Since everyone who follows the news will be reading and hearing a lot about the Roches Noires campement saga, LALIT believes that it is worthwhile to draw one or two lessons from it.
Let us see what seems to have happened. Former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam was victim, repeat victim, of a burglary at his campement, and also, it is often suggested in the Press, victim of physical assault, if he was there. Whatever happened, it was one night in July 2011.
Now, three years later, and after his resounding electoral defeat, Ramgoolam is on the verge of perhaps being arrested. The victim of the burglary, and perhaps also of an assault, is about to be called in under warning.
What on earth happened? And what does it teach us?
It seems to be all about the fact that, because Ramgoolam was at his campement with a woman, presumably a mistress, the burglary and assault, being public matters, would risk shedding light on his private life that he wanted to remain hidden because he is ashamed of it.
The lesson here is that there is, or should be, no such thing as a “private life” . While “privacy” is important and a right that should be respected, a private whole “life” or a hidden-away “double life”, precisely because it involves another person and other people, cannot be expected to be a secret. In fact, life being life, it is, truth be told, not even private.
A private life also, by definition, involves constant duplicity. It is the opposite of integrity. And it is simply not compatible with modern, open, democratic society. A man’s private life, as long as it remains hidden, means routine suffering for all the womenfolk around him: his wife or partner is constantly deceived and humiliated, while his mistress/es and her/their children often eke out lives hidden in the shadows, like non-people.
And, as is always the case with men with any kind of power, not only did Ramgoolam cover up his secret life, himself, but a whole coterie of people around him were expected to do the same thing: his friend Mr. Gooljaury, who said, at first, that it was him at the campement not Ramgoolam; Ramgoolam’s bodyguards, VIPSU officers, other very senior policemen, ordinary police; Brinks security men; domestic staff, Ramgoolam’s friends at the party earlier on in the evening; his wife and household, who would have noted his absence had he not been home; the sentry at his house; the “long-haired” woman herself and her family and friends; and no doubt caterers, entertainers, drivers and so on. All the colluders, guilty of revering the sacrosanct nature of “a private life”, now inevitably become potential conspirators. So serious have the ramifications of the cover-up become that two senior police officers, the former heads of the National Intelligence Unit and VIPSU, respectively, have already actually been arrested on charges of conspiracy.
So, lesson Number One is that it is time we all, including the media, stopped hiding men’s private lives. It does them no favour. Double lives must be exposed, as a matter of routine. Not just Ramgoolam’s, but everyone’s.
While there is not necessarily anything particularly wrong with a man having affairs, there is a lot wrong when he tells lies, and when everyone around him is expected to tell lies for him, for weeks, months, even years on end, in order to cover up his duplicity. Precisely because it is not very important who has affairs with whom, it should be no problem for the Press to publish it. What is important is when such affairs are kept hidden. It is positively dangerous when everyone in society, including journalists, internalize some specious need to cover-up for men’s double lives and even concomitant predatory behavior. Our collusion quite easily spills over into conspiracy. And our covering the menfolk’s péchés mignons can deliver them into the hands of blackmailers, can also mask anymore serious predatory behaviour or even violence, and can lead them into a concatenation of serious misdeeds as the covering-up process becomes more demanding – as it inevitably does the moment something unexpected like a burglary for example, takes place.
It is quite obviously in the public interest for us all to know if any public figure has a mistress. The Courts in the UK were right to rule that the Mayor of London could not expect to have a mistress, or mistress-and-child, in secret. Just as Mitterrand should never have been able to get away with manipulating his whole coterie into hiding two of his mistresses and their children, until he was lying in his coffin. And what is the point of talking about “conflict of interests” in contracts, tenders and nominations, if powerful male politicians have a second whole “life” hidden from view, a “life” which may well be in conflict, were it only known? What is the point in a declaration of assets by a politician, his wife and children, when there may be hidden mistresses and children ferreting away assets? And is the secrecy that “private lives” are shrouded in not an ongoing invitation to blackmail? The very term “private life” implies a life of which the man is ashamed. And it is shame that invites blackmail. In fact, the Roches Noires saga has the sniff of blackmail to it. In general, surely any accident or other misfortune, just like a burglary or assault, will risk provoking even longer strings of lies? Often, with grave consequences? Will it not routinely increase, for example, hit-and-run incidents? What if, when the culprit stops or goes to the Police, it becomes public that he was with a woman who he is ashamed of being with? Society cannot afford to discourage witnesses from coming forward, as it will do, if we encourage this kind of double life. And when we vote for someone, we sure like to know if he is a devious, sneaky, lying person or open and honest.
The problem for the justice system is to work out now, three years on in the Roches Noires case, whether there is any link between the campement incident and the death-in-detention of Mr. Ramdhony, accused of receiving stolen goods, including a watch i.e. whether this death is the result of part of some cover-up process taken to extremes. Or, whether the linking of the two incidents is a Machiavellian ploy by some of Ramgoolam’s adversaries, starting with Facebook pages in 2011, a ploy designed, no doubt, to force Ramgoolam to come clean with the truth about his affair by making his continued silence give credibility to accusations of something far, far worse than just shedding light on a private life he is quite rightly ashamed of. Or, whether the explanation lies in some mixture of both these scenarios, accelerated by a change in Government?
Surely, it would have been better for everyone concerned if, as a society, we had put more store on making public male figures realize that they cannot expect our blessing to maintain their “private lives”, private lives that make them, themselves, ashamed. Let us take a New Year’s resolution to begin to make powerful male figures’ private “lives” much more public. And aim, in the long run, to discredit the very idea of a “private life” that is shameful and hidden, thus provoking dishonesty over time. Only true privacy needs our esteem and warrants protection by the State.
Lindsey Collen, for LALIT, 22 January, 2015.