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A Book Launch Choked by Silence


On 10 August 2020 Kaya (born Reginald Topize) would have been 60 years old had he been alive. To mark his anniversary, the Government’s Creole Speaking union launched a book about Kaya, prepared by a group of academics – a compendium or scrapbook style book, well-presented, the contents of which we may come back to in another article.

The launch ceremony was remarkable, even incredible, for its silence on two important, historically verifiable facts. This silence meant that the event had an absurd quality to it, at best, or of greater concern, it just slotted into an ongoing cover-up. The Minister of Arts and Cultural Heritage Aveenash Teeluck was silent on these two facts. CSU President Arnaud Carpooran was silent on them, too. Research co-ordinator Christina Chan-Meetoo was silent on them. Chair Marjorie Barbe Munien was silent, too. To be in the audience for this deafening silence was like living inside one big lie for nearly two whole hours. It was a sullying experience to endure.

Fortunately, Kaya’s widow, Veronique Topize told how she had, 18 years earlier, been in the very same Serge Constantin Theatre right where the launch was being held, holding flambo and setting up “Justice:  Association Against Police Violence”. She held up the invitation to the film “INJUSTICE” that was shown exactly there 18 years ago. Her words shed a ray of welcome light on the dark cloak of silence that otherwise shrouded the launch.

The reason Kaya is not here for his 60th birthday is that his life was cut short 21 years ago when he was killed in police custody.

The first of the missing words at the book launch were, “Kaya was killed in police custody.”

Or, if a speaker lacks the guts to say “killed”, they could at least say, “Kaya was arrested in good health with no injuries. Then two days later he was found dead in police cells from brain injuries. He had 33 marks of other recent violence.” These are facts everyone agrees on, policemen in the cover-up included.

When the truth about injustice is hidden, we in LALIT are honour-bound to remind people of what is being covered up. Otherwise we collude, and thus help perpetuate the injustice.

It was 21 February 1999.

Yes, Kaya had 33 injuries on his body, some of them the strange and inexplicable signs of torture. What had actually caused his death was that Kaya’s brain had been shaken around so much in his skull that he had died of the resulting velocity injuries. Dr. Ramstein’s autopsy report, made public in the Judicial Enquiry, was clear. Some of Kaya’s hair was detached at the roots, leaving Rasta locks suspended by other Rasta locks, the tell-tail sign that he had probably been shaken to death by his hair. On the soles of his feet, police photographs showed, were the imprinted marks of the metal police cell door that had been closed on them, after his dying body had been hurled back into his cell, half dead, after the torture. The police pretended he had been found lying face-down, alone in his cell, dead. They had no explanation as to the marks on the soles of his feet that proved their cover-up was lies. Nor any way to justify a clear stream of dried blood from Kaya’s nostril (after a nose bleed when he was still alive) into the hair behind his head on the same side. Blood does not defy gravity. It is not easy for Kaya’s widow and people like us to have to remember this kind of thing all alone.

Though the book being launched is not about all of this, the launch event cannot be so complicit as to hide this truth completely, no-one even daring to breathe the words “police cells”.

To make the ceremony all the more painful, unbeknown to the organizers, the police officers in the cover-up all came and testified in Court, one after the other, as to how they had each been, and still were, dedicated fans of Kaya. 

Kaya’s death, according to the police cover-up version was a result of Kaya supposedly going through withdrawal from alcohol (or something) and consequently having fits and generally hurling himself around his cell. To justify this flimsy narrative, the end of a line in an entry in a Candos Hospital diary book from years before had even been grossly forged and then drudged up in Court to pretend Kaya had a history of fitting. A whole cover-up was woven and is still being woven. The Navin Ramgoolam Government even brought over a British pathologist to prop up the cover-up. The man, Dr. White, based his testimony in Court in Port Louis on a version of Dr. Ramstein’s report he said he had found at an unknown internet address, that was translated into English for him by an unknown person, and from which a key line had been omitted altogether. 

More than two years later, in August 2001, advanced studies of Kaya’s brain by top neuro-pathologist Dr. David Graham of the University of Glasgow showed no sign in his brain cells of any effects of abuse of alcohol or other drugs and confirmed a violent shock had damaged Kaya’s brain. It was an Aneerood Jugnauth MSM Government, the very MSM in power today, which sent the brain specimens to Scotland for analysis, to respect an electoral promise. Yet today, all the speakers are still busy covering up the truth that even the MSM now in power was willing to expose. 

Surely academics seek the truth? Surely they avoid this kind of outright denial of the truth? Or worse still, academics should avoid joining the ongoing cover-up by the police? 

All this to say that Kaya was killed in police custody. It’s a fact. And the organizers of the launch of this book on Kaya want, for reasons best known to themselves, to be part of the 21-year-old cover-up. 

And there is a second fact on which the speakers were silent. And it follows directly from the first.

The ordinary working class people of Mauritius knew the minute the news of Kaya’s death got out that Kaya had been killed in custody. They did not share with the elite this acquired reflex to cover up. They did not need the pathologists’ reports to know. They knew when they heard about the marks on his body. Because they already know about the violence perpetrated by officers of the state against detainees.

The oppressed masses of Mauritius rose up in rebellion against the police, destroying nine police stations and bringing Mauritius to a halt. 

So beloved was the gentle Kaya that his death was one too many. Decades of anger against the police for brutalizing young men like this in police cells literally inspired broad masses of justice-loving people – in towns and in the countryside – to rise up, erect barricades and attack police stations. 

Why cover this up? Why cover it up, too? This rebellion against injustice?

(Let us say in brackets that we know that, after some 36 hours of barricades, by which time all commerce and all Law Courts and all offices and factories were closed, there were other events that ended up in concatenation: once the police were defeated, looting began. And once the looting got bad, shady segments of the State together with shady elements of the bourgeoisie organized the perpetration of two supposed acts of “vengeance”, communal attacks, on two hamlets in the north, thus attempting to turn the uprising against the police, in retrospect, into a senseless communal bagarre. It failed. The uprising ended. All this has been analyzed in detail (see reading list below) and needs to be continually re-analyzed. It is important because the cover-up continues and those who torched the two villages have still not been brought for trial in the Courts. This, too, is a fact.)

But what is important is that none of the organizers of the book launch made the least reference to the uprising against the police that Kaya’s death sparked. Even though, in it, three more even younger men were killed by police: Neermal Ghoostia, Michel Laurent and Berger Agathe. These deaths must not be covered up either.

They are facts. 

So, the organizers of the launch of a book about Kaya, for reasons best known to themselves, want to cover up the uprising as well as the way Kaya was killed. Each of them needed to do no more than utter a phrase like “Kaya’s death sparked an uprising”.

Each speaker only needed, in order not to be guilty of taking part in a systemic cover-up to have some five to ten words included in their lengthy speeches instead of heaping silence over the two facts: they could have mentioned “death in detention” and “mass uprising”; or “found dead in police cells” and “nation-wide rebellion”. For all four speakers – Minister and three others – to maintain this eerie silence, surely there must have been a decision, a kind of conspiracy, to do so? It is impossible to imagine it being coincidence. 

To make the silence of the speakers even more deafening, we are in the midst of a world-wide uprising against police violence. Sparked by the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis in the USA, demonstrations and uprisings spread across the globe against police violence,     systemic racism and colonialism. It is in the news every day. In Mauritius, too, the family of Iqbal Toofany, another young man killed in police custody, spent the week prior to the launch coming to terms with the “not guilty” verdict in the case of torture against police officers in whose custody he was. He was killed in police custody four years ago. Radios and newspapers are full of the judgment and commentaries and the news that the DPP may appeal. When the DPP appealed in the last such case, after the death in custody of Rajesh Ramlogun, though the DPP lost his appeal in a 2016 judgment ten years after the death of Rajesh Ramlogun, the judges had this to say: “... it is beyond dispute that Ramlogun was subjected to physical abuse and was killed whilst in police custody. Those responsible remain unpunished.” All this to say that the silence of the launch obstructs not only truth, but also justice. Police violence causes inordinate suffering and trauma to young men. It also causes death. This year three men have died in police custody. To hide this kind of death, mask it or worse still help cover it up, is dangerous.

All that was needed at the launch was that the speakers acknowledge how Kaya died and what his death-in-detention caused to happen. 

And, what would it cost the intellectuals of this country, while launching a book on Kaya, to go a tiny bit further than just the truth? Why could they not each also make a formal call for justice in cases of deaths in detention? Kaya’s to start with? Out of respect and support for Kaya’s widow, present at the launch? Just one little stand, not even a step, along Kaya’s “sime lalimyer”. 

Is it really too much to ask? Even in these times of generalized cowardice when it comes to taking stands against injustice in society?

We end by extending an invitation to the academics who prepared the Kaya book to join us, the undersigned, in a meeting. This way we can share our knowledge about Kaya’s death and the uprising that it sparked. This way we can also begin to share the quest for the truth and for justice, as well as for the dignity of our mother tongue, Kreol. 

Alain Ah Vee, Ragini Kistnasamy, Lindsey Collen

Short Bibliography

Kaya’s Death: The Medical Evidence by Ram Seegobin, Booklet published by Justice and MLF, 2005 (2,000 copies), republished 2006.

Kaya’s Death: Law Keepers and Hypocrites by Jean-Claude Bibi, Booklet published by Justice and MLF, 2005 (2,000 copies), republished 2006.

Lemet apre Lamor Kaya, News & Views, Revi LALIT Spesyal lor Sulevman kont Leta an 1999, par LALIT. Entire magazinn pibliye an 1,000 kopi, an Kreol.

Riots can bring progress for working people - 1937, 1943, 1971, 1975, 1979, 1999 - Lalit Speaks Out, 1999. Entire magazine published by LALIT in 1,000 copies in English.

The February 1999 Mass Riots - The Matadeen Report and Human Rights, 2000. A booklet that is a critique of the Matadeen Report by LALIT. Published in English

Kominike LALIT: “20 an depi Sulevman Lamas Dimunn apre Lamor Kaya”, 19 Fev 2019.

40 Poet, LPT, 2008.  Book with poetry in Kreol written by 40 different poets, dedicated to the memory of Kaya, and including publication, as one of the poems, of his “Sant Lamur”.

Colloquium on Mauritian Creole: Langaz Kreol Zordi, Paper in book published by LPT 2002 collection of papers on Mauritian Kreol presented at the LPT Colloquium held the year before at the University of Mauritius and the MIE, “Enn Apresyasyon lor Lamizik ek Parol Kaya so Sante Chant Lamour” par Rajni Lallah.  

Background to the 1999 Riots: Who Owns What and Why? Women pose the question of Ownership and Control, Book published by MLF 2000.

Plus many references on LALIT Website: