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Guest post by Jacinthe Flore

The peculiar experience of growing up in a postcolonial island ties you forever to your place of birth. The place where I am born holds an almost mystical, if not obsessive, fascination. I cannot stand by without some form of reaction to the ongoing political change in Mauritius. So, following Melissa’s suggestion, I ‘write it out of my system’.

Blok 104

Since independence in 1968, the Mauritian ‘Nomination Paper’ – the form used to be considered as a political candidate – includes a field where you have to specify your ‘community’. These four communities are Chinese, Muslim, Hindu and General Population. A distinct group of Mauritian civil society have ingeniously figured out that if any significant change is to take place in the country, this very practice needs to be changed.

The ‘Blok 104’, named after the 104 candidates that refused to specify their community, and whose demand to be considered candidates was denied by the Supreme Court, is composed of social and political activists, ‘intellectuals’ and youth platforms. This political activism is a very powerful tool, and represents a genuine and growing concern that (certain) Mauritians have for the future of their country. This leads to an incredibly ambitious goal: the modification of the Constitution.


The ‘Blok 104’ proposal makes Mauritian identity intelligible, instead of being a vague expression used by politicians seeking to influence their electorate. It stands as a new form of knowledge production, an altered discursive practice of Mauritianity.

It should be mentioned that the Blok 104 is not a political party. What they seek to do is encourage a debate around what it means to be Mauritian and how this identity is not taking shape. In fact, the question they ask is simple, why are Mauritians accepting, in the fulfilment of their democratic responsibility, to be a quarter Mauritian?

This façade of harmony broadcast to tourists has consequences, namely increasing dissatisfaction and frustration, and brooding racial hatred.

...And the consequences

The community categories are the most salient representation of the way the Mauritian Government conceives of its citizens. Political discourse advocating ‘unity in diversity’ is a fallacy because of the way our very constitution frames us. We are either Hindu, or Muslim, or Chinese, or General Population. General Population refers to the lumping of whites, blacks and creoles together, as well children from ‘mixed’ marriages, and represents the intimate connection religious beliefs have with politics because it is the grouping of all Christians together. How does being ‘Chinese’ relate to this? Chinese does not refer to a religious belief, but Hindu and Muslim do. It should be made clear that these categories impact on the way we are governed (reminiscent of Foucault’s concept of biopolitics).

Having the communal belonging of a candidate present on a piece of paper causes the individual to define him/herself in terms of these categories before deciding for whom to vote. The expression ‘for whom’ is especially interesting here. This challenges the supposedly democratic principle that the act of voting be based on a set of ideas and beliefs that tend towards the progress of a given society – not a particular person whose community is closest to ours.

The paper disseminates a precise line of thought: citizens of themselves in opposition to each other. We are this label chosen for us in a very effective attempt to keep communities separate and carefully controlled. We are teaching children that racialising identity is right. Such categories become a natural part of Mauritian culture thus legitimating inequalities.

Perpetuating this practice encourages the youth, our future leaders, to not think of themselves as an ensemble of identities that need and demand recognition, compose the Mauritian identity and demand that the country be governed without referencing religion and race. Cultivating prejudice or not is precisely what is at stake here.

Mauritianity and dissent


The next action of ‘Blok 104’ was to campaign for people to void their bulletin as a sign of protest against the decision of the Supreme Court. It was encouraged to have people choose all four categories when voting instead of one, thus risking the voting bulletin to be invalidated. In my opinion, this does not defeat the purpose of voting. It is a question of being part of the voice that challenges the power and, through civil dissidence, demands a form of governmentality that does not stifle our thinking.

This can be achieved only if our democratic right is at once defended and denied – choosing all four categories instead of accepting to be constricted in one category that does not do justice to the multiplicity of Mauritian identities. National identity does not spring by magic out of the constitution: we have to be self-reflexive about our individual positions instead of complacent. Refusing to choose one category is an action of self-reflexivity questioning the binaries that govern us and shows how precarious and volatile they are. It shows we are not just self-reflexive but confrontational about our history.

Not voting is not a vote but voting while subverting the system is a powerful statement: constructive dissidence. If the process of power begins with voting and refusing to choose a community whose basis is at best blurry, it is worth it.

Wanting one’s vote to count is a legitimate concern, but perhaps we are asking the wrong question. The question probably should be, am I to vote for a political party just because I want my vote to count? Or rather, should I not be questioning the system on which this is based? If an individual believes in the ideas and beliefs put forward by a particular party, then by all means, that person should exercise his/her right as a citizen and vote.

From my perspective, however biased, politicians from the main parties seem to be saying whatever it takes in order to win votes but pay little attention to the core of society and this is the Mauritian identity. We have to think Mauritian identity, identify the areas where it takes source and change those in order to act/perform this identity. People tend to think that choosing a community is a necessary evil, no it’s not, just like slavery was and is not, just like gender discrimination was and is not, and just like discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was and is not.

Those four identities are representative of the political system at work in our country, and of our very mindset. This initiative does not end with the outcome of the elections.

Exercising your democratic right includes dissent; it does not negate it – being a political activist likewise embraces dissidence.

Comments

Bravo Jass, fier de toi, continue a remettre en question notre "etre Mauricien"

Thank you very much for this interesting post Jacinthe. I must say that I am proud of the young generation of Mauritians who fights more and more for their civil, political, social and cultural rights.
The Best Loser System is one of the most dangerous forms of racial discrimination in Mauritius as it is institutionalised in the political system of the country.
After a general election, other than the 62 elected, 8 members are appointed from the list of unsuccessful candidates under the best loser system designed to provide "balanced" ethnic and political representation, and this is why the Mauritian ‘Nomination Paper’ includes a field where you have to specify your ‘community’. Therefore, instead of being representative of the people, the Government is representative of a community and this causes racial tensions among the Mauritian population. The electoral system has triggered the crude ethnicization of political parties which are now essentially focused on the electoral benefits of political party alliance formation. It has no significance to the Republic of Mauritius today and diminishes democracy.
The action of the ‘blok 104’ demonstrates how Mauritians are more and more aware of this flaw in the Constitution and want things to change.
I understand their campaign for people to void their bulletin as a sign of protest against the decision of the Supreme Court. However, I don’t agree. I am a firm believer that bad politicians are elected because of good people who don’t vote and even if voting in Mauritius means basically, choosing between the lesser of two evils, voting is more than a right, it is a duty and I think that we have to make it count.
Nevertheless, the “blok 104” represents hope that the next generation of Mauritian politicians will be able to construct this Mauritian Identity that all our ancestors failed to establish.

Jacinthe, thanks for this really thoughtful post which I also found very educational. Although the Australian context is quite different I also find your post timely as the Australian federal election looms - a time when I find myself "at once defending and denying" my own "democratic right". 'Exposing and working with false binaries' should be a module in insurgent citizenship education ;)

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