Verbal and Institutional Violence that Lies in Wait to Strike against Anti-Colonialism:
An Example from Ledikasyon pu Travayer’s history
by Lindsey Collen (based on the Kreol original)
Ledikasyon pu Travayer years ago challenged a mainstream newspaper over an article that highlighted its “colonized mind”. The challenge took the form of a humble, polite, measured letter to the editor. This provoked so shockingly violent a response from the Editor that it is worth re-telling. So, that is what this paper is: a brief narrative with a bit of analysis about the unexpected viciousness of the reaction against anti-colonialism – even decades after Independence. It is a sign of the routine violence reserved for anyone who unmasks the colonized mind of the elite. Independence does nothing to guarantee independence of the mind. This is an ongoing struggle. Intellectual liberation is a process – not yet over, after 50 years of Independence.
What is the point of this paper, then? What is the point of exposing ongoing colonization of the mind? Sometimes people pose the question: Why does the State in Mauritius still now continue to suppress the mother tongues, like Kreol, in schools? Why do we still now in 2018 not yet use Kreol to teach maths, science, history and geography? It seems inexplicable. Why are we all so passive as to accept the aberration of teaching maths to a child on the condition that the child has learnt the language of the school? And this is so, even though some 67% of the people in the country are in favour of the State using Kreol as medium (according to two SOFRES surveys – one in 1976 and another 33 years later in 2009 the percentage is stable.) Why can the people still not yet force the state to implement this popular demand. It is interesting to note that in the second survey (SOFRES 2009), there was a supplementary question which, when answered, showed that two-thirds of people want Kreol to be used for teaching content subjects even though 95% of them did not know that a Kreol Dictionary had existed since 1984. (See LPT’s bilingual book on the Mother Tongue: http://www.lalitmauritius.org/modules/documents/files/LalitMauritius-705f2172834666788607efbfca35afb3.pdf and the Kreol English Dictionary on the LALIT site home-page.)
What this paper is designed to show is that we should not underestimate the courage needed in order to challenge the colonized mind of the elites. The response can be very violent. And clearly, it is efficient. It keeps a colonized language policy going 50 years after Independence!
This paper takes just one example, a rather banal one, to highlight how difficult it is to end colonial domination in society – even, or especially, that in our minds – because of the violence that underpins it.
In 1988, an association that unites teachers and learners of adult literacy and that promotes the mother tongue Ledikasyon pu Travayer (LPT), ended up feeling compelled to take a lawyer, the late Kader Bhayat, and drag the then editor-in-chief of Le Mauricien Sydney Selvon before the Courts of Justice – the Intermediate Court – for defamation following the newspapers violent response to a simple letter to the editor to draw the attention of readers of Le Mauricien to a little article they had printed on page 3 which unmasked their colonized mind. It was a classic case of what Franz Fanon, the Martinican revolutionary and psychiatrist called “Peau noire, masques blancs” in his book of the same title, published inn 1952.
LPT was, at the time, running a campaign against the aggressive politics of La francophonie in Mauritius. The offending article in Le Mauricien gave a rather comic example in the mainstream media of what internalized colonization actually is amongst intellectuals in a country like Mauritius.
Sydney Selvon and Le Mauricien finally had to present apologies in Court and in public. But the paper gives an idea of the extent to which they go in defending colonization, in denying their role in it and in attempting to silence those who expose it.
The original article that LPT would criticize was in Le Mauricien 24 Sept 1988 under the title “Nerveux? Prenez de ‘breaks’ comme les Anglo-Saxons”. It was unsigned. It read, and we quote it, because it is not long, in its entirety:
“Il s’agit ici du break des Anglo-Saxons, la récréation de notre enfance scolaire.
“La scène du thé de quatre heures chez les Anglais, ces dix minutes pendant lesquelles tout s’arrete dans le bureau ou dans l’usine, est loin de constituer uniquement une tradition. Elle est indispensable pour tout Anglais qui ne pourrait, sans elle, tenir nerveusemen toute une journée.
Eh bien, si les Anlgais nous ont pris notre système métrique, volons-leur (ils ne nous en voudront pas tellement) leur break. Permettez-vous, deux fois par jour, deux petites récréations de six minutes. Une dans le matinée (voir vers 10-11h, par example) et une autre dans l’après-midi (vers 16-17h).
“Ces heures ne sont qu’indicatives, tout dépend évidamment de vos horaires de travail.
Cette petite récréation doit durer à peu près dix minutes, c’est suffisant, au cours desquelles vous pouvez prendre un petit en-cas; point important, surtout dans la matinée, du fait de la déplorable habitude bien française de ne faire qu’un petit déjeuner fort succinct. Vous vous trouvez donc en “hypoglycémie”, et la prise d’aliments, en toute petite quantité d’ailleurs, vous permettra de ne pas être irritable. Un verre de jus de fruits, un morceau de sucre et un petit gâteau seront les bienvenus.
“A l’école, les dix minutes de récréation nous faisaient un bien énorme pour notre attention et notre tension nerveuse. La suite de la classe était meilleure.
“Les bienfaits de ces courtes récréations se feront sentir au bout de quelques semaines, a la condition que vous obligiez a vous y tenir, même si vous n’en éprouvez pas le besoin certains jours. Cela doit devenir une véritable habitude qui s’ancrera en vous pour toute la vie.”
Two days later, on 26 September, LPT wrote the following Letter to the Editor of Le Mauricien:
“In an article in Le Mauricien of Saturday 24th September on page 3, we find a classical example of the sad effects of generations of cultural imperialism on those suffering this domination. The editors of Le Mauricien permit themselves to see themselves as “French” (quite literally as little French men and French women). Without even realizing it, Le Mauricien in an article entitled “Nerveux? Prenez de ‘breaks’ comme les Anglo-Saxons”, writes, “si les Anlgais nous ont pris notre système métrique”.
“Since when did anyone take over the metric system from Mauritius? The entire article is, in fact, a symptom of a hideous internalization of French colonization, as the rest of the article is pleading for tea breaks, when in Mauritius there is already a generalized system of tea breaks.
“This article shows the immense power of cultural imperialism over us and proves LPT right in our conducting a relentless battle against this most pernicious influence. The harm done by French cultural imperialism is particularly dangerous, as it seems to be so profound as to be invisible. “Yours sincerely,
The reply was as humourless as imaginable. But much more violent than you would think. Le Mauricien wrote:
“Les bourgeois qui jouent et écoutent du Chopin et du Massenet le soir devant des auditoires huppés et enrubannés, mais qui, le jour, déguisés en gauchistes enseignent le séga “engagé” et crient sus a l’Occident et a l’imperliasme francais dans les quartiers pauvres, recidivent dans leur campagne anti-Le Mauricien.
“Après avoir couché dans de lit de l’extrème droite, ils nous accusent d’être des assimilés rien qu’en profitant lâchement d’une involontaire omission au bas d’un texte de deux lignes se réfèrant a la source d’un extrait de “101 conseils an ti nervosité”, un livre ecrit par un spécialiste médical francais. Quel culot!
“Ces bourgeois rouges, qui enseignent le créole le jour aux désherités et communiquent avec le plus pur accent oxfordien dans leurs cercles intimes, devraient soigner d’abord le syndrome pathologique, qui est a la base de leurs analyses énormes a partir de brindilles de paille pour prouver leurs idées fixes.
“Que LPT aille donc se faire voir ailleurs au sujet de cette communication hystérique sur un extrait de livre publié par Le Mauricien samedi dernier dans la page consacrée aux femmes.”
Ledikasyon pu Travayer, as an Association and Alain Ah-Vee as Secretary then went ahead and sued Le Mauricien and its editor-in-chief Sydney Selvon for Rs50,000 before the Intermediate Court. The cases relied on the entire attack on the integrity of LPT and its secretary, but clearly the allegation of “avoir couché dans de lit de l’extrème droite” was central to the case.
We had to appear before the Intermediate Court at least 14 times! No exaggeration. It took four whole years. Here are the dates we have been able to find in our research:
30 Nov 1988
11 Jan 1989
15 Feb 1989
22 Mar 1989
6 Jul 1989
26 Oct 1989
13 Feb 1990
9 May 1990
14 May 1990
22 Nov 1990
23 Apr 1991
15 May 1991
6 Nov 1991
19 Mar 1992
The only consolation was that Selvon and Jacques Rivet, the owner, Guy Ollivry QC, their lawyer, also had to be in Court.
Finally, the Le Mauricien team made abject apologies in Court and then in Le Mauricien 20 Mar 1992, under the following title:
“Ledikasyon pu Travayer
1. Sydney Selvon
2. Le Mauricien Ltd
1. Sydney Selvon
2. Le Mauricien Ltd
“1. On 28 September 1988, LE MAURICIEN published a reply to a letter addressed to it by the secretary of Ledikasyon pu Travayer, the contents and terms of which may have been construed as casting doubt on the genuineness of the commitment of the secretary and members of Ledikasyon pu Travayer in their activities in promoting adult education and culture, adult literacy, language education and popular consciousness, and on the credibility of the Association itself.
“2. Mr. Sydney Selvon, Editor in Chief, and Le Mauricien LTD printer of the Newspaper Le Mauricien wish to state that the activities of Ledikasyon pu Travayer in its adult literacy work and the promotion of the kreol and bhojpuri languages are appreciated by the public at large and must be encouraged, and that the genuineness of the commitment of its secretary, Mr Alain Ah Vee and of its members is unquestioned. They accordingly express their sincere regrets for any prejudice which the publication mentioned above may have caused to the Association, its secretary and its members.”
So, when an Association like LPT criticized a newspaper in a polite, lucid and tempered way for its colonized mind, with clear proof, the response was so violence that LPT was left without any recourse other than a case for defamation against them. Then, in turn, the bourgeois State, and its cruel lethargy, drew out the procedure for 4 whole years. This is just one example of that explains why people may be reticent to fight for what is their belief, for example that Kreol should be the medium for content subjects. The punishment for calling out the colonized mind of the elite is disproportionate to say the least. This one example gives us an idea as to why people do not speak up so loudly. And it reminds us that we need to build a lot of courage and confidence in ourselves.