Welcome back to the Middle Ages

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I request a minute of silence. Our dignity as a nation was dealt a terrible blow. 

The Saudi Arabia Friendship Association of Mauritius, an association fortuitously concocted to arguably replace Showkutally Soodhun’s imaginary Haj Ministry, has made headlines for the wrong reasons. In a dinner they hosted in honour of Saudi Interior Minister Abdulaziz Bin Saud Bin Nayef Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the association, headed by Soodhun, decided to exclude women from the whole banquet.  This has left a bitter taste in the mouths of our citizens who are aware of the struggles and sacrifices this country has been through for its women to be where they are today. Female journalists were humiliated and segregated and our colleagues have run reports of a couple who tried to get into the banquet hall but the man was allowed in while his wife was sent back home! In one gesture, we have been sent reeling back to the Middle Ages. And Soodhun rubs it in by dismissively asking journalists to “go and ask God” why women were not invited!

This outrageous zeal to please Soodhun’s Saudi ‘friends’ comes at a price: Rs5.3 billion. That, it would seem, is how much our dignity costs. We have no idea if this is a grant or again one of those hefty loans that come in an attractive package. Remember that the price of the oil that the Saudis ‘gifted’ to us is still a state secret. Nor do we know in whose pockets the money will go but the sum is, apparently, enough for us to bend over backwards to look ridiculous. You will have noticed that even Saudi Arabia, the country we are desperately crawling to, are relaxing their laws on the segregation of women, who now sit side by side with men in the National Assembly and drive their cars happily on the roads. 

Of course, the association and its president are free to invite who they like to their dinner – provided it’s funded by them. In this case, the money came straight out of our own pockets. And, when the prime minister, in his official capacity, attends and accepts that his own female ministers be excluded from the banquet, he becomes politically responsible and morally condemnable. Being prime minister is not just about cutting ribbons; it is also and primarily about ensuring that the messages you are sending the nation are honest, transparent and fair. None of those elements was present in the message Pravind Jugnauth sent through his presence, reinforced by his arrogantly childish reaction to the fact that some of his ministers were not invited, “Fortunately, I was invited”! He thus knowingly condoned discrimination and the humiliation of more than half of the population of this country. There is nothing fortunate about that!

Nor can we forget the one who is handsomely paid to stand up for women’s rights – the minister of gender equality, Roubina-Jadoo-Jaunbocus, who simply refused to comment on this “tricky issue”! If a minister entrusted with the responsibility of standing up for women cannot even stand up for herself, what good can other women exactly expect from her?

Mauritians can absorb hardship, hunger and even pain. But feelings of humiliation don’t go away easily. Now, they can accuse us of Saudi bashing, after bouts of India bashing or China bashing. That is typical of governments on the back foot – governments that have lost their ability to reason. And their own dignity with it. 

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