Rambassun (Sandeep) Sewpal
Chartered Architect, Principal at Sandeep Sewpal Architect
‘I long for the times when you could
Wander down the street unharmed
When people didn’t have much money
But didn’t seem to care
It must be the cynic in me
But I don’t really like things now
The violence, the attitudes
Aggression that you see everyday
A sick society looks the other way.’
(Justice of the Peace by Iron Maiden)
Have you heard on the news of another robbery? There is not a single day that it is not reported in the press of an act of violence, death on the road or robbery in the country. Who are the thieves, muggers, murderers and criminals? In cinema, it is easy to spot the villains and criminals as they dress in a distinctive manner compared to law-abiding people (often wearing black with tattoos and facial scars in westerns). But in the real world, it would be absurd to suggest that we can identify a criminal purely on the basis of the person’s appearance. Or would it? In 1876, Cesare Lombroso, an Italian scientist, argued that criminals could be identified by their physical characteristics in his book L’uomo deliquente. Despite the fact that Lombroso’s methodology for the research he conducted was questionable and lacked reliable evidence, he insisted on the point that crime could and should be studied in a scientific manner. At the time, it was rather innovative but over the years, both biological and psychological approaches believe that crime and deviance are indications of something ‘wrong’ within the individual.
In the late 19th century, it was widely believed that criminals were born and not made. But in the second half of the 20th century, sociologists in the USA tried to explain using official statistics that a high proportion of crimes were carried out by the ‘lower working class.’ Therefore, sociologists such as Robert Merton, Albert Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin suggest that criminals are product of their environment and the contributing factors are poverty and life in a society where climbing up the social ladder would be difficult or impossible for them. According to Moynihan, deviance in the USA is beyond the control of society could handle or accept and further explains in his book ‘Defining Deviancy Down’ published in 1993 that previously unacceptable behaviours had become ‘normalized’. According to the author, since the 1920s, the number of murders had gone up and despite reported in the media, there is hardly any reaction at all from the civil society.
What are we doing to tackle poverty and social exclusion? Is it normal in 2018 that businesses are looted at night or during the day? Is it normal that our people are murdered? Is it normal to have so many deaths on the road? Are we turning a deaf ear to all these problems? According to a cartoon published in Sociology by Giddens, describing a court hearing which makes the following statement ‘we find that all of us as a society, are to blame, but only the defendant is guilty.’ Similarly, we the people of Mauritius, building our unity for over 50 years in order to form a more perfect nation, can we take the blame? Can we feel the pain of the victims following a robbery? I salute all those who work in the Mauritius Police Force. The Mauritian Police are working relentlessly to bring criminals to justice. But, what measures are taken so that businesses are not looted again after being looted a first time, people are not mugged or murdered, cars are not stolen in our streets and the minds of victims are not scarred for life? Since 2015, we are building a ‘Smart Mauritius’, but what about a ‘Safe Mauritius’? What about a ‘Safe Mauritius’ to reassure victims or families of victims where a single man or woman would be responsible to make sure that our voices are heard and listened to, find out what we think about policing and crime, commission community safety services and projects and publish a yearly report that tells us whether policing and crime priorities and targets have been met? Is it time for Mauritius to consider in having a Police and Crime Commissioner who would be elected by the people and would be accountable for how crime and community safety is tackled throughout the country just like is the case for certain regions of the UK since 2012? Until we have a ‘Safe Mauritius’, we will continue to live our lives in fear and pray that we are not the next victim whether in our house, business or on the road.