Capitalism and domestic violence

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Mauritius is a conservative wife-beating society. This was the conclusion of V.S Naipaul when he visited Mauritius in the 1970s and from the looks of it, things have not changed much. Just this week, the prime minister of the country compared men who engage in domestic violence to “animals” and NGOs have had their marches.  What is not talked about however, is how much of this violence within homes is being fuelled by the noxious and declining variety of capitalism that currently holds sway in Mauritius. 

No, this is not something picked up from a communist screed. This is actually what the government’s own evidence is showing. In 2018, the government released a report that it, along with the UNDP, had commissioned. According to it, more than half of the cases of domestic violence are committed by people who don’t have a permanent, stable job.  This should not be a particularly startling statistic in a country where on the one hand men are expected to be the primary breadwinners while on the other, the economic system in place is increasingly denying them the ability to do so. Just consider some of the realities that we are living under. Since the end of mass-employing industries such as sugar and textiles (since 2002, nearly 80,000 jobs have been shed in these sectors), and with investment increasingly concentrated in real estate speculation that, at best, only creates temporary or short-term construction work, increasingly more and more Mauritians are having to rely on jobs in the SMEs. In 2017, these accounted for 55 per cent of jobs in the country. The problem is that within the first couple of years, 90 per cent of them go bust. So no stability there. 

Thanks to this glut of job-seekers and not enough jobs to go around, those lucky enough to land a job are increasingly having to agree to work increasingly long, irregular hours. This too takes a toll. According to the government study, 55 per cent of the perpetrators of domestic violence worked more than eight hours a day. In this situation, Mauritian business is increasingly being kept humming by the extension of credit, as households struggling to make ends meet borrow to finance their consumption and to make ends meet. In 2017, 40 per cent of households across the country were in debt. Is it really so surprising then, when the government finds that in 53.5 per cent of cases of domestic violence, financial problems was the main cause? Or how it’s not just domestic violence, but also divorce that’s going up increasing from 1,582 in a single year in 1998 surging to 2,617 in 2018?  

This is not to say that the economy and the pauperisation of the people under a declining Mauritian capitalism are the sole cause, but when jobs and families struggling to make ends meet are listed as the main cause in more than half of households tearing themselves apart, it continues to be surprising how this toll that capitalism is taking on the Mauritian family continues to be ignored. Or perhaps it’s not so surprising. NGOs by definition are single-issue crusaders, so a holistic examination of the economic roots of domestic violence is not something they are interested in. And even if it’s their own numbers showing it, no government would admit that capitalism is tearing the family apart without at the same time admitting to their failure to manage it properly. Not when we can just call them all ‘animals’, talk about ‘vrai zom’ and that’s that.  

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