It is no secret that Mauritian politics is heavily influenced by compartmentalisation based on ethnic belonging, despite the vehement denial by one and all. It is also no secret that candidates and leaders are chosen based on specific communal criteria. The fact that this state of things is based on a 46-year-old census is unacceptable; while the population and the political situation of four decades ago warranted for such a criterion does not render it relevant to this day. Moreover, the four categories used in that census, still being applied today, is no longer a reflection of the evolution of the Mauritian society. The latest debate on this issue has once more polarized opinions.
When the can of worms was opened by Affirmative Action, seasoned politicians from traditional parties have, at once, jumped on their high horses to declare an ethnic census as a compartmentalisation that does not have its place in a Mauritius which has celebrated its 50th independence anniversary and that it will disturb the social fabric of the “arc-en-ciel”. This attitude reflects a lack of their respective political wills to carry out an ethnic census and is highly hypocritical coming from politicians who have based their politics on a subtly divisive model, which has benefitted them so far. To now declare bombastically that an ethnic census will fragilise the “vivre-ensemble” or the “nation arc-en-ciel” translates into a fear of seeing a model which has favoured them, and which has been their comfort zone for so long, be challenged and overturned.
It is undeniable that our current crop of politicians does not know any other way to govern than by division, despite their clamouring the contrary. In his rebuke against a possible ethnic census, the Prime Minister states that “nou tou dan mem bato”. Unsurprisingly, Navin Ramgoolam and Paul Berenger also join Pravind Jugnauth in this belief that an ethnic census will create more harm than good. We do not need any lessons on “vivre-ensemble” from politicians, for this is what we, lay Mauritians, practice in our daily lives. It is politicians themselves who force us to think along divisive lines, especially when it comes to employment opportunities, allocation for social housing, promotions in the public sector, to name just a few.
In opposition to how politicians might want to shape people’s thinking, the possibility of an ethnic census no longer constitutes a Trojan horse for many. CEDRIC LECORDIER skilfully describes the need for an ethnic census in his thought provoking paper « RECENSEMENT ETHNIQUE » : Quand les chiffres disent ce que l’on sait déjà… : “ Sans les chiffres, on perd la guerre contre les « fake news ». Sans les chiffres, on laisse libre cours aux opinion leaders qui érigent leur expérience personnelle en vérités universelles. On permet aux hommes politiques d’opérer sur la société en l’absence de tout diagnostic. On autorise les scalpels, on abhorre les examens médicaux.” (Forum – Le Mauricien, Friday, November 9: https://www.lemauricien.com/article/recensement-ethnique-quand-les-chiffres-disent-ce-que-lon-sait-deja/).
What exactly represents an ethnic group? According to Merriam Webster, ethnic is defined as “of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.” How many such groups can we count, today, in Mauritius? Can Mauritians still be classified only along the lines of Hindus, Muslims, Chinese or General Population? Can we talk about Mauritians uniquely as people born here, mustn’t we take into consideration expatriates who, in themselves, represent an ethnic group? How do Mauritians see themselves today? Do they need to identify themselves only as per their religious practice or their ancestry? Can’t “Mauritian” be part of the new set of categories for a new ethnic census?
This potential new census may be used as a springboard for studies to assess proper representation and allocation of resources in various fields, which may in turn, lead to corrective approaches, to ensure a fair and equal access to services and opportunities for one and all. An ethnic census does not represent the denial of an identity, be it Mauritian or based on religious or cultural affiliation. An ethnic census, used correctly, will help us discover how we have evolved over the years, and where we are today. Roads, IRS villas, Metro Express, the opening up of jobs in the public sector are not markers of progress unless we are up to date with our own statistics to allow us to progress as a people. Wallowing in a status quo, just because we do not know how to function otherwise is no longer an option. Today, Mauritians are mature enough to understand that an ethnic census will allow the shattering of the four limited categories in which they have been divided for 46 years.