Unlike those of our forbears who because of ‘self-respect were overflowing with indignation’, we have over the years developed a lull, and have lost the capacity to bristle with indignities
With the Chagos issue being topical we have come to realise and appreciate the importance and value of historical memory, epitomized in this case by the only survivor of the delegation that was present at the constitutional conference at Lancaster House in 1965, namely Sir Anerood Jugnauth, according to whom they were presented with a fait accompli. It seemed logical therefore that both by virtue of his participation then and his political trajectory since, as well as his seniority, the now Minister Mentor should be the one to have led the Mauritian delegation to The Hague, and presented the Mauritian case to the International Court of Justice.
The heart-rending narratives of the Chagossians have touched all Mauritians, who as one voice have expressed the wish that their plight and their concerns be resolved once and for all, for it has been over fifty years since their fate was unjustly changed dramatically, and it is time therefore that justice be done to them.
“Unlike those of our forbears who because of ‘self-respect were overflowing with indignation’, we have over the years developed a lull, and have lost the capacity to bristle with indignities that are hurled at us. But our valiant predecessors were of a different mettle, for they awakened to the realization that ‘to be silent anymore would have been an unpardonable sin’. Because not only were they and their community under attack by the ‘exponents of capitalism (who) were hitting right and left’ but even worse, their offensive was not ‘confined to political theories’ – that is, the socialist credo of their adversaries – it also ‘embraced the way of life of the main community of the island’…”
In spite of high rhetoric from philosophers, political leaders and then many jurisdictions about justice, fairness and equity, a triad of concepts enshrined in the constitutions of many countries, in reality ensuring its concrete materialization and the associated values with it in the lives of people around the world has ever been more of an ideal than an actual fact. Both as individuals and as community people in practice have continuously faced many obstacles as they try to make a decent living, which in many cases can mean something as basic as sheer survival. Examples still abound in today’s world, especially in zones of conflict as we can all witness on a daily basis.
But nearer home, in our own country, and before the Chagossians, a whole community, labelled as the majority community, became the target of ostracism and calumny from no less than their own compatriots, several of whom were educated in the best local institutions and had walked the hallowed halls of prestigious universities in Britain and France. They hurled slogans and epithets which are not worth repeating, but were certainly a betrayal of their erudition which conferred upon them, alas, an intellect limité, which could not soar beyond to a modicum of wisdom.
Today it’s all forgiven, which is a must because we have decided to move forward as a country and look to the future. But to forget is more difficult, and was not an option for those who suffered and endured – but whose memory must be saluted for responding in a civilized manner by engaging with the adversaries who had declared themselves, through cogent and intelligent argumentation and presentation of facts rather than descending to the level of the vulgarity from the opposite side. Forget we too must not because there are still undercurrents of this mindset present in our midst, as in the case of the lady working in a hotel who was threatened with dismissal from employment for wearing her tikka – on grounds that were as unreasonable as they were flimsy, that would not stand the ‘test of reasonableness’ anywhere where commonsense and sound judgement prevail.
These thoughts came to my mind as I was reading about ‘The Second Year’ in last week’s issue of this paper, on page 3 in the section ‘From the pages of history’. I also happened to be going through some of the parts I had highlighted earlier in ‘The Lessons of History’ by Will and Ariel Durant, famous authors of the multivolume ‘The Story of Civilization’. And I found quite a few that resonated – as they will always do – with that trip down our country’s quite recent history.
For example, about the challenge faced by the historian – ‘what use have your studies been?’ And ‘Have you learnt more about human nature than the man in the street…?’ Further, ‘Is it possible that, after all, history teaches us nothing, and that the immense past was only the weary rehearsal of the mistakes that the future is destined to make on a larger stage and scale?’ When we look at the manmade traumatic events that are shaking many parts of the world, these lines of the authors appear prescient don’t they.
Has it not been said that those who don’t care to know about the past are condemned to repeat its mistakes? And this leads to another question which is more to the point locally: ‘Have you derived from history any illumination of our present condition, any guidance for our judgements and policies?’ (italics added)
In this perspective, it is worth considering what the conditions were at the launch of Mauritius Times over sixty years ago, a good glimpse of which we get from that editorial (penned by Somduth Bhuckory), which points out that ‘the publication of our paper was nothing short of a hazardous venture’ which ‘turned out to be a thrilling adventure’, as by the second year ‘our modest publication (had) become a militant part of the local press’. That is because MT ‘was born to meet a crying local need’ and that its success was largely due to the fact that ‘people were in the right frame of mind to receive it’.
And let us ask ourselves therefore, what is the frame of mind of most of us today? From what I can see, it is miles away from that kind of militancy and determination to take on issues of social justice and removal of created obstacles that still come up. They are not much dissimilar from those that were placed in the way of advancement for all that had led the promoters of MT to take on the prevailing establishment.
In contrast, presently we have sunk into a pit of lethargy, selfishly pursuing individual interests without giving a damn for the collective weal. When not making a public spectacle by fighting among ourselves, we are afflicted with a debilitating and shameful complacency. The worse sin is that we are not even aware of it, and have chosen, like Kumbhkaran, to sleep and be oblivious to what is taking place around us – in the words of Durant, ‘the rebuffs of surprise and the vicissitudes of change’.
Unlike those of our forbears who because of ‘self-respect were overflowing with indignation’, we have over the years developed a lull, and have lost the capacity to bristle with indignities that are hurled at us. But our valiant predecessors were of a different mettle, for they awakened to the realization that ‘to be silent anymore would have been an unpardonable sin’. Because not only were they and their community under attack by the ‘exponents of capitalism (who) were hitting right and left’ but even worse, their offensive was not ‘confined to political theories’ – that is, the socialist credo of their adversaries – it also ‘embraced the way of life of the main community of the island’. In spite of proclamations of the richness of our diversity, actions on the ground – the tikka episode – show that the struggle is never-ending. For that matter, even ‘India was villified’, and MT called ‘feuille de chou’ because of its humble beginnings…
And yet MT had made clear the paper’s position: ‘We stand for Socialism. We have not kept the public in the dark about our political convictions’. In other words, this was no personal battle, but one of principle. In spite of this, however, the opponents pointed ‘us as black as devils by calling us communist and nationalist.’ Today, all political ‘…isms’ are systematically being debunked, even capitalism is under attack by its own fiercest votaries, especially after the financial crisis of 2008, being blamed for the worst ills – in particular growing inequality – affecting theirs and all other societies which have followed the capitalist model.
What was said then remains true today, to wit that ‘our contributors are not rich people who write to beguile their lazy hours…They are people who want to live in a better world. They write because writing to them is a mission.’
And the favourite quote of the founder, Shri Beekrumsing Ramlallah, ‘Arise, awake, stop not till the goal is reached’ (Swami Vivekananda) is captured in the moving words of the last paragraph of that editorial: ‘The past stands as something solid – a treasure, a legacy left behind. But our task is to look forward, to seize the uncertain present and give it some shape. The future remains fluid as long as we just sit back and stare into the void. It is on the efforts of all men of goodwill and action that the world of tomorrow will be built. So, let’s go ahead!’
In this ‘main community’ whose specialty is internal bickering, where, pray, are the men of goodwill and action!!
* Published in print edition on 13 September 2018