Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly, 29 October 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 29, 2010

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From freedom of conscience and mind manipulation

“I pray that all enlightened persons condemn such barbarous acts in a modern and multicultural Mauritius.” This was the cri de coeur of Kevin Permal from Light Ministries International in relation to those who covered his association’s banners with pictures of Hindu deities. The same cry was echoed by Mikki Hardy concerning the burning of a tent set up for a planned gathering.

We do condemn such barbarous acts. Unreservedly! We have said it before and we will say it again: no one is allowed to take the law into their own hands and the Voice of Hindu (VoH) are not above the law. The cowardly elements amongst them might, in fact, benefit by showing their bravado elsewhere like taking on drug lords instead of attacking non-violent people. Equally, when it comes to the suggestion of introducing anti-conversion laws, it is difficult to understand what the debate is about. It is obvious that such laws would go against all the principles that this country has fought for and which are entrenched in our constitution.

However, we would be kidding ourselves if we put down the whole problem to the senseless or calculated acts of a few extremists who are gradually losing ground.

The phenomenon of sects and conversion is nothing new, nor is it banal but it only grabs the headlines when there is a high-profile case. We can all recall the part played by the Eglise Chrétienne in the case of Hayley Goddard and, prior to that, in the cases of the Alladee and Attisse children. Readers will remember the poignant appeal of Hayley’s broken father in our columns to “all those adversely affected to speak out and help expose this dangerous group for what it is. I also appeal to government to expose this wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Headlines, shock and outrage, court cases, a Parliamentary Select Committee, investigations into the allegations of forced adoptions, kidnappings, abduction and fraudulent acts but public opinion is no clearer today about what happened than it was in 2000 when we heard of the first cases. And then there is a quasi- general indifference as cults insidiously carry on with their daily activities.  They continue to thrive, exploiting the distress of some of those who have been psychologically weakened by some trauma or disappointment and are willing to allow themselves to be deceived by the illusion that inside the “prison” walls of make-believe, they will find the answer to all their problems.

The dividing line between the enjoyment of moral freedom and falling victim to manipulation is indeed very fine. And therein lies the difficulty for the State. How much moral freedom can a citizen be allowed to exercise while, at the same time, being protected from crossing the line into becoming a victim of manipulation and falling into the claws of unscrupulous cult-leaders?

While we remain vehemently opposed to any law which would prevent  individuals from praying to the God they choose, or changing to another religion if they so wish,  legislators have to address the societal problem of mind manipulation and the strategy and tactics of enticement and deception often used as means of recruitment. And for this to happen, there has to be an end to the secrecy in which sects operate.

When a young girl like Hayley Goddard, writes the following to a religious leader, Mikki Hardy, “My life is completely submitted to you and the elders,” it is difficult to look on the phenomenon as something healthy or even harmless. This kind of total submission is in fact against human rights and human dignity. Legislators cannot afford to sit and watch.






l’Express Weekly, 22 October 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 25, 2010

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In the CSR jungle

Those who know that there is nothing spontaneous
about Xavier Luc Duval, a seasoned politician, will
have realized that his diplomatic cautionary advice
to the private sector (to carefully choose Non-Governmental
Organisations (NGOs) before allocating Corporate
Social Responsibility (CSR) funds to them and to ensure
accountability) is a hugely understated warning.
By contrast, the very spontaneous Satish Boolell put it bluntly
in an interview he gave to “Since NGOs cannot be
controlled by government, there was an outbreak of the NGO epidemic
and it spread like cancer.” Few will contradict him when he adds
that “some people set up NGOs solely to be able to benefi t from
free trips and other advantages.” Some of these advantages being,
amongst others, getting a foothold in politics.
A step back in recent history: in July 2009, compulsory CSR was
entrenched in the budget, putting an end to the smoke screen debate
about the difference between “compliance CSR” and “conviction
CSR”. The contribution of two per cent of the profi ts of each company,
which became mandatory, raised a lot of hope. Unfortunately,
not only among the poor. At the mere realization that one billion
rupees was at stake, eyes popped out and the number of NGOs,
already obscenely high at 7,285 in 2008, shot up to reach the astounding
fi gure of, hold your breath, 8,405 registered today! If you
bear in mind that an NGO has to have a minimum of 7 people to be
registered, you will have to concede that Satish Boolell is right: the
number of social workers far exceeds the number of underprivileged
souls who, according to the National Economic and Social Council
report for May 2010, number 7,000 families.
To put things in perspective, there are only 4,079 NGOs in
the U.K. for a population of nearly fi fty nine million! The question
which begs an answer then is: “If the charitable spirit is so much more
widespread in this country, how come we don’t see it on our roads, in
our towns and villages, in our offi ces, in our households?”
The reason why so many social workers have sprouted in every
nook and corner of the island is obvious and has nothing to do with
charity. What is less obvious is why no systems have been put in
place to check any possible abuse. Far from us the idea of undermining
the wonderful work done by a fraction of NGOs who have
genuinely made a difference to the lives of many citizens, but one
has to concede that many of what have come to be called “briefcase
NGOs” are more motivated by personal gain than by any intention
of helping those who are in need. Some are run like family kingdoms.
Expectations of Xavier Duval’s newly-created Ministry are very
high and the underprivileged of our community still have hope that
the government will help them climb out of poverty. However, if he
does not put his foot down and set up some control systems in the
CSR-NGO jungle, his bilan at the end of his mandate will be nil. If
the money continues to go into the wrong pockets for the wrong
reasons, he may fi nd himself answerable to people who are worse
off and completely disillusioned.
Also, since social work no longer necessarily rhymes with voluntary
work, employment within that sector has to be regulated and
meritocracy installed. Minister Duval has to act now. Giving veiled
warnings is not good enough. Let CSR not be merely a way of making
companies more visible and opportunists richer!

L’express Weekly, 15 October 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 15, 2010

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A second republic or opportunities for opportunists

For the time being, there is little to worry about as
well as little to look forward to. The talk about a second
republic is, at this stage, more of a “koz-koze”
than a real project to discuss with the opposition
or to introduce to parliament for approval. It has, however,
launched a debate which is not likely to stop anytime soon.
What is interesting is the way information is being communicated
to us. In the manner of a jigsaw in which the pieces are released
in driblets. From the few pieces of information gleaned here and
there, we can make out that the proposal is for a semi-presidential
democracy, similar to France’s Fifth Republic where the president
commands huge powers and is elected by popular vote. You would
need to add the local sauce to it because, like everything else, it has
to be adapted to our political and cultural realities, and it becomes
a semi-presidential system “à la mauricienne”.
I must say that I personally fi nd nothing inherently wrong with
that: the Fifth Republic in France has provided unprecedented
governmental stability and continuity of policy and France’s institutions
have, irrespective of the popularity of its political leaders
or lack thereof, enjoyed a legitimacy unknown to France since the
The local debate about having a semi-presidential system similar
to France’s Fifth Republic coincides, incidentally, with debate in
France about the creation of a Sixth Republic! Though the proclamation
of the Sixth Republic seems very unlikely, the debate goes
to show that the system we are considering is not fl awless either.
I am not concerned, as I perhaps should be, about the perceived
excessive powers that an eventual president of the republic would
command. The Prime minister, under the Westminster system, has
tremendous powers that a new constitution can hardly increase.
If anything, there is likely to be more power- sharing between the
Prime minister and the president, with all the personality clashes
that it entails. My contention is that the whole debate about a second
republic is, for the time being, centered around the powers
to be conferred on the president as well as the creation of a second
house, the senate, to supposedly limit these powers.
The questions of in what way a second republic would consolidate
the principles of good governance, accountability, meritocracy,
equal opportunity, unity and all the concepts we have heard lip
service paid to so many times do not seem to be part of the picture.
You might again peg me as an irredeemable cynic but let’s look
at it this way: for the politicians who are nearing or have gone past
their expiry date, the prospects of spending the rest of their days
vetting policies and being called “senator” are rather attractive. And
I would not deny them the ambition to retire in dignity. But let’s
be open about it and stop talking about our desire to consolidate
democracy; let’s rather say that what a new constitution will or will
not do for the ordinary citizen is not exactly the driving motivation
behind the proposal; that for many, the merits of a second republic
might be, as Arvin Boolell tersely puts it in the interview he gave us
this week, “widening the circle of opportunities for opportunists.”
We cannot stop powerful people from exercising their power
any more than we can prevent ambitious people from being carried
away by their ambition. All we are asking is for them to be honest
about it.

L’express Weekly, 8 October 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 8, 2010

Editorial Click here to read l’Express Weekly


Of confidence tricksters and ruthless exploiters

The latest crime which shook the nation last week is not the most hideous we have ever heard of. Digging up and decapitating a corpse is certainly sinister, gruesome and most unsettling for the family concerned but it is devoid of cruelty. What I mean is that if some unscrupulous deranged psychopath decided to chop my head off, I had much rather he waited until I was lying peacefully in my grave before he went ahead with his senseless act. This is why part of my sympathy goes to the perpetrators of last week’s interference with the peace of a soul which did nothing to deserve the fate meted out to it.

My sympathy, limited I hasten to say, towards the cemetery criminals springs from my belief that they are the real victims. Victims of ignorance. Victims of their own naiveté. Victims of unscrupulous predators who make a living out of witchcraft and preying on credulous people.

Humans have evolved from tribal beliefs through to today’s scientifically-influenced society. One would think that superstition would have quietly passed into extinction as education has replaced it with rational thought. It is, however, astounding how gullible we have remained. We are still gripped with irrational fears and senseless beliefs maintained by ignorance of the laws of nature or by faith in magic or chance. One day, we wake up to discover a statue which “drinks milk” and we leave everything behind to go and participate in attenuating its thirst. Another day, we hear of another statue which is weeping and we all queue up to share in its agony. The other day, someone allegedly saw seven dwarfs and lost his power of speech. What would he have lost if he had seen Snow White?

The implications of this utterly appalling situation go much further than just having some unhinged weirdoes opening graves and tampering with their contents. The most dangerous thing is that such irrational beliefs are instilled into the minds of children from a very early age. Adults, they fall prey to witch doctors and, again because they are   looking for miraculous solutions, some come under the influence of sects. Between the one and the other, there is only one step.

Education is, of course, the one force which works to defeat superstition and prejudice as it shatters people’s illusions and self-created fantasy worlds. For it to work, one has to be prepared to let go of the warmth of one’s dreams. But, as Francis Bacon said, “People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true.”

In the jungle of illusion, there is no limit to the nonsensical beliefs that people invent to keep themselves firmly protected from the wicked realities of life. Throw in a few witch doctors or –even better– some “positive thinking gurus” and you have a ruthless system where brainwashing and exploitation are rife. Uneducated brains which know no science, reason or logic are generally easy to fill with trivial fluff, inane old wives’ tales and dangerous nonsense.

Routing out superstition is hindered not only by a lack of education but is also crippled by our reluctance to criticize. Naturally, everyone has the right to harbour any beliefs they like and argue for them to their heart’s delight, but they should not be allowed to freely inflict them on gullible people. The law, while respecting individual beliefs, has a duty to stretch its long arm and deal with confidence tricksters and ruthless exploiters of all guilds. In the ocean of illusion, the state has to make its sane voice heard.

L’express Weekly, 1 October 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on October 1, 2010

EditorialClick here to read l’Express Weekly

When everyone looks the other way

With the visit of Mrs. Diane Palmer from Cambridge, some lobbies started raising their heads again. “We have to do away with Cambridge and go for our own exams,” they proclaimed. These demands are not entirely illegitimate. And welcome they would have been in a country where we have full trust in our institutions. But do we?

Without going into the difference between perception and reality and without surveying all our institutions, let’s stick to the educational sector. And, without going too far back, let’s look at last week alone, the week when children were admitted to primary schools.

The euphoria which must have been experienced by many parents whose children were accepted in the so-called star schools, in areas where you would never catch them living, contrasted with the feelings of many disappointed families whose children live in the catchment area but were denied these schools. And the phenomenon is nothing new. Year in and year out, it is the same folklore. And year in and year out, the successive ministers of Education have been looking the other way. Yet, it is so easy to control: find the culprits, send a strong message and everybody will toe the line.

Of course, those of us who have been in education for any length of time know that a child whose parents have a minimum level of education learns substantially more at home in the early stages than he does at school no matter in which area the school is. Educators also know that a child who grows up in an environment where all problems are solved through a phone call will not develop a culture of self-reliance and hard work as easily as one who learns from a very early age that s/he has to work for everything s/he gets. And it is no secret for anyone that our children acquire their learning from what we do rather than from what we preach and that when our words are not supported by acts, we end up sending conflicting messages which may put the child in a situation of extreme confusion.

Still, hundreds of parents every year falsify their bills and use all their contacts so that their children can sit on school benches destined for other children who will be sent to less prestigious schools to make room for them.

More than the difference that a school might or might not make in the life of a child, it is the sense of injustice that a child learns to feel from a very early age which is intolerable. And instead of addressing these problems first and giving a general sense of equity, we look the other way and try to show how much we care for the underprivileged by locking them into a linguistic system we would never opt for when it comes to our own children.

If I cannot trust a system at the beginning of the cycle; if some get what they do not deserve at the start of their primary education; if phone calls continue to move mountains, why should I trust that things will be any different at any other level? So until things change, let Cambridge continue. They are objective. They are fair. And they give us the international recognition that we need. The minister of Education himself argues, “To maintain trust, we cannot ‘Mauritianise’ exams.” I couldn’t agree more. But what will the minister do for us to maintain the same trust in the fairness of our own educational system?