Virus queen, the spirit of freedom & distortion of history

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

The month of March rolls on with a string of commemorations overshadowed by an uninvited guest, Virus Queen, who is making a mockery of man-made frontiers, powerful political institutions, economic and military might. Successfully. A revival of the black plague which sowed death all along the Silk Road from China to Europe in 1348. No doubt, a ‘foreign virus’, a dig at China made by US President D. Trump. China’s gift to the world in the Year of the Rat, a foretaste of its future contribution to the world if ever it achieves its ambition of becoming sole superpower by 2050. A most sarcastic remark to be taken at a symbolic level.

China’s friendly gesture of sending a plane with five specialist doctors to help Italy out of the heavy toll the virus has taken among its citizens, with more than 2200 deaths, is most appreciated. With trillions of boastful dollars in its coffers, it is no big deal. If it cares to, China may also extend a friendly hand to Iran, where propping up an economy severely hit by American sanctions, is an uphill battle and calls have been made to the IMF for financial aid to tackle the devastating effects of coronavirus. Chinese billionaire Chang Ma, founder of Alibaba, is opening his bank account to shower some millions of dollars to a few African countries. Other countries are likely to queue up for Chinese generosity.

Can these gestures make up for the soft power which China does not have to make it a lovable and attractive country? Till now, it has only projected the image of a nation which has successfully implemented its materialist philosophy. Institutes of Confucius opened in a plethora of countries aim to promote an ancient political Confucian tradition, which advises leaders to command in such a way as to make ‘obedience become a second nature in their subjects’. It traces its root far back beyond the communist ideology introduced by Mao. President Xi Jinping’s aim is to vanquish western values of universal liberalism once for all in China and to weaken them everywhere else in the world.

Obedience and Submission – little wonder who China’s close allies are and who are equally dreaming of dominating the world in a few decades. A meeting of totally different ideologies pursuing the same aim.

A bit indecent to air such views at this stage of a pandemic, one might say. Why, it may be food for thought while the world has come to a standstill and folks are requested to live cloistered as in a big convent.

* * *

Challenging Tradition

Women in Christian religious custom, maybe in Judaism too, accompany men all along a funeral procession to the funeral ground. Women are kept away from funeral ceremonies held on the crematory or burial ground in other traditions. So, it went largely unnoticed in world mainstream media when the icon of the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, Tunisian activist Lina Ben Mhenni died recently at the age 36. As per her wishes, her coffin was borne by women only. It is quite a revolutionary stance in countries which strictly abide by tradition, including Hindu tradition.

The reason for keeping women away from witnessing the last moments of departed close relatives and loved ones must have been to protect them since they have always been considered as too sensitive to attend funeral rites, or maybe for other reasons. So only male relatives and folks are entrusted with attendance of last rites. Recently in India, a pundita, a woman priest conducted a marriage ceremony and performed the rites. A breakthrough indeed.

Tunisia voted back highly conservative Ennahda Party to power, a party which has dropped the term ‘Islamist’. Tunisian activist and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni fought against censorship and claimed freedom and rights. When it was voted to power in the first election following the 2011 uprisings, Ennahda Party imposed conservative policies in various sectors. One of its ‘moral rules’ was to invent the term ‘temporary marriage’, a euphemism for free sex between young adults but with an advantage for men. It resulted in female university students getting pregnant for lack of sex education and risk awareness, and being abandoned by their partners. Sociologists raised the alarm bell when young female adults with their babies were left to grapple with the predicament which deprived them of any social status.

So, it is quite understandable that since a male-dominated society is largely responsible for the wrongs and ills women have to stand up against, there is no reason to grant them the privilege of carrying a woman’s coffin in her last moments on earth. It is logical and natural to prefer being accompanied by women who have shown genuine affection and support while she was alive. This is what must have prompted Lina Ben Mhenni to bar men from carrying her coffin. The 36-year old activist should be remembered for daring to have her own way till the end.

Over here, the procession to the crematory is a male prerogative. So, in the villages, it translates into a crowd of male relatives, neighbours and menfolk making it their duty to walk and carry the deceased. It largely comprises a motley gathering of honest men, regular folks, wife-beaters, drunkards, educated and conceited, insensitive and selfish males. Just as you choose the people you share good time with, you should have the choice of selecting those who accompany you in the last moments of your life.

It must be remembered that in ancient times women played a key role in the performance of ceremonies and rites, and in the transmission of spiritual values in Africa and across the world. So, it is not a matter of breaking tradition, but a revival of ancient tradition. And the trend is set to continue in decades to come.

* * *

12th March. History according to Media

First, one of the private radios known for fuming against the government invited a former minister from the old team whose members are no more and another politician presented as a historian, a rather prominent figure in the public sphere. The latter was addressed by his first name while the ex-minister benefited from the affectionate and brotherly bhai, a Hindi word amply abused of by a few radio presenters during so-called hard talks on politics and current affairs. While bhai may be a cultural expression of respect and affection, it may also sound impolite and exclusive when members of other cultures are present. It is even worse during display of affection for the club of bhais at religious functions shown on television. They both took up the refrain of 37% elected government, forgetting that in a three-party fight, the one that bags more than 34% wins.

During the ‘hard talk’, the historian recalled the role played by Jose Poncini and Professor Lim Fat in the early beginnings of economic development. The aim was to pay homage to well-known figures from various sectors. He came to acknowledge the virtue of the Best Loser System, an electoral policy which places Mauritius in a position to lecture other countries on how to safeguard a fair representation of minorities, according to him. He might be the right envoy to countries which behave tyrannically towards minorities, where they have no say in political affairs besides being discriminated against economically and socially, let alone the opportunity of being invited in any hard talk whatever on radios. They are just non-existent.

They both had no qualms in taking on the Indian government for the supposedly terrible things happening there, and hence, emphasized on the necessity of consolidating the BLS in Mauritius. Whether the system has sent nonentities back to Parliament at the expense of taxpayers is of no great concern.

The historian’s name circulated as a potential nominee for the presidency in post-electoral period after ‘Paul in the government’ fizzled out. Frustration? Both guests incensed the Dauphine of the MMM. Nothing surprising after all the stalwarts crossed the floor. Another member is being regularly put in the limelight in the press and on private radios. Talking and commenting is a free exercise in a democratic country.

To crown it all the MBC dished out a grotesque show of falsification of history on television barring all the key politicians at the time of Independence – SSR, Sir Harold Walter, Sir Kher Jagatsingh, Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo, Sir Gaetan Duval, etc. A distorted historical survey which outraged the Labour Party leader. If only Sir Anerood Jugnauth was shown as a continuous link between the past and the present, it is an indication of a deep frustration over the absence of his name on any significant building or monument in Mauritius. SSR at the airport, for a medical school, hospital, at Pamplemousses Garden and so on…

Whether you like him or not, SAJ galvanized dedicated politicians, instilled a deep sense of patriotism, and set the tune for a no-nonsense approach and spirit in handling the country’s affairs, implementing the policy laid out by the MMM, first in the late 80s, then in the early 90s. Corruption in the police force in daily street patrols and checks, which made the country a laughing stock and foreigners look down on it, declined. Owing to his personality, lax management gave way to efficiency and modernization. The meaning of citizenship was made a reality and enhanced the dignity of men and women. And Mauritius earned the respect that it still enjoys today.

A solution to the frustration over the issue is to name a key monument after SAJ. Reasonable and fair. Is that complicated? It is worth considering if we care to spare the younger generation of a shameful distortion of history. As to the Labour leader, it is totally absurd and puerile to maintain a travel ban on him. He has a right to a private life and see whoever he wants abroad, which is none of our business. Give the country a break from the two families’ rivalry. Come on!

* Published in print edition on 20 March 2020

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