MGI Archives and the right to privacy and confidentiality

By TP Saran

This is a country of palabres, and those who thrive on them have made an unwarranted foray into matters, which should be the concern solely of professionals whose duty it is to act in a thoroughly professional manner. Unfortunately this principle has not been entirely followed either, hence giving rise to wild speculations and allegations of conspiracy to suppress information about the past of immigrants.

It is perhaps necessary to remind the muckrakers that this is a country governed by law, to which the MGI Archives are also subjected. The Chairman of MGI Mr Dwarka has clearly stated that he has adhered to the provisions of the law in allowing the Truth and Justice Commission to have access to these Archives, and the matter should rest there, instead of seeking to raise controversies.

It is almost trite to make the observation that there are different kinds of documents, some of which contain information about individuals which the individual only has a right to in the name of privacy and confidentiality. No public authority or body can access such information without the explicit consent of the individual concerned. In fact, statisticians have techniques of treating documents to make them anonymous, and this is something that is done in several fields of research, in order to conform with laws relating to data protection. There is also a Data Protection Act, which gives robust guarantees on the protection of identification of individuals.

Mr Dwarka made it clear that there was no restriction of access to the MGI archives to any individual who wished to go up his family tree – but anyone else seeking such information would be subject to the legal provisions currently applicable. Is that so difficult for dumb heads to understand? They are the very ones who clamour about the respect for the law and the Constitution of the country. Why should it be different in the matter of archives?

Further, it is most strange that the government should keep silent about the issue. After all, it was the government that set up the Commission, with a specific mandate. Why does it not come forward to throw light on that and to spell out for the public what is the purpose of that Commission, and remind the latter what the boundaries within which it has been mandated to operate? This would no doubt help to give some clarity to the situation – and it is not too late to do so.

Some people may be uncomfortable with their past and feel shame about aspects of it. By no means is the Indian community ashamed of its past. Quite the contrary: it continues to draw inspiration from the stalwarts who fought and struggled so that their future generations could live a better life, guided by ancestral values derived from texts that were theirs and not borrowed from elsewhere or thrust upon them by masters whose cultural superiority or religious authority they were forced into accepting.

As far as the phenomenon of caste is concerned, it is futile to make allusion to what happens in India for obvious reasons, the sheer size of the subcontinent and its billion-over population making nonsense of any comparison whatsoever. This said, caste is one form of social grouping, the other well-known ones being class, ethnic, racial and religious divides that are present all over the world including tiny Mauritius. There is no homogeneity in any religious group in Mauritius. Those who claim otherwise are fooling themselves and the population. But there are others who have the frankness to admit facts about their current social situation without embarrassment. For example, you can read the recent interview of Mr Taujoo in le Mauricien,  in which he states  that there are 75 sects among Muslims,  one of those  being the Ahmadiyas to which he belongs. We all know that there are grand blancs and ti-blancs and that those who frequent the Dodo Club for example would be most ill at ease in the Racing Club, and vice-versa. Similarly the Afro-Creoles and the gens de couleur would have little in common socially with others in the “general population”.

So let us not be hypocritical, and seek to… cast the aspersion of casteism across the board on Mauritian Hindu society in its social functioning on a day-to-day basis. No doubt the caste phenomenon is exploited at the time of elections by politicians, but which politician in Mauritius does not thrive on social divides of all kinds? It is also undeniable that there some caste-related rigidities that have marred relationships at the individual level at times, and they must be vehemently condemned as obscurantist tendencies of lesser minds and people, for which those concerned should hang their heads in shame. All Hindus will be aware of some cases where caste has been evoked to cause hardship and suffering, and if they don’t change their attitude and act responsibly they are doing harm to themselves and their children. Before they criticize others, they should put their own house in order. That, however, is not an issue across-the-board.

But let it be clear to one and all that we do not see our past as a burden to be ashamed of. We are more concerned about what the future holds, and have continued to focus on education as THE stepping-stone to personal and social advancement. And the result shows.

Is that what makes some people feel uncomfortable? 

* Published in print edition on 1 July 2011

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