Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By Jay Narain Roy
Despite tall talks of the wonders achieved by the Government, let us analyse the benefits that our economic system has conferred on this country. It can only be judged by the scope the average son of the worker has for progress and development. Platonically speaking, this country is deemed to be prosperous, progressive and all that. But where is progress and prosperity seen? Not in the actual life of the average Mauritian.
Campaign for free education in the 1960s. Pic – Vintage Mauritius
The average child is born of an anaemic, prolific mother and a skeleton, half-famished father and is little more than a structure of bones and rickets. It does not get enough milk either from the mother or from the earnings of the father. As a boy he is made to eat anything to fill his stomach and to loiter in dirt and rags, and this is the legacy in which he is made to grow up. If his father is a drunkard, or if his mother takes another husband, as is sometimes the case in this society where moral life is no concern of the State, the children have to pay very heavy consequences. How can you prevent them from growing up with a sordid distaste for the society and the government which has created it?
The child is made to go to school. Children of wealthier parents come better-clad, better-fed and with a background of education obtained in paid schools and he finds himself at a severe disadvantage. The sleek lads have the advantage of recreation and private tuition at home while this boy has to help his mother or father after his school hours. He begins his student life in moral frustration and with severe handicaps. It is quite often after sundry pitfalls that he succeeds in crossing the Sixth Standard.
Time was when armed with a Sixth Standard certificate he could lay claims to a Government job as Constable, Messenger, Warder, Fireman, etc., but that is all past history. Very few even now have the means to continue after the Sixth Standard. He has to incur expenses on travelling to go to a good secondary school. He needs better clothing, perhaps his first pair of shoes and books. All this weigh heavily on the meagre income of the family. Often the anxious parents wishing to build the future of some of the children have to work harder fighting bravely against the elements, an ungrateful society and feeble health. How many meet their untimely end Ieaving the children in worse squalor.
It is in the secondary stage that the boy realises that most children have their private tutors, and that in this model country education is largely a money gamble where the wealthier have superior opportunities. Here is more frustration in store for him. Poorly equipped as he is he trudges along from Form to Form trying to make the best of a bad luck until he reaches the School Certificate Examination. How many are able to cross this second barrier, and after how many trials?
What is his fate if he, in his half-famished state, cannot succeed? How many people realise that every morning he has to face the problem of seeing that his clothes are clean, that the family can afford to pay him his bus fare, and something for his tiffin which is forcibly parsimonious, something for a few copybooks or pencil or rubber. These triflings for other families are the daily source of anxieties and sometimes tears for poor families.
If through misfortune and circumstances he cannot pass, life becomes an inferno. He has to bear the rebukes of the parents, the scoff of a heartless society and utter disappointments in his perambulations for a job. He is like the dog in the manger. He is not eager to take to manual work and he lacks the parchment or the protection to obtain a white-collar employment. Nor has he the heart to ask for more money to continue. How many thousands vegetate in this position running to all imaginable quarter and applying for all advertised, unadvertised and rumoured posts. He lives in hope for a time until he becomes sour, disgruntled and a potential rebel.
And suppose that with all his difficulties, he has been able to pass his examination. Only the lowest jobs are reserved for him, jobs in which he begins with a very small salary and depend for promotions on people who may be out of sympathy with him and his class. Some who have been foisted to high jobs have next to nothing as qualifications. They are people who have climbed to such positions by favouritism, by protection and by nepotism. There are many ways of doing this. Some enter by the backdoor as pseudo-experts. Some enter after so-called army service and some just by breaking all canons of morality. Now such people come to hold the destiny of educated youths quite often. These young people are often stupefied to see that one who was a dud at school and never managed to pass any examination has climbed over their head, and he mysteriously is said to be an expert.
There is more stupefaction when the intelligent young man who has sacrificed so much to have a parchment can choose as employment only Government service. The industries, the big firms, trade and commerce, docks and banks and a number of autonomous bodies paying salaries on an average twice the salaries in Government are reserved for boys and girls of one section of the community. There is no consideration of certificate or ability. One has only to belong to a particular section and to have a fair face. Here is equality of scope of the Mauritian: one who has sacrificed so much to obtain a collegecertificate, or a university degree is rotting in small jobs while boys with little education, of no qualification or certificate have a wide field of choice and can get for the asking the most remunerative jobs of the colony. With these attractive jobs often go other benefits like a free house, transport vehicles, servants, medicine, vans for the transport of children to school. Over and above this, an end-of-year bonus is paid, often to the size of six-month salary, and sometimes of a year’s salary.
Just compare the two sets of people in their sundry aspects. The only fault of the people in small jobs is the colour of their face. And the story does not end here. And suppose the poor boy has been able to show uncommon ability to bag a scholarship or a Laureateship for free studies in England. What is the choice before him? He can become a barrister. At the present time one out of every ten barristers is able to make enough to enable him to live within the standard of a professional. The others are undergoing serious difficulties to live. Is it wise to increase the number? Some barristers can be employed as magistrates, but it has been found that even today more magistrates are recruited from the White section than their percentage seems to warrant. Some who would not care for a post of magistrate have lucrative situations as legal advisers of important concerns.
Up to the present time medical men were able to get work in government or outside. But there is a slow overcrowding, and competition is becoming keen for both private practice and for Government work. Most of the people in Government are still very young, and so promotion is bound to be very slow. Something must happen to somebody for another lower down to go up. What are then the prospects in this line? Some might wish to take a degree to be a teacher in a secondary school. But there are only two Boys, and one Girl College, and a Teachers’ Training College run by Government. Then there are some denominational and private colleges. Where is the scope?
This is an agricultural colony, and it should be imagined by an outsider that there would be much scope for technicians like engineers, sugar technologists, chemists, agriculturists, and accountants. Some of the institutions that could employ them are like the Research Station, Central Board and the Central Electricity Board, autonomous bodies under the thumb of one section. If a coloured boy cannot find a technical job in Government, then he is completely frustrated and has to leave his mother country. The other with similar qualifications puts Government jobs as his last choice and takes them only when he cannot find something elsewhere.
This is the Mauritius after about a century and a half of British rule. Progress is a very vague term, and I imagine that the best test we can apply is the scope our system affords for the average Mauritian to develop. If we cannot establish the equality of opportunities and treatment, then I am sure that all this high-faultin talks about welfare and progress is idle gossip.
5th Year – No 226
Friday 5th December 1958
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 28 April 2023
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