SHEEM SOORAYYA SANDOOYEA

The power of words is often underestimated but what Alan Moore describes in V for Vendetta (1982) is somehow befitting – « words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. » For those who use physical force or other intimidating means to control people, they may find words harmless but we know and understand their potential. Words are a rallying cry for those of us who fight – they remind us that we are not alone and give us the courage to go on.

We are ‘resilient’ as a nation because we have endured years of suffering. Decades have gone by before we finally set aside our differences to unite in a common goal for our beloved country. What did it take to reach the 11th of July? Social problems, corruption, contestation of elections, abuse of power, unemployment, homelessness, rising cost of living, and so much more. What brought us together across the world on the 29th of August? The MV Wakashio oil spill, an ecological disaster which not only caused severe environmental damage but impacted the whole community who made a living in these areas. What gathered us again on the 12th of September and 13th of February? In addition to the reasons piling up, lack of transparency and competencies, threatened democracies, amongst others.

We were only Mauritians then – our names, educational or professional level, political affiliations, skin colour, age, religious beliefs did not matter. It is with the greatest respect and discipline that we walked as one people, as one nation demanding to be heard for the first time in the history of Mauritius. We yelled and sang the National Anthem with pride in our hearts. In that moment, we were one with our Motherland. In front of parliament, we hummed the air of Kaya’s ‘Ras Kouyon’ and we felt the vibrations right down to our souls. In Mahebourg, we sang ‘Leve Do Mo Pep’ from Ras Natty Baby. There was a time when we let you divide us but not anymore. Yesterday, we were « insinifyan » and today, we are « fristre ». If you cannot hear our anger, pain, despair, then maybe you are in the wrong place. Yes, some may have a ‘hidden agenda’ but right now we are unified by the only outcome we wish to see – the dawn of a new day.

Precious lives are being taken every single day. We were once a democracy, but now the thought of ending up dead from voicing out the truth haunts most of us. We are under the impression that they want to silence us but today, we hit rock bottom and there is nothing else to lose anymore. As Roger Baldwin, one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union once said, « Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below. » We are fighting and will fight until our last breath – for our rights, for our freedom, for a true democracy, for justice and equality. Because if we do not, then what kind of world are we leaving behind for our children? We want them to learn that they cannot get away with murder just because they are in a position of power or just because they can. We want to teach them responsibility towards themselves, each other and our society – that there are consequences for each and every one of our actions.

As our trust in public institutions fades, we feel that everything is getting out of hand. Instead of protecting us, law and order is being used to achieve ulterior motives. When we, simple citizens, commit an offense, we pay the price accordingly. But when those who have the means or political connections do so, then the population needs to « wait for the investigation to conclude ». If the escalating violence at home or on the streets are no indication of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 or subsequent restrictive measures, then what is? Perhaps, the increasing numbers of our inhabitants who lost their homes, or the growing number of unemployed, or the rising prices of goods. What will it take to send a signal to those « in charge » that Mauritians are experiencing hardship? If not addressed with constructive solutions, these issues will only exacerbate further and undo what took decades to build.

Amidst global chaos, lives were lost and blood was shed, to cite a few: 49 cetaceans, 3 sailors (1 lost till date), 456 fatal road accidents from January 2017 to 08 June 2020, residents turning up dead supposedly from suicides. Evidences of corruption are clearly staring at us but today, justice is just a word carelessly thrown around. Justice has a different meaning depending on our bank account, our name, our political affiliations, amongst other privileges. In the name of justice, we are seeing corruption and death being normalised. We have observed information shared with the public being twisted and there is only one question which does not stop haunting us – how stupid do they think we are? This system may have played a crucial role in oppressing us and thwart our attempts at educating ourselves but our brains can think. Gone is the silent obedient consent they once sought from us.

For how long can one lead by fear or by force? Where do we draw the line? How much more can we take? When is it enough? Will it ever be enough? Most of us are familiar with the phrase « a government of the people, by the people, for the people ». Across the world, we notice a wave of protests against governments. Perhaps it is time for them to realise that true power lies in the hands of the people – the common man who is currently suffering, the common man who has been robbed of food, shelter and clothing, the common man whose rights have been stolen, the common man whom they think they can deceive just because he is too busy struggling for his survival to realise what has been done to his family and to him. According to Desmond Tutu, « if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. »

Power is not the abusive status that governments have ascribed to themselves. Power is gathering after an oil spill and doing whatever it takes to save our marine ecosystem without any questions asked. Power is protesting with rage and fire in our hearts but still demonstrating respect and discipline. Power is giving food, shelter and clothing to our neighbours when we do not have enough. Power is looking out for each other just because we are human beings. This is us – the Mauritian people, setting the example. Yes, we are still building our identity and forming our culture. No, we may still not be well acquainted with the history of our beloved country but we are learning. Since 2020, we have expressed our wishes so clearly that there can be no doubt as to what we want. Yet, we find resistance as they cling to power but how long can one remain in a position where one is not needed?

We do not expect a drastic change such that tomorrow a new fair and just constitution is ready for implementation. We are in dire need of a government willing to work in transparency for us. We need to separate politics from religion and vice versa to avoid that future leaders use religion to control our decisions or ultimately, us. We need people who understand that we live on an island and applying economic models of bigger countries may not be the best solution or sustainable in the long run. We need knowledge, skills and expertise which will help us save our beautiful Motherland so that we can live in symbiosis with nature. We need warriors who trust the capacity of Mauritians and value their talents. We want to work hand in hand – citizens and government to build a better tomorrow. Perhaps we even need a new national anthem in our mother tongue, one everyone can relate to. But above all, we want future leaders to know that we will express our disapproval or objections.

Older generations often tell us younger ones that « nothing will change » or that « we are wasting our time ». We understand where they come from and why they tell us so. When Martin Luther King Jr. said that « change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle, » we are aware that the fight for a new Mauritius may take years or we may not even be alive to witness it. We strongly believe that each and every one of us can bring change. No matter how small, the ripple effects will be felt as one big wave over time. If we do not stand up for our beloved island, then what will be left of it?