The National Cake

Huge disparities in salaries and lifestyles are a form of aggression in an ever-flooded market of goods, luxuries and gadgets while salaries are not inflated

Police records may certainly testify to the fact that anti-social behaviour, vandalism, burglary, petty thefts, organized hold-ups, physical assaults (ranging from aggression in robbery cases to murders) can be traced back to 1995. A year that marked the beginning of an era of laxity and decline in law and order. Prosperity accumulated during the previous years triggered a rush in the race to get hold of one’s share by hook or by crook. By hook required too much patience in the hope of catching some fish at the end of the day. By crook was the easiest way. And it still is. 1995 opened the floodgate. Passions were unleashed. Hell broke loose.

The national cake was not big enough for everyone. Those who sat around the table helped themselves first: the century-old economic oligarchy, which dictates the rules of the game, took the biggest share; the elected rulers who set up structures to facilitate economic progress felt entitled to be rewarded with generous shares for themselves and pocketed takeaways for relatives and protégés; audacious newcomers in the business arena had their slices of the cake. When they left the table at the annual cake-sharing festivity, onlookers standing behind them came forward and laid their hands on leftovers. At dusk, wild cats jumped on the table and sniffed in vain for some crumbs to appease their appetite, jumped down and went roaming around in the darkness to grab their share by any means.

The pattern has not changed much. In between, storeys were added to houses; furniture and household electronic appliances were bought on monthly instalments — a tricky system which makes below average incomes pay a higher price for every material comfort. Meat consumption went up, family size deflated, birthdays were celebrated, beaches were thronged during the week-ends and music blared out on picnic sites and busy town streets. And still, folks could spare some money for eating out, shopping and buying bits and pieces.

The 1999 outburst of anger and ensuing riots raised consciousness on the plight of the wild cat crowds who were still waiting to benefit from the trickle-down policy of capitalism. The message reached the oligarchy and rulers in their ivory tower. Henceforth, appropriate measures were taken to expand an inclusive policy and give more visibility to a big part of society’s outcasts in banks, shops, companies and so on. Religious leaders toned down political discourses during Sunday sermons.

Editorialists were criticized and asked not to fan ethnic and social animosity all year round. Journalists earned the title of semi-intellectuals and were asked to make better use of their brains. A significant crowd thereafter joined the bandwagon of prosperity, music blared out on beaches, car sales went up, a minister claimed no tax on cosmetics and shoes, and Rs 1500 for families with two or three young children. The index of happiness went up. Politicians felt they had worked hard enough with the private sector to claim the title of Tiger of the Indian Ocean for the island.

In between, the class of audacious newcomers in business has swelled and prospered. Some of them can even afford unreasonable one-million rupee cars for their progenies. Economic growth is said to be the natural law of business. New entrepreneurs have no choice than to keep expanding, it seems. A reality that the oligarchy with a solid three-century experience has known all along and has been in the starting block to seize all opportunities much before aspiring investors wake up in the morning to scan the horizon for colourful invitation to improve their business skills, innovate and create. Real estate sharks have grabbed precious lands to reap sky-rocketing profits with the blessing of successive governments. An easy way to fill state coffers with taxes.

Land prices soar and ordinary folks have no alternative than build more storeys over their houses while others pack up and fly away to seek better opportunities in foreign lands. However, some of the standing onlookers at the cake-sharing ceremony have learned to bypass laws and find other ways to inflate their bank accounts, while their luckier comrades are granted hefty salaries and enjoy being the upper layer of a bourgeoisie in both the public and private sectors. Society’s former drop-outs enjoy better living conditions, take up jobs in every sector, hold public offices, work in firms, banks, trades, hotel and tourism industry, set up their own SMEs as artisans, in construction and other businesses, and travel to Australia and Europe.

In the meantime, politics has become a highly lucrative career which, for instance, enables a political activist-turned-politician to buy a Rs 40 million-rupee bungalow by the seaside after having hardly served as a minister. A breed of politicians has decided that whatever tenders and grand projects ministries allocate to companies in terms of juicy contracts should also fill their pockets and shower riches on their relatives and cronies, and unscrupulously make the public foot the bill. The top brass of semi-intellectual whiners in the press have given up the idea of another economic model since they enjoy hefty salaries from the big press business, chauffeured cars and all, and have no other choice than desperately keep expanding and flooding the press market with unnecessary publications to boost business. To keep in touch with the public more focus is put on ill-governance and the scourges that beset society.

What has not changed then that puzzles everyone for nearly two decades? What sends a wave shock to the public every time the veil is lifted on the scary face of society? Violence in all its forms. Verbal abuse, threats, blows, burglary, thefts, ill-gotten wealth through organized drug traffic, heated disputes, sordid crimes and domestic violence. In 2014, the crime rate seemed to subside, much to our relief. The pool of adrenaline, anger and uncontrolled aggressive behaviour seemed to have dried away out of overuse and exhaustion. Or so we hoped. Police records surely have figures as evidence. But nay! Violence has picked up again. A filthy mindset, greed and poverty seem to be the main factors that breed violence.

Most victims are women in cases of domestic violence, and even foreigners are not spared. Remember the young French soldier Joachim Paumero who was murdered on his way out of night-club after what reportedly seemed to be a dispute. The young men who smothered the life out of a woman in the south recently are in their early twenties. Developed countries carry out sociological surveys and set up structures to integrate marginalized social groups and keep a follow-up of their development in society. Has a serious sociological inquiry been carried out in Mauritius? High unemployment in the early 1980s did not engender criminal behaviour. Moral bearings still existed and there was hardly any national cake to share.

Or is it that some souls want more and more by any means? And others just explode like loose cannons, unable to exercise any self-control? And their only relief is to hit and kill? These folks hardly have any thought to spare to common sense, reason, logic, principles, ethics and morals, and pose a serious threat to other people’s lives and public safety. A few benevolent individuals in NGOs give some time to coach youngsters on conflict management, but that seems hardly sufficient to eradicate the sick-mindedness that generates violence in different age groups.

Press jargon occasionally gives noble titles to a few individuals to spice up reports and entertain the public. The undesirable aristocracy devoid of noble traits and composed of queens of drug dealers, barons of illicit dealings, gentlemen crooks in Ponzi schemes, lady whatever, lion king with dollar-laden coffers, etc., are the other face of the rotten and corrupt social spectrum.

Huge disparities in salaries and lifestyles are a form of aggression in an ever-flooded market of goods, luxuries and gadgets of all sorts while salaries are not inflated. Decent economic conditions coupled with modern-day five-week vacation for workers are the basic requirements for a general feel-good factor. What percentage of workers are deprived of such rights? While modern comfortable lifestyle is constantly dished out to them in the media, do governments really care to ensure that workers’ rights are respected, women are not exploited in low-paying jobs?

Threatening, hitting and killing are most uncivilized and barbaric. ‘Why argue? Kill him,’ Saddam Hussein was quoted in a report in TIME magazine on how he treated political opponents and dissenters in the 1990s. Nothing surprising in dictatorial regimes.

Does the country need a breed of principled individuals at the helm of governance? Individuals who are demanding in terms of high principles of integrity, who promote reason, logic, common sense and refined behaviour to serve as role models.

A string of questions come up endlessly. Something is terribly missing so as to have a larger number of people behave in a civilized manner during daily interactions in the private and public spheres.

 

* Published in print edition on 11 August 2017

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