Every day that goes by in our country is bringing its own lot of unacceptable social behaviour unheard of a few decades back. The cases of spouses, concubines or girlfriends stabbed or seriously injured by those – usually close to them – have become more frequent. There are reported and possibly unreported cases of battered spouses almost regularly now. Theft is also becoming more frequent. In certain cases, not only is there larceny, but the victim of theft gets attacked, is often badly hurt or even killed in the process. There is no respect for life, nor fear of the consequences of crime.
Cases of theft by motorbike riders, such as snatching of chains worn by women, which were heard of quite frequently a few years back, appear to have diminished, presumably due to greater police and community vigilance in certain areas. Incidents of social misbehaviour by schoolchildren towards each other or in some cases towards teachers, have shocked the population, but they also appear to be on the decline with strong action taken by the police. However, besides drugs related offences, there are more crimes being committed under the influence of synthetic drugs not only in the urban areas but also in our villages – something unheard of in the past.
Multiple crimes may be linked to specific offenders, but it appears we have as yet not undertaken a thorough study of the profiles of those who commit the different types of crimes that are taking place in recent years. One assumption is that many of the offenders come from families which have lost a sense of cohesion. These children would simply have become disoriented in public life in the absence of minimum parental supervision. But that is not always the case.
We have also seen several cases of people invested with the duty to ensure respect for the law, indulging in questionable activities while wearing their duty uniforms. If they themselves set such examples, what do they expect the rest of the people to do? Politicians have also displayed reckless conduct – whereas as public figures they are expected to act as examplars by demonstrably setting the highest standards in the discharge of their responsibilities towards the country and their constituencies. But instead they choose to operate within very short term horizons, maximizing gains while the going is good for them! Many of those operating in the circles of the powerful want to become rich easily and quickly, even if that involves doing the contrary of what is normally expected of them. They don’t hesitate to indulge in dubious activities, including cheating in horse racing or shielding themselves from scrutiny for drug dealing and such other business malpractices under the cover of their political shield.
No doubt such phenomena are found in other countries and societies too. In the case of Mauritius, however, we have been more on the conservative side, rather keen to protect our gains as we went up the social ladder. Individuals and even families used to benchmark themselves against each other, to the point of emulation so as to be well seen socially. This aspiration for higher social recognition disciplined individuals by castigating severely those who dared to cross what were deemed as being the limits of good behaviour. Families would quickly act to bring to order any of their elements that went too far – drinking alcohol, associating with notorious characters, gambling and betting, etc. There was a self-correcting attitude within families in pursuit of ’achievement’. Honour and dishonour were important considerations. Those who deviated from the accepted norms were rejected by almost everyone, including family members. Unfortunately this sense of values has been taking a sharp downward dip in recent times.
The responsibility for reversing this state of affairs doesn’t belong to a single individual or entity. It is rather a shared one among all citizens and at all levels of society – individual, family, community, NGOs and all other organisations that must surely be concerned about what kind of society they want for the future generations. And the youth too, for it is their future that is at stake. However, there is no gainsaying that strong role models among those who are thrust into positions of leadership must be the main drivers of this movement for transformation. Are they prepared to assume this role as they should?
In particular, it is upon religious leaders that this responsibility falls. That is because they are supposed to be trained to inculcate in their flocks the human and spiritual values that are meant to instil in the person the sense of worth and dignity common to all, and which must be not only respected but revered. They too are supposed to lead by example, and to teach through the numerous narratives to be found in the scriptural and cultural literature the moral lessons that one must apply in one’s daily life in dealing both with near and dear ones as well as with society at large. And this they must do not only on religious occasions such as festivals that come from time to time, but on a regular and sustained basis. Besides, they must also be available to counsel those who are in need of guidance. This has now become an imperative and an urgency.