I was browsing Facebook late at night while the cyclone was raging outside. It was an exciting moment, a synergy that could be felt even from behind a computer screen. Social media was ablaze with posts detailing the various degrees of damage the cyclone was causing in its path, people sharing anecdotes and memes while others joined in to comment, good old camaraderie that can only be felt during times of crises.
But amidst all this mirth, some unspeakable and appalling posts, racist and discriminatory diatribes, the like of which you wouldn’t expect from people who call themselves Mauritians. Because Mauritian is an identity, our foremost identity. In most countries, the nationalistic stance is to identify with the national identity. Not in Mauritius though. Certain people still think they’re stuck in medieval Bihar, a place ruled by ruthless casteism and petty tribalism, and a general mentality as bleak as its environment.
It came to my attention that several people were blaming the Creole minority for having the gall to ask for food and nourishment during their stay in relief centers. The comments were outrageous and callous. How dare they speak badly of Sinatambour’s ”biscuits cabine et delo”! Apparently, poor people should be elated to dine on stale biscuits, according to some pestilential viewpoints perpetrated by equally pestilential adults with no semblance of any humanistic inclination.
These people are vapid and jealous, it is funny actually to note just how jealous and envious they are of people who are in distress. They actually believe, in a twisted way, that poor people being the recipient of national attention, means that they’re now on the fringe of society. They’re basically whiny children stuck in adult bodies.
The collective outrage is funny and the reasons for that outrage, even more-so. Some people believe that being poor is a choice. Incidentally, being an asshole is a choice as well. On a more serious note, Mauritius is still a third-world country, in the continent of Africa, where relative poverty affects a huge fraction of the population, while absolute poverty affects around 20 000 people. For these people to go around claiming that poor people have it coming to them, and blame them for being ‘victims’, I’m loath to say that it’s a bad case of collective amnesia.
We’re mostly 3rd generation descendants, born to parents whose grand-parents or great grand-parents were brought to this country as cheap labor, to work the sugarcane fields or provide some other type of manual labor.
Creoles were brought as slaves, but when slavery was abolished, they switched to a more bohemian lifestyle, hunting and leading a peripatetic life in nature. Behind prison-like enclosures, Indo-Mauritians replaced the slaves, lived in squalid conditions with up to 15 children crammed in a hut. That was merely 150 years ago. For the descendants of these people to go around pretending like they’re royalty, it is indeed a severe case of collective amnesia.
And now, how does this connect to our current levels of poverty mainly affecting those from the Creole minority, as some would like to pretend? If we were to actually rue over the origins of this abject condition, we’d have to take into account the various hurdles that prevented their assimilation within society.
Language barriers, difficulties in acquiring land and property, an education system that ostracizes people more than it prepares them for life, a saturated economy where not all occupations yield a life-sustaining pay. I could go on. To blame the poor for being poor is nothing but sanctimonious victim blaming.
Many Mauritians feel like they somehow broke the glass ceiling by being employable and because they enjoy a decent standard of living. But the corrosive mentality that permeates our culture shows that despite their materialistic successes, many people still abide by those same casteist rules that plagued their ancestors back in India.
With a view of the world so contrived and haughty, according to which poor people ought to be excoriated and reviled, a country can only dream of real growth, and not just growth measured in dubious figures, but cultural and geopolitical growth that would entail the complete eradication of third-world notions and ultimately, inequality.