This discussion document was produced by the Movement Against Communalism that was set up in times of dangerously rising communalism in 1994-5. MAC brought together all kinds of associations and unions, who developed these ideas at a seminar on the general subject of racism, tribalism, religious bigotry, casteism held at the GTU Centre in Quatre Bornes in 1995. Later that year, at the big “Anti-Communalist Convention and Concert” on 21 May at Plaza, a resolution was taken to launch an open discussion on “classification” by community.
So, this was the precise aim of this document: to launch a deep process of re-appraisal. LALIT was amongst the organizations that adopted the document. Now, twenty-five years later, we are re-publishing it. See what you think?
Rejecting Communal, Race and Religious Classification and Categorization
The driving force for this document is the deep concern felt by MAC members about the drift towards another “bagar rasyal”, or “race war”. Everyone in MAC feels that the political strategy and tactics adopted to oppose communalism from 1969 onwards, until now, have, in fact, not worked. We have found that all the intellectual and political tools necessary to oppose rising communalism, that we have in the past used, have turned out to be, at best, insufficient. Thus we have to put into question some fundamental assumptions. This is what this paper does. It is a Discussion Paper.
And also, ironically, and without exaggeration, a matter of life and death. As the people of Ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to take only two examples, can unfortunately testify.
There is, in a way, nothing new about what we are saying in this document. During the time of the race riots, more precisely, on 24th April 1968, for example, twelve chief editors of Mauritian newspapers signed a joint declaration, which we would like to reprint here today:
“Declaration Commune de Redacteurs en Chef
“En rapportant un fait, une nouvelle ou une anecdote, il arrive trop souvent et dans tous les secteurs de l'information (de la conversation privée à la presse écrite ou parlée) que la communauté des personnes en cause dans le récit soit citée en manière de précision.
“Il est bien évident que dans la plupart des cas cette précision n'apporte aucun élément additionel d'information et qu'elle est la conséquence d'une habitude de pensée fortement contaminée par le ‘communalisme’.
“Considérant que les récents et pénibles évènements qui se sont déroulés dans notre pays mettent particulièrement en relief les dangers de cette habitude.
“Estimant d'autre part que depuis un mois à peine la population de ce pays peut enfin se réclamer d'une nationalité unique.
“Nous avons résolu, dans l'exercise quotidien de notre profession, d'éviter l'emploi d'etiquettes communales dans toute la mesure du possible. Nous invitons les authorités et leurs porte-parole ainsi que nos compatriotes en géneral à repousser comme nous un usage qui est au détriment de l'evolution de la personalité mauricienne.
(Signed by:) ADVANCE - M. Cabon
LE CERNEEN - H. de Sornay, R. Olivier
LE CITOYEN - C. Banharally CONGRESS B. Gowrisunkur
L'EXPRESS - P. Forget L'ORAGE M. Céleste
STAR - R. Boolaky
BLITZ - H. Edoo
LE DIMANCHE – R. Nauvel
MAURITIUS TIMES - B. Ramlallah
La Vie Catholique - F. de la Giroday
MBC/TV - P. McGaw”
At the time of the “bagar rasyal”, just one month after Independence, these chief editors took their responsibility and publicly resolved to stop the infernal process of unnecessary classification and categorization. The Movement Against Communalism commends this resolution.
The Context today
Today, at the time of Mauritius recently having become a Republic, it is worth taking stock of where we are, in terms of this process of unnecessary classification by community, i.e. on the race/religion divide/s. There is a cliché that we hear so often, repeated ad nauseam, in a million forms, so often that sheer repetition makes it end up taking on the airs of an actual fact: “Mauritius is a country consisting of different communities”. This sentence masquerades daily as a plain fact and as “the truth”. Not just as harmless truth either, nor just as objective truth, but often it actually masquerades as “a good thing”.
In fact, the offending little sentence often continues with the words “... living in peace and harmony” just to prove what a good thing it all is. This second bit, about the peace and harmony, is often added with some slight swallowing, because it is recognized by both speaker and listeners for being what it is: vague and wishful thinking.
And worse still, it somehow actually gives the lie to the first bit's hollowness: the words “peace and harmony” inevitably bringing up the contrasting vivid images of everyday life: like, angry free zone workers outside a factory gate closed by the bosses, yet another wife beaten dead by her husband, politicians hastily closing down a meeting because of being so harangued by the public, fisticuffs in parliament, riots after road accidents, and yet another young man found dead in police cells.
But as for the “communities” that we allegedly “consist of”, this is something desperately believed to be a known fact. “Desperately” because it has to be asserted all day long, night and day, in everyday life in order to be accepted as true. The minute we stop saying the darned phrase it is as though its truth, and we all know this, will get up and sneak out of the phrase and leave it the empty shell of bad ideology that it is.
And so we continue re-inventing our obsessive classification and categorization, day after day, in everyday life.
The ludicrousness of this reduction of all Mauritians to “communities” or “members of communities” was recently exposed in an excellent article on the subject by Michel Ahnee under the scathing title “République Œcuménique des Tribus” published in L'Express (10th April, 1995). It is fitting that the question of what “community” is, should come up in the context of what a “republic” is, directly in the wake of Mauritius' becoming a republic.
The concept of “community” is a direct attack on the egalitarian principle of equal citizenship for each individual.
Equally important, it is fitting that the question of community should come up in the context of an apparently sudden re-communalization of society.
Every thinking person has recently had the premonition that another period of senseless communal violence may be on its way. Unless we do something about it. Unless we understand how to stop it.
Everyone knows that the ideology of community and communalism are left over from colonization. We also know that the more self-effacing forms of community-consciousness and communalism are left over, more specifically, from slavery and indenture.
Our own Constitution outlines the classification into four categories: Hindu, Muslim, Sino-Mauritian and General Population. We call ourselves by the insulting terms: “blacks” or “whites”; we categorize ourselves “Hindus” or “Catholics”, right outside the domain of religious practices; we say, these are “Mozambiques”, these are “Muslims”, these are “Maraz”, these are “Mulattoes”, these are “Marathis”; these are “Kreols”, these are “Europeans”, these are “Tamils”, these are “Christians” -- as if we had brand-marks burnt into our arms by slave-traders, slave-owners and indentured labour merchants. And sometimes the terms become those of abuse: “malbar”, “laskar”, “mazambik”, “lera blan”, “nwar fam”, “ferblan”, “chamar”.
We know we insult ourselves by this classification. We know that our humanity is what unites us: the scientifically verifiable fact that we are all humans beings. But this knowledge is not enough to make communalism evaporate. Facts have difficulty establishing themselves against ideology, if the ideology is re-invented every minute of every hour of every day.
For example, class realities that re-impose their objective proofs of actual existence on us every day, cannot, on their own, wipe out communal ideology.
The fact that the rich all have one rather similar way of life, and the poor another is eminently verifiable.
Any creature from outer space could see it.
In Mauritius there are not even geographically defined “communities”, where boundaries are historically physical. And yet there is the ideology of communities. Nor does language define “community”. There are different languages spoken within one “community”, or the same language shared between different “communities”. This does not weaken the ideology of communities.
We may ask ourselves how this is so. How can an ideological construct be stronger than reality?
Everyone knows that history is full of examples that show the tenacity of ideology -- precisely because we all re-produce it constantly ourselves, re-invent it in our daily lives. Even though it is destructive.
Everyone also realizes the dangers of communalism. We all have access to television and radio, and we all know how communalism has exploded whole peoples into senseless, futile civil war -- from Rwanda to the Lebanon, from India to Ireland, from ex-Yugoslavia to Algeria. People are forced into a classification, and then asked to act from “within” this category. And even faced with a similar spectre before our very eyes in Mauritius, we continue to reproduce the very ideology that can lead, under certain circumstances, so inexorably to our own downfall.
Politics: Community and communalism
Immediately before Independence, all the political parties on the scene believed in community and in communalism. They saw these two words, “community” and “communalism”, quite accurately, as part of the same thing.
All the parties of that time believed in the “reality” of community. Party leaders even saw advantage in it. They saw that the delicate balance of economic and class forces would change around the time of Independence -- creating the ideal moment in which political opportunists could get busy propagating ideas about community and communalism, that would help them “get an advantage” (usually a direct economic advantage for their clan) in the change in the balance of class forces.
There are two things to remember about communalism: “Communalism” is always “in selfdefence”, of course. There is no communalism which is not “in self-defence”.
“Communalism” always has some direct short-term potential economic beneficiary, of course; there is no “innocent” communalism.
The Advance Group, which in fact did a full-scale takeover of the Labour Party, portrayed itself as representing “the Indo-Mauritian Community”; it described how this “community” had been held down by racism and anti-immigrant ideology. A glance at the Advance Statutes makes it quite clear that what the Advance Group really represented was an upwardly mobile petty bourgeoisie that had been blocked by British colonial policies from ascending the professional and white collar ladders, and blocked by a powerful oligarchy and old commercial bourgeoisie from ascending the capitalist ladders. Rather more to do with class than community.
The PMSD vacillated between pretending to represent “all the minorities” and contenting itself with pretending to represent “the Kreol community”. The PMSD was actually against Independence, because this threatened the existing economic scheme of things, and the role of the PMSD in aggravating communal consciousness and in stirring up friction has always been known to have been suspect. The PMSD portrayed all “Mauriciens” as being threatened by a “Hindu peril”, by a wave of immigrants outnumbering the “genuine Mauritians” and threatening to impose “foreign” religions, and even “foreign clothing” on everyone. In fact of course, the PMSD represented the old economic bosses, that is to say the sugar oligarchy and all the import-export monopolies, as well as the petty bourgeoisie already in place. Again, rather more to do with class than community.
The Comité d'Action Musulmane categorically, as its name implied, rallied electors around their being “Muslim”; but CAM politics was always to support a section of the Port Louis commercial bourgeoisie. So blatantly class-oriented was the CAM that it was the very first of the pre-Independence parties to start to lose its entire working class base to the newly emerging movement, the MMM. This was from 1969 onwards.
After Independence, the “bagar rasyal” came and exposed the heinous logic of the politics of community and communalism.
In these race riots many people lost their lives, others were raped, others still were maimed, and many, many people injured. Countless had to flee their homes. This communal violence was never really “worked through”. Those guilty were not brought to trial, nor found guilty. The riots were simply “quelled” by the British army. Order was restored in exchange for no charges being laid. The guilty individuals just skulked around, and have gone on skulking around, until today. Some of them risen to positions of importance and today even speak on public platforms. The whole senseless conflict was just covered up.
And now, some 30 years later, we are at another one of those important junctures. We are at one of those times when we can expect communalism (race prejudice and religious bigotry mixed up together) to raise its ugly head again. We are at that moment in history just after the advent of the Republic, and at the very same time in history as the new GATT world order, as defined by the privatization politics of IMF/World Bank. We can expect all sorts of political currents of a communalist nature to get stronger. We can expect the ramparts that stood up against communalism to be weaker.
What has in fact happened, politically, since the time of Independence, since the time of the race riots?
The MMM (in its MMM, MSM and RMM variants) has grown as the ideological leader from 1970 to 1995. And it is the MMM that had the deep commitment from its foundation in 1969 to ending communalism.
What exactly is the MMM's view on community and communalism? How is it that the MMM, which rose up in opposition to communal politics has not succeeded in ending communalism? How is it that, in some ways, these three parts of the MMM (i.e. the MMM, the MSM and the RMM) have become rather ordinary propagators of communal politics? How come the politics of “Lalit de klas pa lalit de ras” have once again come full circle to “lalit de ras”.
The MMM has had two main ideological positions, which have had a profound ideological effect on us all. These two ideas have almost become part of many people's minds.
Firstly, the MMM has, from very early in its history, maintained that there are two completely different things: “community” and “communalism”. The MMM has preached that “community” is one thing, a fact, and “a good thing”. By contrast, “communalism” is quite another thing, and it may be “a bad thing”. A “communalist”, according to this way of seeing the world, is someone who “uses communalism”. This type of circular argument should have made us all suspect that there was a certain hollowness in this view; we should have sensed a certain cowardice in the way in which it avoids the link between community and communalism. In particular, the original MMM view, still hegemonic in Mauritius, says that a communalist is someone who uses communalism to political advantage. This, they say, is the only bad thing. But, by contrast, they have always maintained, and still maintain, that “community” is a plain fact, a psycho-social reality: a form of “identity” which makes people feel secure. Without this identity, this hegemonic view holds, people would walk around feeling insecure.
From this definition, the MMM, over the years, has invented an entire political strategy, with all concomitant tactics, based on community, referred to by the enemies of the MMM as “the MMM's scientific communalism”, while the enemies who say this, also use this same kind of communalism. The MMM, MSM and RMM have, since 1981, worked towards a multi-communalism, even a multi-fundamentalism, as part of their political aim, and their day-to-day political tactics.
Secondly, and this is something the Labour party also believes in, there is an exception. There is a kind of “communalism”, which itself is not bad, the MMM says. This is called “communalisme de défense”.
If anyone uses communalism, even for their own political benefit, it may not be a bad thing, if it is in self-defense, says the MMM. Thus, the Labour Party used Hindu communalism because it was necessary to defend against NMU and the racist ruling class. This was not bad, according to this dominant idea. And when the Labour Party came to power (or the MSM after it), now that “the Hindu community is in power” (Yes, the MMM and MSM are actually trapped into thinking in terms as grossly absurd as these), if other people use communalism, this will be “communalisme de défense” and therefore not a bad thing per se.
Thus Paul Bérenger himself could from 1983 onwards take up Gaetan Duval's old refrain about “minorités ecrasées” and “minorités persecutées” without it being a bad thing in his mind.
The MMM would then consistently use this language, especially as justification for supporting the Catholic Church hierarchy (no matter how reactionary its demands, for example, taking a position against the anti-discrimination GN Regulations) and for supporting the fundamentalist demands for Muslim Personal Law.
And then, so as not to be unbalanced, the MMM would also support any Hindu communal lobby as well, and would happily follow Mr. Atal Biharee Vajpayee, BJP leader around Mauritius.
The MSM actually organizes separate private meetings with people of different communities.
So much for the MMM as rampart against communalism. Both its erroneous position about “community” and “communalism” not being linked, and its idea that “some types of communalism are a good thing”, have led it to its downfall as a force to oppose communalism.
The MMM (particularly in its MSM and MMM variants, but also in its RMM variant) has become communalism personified. Just like the Labour Party and the PMSD before it. And with the MMM's initial anti-communalist rampart having completely collapsed from about 1981 onwards, communal classification and communal categorization has become rife in the country.
People refer without a twinge of concern to “the majority community” as though this was a real fact. Other talk of “Hindu power”, for and against, as if it were objective truth. Prime Minister Jugnauth calls for “Hindu unity”, whatever this might be meant to mean.
And Labour doyen, Sir Satcam Boolell says that in order to be Prime Minister you must be “a Hindu”, as he puts it.
The “Comité Premier Février” puts forward a counter-demand for a “Kreol Vice President”, and “Minis inportan Kreol”.
Week after week, the “Star” has invented a whole concept: “la communauté cible”. A term used sarcastically and mischievously around questions of promotion within the civil service or nominations within parastatals.
More recently “Mauritius Times” has invented its own counterpart: “Hindu bashing”. Again the term is used provocatively and sneakily so as to prevent criticism of important personalities, like heads of parastatals, under the guise of the fact that “la grande presse” attacks “Hindu” personalities more than it attacks “general population” personalities.
Often in Le Mauricien, there are editorials which classify individuals by community, often by the rather harsh method of just “naming” them.
And 5-Plus has often printed editorials that are gross communalism, classification by sub-community and even by caste, under the pretext of the following type of assumption: “let us say out aloud what everyone is saying in whispers”.
We have even heard the absurd rhetoric that “Catholics pay taxes”. The Catholic Church Hierarchy claims this in its ludicrous arguments to cover up its undefendable discriminatory education policy. We know that smokers and drinkers pay tax (excise tax), buyers pay tax (transfer duties), spectators pay tax (entertainment taxes), consumers pay tax (stamp duty and sales tax), bosses pay tax (company taxes), sugar estates pay tax (export levies), salaried people pay tax (income tax), workers pay tax (employees welfare fund), and even dead people pay tax (estate duty). But Catholics do not pay taxes. We know that long ago the whole of Europe paid taxes to the Pope, but that was done away with 400 years ago. The idea that the category called “Catholics” pay tax, is a communal, and even a fundamentalist, argument. Recently the RCEA has actually denied that it is guilty of “communalism” when it openly discriminates in favour of “catholic” children. “La vérité oblige à reconnaitre que le troisième critère (catholique) n'est pas non plus une défense communale, car la religion catholique n'est pas liée à une seule ethnie – même si dans le présent, une certaine ethnie constitue la majorité des catholiques à Maurice” (L'Express 9 August, 1995). This is very childish pretence that “catholic” is not a division like “hindu” or “muslim”. It is indeed the case that the Constitution does not define a “Catholique” Community, but it is certainly just as “communalist” to discriminate in favour of Catholics (sic) as it is to discriminate in favour of Hindus (sic). Any fool can see through this argument of the Church hierarchy, because to discriminate in favour of “Catholic” children means to discriminate against “Muslim” children, “Hindu” children, “Buddist” or other children.
“Community” is a concept that always includes religious as well as ethnic prejudice and discrimination. “Community” is the word that we have recourse to when the ideology which divides people is not pure racism nor pure religious fanaticism, but a mixture of the two.
In this general atmosphere, the situation has got worse.
We have seen a public meeting of Maulanas, for example. On a Friday afternoon, the day chosen carefully, at Plaine Verte, the place also, Maulanas have held public meetings on subjects that went from the initial rallying point of the prophet having been insulted by an article in L'Indépendant, and then moving on to questions of nominations, promotions and appointments, and curiously, to the liberalisation of the importation of beef. Intimately involved in the organizing of this movement was an organization called “Mouvement Civic National”, a movement which uses the rhetoric of unity “between communities”, a rhetoric which depends on division “between communities”, and which, according to Impact News, was involved in organizing the hysterical action of burning the L'Independant newspaper. This kind of meeting of religious men on political and economic subjects is the beginnings of a new type of fundamentalism. Of course, the Maulanas’ going in to politics is partly in reply to the earlier form of fundamentalism that we saw, when the Hisbullah (a political party) uses religion as its rallying cry in politics. The Hisbullah represents an Arabist challenge to the traditional Indian sub-continent culture that exists in Mauritius, and the Maulanas meeting is an even more dangerous counter-offensive, involving religious men grouping people together on religious grounds in order to do politics.
We have seen the opening of Hindu House. It was a most inauspicious opening. The first major news item around the opening of Hindu House was the burning of three newspapers, L'Express, Le Mauricien and Le Mag, at Hindu House during the Holi celebrations, burnt because they are accused of being anti-Hindu newspapers. The second major news item was the setting up of a new “Hindu Business Council” at Hindu House, not exactly a religious sounding organisation. Indeed the Vaish Mukti Sangh has almost split completely in two, around the question of the Hindu House. Mr. Soobrah has gone to great lengths to describe how his participation in the Vaish Mukti Sangh was a purely defensive action, how there was very real caste prejudice within the religion, preventing any non-Brahman priests from officiating, and how his movement has only been in self-defense.
Parallel with this, has been the exposure in the Commission of Enquiry in the CWA the way in which tenders are allocated, water bills lowered and debts written off by Mr. Soobrah. Around the same time period, we have seen Police Commissioner Dayal communalizing and even “fundamentalising”, the post of Police Commissioner. We have seen the BJP leader Atal Biharee Vajpayee doing an official state visit to Mauritius as Indian Leader of the Opposition, and then, at the same time, doing the rounds of all sorts of religious organizations. He is leader of an openly fundamentalist party in India, and has succeeded in making a semi-official visit to Mauritius follow the BJP-type patterns. The programming of his visit by Government was a highly communal exercise. The man, himself, then proceeded to make the most inappropriate and positively unacceptable comments on the language politics of Mauritius.
Sir Dayanand Burrenchobay, in an excellently researched article in Le Mag 28 May, 1995, has outlined the way in which an organized Hindu religious movement, the RSS (Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which has its roots in India (from 1927 onwards) and is now implanted in Mauritius around the Calebasse organizations, has started to work towards a new form of fundamentalist power. The article in Le Mag has named the members of this network in Mauritius: two Ministers (Baichoo, Choonee and Gobhurdhun), three Members of the National Assembly (Gutty, Neewoor, Dayal, Aumeer) para-statal bosses like Daneshwar Soobrah, MBC bosses (Nando Bodha, Anil Soorajbally, and Bijaye Madhoo), ministerial advisors (Dandeo Bahadoor) and the Police Commissioner (Raj Dayal). None of the individuals named has denied the accusation. (In India the RSS is the organization behind the BJP and the other fundamentalist parties; the RSS masterminds and trains fundamentalists -- politically, socially, religiously and even militarily. Its aim is to build a “Hindu Nation” in India and not to build up a sovereign democratic state; it puts emphasis on “culture” for identity, rather than on secular rights. The RSS has been implicated in formenting communal riots in India from the end of the 1920's onwards. Gandhi described the RSS as a “communal body with a totalitarian outlook” and even compared it with the Nazis. The second leader of the RSS, Golwalkar wrote “the non-Hindu people in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but the glorification of the Hindu nation i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and its age-long traditions, but, must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens rights.” This Hindu fundamentalist group in Mauritius seems to have a form of organization very much like the “Broederbond”, which was behind the Nationalist Government in South Africa and behind the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, promoting the culture/religion of one community through a close network.
This form of fundamentalism, new to Mauritius on any scale, will from now onwards be a major problem for all progressive people in Mauritius to have to counter. No-one who wants to prevent a dangerous communalization of the country can afford to ignore the rise of this new Hindu communalism.
At the same time, the old fundamentalism of French colonial times has remained. It is dangerous. It acts as a permanent detonator of new forms of communalism and fundamentalism.
When the Commissioner of Police, Raj Dayal organizes a “Maha Yaj” in the Line Barracks, as he did on 6th August, 1995, we must criticize this, and we must criticize at the same time the annual “mass” for police (and firemen, and judiciary) that the Catholic Church has always organized, since colonial times, when it was the religion of the ruling class.
Catholic fundamentalism must have its “invisibility” stripped from it.
When there are Shiwala and Mosque being constructed in Candos hospital (when medical facilities and space are sadly lacking), we must criticize this mixture of religion with secular institutions; but we must criticize the Chapels that already exist at Candos. We should denounce the fact that electro-cardiograms are done in a corridor at the Jeetoo hospital, while there is a religious Chapel next door, in the middle of a secular, health-care institution. We must work towards either closing down the Chapels or turning them into “quiet secular thinking rooms for everyone”; instead, what are we, as a people doing? We are often responsible for putting more and more scarce resources into religions, which are encroaching dangerously into secular space.
There have been communal leaflets distributed to Catholic children for their parents only. There have been a number of big assemblies of “Catholic parents”, and parents of children at “Catholic Schools” at Ste. Helene and Visitation, overlapping with the communalist front “Front pour la Justice au CPE”.
All this against a backdrop of a wide communalist movement called the “Malez Kreol”, partly within the Church and partly a more generally political movement, involving parishes and socio-cultural organizations and the church hierarchy itself. There has been the predictable counter-attack which rallies people on communal grounds for the defense of the Oriental languages.
The Movement Against Communalism formed
It was in the general context of this hotting-up of the communal situation and a drift towards what has accurately been described by Ram Seegobin as “multi-fundamentalism” that the Movement Against Communalism (MAC) was formed in March, 1995.
There are two ways, in general, that MAC will be combating communalism and fundamentalism.
Firstly, we will be identifying and opposing all institutionalized forms of communalism.
Examples of this are the best loser system, communal clubs running first division football, communalist politics, institutional division of music and other art, the state and political parties getting all intermingled with religions, and religions, in turn, giving special services and special places to politicians and state institutions, especially the police.
There are important institutional remnants of old fundamentalism, a relic of the past, in the religious control of part of the national education system, and in fundamentalist laws on religion and abortion, while new forms of fundamentalism are fought for: some people want a return to Muslim Personal Law, others work towards the BJP-type fundamentalism where the nation, religion and language all get mixed together unhealthily.
MAC is running an on-going campaign against all these institutional forms of communalism.
Secondly, we will be running an ongoing campaign to reject community-consciousness and communalism.
This is not outside of ourselves in institutions, but it is something that we all create every day and re-create again tomorrow by continually classifying ourselves and one another, and categorizing ourselves and one another in terms of race and religion.
This second aim is what this paper is concentrating on.
In brackets, let us make it clear, right now, that we will obviously criticize and denounce anyone who “uses communalism”, whether for political, economic or religious reasons; whether to get tenders, secure nominations, get promotion, or increase government subsidies for social work. But we consider this to be treatment of the symptoms and manifestations of the illness.
We also need to attack communalism itself, not just those who use it.
We live in times of privatization. There is privatization going on of all public goods.
There is the continual rapacious acquisition by private individuals, their clans and their companies, of goods and services traditionally in the public domain; the IMF-World Bank and GATT push for total privatization of all collective property. In this context, we can expect a great deal of “using” of communalism. It is like a new “scramble for Africa” in the form of “scramble for ex-public goods”. In ex-Yugoslavia. In ex-USSR. And today in Mauritius.
“Community” and “Race” not facts, but ideology
“Race” and “community” are ideology. Not fact.
We have to reproduce this ideology, re-invent it, re-create it, ourselves every day otherwise it is not there.
The main tool we use for re-creating “community” every day is through relentlessly classifying and categorizing ourselves and others around us. If we stop doing this, community will no longer exist. We keep it going continually ourselves. We classify without ceasing: in every conversation, in school break, in the family, on the shop verandah, around the law courts, in the dispensary queue. We know it is dubious, so we often do it in a low voice.
Even the prescribed schoolbooks in Primary School teach young children how to do communal classification. Just in case their parents had not been communalists. Before elections, journalists and newspapers and magazines actually print articles that classify electors into communal and sub-communal categories.
If we can challenge, and then reject, this classification and categorization by community, that we perform all the time like a continual ritual, this will be the main way to attack communalism and racism.
While the concepts of “race” and “community” do not exist as facts and are only ideology, “racism” and “communalism” do exist.
And racism and communalism have to be systematically opposed.
The best way to oppose them is by exposing the non-existence of “race” and “community” [in the sense used in India, Pakistan, Mauritius and elsewhere].
The history of “Community” in Mauritius
It is generally accepted that “Mauritius is a country consisting of different communities”, and in general everyone thinks that it is fairly clear and straightforward what these are. People also think that “community” has been a stable reality in the past, and will be a stable reality in the future. Such is the power of ideology. The facts are quite different.
The Census over the years gives an idea of the changes in categorization and classification that have taken place.
Date Classification used
1735 Frenchmen, born in France or Bourbon
African, born in Senegal or Guinea
1846 White and coloured
1861 White and Coloured
You will notice, if you look at the 6 sets of categories that they are based on quite different assumptions.
In 1735, the classification was clearly based on geography: France, Bourbon, Senegal, Guinea, India and Madagascar.
By 1766, one generation later, by which time slavery had been instituted formally, classification was based on economic status rather more (freeman/ slave), and also, for the first time, on race (white).
By 1846, after the beginning of indenture, geography is again introduced (Indian) and all the rest of people who are not “Indian” are lumped into one group on race grounds (white and coloured). In fact, the indenture system being an economic system, there was a different legal status for immigrants and for Mauritian-born people.
By 1861, there was a new geographic category (Chinese).
It was only in 1952, that we begin to recognise the terms. There are three communities: IndoMauritian, Sino-Mauritian, and the General Population.
These concepts corresponded to a political situation where the Ralliement Mauricien (which became Parti Mauricien, then PMSD later) rallied “the general population” against “immigrants” (“fek vini” or rather more rudely “pa kone kot sape”).
The Advance Group was founded to “advance” the rising Indo-Mauritian petty-bourgeoisie and it took control of the Labour Party.
It was only just before Independence, from 1962 onwards that we have the classification that we know today.
You will notice that for the very first time, religion has entered the arena. “Hindu” and “Muslim” are categories from here onwards. Sino-Mauritian remains a geographical category (i.e. where peoples ancestors are thought to have come from). General Population is the term for “everyone else”, but where the new religious classification accords a certain hegemonic control over the “general population” to the Catholic Church hierarchy.
It is these four categories that the Constitution of Mauritius will finally institutionalize for the calculation of Best Losers (See MAC paper on Best Loser System, L'Express, 1st, 3rd and 5th August, 1995)) and which are the present state of the institutionalization of communalism.
It was not inevitably destined to be like this. It could have been any of a hundred different combinations. There is nothing “natural” or “objective” about the definition of each community. It is nothing more than a reflection of the balance of forces between different rising sections of the petty-bourgeoisie relative to the existing bourgeoisie. Everything depended on nothing more than the power-struggle between warring politico-economic lobbies. And it is in this nexus that communalism thrives. The communalism could have taken any number of different forms, in the “scramble” for power and an economic base. We could have found classification and categorization, for example, had followed the logic of putative ancestral home: “Marathi”, “Tamil”, “Guinea”, “France”. It could have been by imaginary race: “African Kreol”, “European”, “African”, “White”, “IndoAfrican”, “Euro-Kreol”, “Dravidian”, “Coloured”, “Polinesian Madagascan”, “African Madagascan”, etc. Everyone who was “a bit white” could have been considered “white” or everyone who was “a bit black” considered “black”. All this is arbitrary. Classification could have preferred the “re-invented caste system”, to include: “Rajput”, Vaish”, “Baboojee-Maraz”, or maybe even closer to the original castes ascribed to people when they came from India as indentured labourers. This, too, is arbitrary. Classification could have fallen on pure religion: “Hindu”, “Muslim”, “Catholic”, “Protestant” or, to be more accurate, refer to the 45 religions people described themselves by in the Population Census. Or by language, or imaginary ancestral language: “Bhojpuri speaking”, “Kreol-speaking”, “French speaking”, “Telegu speaking”, etc.
The actual classification institutionalized, or even the forms of classification we use in everyday re-categorization, depend on the balance of political forces. The concept of “community” does not in any way “exist” as a fact. It exists very strongly as ideology.
Now putting “race” into question
Everywhere in the world where it has been used as an ideology, “race” has been a political tool.
For example, in Nazi Germany, one heard a great deal of talk of the “Jewish race”. This was part and parcel of the fascist propaganda designed to find a “whipping boy” to blame economic disaster on in the 1920's and 1930's. In fact, the source of the economic disaster was that capitalist development meant that Germany's lack of an empire crippled the country, especially relative to Britain and France. In reality, there is no such thing as “the Jewish race”. As indeed there is no such thing as any “race”. It is plain ideology. There are people who are Jewish by religion who come from the Middle East, from Africa, from Northern Europe, and from India. There is no “Jewish race”. This is highlighted by the fact that Nazi propaganda had a great deal of difficulty vacillating between maintaining that “everyone can recognize a Jew” (sic), on the one hand, and passing laws to make Jewish people have to classify themselves publicly by wearing a yellow star pinned to their sleeve, so that they could be identified, on the other hand.
In the United States of America, the race category that is used most frequently is “the negro race” or more recently “blacks” or “the African race”. The ideology surrounding this term derives directly from the historical riddle that people had to solve on a daily basis in the United States of America, at the time of its foundation. The Constitution maintains proudly that “All men are born equal” in a system in which “There are slaves”. Constitutional reality versus economic reality. Such a riddle demands an absolutely absurd ideology for people to attempt to stay sane. The absurd ideology, a form of madness in fact, is racism. In fact, most laws classified slaves on the basis of their economic situation (“in service in perpetuity”) and not on race. Early slaves in America were often Irish and English. But even with economic definitions, there were problems. What of slave children? Are they also slaves? In Maryland, one of the States later to form the USA, they had a law which said a child was a slave if his father was a slave (preferring the usual paternal line). But paternity is always difficult. So after one generation, they changed the law so that the mother of a child determined the economic status of the child. If the mother was free, the child was. If the mother a slave, the child was. Hardly a question of race.
In present-day US, there is still a great deal of classification going on. One of the “races” that ideology is perpetuating right now there, is that there is a “Hispanic” race. The Supreme Court has had a lot of difficulties with this. Hispanic means the Spanish language, but the Supreme Court has accepted that it is a “race” and that Portuguese-speaking people can also be counted as being in it, although they do not speak Spanish, but Portuguese. The Supreme Court is always getting itself tied up in knots trying to see what group is a “race” for the purpose of laws. In the States, there are such different political and historical forces at work in different areas. In some areas, for example, descendants of Swedes are discriminated against quite severely; their ancestors came as indentured labourers. In other areas, anti-Semitism is rife.
In Britain, the term “the Irish race” has for 400 years been heard, and it has justified 400 years of domination, and 400 years of war between “Catholics” and “Protestants”, two religious categories. There also, the conflict has of course had very economically clear roots. And yet people classify themselves and their neighbours by their religions or by “Celtic” or “AngloSaxon” physical traits.
In South Africa, until recently, the most cruelly institutionalised form of classification by race existed: apartheid. Even there, races were ideological categories, no more: Whether “white”, “Bantu”, “Indian”, “Coloured”, the Supreme Court judged, the same as the Mauritian Supreme Court does for “community” by the very vague concept of “way of life”. It is true to say that the Apartheid state apparatus had a very difficult job classifying people, and some people were still not classified by the end of apartheid. And perhaps the very idea of a community of “coloureds”, defined by the Apartheid regime is the ultimate proof that race classification is absurd.
Mauritius is perhaps the most flagrant example of the difficulty of finding boundaries for race classification; there just aren't really any definable boundaries. So much so that all “races”, except “Sino-Mauritian” are lumped together in the appellation “general population”.
Race, the circular argument
In the past, there have been numerous scientists and social scientists, especially in time periods of rising fascism, who have done studies of all sorts to show up the differences between “races”. There are also people who believe in the inherent, genetic difference between different “castes”. There are British people who believe in “royalty” as a caste “born to rule”. This ideology is so strong that until the dawn of the Twenty-First Century, the royalty cannot be reduced to the level of ordinary citizens. And in Mauritius, we have Goswami Sewtohul, amongst others, who believes that there are differences in the genetic inheritance of different “castes” in Mauritius.
But let us look at how scientists or social scientists go about their difficult task of studying race differences.
Suppose that there is an academic that wants to study these differences in, say, the “American Indian race” and the “African race” and the “European race” -- even if only to find the differences in the rate of diabetes, let alone the more pernicious studies like those about supposedly different IQ's. He or she will immediately bump into circular argumentation. (This means the study will be vague, unscientific and pretentious. None of the results of the study will be worth any generalized race classification or categorization of human beings.) The academic in question, decides to proceed by looking for 100 people of the so-called “Indian American race”, 100 of the so-called “African race” and 100 of the so-called “European race”. Let us follow his or her work. He or she goes and looks for the first “Indian American”. Say, by looking up names that sound Indian American, on the electoral register. So, our researcher chooses the first Indian-American Hopi-looking name and goes and knocks on the person's door. Our researcher may start with the question “Are you an American Indian?” This question may get a door slammed in the researcher's face, and quite rightly so. But even if the researcher gets around it by asking other questions first, he or she will eventually have to establish if the respondent is in fact an “American Indian”. Maybe the researcher will say, “Was your mother an “American Indian”?” The respondent may reply, “Yes, she was a Sioux.” To the question, “Was your father an “American Indian”, the respondent may reply “I only know my step-father, who declared my birth.” And there’s a circular argument. The researcher has chosen someone who he or she thinks from a name is “American Indian”, but does not get much further than knowing that the respondent’s mother is considered by the daughter to be a “Sioux”. There have been two problems already. First, why did our researcher assume that there is a cut-off point, called “American Indian” which is a “race”? Especially when it is our researcher's aim to find out what defines a “race”? There are many different societies under the general appellation of “American Indian”, including Hopi and Sioux. Where did this idea come from in the first place? Why not, for example, assume that “Inca”, “Hopi”, “Sioux” are each a “race”?
Second, while our researcher can only be fairly sure who someone’s mother is, and on this assumption will go ahead and find the differences between one “race” and “another”. On what will this be based, other than on rough ideological assumptions about names, appearance, and a vague idea about “way of life”.
With the question of “African race” we will find the same problems for our race-conscious researcher. Africa is a geographical concept, moving from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria to Cape Town via Namibia, West Africa, Central Africa, and East Africa. Amongst the people of Africa, are peoples of all kinds of appearance: short, tall, pale, dark, all kinds of features. And all of these graduate from one to another. Africa is part geographical concept (a continent) and part a political concept (the subject of colonial invasion over 400 years). It is absolutely impossible to know who is “African” by just looking at a person. Or even, who is a descendant of an “African”. This, too, is only ideology. There are some people on the planet whose skin contains more melanin, useful for sun protection, especially in tropical regions of the globe, and some people who have less melanin, especially from polar regions. But everywhere, there is a spectrum, a gradual change, and no cut-off point, which the concept of “race”, say in the apartheid regime, implied. Even if one chooses the concept of “Bantu”, as the South African apartheid regime did, the theoretical problem remains the same.
In addition, there is the same problem of sampling, and the same problem of paternity. You can know someone’s mother. There is usually social agreement in a neighbourhood that such-andsuch a child came from such-and-such a mother’s womb. But here also it is not 100% certain; there are adoptions, foundlings, mothers declaring the children of their young girls, and babies swapped in hospitals (like in Indian films). But, say you know the mother, and maybe the maternal granny. Further into the past, our researcher will not know for sure if the great grandmother was considered “African”. No father or grandfather will be known for sure either. So, once again our researcher will have to make do with his or her own prejudices, guesses and people’s assumptions about “race”.
The “European race” produces all the identical problems. From Southern Italy until Northern Norway, from the Chinese borders to Indian and the Middle East, to Cornwall. Everywhere are gradations. More differences between people of the “European race” than between the assumed category and other “races”.
In any case, for over 400 years, there have been substantial migrations into Europe from Africa, India and the Middle East. Not counting ancient migrations.
In addition, for all research workers, there is the eternal problem of paternity. You can, of course, technically and scientifically speaking, check paternity (if the father and grandfather are alive), but it would certainly not be ethical. And further back than grandparents would be impossible, even with a fascist regime to support research.
So, we have to ask ourselves the question, what it is that makes us put it into our heads that “race” is important? Why do we “believe” in it? Why go on reproducing the ideas? Why go on propagating the hollow beliefs?
Humans have a myriad of identities: any one person can conceivably have all the following identities: a woman, a cyclist, a deeply religious person, a mother, a singer, a factory manager, a gardener, a descendant of a sailor, a stamp