situations mentioned above, we have to ask ourselves a bona fide question: will my decision weaken or strengthen my institution, add to the quality of the work environment or the relationship, be fair and just? If we adhere to these fundamentals, even the most hardened politician cannot play ball. Because politicians abhor systems and strong institutions that they simply cannot manipulate.

And that is the basis of patriotic strength that is the greatest weapon of the citizen. Its collaterals are fairness and equity. Let us show the degree of maturity required of us so many years after independence that we all need to graduate to the degree of maturity that will make of us good patriots, for our own sake and that of the future citizens of the country- most of whom, after all, will be our own progeny.

* Published in print edition on 29 September 2020

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