E. M. NOAH

I read with interest the excellent take on “Ethnic Census” by Cédric Lecordier in the Forum page of Le Mauricien last week. I know the holding of such a Census has been of late a hot issue and has been drawing a lot of attention in the press and also, I’m told, among the Mauritian public. Some are for it and some few are against it and some, I am given to understand, don’t quite understand what it is really all about!

I, for one, fail to understand why a Census should be a controversial issue. Why should anybody or group fear a Census survey on ethnicity or not? A Census — even one on Ethnicity and, by extension, Religion –should be regarded as a purely administrative exercise by the Government.  In Mauritius, as everybody knows, we are a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. A Census cannot necessarily be a ‘census’ on just one issue: Ethnicity! As a matter of fact, any Government in office should take advantage of such an exercise to collect updated relevant data on not only the population but also on the different segments that make up our larger multi-racial society, including the different religious and linguistic groups, which, naturally, all go a long way in helping the Government to plan for the political and social future development of the nation.

I was impressed with the many valid points Mr. Lecordier raised and analyzed in his article. He makes a lot of sense.  I have no doubt that the end-result of a Census survey would provide valuable information to the Government on the make-up of the population and how to plan for the future. One good example that comes to my mind is the “Religious Grants” (subsidies) the Government provides the various religious groups in the country to run their masjids, mandirs, shivalas, kovils, temples etc. The Census provides up-to-date numbers that facilitate the Government in distributing the Grants to these respective institutions fairly and equitably so that no group feels being short-changed.

It is unfortunate that the whole issue is being politicized. Sure, there is the argument that Mauritius, after fifty years of Independence, should do away with any notion of Mauritians still thinking in terms of religious groups and communities. We are all Mauritians. Sure, we all are as a nation! But then we are also a plural society and it is good for the Government to know who we are and how many of us are in our respective group so that we can benefit our fair share of the national pie and that the rights of no group is curtailed or denied.

The constitutional requirement of declaring one’s ethnic or religious group on an Election Form is another issue and it is a purely political one and should not come in the way of impeding the Government’s role of governing. It is a political matter to be resolved by the politicians in a manner that satisfies all segments of the Mauritian population concerned.

Sure, many to-day decry the mention of the “community” requirement in the Constitution in order to benefit from the Best Loser System. The argument being that we are all Mauritians and, as such, the indication of ethnic or religious requirement, after fifty years of nationhood, has become redundant.  Sure, they have a point. But Mauritian society is not like any other society. We are a disparate group who get along excellently well with our neighbours, both at the personal and individual level – which is a cause of admiration in the world.  But political rights and enjoying your fair share of representation in the Government bodies is also a democratic right. It is the duty of the Government to see that the rights of no group are overlooked or denied. That’s why a Census is a vital exercise.  And, as everybody knows, the Best Loser System has so far satisfactorily served its purpose since its inception and all segments of our population – even those who claim to belong to the ‘majority’ group — have benefited from it. It has helped ensure adequate representation of all groups in the Mauritius Legislature – which has helped ensure political and social stability and peace in the country. Sure, it can be replaced but with a viable alternate system, of course!

So much so, I am all with Mr. Lecordier. No one should be afraid of the Census. His arguments in favour of an Ethnic Census survey are valid and make sense. His views are well thought out.  It should be essentially a non-political issue although it can very easily be made into one. And, in a country like Mauritius, it is unfortunate that most issues often end up being politicized which, in the end, get us nowhere. I’m afraid the debate will likely continue but to deal with such an important issue, it demands strong leadership and political will. It needs to be faced dispassionately and without bias and that for the good of the whole nation.

Let us hope that those who are entrusted with the task of making the decision in the matter, would show the political will and courage to face the issue squarely and make the courageous decision that is needed.

Again, I congratulate Mr. Lecordier for his courageous article on an issue that has become a matter of controversy — which it should not be.