Mauritius is quite a conservative country for an island that sells itself on its exquisite beaches and bikini clad babes. Such a schism is prevalent in this country, where the local politics is often at loggerheads with the politics of investment, which refers to how we tout our openness as the backbone of our economy. We seek out tons of investors from all over the place, with one message-everyone is welcome to invest here, regardless of their gender, their religion, their race or their political leanings. We invite gay couples to our posh hotels and give them our quintessential luxurious treatment. But on the other side of the spectrum, the local politics is quite mawkish on the issue of openness, because we would never dare to castigate those who are perennially against freedom, of any kind.
Mauritius is a multicultural country with a Hindu majority, followed closely by a Muslim minority, a Creole minority and a tiny percentage of Sino-Mauritians. The thing about these demographics is that they’re all adepts of ethnocentrism, and do actually identify as a group most of the time. This is why politics is enmeshed with race and religion in Mauritius, and it’s very rare for a non-Hindu to ascend to the highest political office, with the exception of Paul Berenger whose Prime Ministership was anything but a courtesy offer as a result of his alliance with a Hindu led political party.
Now in Mauritius, we love to celebrate our differences, I mean our differences are salient across all these different areas; culture, cuisine, lifestyles and beliefs. But we’ve learned to co-exist with one another, to accept our differences because of our common history. In spite of all these hurdles and some lightweight racism, we’re mostly very integrated in this multicultural effort and these issues rarely crop up outside the political arena. But lately, this has been changing.
As Mauritius faces the hot topic issues of this zeitgeist, some cultural factions might not be as equipped as others to grapple with this sudden progressive wave. And why shouldn’t Mauritius embrace a progressive stance? We are after all an island nation, famous for our beaches more than anything else; that’s as progressive an image as it gets. But this issue bifurcates culture and image as marrying those two will entail rendering certain ideological tenets obsolete.
The LGBT march in Port Louis highlighted the urgency in our current affairs- an urgency that’s not being addressed by a government so eager to kowtow to a faction of uneducated and bigoted people, at the detriment of our progress. This isn’t just an issue of religion versus progress, this is an issue of a specific religious group militating against the LGBT community. Hindus, the religious majority, have been outwardly supportive of the LGBT community and this shouldn’t shock anyone as Hindus in Mauritius are for the most part, peaceful and docile. On the other hand, the Muslims who took umbrage at the march, were shoving protest signs vilifying gay people and some even threatened the latter with violence, all of which was caught on video.
Needless to say, this situation is alarming, for the very reason that it is a religious minority-which often decries persecution-that is demanding the total exclusion of gay people from the public sphere. In a country like ours, where tradition and culture dominate every aspect of our life, steering away from them for the sake of progress would be the noble route to take. But because of a government that is tone deaf on cultural issues, a religious minority gets to dictate what is appropriate and inappropriate in public life. This should worry all of us, because it does not only affect the LGBT community. When they get away with disrupting a legal march with the intent to intimidate peaceful people, they will stop at nothing to disseminate their toxic, regressive ideas at the expense of better religious ideas stemming from religions that have evolved with time.
This is a pressing issue, more-so because of the total impunity allotted to them by a feckless government.