Living Languages

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

While you are musing over languages, their beauty, their strength and evolution, and how Israel as a nation mustered all its energy to revive its language at a time when it was not commonly used by the dispersed Jewish communities all over Europe and hoist it up as the national language of the newly-born nation of an old people in 1949, you feel that Israel should be awarded an international prize for this cultural feat.

Multicultural societies where there is too much compromise over languages reach a grotesque situation whereby those who are expected to THINK and guide people over the right language policy are not doing their duty but are busy promoting new languages. They seem to be devoid of any vision as regards the evolution of their own language.

In this respect, the President of the Tamil Cultural Centre Trust should be congratulated for addressing Singaporean President SR Nathan in Tamil at the University of Mauritius. It seemed the most natural thing to do because we cannot go on sacrificing our own languages just because they are not understood by one and all. Similarly, we should expect other Oriental languages including Urdu, Marathi, Hakka or Mandarin to be used on official occasions by those who have a good command of the respective languages. Above all, Hindi which is understood and which is the language of a vast majority of people in the country should be regularly used officially by high-profile public personalities who address the public on TV. Written translation can be provided simultaneously in Creole for those who do not understand Hindi. Mauritian intellectuals who have invested a lot of intellectual energy for the creation of the grafilarmoni will certainly welcome the idea of training candidates who volunteer to work as translators. It will create new jobs for the young!

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Making Diversity a Reality

Oriental languages should not be confined to the sphere of songs, music, religion and imported films. They should be used on TV and radios to debate on current events, societal issues, economics, politics and arts.

For obvious reasons, English and French have won pre-eminence in the country and enabled Mauritians to connect to the world. The fact remains that they are both foreign languages. Whether we like it or not, Creole is a colonial pidgin which has become the common means of communication among the different components of our society. It is part of the local identity but it is an extremely deficient and inadequate means to convey ideas and thoughts.

Television is a powerful medium, that’s why Oriental languages should be officially used and seen to be used by high-profile personalities as most people care about the messages given by personalities from the public and private sectors. They should be used freely and unapologetically.

The next step is to have socio-cultural organisations reaching out to the people all over the country to promote the use of the different Oriental languages in homes on a daily basis. This will be the best forward-looking contribution they can bring to the country.

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Reshuffling the Cabinet

We all agree that the Cabinet and the Parliament are overstaffed. Bigger countries have fewer ministers. Do we need so many ministers and MPs? The PM has started reshuffling the Cabinet, and we should expect meritocracy to prevail in the appointment of new ministers in the key ministries. It is high time for hard-working and deserving men or women backbenchers who have ideas, guts and a higher IQ to come to the front.

State violence against the people prevails when governments do not heed public opinion and ignore the protests of civilians against the mismanagement of public funds. 80% of the people do not trust the CBI (the equivalent of ICAC) according to polls in India, 60% want the PM (reputedly very clean) to come under the scrutiny of the committee set up by civil society.

In Mauritius, the population is patiently waiting to know the full story of the Rs 85 m which have been siphoned off from the coffers of Air Mauritius, the Medpoint acquisition by the government, and the less mediatized Rs 340 m or so dished out to Infinity Tower is no less outrageous whatever may be the official reasons for such generosity from public coffers. These are just few cases known to the public.

In the context of the global economic crisis, the government of Singapore decided to reduce public expenses by first cutting down the salary of the PM, the ministers and high-ranking public officials.

In India, civil society and private TV channels are telling the rulers that they do not own the country. 2011 is definitely a great year for Indians and the Arab world. The trend is to stick to principles and not to give up. Despite the lathi charge by 5000 policemen to disperse the crowd that supported Swami Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi in the middle of the night and the manu militari removal of the swami from his dais and his forced departure from Delhi and prohibition to enter Delhi for two weeks, people are not giving up as they flocked around Anna Hazare who took up the protests.

Why are they targeting politicians? The answer is that the public looks up to them, and if the rot at the top is removed, the cleansing process will affect all levels of society.

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Transparency Revolution

It is high time for Mauritius to adopt a Right to Information Act. India has it since 2005, yet it has barely initiated the transition to transparency. Defence Minister AK Anthony has stated that the people will go on clamouring for greater checks and balances in the functioning of the government. Civil society will not give up notwithstanding the fact that Indian politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, the armed forces and all those who hold key positions may not be ready for the transition. The minister stated: “The walls of secrecy were crumbling gradually in every field, including politics, business, judiciary and administration. And once this trend has begun, it can not be stopped mid-way.”

Sounds as if the government’s hostility and reluctance to genuine reforms are signs of a painful transition from old habits of secrecy and unaccountability. A transparency revolution that percolates through all walks of life, organizations and families is being brought about by the will of the people and it is most welcome. Not only in India. Respect for the people and trust in the government are indispensable for nation building in a healthy atmosphere.

* Published in print edition on 10 June 2011

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