Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly 27 August 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 27, 2010

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Editorial ]

In the Island
of Patriarchy

The play “The Crossing” (translated from the Creole “Nu
Traverse”) staged last Sunday by Amnesty International,
SOS Femmes and Women in Networking has brought to
the forefront the good old debate about domestic violence.
In the island of patriarchy, we tend to forget that domestic violence
covers a wide range of behaviours including intimidation, sexual and
emotional abuse, economic deprivation as well as physical aggression.
Some of these behaviours may not necessarily constitute a crime but
the magnitude and the extent of their effects on victims, families and
the community at large are devastating.
Of all these hideous types of violence, the worst one is physical
aggression as it crosses the line from human to animal behaviour. And,
as you might expect, it is grossly underreported. If, in the United States
and the U. K. only about a third of cases of domestic violence are actually
reported, you can imagine what the situation is like in our genteel
society where smiles are in order. The cases which hit the headlines are
mostly those severe cases where a woman is sent to hospital as a result
of her injuries. The rest is history.
What is more worrying perhaps is that popular emphasis has
tended to be on the degree of violence rather than on the principle. A
certain degree of violence against women seems to be accepted by society,
even by women themselves! Why is it that they fi nd it necessary
when they relate instances of domestic violence to specify that they do
not mean “enne de kalot”. The implications behind the humiliating act
seem to be overlooked and there is outrage only when the chastisement
is not “moderate”.
If physical violence is known to be underreported at the lower scale
of the economic ladder because of the risk of fi nding oneself homeless
and penniless, in the upper classes, it is even less reported. Patriarchy
cuts across society and affects everyone irrespective of their economic
status. The myth that abusers come from a certain class of people who
have low self- esteem is a fallacy; research has shown that abusers are
found in all walks of life and that many of them are successful and
confi dent individuals. In fact, their boosted egos may even increase
their sense of entitlement and lead to worse abuse. And women in the
upper social ladder are not always less dependent on the spouse for their
economic well-being. Dependency means that they have few options
and few resources to help them change their spouse’s behaviour.
Yes, we do have laws: the Protection against Domestic Violence Act
is in our statute books but our women will continue to be battered for as
long as they are economically dependent on their spouses.
And this is not likely to change anytime soon: female unemployment
is three times higher than male unemployment. And, if you want
to know what most women have to aspire to, below is the complete
list of the 25 jobs they will be trained for as specifi ed in the Economic
Restructuring and Competitiveness Programme: baby sitter, child care
worker, baker/pastry maker, barmaid, bookbinder, bus conductor, carer,
cleaner, housemaid, laundry attendant, cook, craftswoman, gardener,
housekeeper/housemaid, kitchen helper, knitter, midwife, nursery attendant,
pattern maker/cutter, planter/farmer, printer/press operator,
security guard, home based work ( textile), waitress. What a fi eld day for
those sociopaths and psychopaths parading as husbands and partners!
As for women, there are two options: either they take karate lessons or
they continue to work on those smiles which hide the pain and shame.
The end is not nigh.


L’express Weekly, 20 August 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 23, 2010

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All the world’s a stage

They were at loggerheads yesterday. All is well today,
thank you. Gaston Valayden, Jameel Peerally and
minister Choonee have buried the hatchet and are
now the best of friends. Good on them. Good for
the country.
So, what was all this about? A storm in a teacup or drama at its
best? Wasn’t Shakespeare spot-on when he said, “All the world’s a
stage, and all the men and women merely players?”
■ Act One: Jameel Peerally and the the “Paradi An Dey” saga.
Yes, we were all supportive of Mr. Peerally: we are fully aware of the
drug situation in this country so any action is better than no action.
But for what reason on earth would someone think that they are so
much above the law that they can bypass the systems and procedures
in place. Shouldn’t Mr. Peerally’s fi rst stop have been the Film Classifi
cation Board (FCB)? He eventually realized it was and got the
permission he wanted to screen his fi lm. Much fuss. A happy ending.
A martyr in the making.
■ Act 2: Gaston Valayden threw a fi t about not having received
the Rs. 250 000 required as sponsorship to participate in the San
Francisco Fringe Festival. Of course, the reason given by minister
Choonee is preposterous. I wish the Americans cared enough for
the play to trigger the “diplomatic incident” he feared. Do they even
know where Mauritius is, let alone Diego Garcia? Do they ever give
two hoots about how anyone feels once they have satisfi ed their own
expansive territorial ambitions? The last thing on their minds is our
feelings about what they and the British have done or are still doing
in Diego Garcia.
The climax of the play occurs when Gaston Valayden hotfoots
his way to the State House to return his medal. Pity the State House
staff did not have time to organise an offi cial ceremony with the Prime
minister and President of the Republic for the purpose of receiving
the rejected medal back.
Anti-climax: Mr. Choonee apologizes, on behalf of his staff (how
magnanimous!) for the misunderstanding (I do sympathize!). But that
is not enough. We are talking about principles here. Why else would
one give a medal back to the country which has honoured them?
And principles have no price. Except perhaps the promise of a similar
sponsorship to go somewhere sometime for some reason paid for by
the taxpayer! A happy ending indeed! Another martyr.
■ Act 3: some supervisor in a textile factory who, while offi cially
on sick leave, is seen on television desperately seeking to steal the limelight
from elected members and trying very hard to appear as a
hero defending the Dubreuil squatters. The climax is reached when
because, like anyone caught lying to his employer, he loses his job.
Another martyr who now claims that his dismissal is due to political
persecution (lying about his illness has nothing to do with it and the
Prime minister may have felt that he was a serious challenger to him!)
and the fact that they want to stop him from doing, hold your breath,
“social work”!
Isn’t it time we walked out of the theatre into real life where people
respect the law, defend their rights without overdramatizing and, if
they really want to do “sosyal”, work and help the poor discreetly and
away from the television cameras. That kind of social work nobody is
interested in any more. It is too anonymous!

L’express Weekly, 13 August 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 16, 2010

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The minister of Finance’s declaration to the effect

that he plans to spend Rs. 2m on a national “responsible

gambling” programme to alleviate the

pain and misery caused by the gambling scourge

is commendable. Commendable not because there is hope

that it will achieve much, but simply because we are moving

away from the “couvrez ce sein que je ne saurais voir”

attitude to sober rethinking and the realization that the

gambling wildfire is having devastating effects on the most

vulnerable members of our community; those at the bottom

of the social pyramid. Casinos are also money launderers’

dream as the regulations on gambling do not require traceability

of funds. Here’s a good business idea for the drug

barons. Not that they are waiting for me to give them one.

The statistics tell a stunning story: Rs1,612 billion were collected

in 2009 in the form of taxes and other fees from various betting and

gambling activities. This figure has since increased by 26%! Gross up

this sum and you will begin to take stock of the amount of money involved:

we are not talking, here, about the innocuous occasional bingo

operated by charitable, religious and fraternal organizations. We are

talking about big, big money!

We do not wish to venture into the moral aspects of the issue but,

for the record, gambling is an old evil which goes as far back as ancient

Egypt. It is denounced in the Hindu code, the Koran and the

Talmudic law and the Church is unalterably opposed to any form of

it. The debate we wish to engage is about the social aspect of it and its

cost in human misery: addicted citizens reduced to utter destitution

and distress, domestic quarrels, violence, the breakdown of family

peace, parents neglecting their children, robbing their own families

and pawning whatever is left of their often meagre belongings in order

to indulge in chasing illusory, speculative and aleatory pecuniary gains.

Ask those women whose husbands gamble away the week’s groceries

or the children’s school material how they feel. Ask them how those

they have elected are protecting them.

What is perhaps worse is that while other kinds of activities having

such high familial and social costs would bring about legal punishment

and public denunciation, gambling is viewed with singular tolerance.

That’s due in part to our deep- seated adulation for, and infatuation

with, money, no matter what its source is.

Of course, outlawing gambling would only drive it underground

and while we are conscious that not everyone who indulges in speculation

is an irredeemable addict, bringing gambling to people’s doorstep

is rather playing the devil with it.

Apart from proximity, what helps gambling proliferate is undoubtedly

advertising. The gambling industry is dogged by accusations of

dirty tricks and dubious marketing techniques. Some of these advertising

techniques are used to drive up the youth gambling rate and

are very similar to, at times even surpass, those used by the tobacco

industry: both industries know that if you want to target teenagers,

you must act as if you were aiming older. Listen to an advertisement

like, “miner ek credi pa gagn drwa zwe” and show me one minor who

would not be tempted!

The gambling industry has reached a point where doing nothing

is no longer an option. A good starting point for the minister of Finance’s

“responsible gambling” programme might just be a ban on

all advertising of the activity and a re- examination of the regulatory

capacity of our institutions to allow them to deal with the possibility

of abuse and money laundering.

L’express Weekly 6th August 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 6, 2010

EditorialClick here to read L’express Weekly

Looking at the big picture

I hereby claim this land and all its riches in the name of His Majesty King James the First and do name this settlement Jamestown….no further ado. The land becomes yours. If you think this language is outdated, think again.

Naturally, no one is insensitive to the predicament and precariousness of the poor, wherever they are. Human hardship should and does touch every one of us and the number of our compatriots left out of the development of this country and who now live in abject poverty is a blemish on our conscience. Our guests in “Straight Talk” today express such feelings. But one should not confuse poverty with opportunism and lawlessness.

The plight of the squatters is of course heart-breaking. The images of parents in Dubreuil leaving demolished make-shift homes, carrying their most precious cargo, their children, on their backs will forever haunt us. A closer look, however, reveals a reality equally disturbing but one which it is not politically correct to mention.

One of our journalists, Aline Groême-Harmon, visited these squatters and took time to talk to them at length. Her verdict is very clear. To the question of how they crossed the barrier into illegality, the answers are similar: in 2003, they saw the situation of other squatters in Dubreuil being legalised. “Lerla nou dir less nou tant enn sans kitfoi nou ousi nou pou pass pareil” (So we thought why not try our luck to see if we too manage to get the same treatment). Some of these squatters are cripplingly poor and, at times, too infirm to work. Many, on the other hand, reportedly have no intention of making any effort beyond the opportunism of asking for hand-outs from the government.  Others have fallen prey to big-time opportunists as these settlements always increase specifically during the run up to each general election.

We are all relieved that the minister of Housing and Land has found a temporary solution which has at least quieted critics. But this peace will be short-lived as the reaction of other compatriots will be just about as automatic as the reaction to a doctor’s reflex hammer. You hardly need a scientific study to bear out the theory that the way to produce more squatters is to give them rights which other more deserving people do not have simply because the latter did not take the law into their own hands. If these squatters pull it off, they will leapfrog those who are working hard, paying rent out of their meagre earnings and contributing to their PEL account while standing in the housing queue. And the reason will be that those more deserving citizens who are working hard will not get what they have paid for just because they did not dare break the law. A terrible message in unfairness to send to the population.

Mr. Kasenally should not give in to the pressure of the self-proclaimed spokespersons who are seeking the limelight.  He has the duty to look at the big picture and help those who are in need of help. Law-abiding citizens should not be pushed to the bottom rung of the ladder of priorities. Also, to empower people, you need to help them help themselves if they are willing to do so. Shakeel Mohamed talks in this edition of the Weekly of  20 000 vacancies available in the private sector. Our journalist talks about young and healthy squatters who “tras trassé”.  It is incongruous! Before Abu Kasenally appeals to Xavier Duval for help, his first stop should be the Ministry of Labour. If the solution is not there, it is unlikely to be anywhere else.

L’express Weekly 30 July 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on August 2, 2010

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The African Peer Review Mechanism

As African leaders gather between the numerous rolling hills and lush wetlands of Kampala, in the country of President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, for the 15th summit of the African Peer Review Mechanism, Mauritius voluntarily submits itself to Africa’s home-grown governance monitoring endeavour. This summit is important in many ways, from opening up political space for debate, discussion and criticism, to legislative reforms and streamlining development efforts. The Country Review Report of Mauritius was therefore up for discussion. While the Prime minister recieves his first evaluation report card to bring back home to us, we cannot help but reflect on the country which has already celebrated the 40th anniversary of its independence.

Humility aside, we did not fare too badly – Mauritius has a number of achievements to its record. Our institutions, largely a bequest of our British ex-colonial masters, are sound. (Another reason, perhaps, why celebrating “la bataille du Vieux Grand Port” is a futile exercise). Our welfare state is second to none in Africa. Our health system is not perfect but it is free. We snub it when we are mildly sick but when we have life-threatening problems, we know it is our only option. And, considering the way we eat and drive, our life expectancy is surprisingly high.

We moan about our educational system but it has produced people who have made this country what it is today. And it is free. Our transport is far from being adequate and we may not agree with the policy of “free transport” but it is a benefit of immense value to those who could not otherwise manage without it.

The sumum of the welfare state remains the universal old age pension. Not enough to live on but it is non-contributory.

On the could-do-better side is the lack of equity towards certain social groups. Nothing we didn’t know: large chunks of our community are marginalized. The reasons vary from a culture of lack of effort, not enough emphasis on education to downright discrimination. Rodrigues is still the poor relative of Mauritius and is, therefore, a blemish in our report card.

On the has-not-made-sufficient-effort side, corruption stands out as a cancer eating our country from within. One has to be blind not to see its insidious effects. It has to be tackled in time so that it does not hinder the country’s economic development. The report concludes, “We are very proud of your success.”

However, as citizens, we have a long way to go. The APRM was based on a wide series of consultations with civil society, government, members of the opposition, different organizations and leaders of different interest groups but it used, as its focal point, the report produced by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC). For the exercise to be meaningful, the NESC tried to involve a large chunk of the population. They conducted meetings, public lectures, television presentations, press advertisements etc. The disappointing verdict of its chairman is that Mauritians suffer from a great degree of apathy and that they only react when they are directly involved or when their pockets are affected. The result of this sad reality is that the NESC did not manage to galvanise the broad participation in the process of review it wished to do.

Be that as it may, the APRM presents a unique opportunity for us to build on our strengths and move ahead. We cannot afford to allow the traction of this commendable political mechanism to stall.