MMM Leader Paul Bérenger has had a most suspect role on the question of the partial decriminalization of abortion. First, he refused to meet the Common Front in Favour of the New Abortion Law, a broad, secular Common Front grouping together women’s organizations, unions, human rights and students activists, and the MFPWA. As it turned out, the Common Front’s ideas are supported by over ¾ of Parliament, and ¾ of women (DCDM Research). But Bérenger refused to receive a delegation.
Then sans transition he created a media circus as he went to meet the Bishop, Maurice Piat. He could not have been hoping to convince him of anything because the Bishop is not free to change his mind. His ideas are set by the Vatican, well beyond the reach of Paul Bérenger.
So, what was the point of his visit? To reassure the Bishop? To promise him half the MMM’s votes? To spare him total marginalization? To come and announce in the Press, as if it were a Papal Bull, the new line of the Catholic Church according to St. Paul? To say that doctors “can” from now on practise abortions in cases of ectopic pregnancies? As though the medical profession was just sitting around, letting women die, waiting for Bérenger to announce this? Talk about making yourself ridiculous.
Then, one religious leader having been successfully drawn into the political sphere, quite predictably others entered. A group of Oulemas spoke out. Mission accompli for Bérenger? He hurriedly reassured them as to how unhappy he, too, was about the same section they were unhappy about. No longer talking about ectopics. Now talking about how the police cannot be the authority to note a rape victim. That the judiciary has to decide. On a lighter vein, all I can say is I hope Bérenger never gets his ID card stolen. By his logic, he will have to wait for the judiciary to decide who the thief is before he can get a new one issued.
This fanning the fires of a double-fundamentalism seems to have been Berenger’s only aim. What else could it be? It certainly is not principled politics. It is playing to the right-wing elements within religious lobbies. It sabotages secularism. And it has already split Bérenger’s own party down the middle, then into quarters on one side.
But, this is not recent. When Paul Bérenger first proposed the MMM make an alliance with Harish Boodhoo’s PSM in 1981, and we in the LALIT tendency in the MMM opposed him, he justified himself the same way: he was “reassuring a community”. Boodhoo last week in News on Sunday confirmed that “the MMM-PSM alliance itself was based on communalism.” We, at the time, warned Bérenger he would split the MMM into communal bits. What had been a party based on “class” would become a communal party in a communal alliance. Within less than two years, the MMM did split into communal bits. Bérenger had, as we had warned, reassured “communalism” itself, that is to say strengthened the reactionary elements within a community, and then, by ricochet locked himself into representing reactionary elements of other communities forever afterwards. We were not wishing him ill. This was not a case of “lalang kabri”. We were merely predicting what must happen when you sell your principles to expediency. You lose all coherence. You lose respect. And rightly so. You end up representing nothing but this expediency.
Your influence for the common good becomes nil. You do not even manage through your manoeuvres to help your own MPs, let alone the Bishop, hear what their own allies are saying. Some brashly maintain that life starts the very minute of conception. They do not hear their allies, or do not respect their view that a human life starts at 120 days after conception. Bérenger’s own right-wing MPs, so imperialist is their mind-set, persist with their sarcastic speeches about “bul disan”, unaware that they might offend their own allies whose Texts refer specifically to “blood” for 40 days after conception, blood-clots for another 40, a lump of flesh for the next 40, until the moment when a human life is “breathed into” an embryo. All this religious insensitivity is now within the MMM’s group of MPs who voted against the Bill.
Bérenger just reassures the Bishop, and then, quite separately, the Oulemas. Then afterwards his right-wing MPs like Adil Meea, no doubt with his blessing, run hideous little communal campaigns against their adversaries in other parties who voted in a principled secular logic. What has the MMM come to?
Bérenger himself in Parliament voted for the Bill. He said that the law is “historic” and “solemn”. Not a gain for women’s liberation. Not getting the State off women and young girls’ backs. Not lifting repression from the quasi-totality of the female population. He then justified his own already-accepted amendments – thus making a restrictive Bill even more restrictive. What a role in history! To lead a party to sit on the fence while women are sent to the butchers? What a role in history, when you do not hear when a former Health Minister informs the House accurately that since Independence between 500,000 and 1,000,000 women have had recourse to illegal abortions? What a role in history for half your party to vote to set the Police on young girls and women, already in dire distress, threatening us with punishment of 10 years’ penal servitude, even when we act to save our lives, or health, or to end a pregnancy forced criminally upon us?
Mr. Bérenger seems blissfully unaware of the hypocrisy he engenders in his own MPs under the veil of “âme et conscience” . Why do we, women, call those MPs “hypocrites”? Why? It is not just a vague term of abuse. It is an accurate description, and I will show why. It is a question of fact.
A “hypocrite” is someone who does one thing and says another, or says one thing and does another. Not once, but again and again.
The MPs who say life starts at conception or 120 days later, do not, in their ordinary daily life, act on this belief. They merely say it. They hold no ceremonies for lost foetuses. Yet, these MPs want the secular law of the land to mete out arrest, trial and jail to women for abortion? 50% of fertilized ova just come down with the women’s periods. No MMM MP ever holds a ceremony for them. No tears shed. They are each “a life”, according to them. Their “death” is terribly important to Ms. Labelle. She held the little imaginary foetus in her hand in Parliament, like a Form III debater. But she does not even know or notice the scientific fact that half of all these new “lives” just come down with some blood. Of the 50% of fertilized eggs that do get implanted into the lining of the woman’s womb, 15-20% abort spontaneously, before term. Fos-kus. Nobody cares. Ms. Navarre has never been seen attending a funeral of one. No religious or civil authorities bury these foetuses in match-boxes, or small shoe-boxes, or pray for their little souls to go to heaven. If a woman believer, upset to have lost a pregnancy, has the misfortune to ask a priest what happened to the “soul” of her foetus, she might well be told it went into “limbo” forever, as many have been told. No religious or civil authority registers these “deaths” of foetuses either. No religious or civil authority even cares how women deal with the drama of miscarriage, let alone with disposing of the foetus itself. The only time the authorities care is when some nasty neighbour reports two women seen burying a foetus. Then the foetus suddenly exists. It becomes an “exhibit”. Then the woman who has miscarried gets arrested, threatened with 10 years’ penal servitude. And this is what half MMM’s MPs want? Just as, when a woman has had an abortion, she gets accused by MMM’s Lysie Ribot, of causing Mr. Buntipilly problems by wantonly having road accidents and of causing Hon. Health Minister Lormesh Bundhoo problems by wantonly jamming hospital wards by going and getting cancer! If ridicule could kill, the MMM would be a dead duck. And as for coming up with rape victims rarely falling pregnant because ovulation is blocked by rape, well, this kind of absurdity is just outrageous. Only serious misogyny could allow such ideas to fester within a political party.
Hypocrisy is also rife, when MPs who accuse women of “killing” foetuses, and of “a culture of death” happily go to, or send their own children to, university in countries where this “killing” is rife and has been for years. These MPs, if they were not hypocrites, should never be setting foot on the soil of abominable countries like France, the UK, Canada, Australia, India, the USA, South Africa, Pakistan, Italy, Tunisia, Germany, Holland, or 97% of countries. But, of course, they do not act on what they say. They are hypocrites.
Luckily, for the MMM’s reputation, there are MPs like Ms Josique Radegonde, who spoke up bravely for girls and women in her constituency; the Whip, Rajesh Bhagwan, who spoke with compassion of the Bill being no more than human kindness to young girls and women in distress; Secretary General Steve Obeegadoo who spoke of women’s rights; young MP Kavi Ramano who spoke of the need for young girls to be able to get abortions without parental consent; Front-Bencher Veda Baloomoody who spoke strongly in favour of women; Dr. Satish Boolell who spoke of the autopsies he had carried out on young girl suicides, only to find hidden, tragically, a pregnancy; MPs Deven Nagalingum and Ki Cheong Li Kwong Wing, who also spoke in favour.
So, these MMM MP’s, together with 100% Labour and MR members, 90% MSM and ¾ PMSD, isolated the 20% of Parliamentarians who voted against the Bill. The reactionaries have finally been marginalized.
And as Paul Bérenger said when LALIT militants, then a tendency in the MMM, voted against the alliance with Harish Boodhoo, he should again say, “20% dan larad”. I am not sure what he meant. But so as not to be consistent, he should say it again. The only political parties against the Bill were Cehl Meeah’s FSM, notoriously fundamentalist, the OPR with a former Priest as leader, and the Guimbeau Party that represents Guimbeau interests. Three one-male-MP parties. Half of the MMM disgraced itself by allying with them.
We sincerely hope the MMM gets its secular act together. The country needs a progressive Opposition right now. A coherent one.
Which is why LALIT is busy building it. In all aspects of our program: getting the mother tongue into schools; closing the military base on Diego Garcia so that Chagossians can return to their islands heads held high in a unified Republic of Mauritius; ensuring women and girls are not imprisoned for abortion; and, of crucial importance in times of economic crises, building the political clout to change the economic system into something democratic, nurtured by the people. This is urgent because the planet is being irreversibly ruined by the present economic system.
Lindsey Collen for LALIT,
18 June 2012.