A rumor has spread like wildfire across social media. It is claimed that one of the Deputy Prime Minister’s daughters was on last Saturday’s MK852 flight from South Africa to Mauritius. While the plane was in the air, mandatory quarantine was instituted for passengers arriving from South Africa. It is alleged that once the plane landed, however, one of these daughters secretly made her way back home, while other passengers had no choice but to quarantine.
In the comment section, people hope that the family catches the coronavirus and dies. My name is Nikhita and I am one of the Deputy Prime Minister’s daughters. I wake up in the morning and I read about how my family should be beaten to death. But I was not on this plane. My sisters were not, either. Last year, two of us travelled to Mauritius when institutional quarantine was mandatory, and we underwent it like everyone else. We would do it again in a heartbeat for the protection of our loved ones and our country. Anybody could have unearthed these facts with a minimal amount of effort. But as we know, such kind of social media attacks are not about truth; they are about perception.
The point of this letter is not to merely refute these accusations. Instead, I would like to reflect about what this kind of unfounded political discourse means, particularly for women. Women are poorly represented in Mauritian politics; and yet, they are perpetual proxies for the morality of political men. We rarely find women in Parliament, but we constantly hear about the mistress of X, the wife of Y, and the daughters of Z, where X-Y-Z are prominent political figures. These women are prime targets for fake news that seek to discredit powerful men in their lives.
They lose their reputations, careers and peace of mind as collateral damage in attacks that were never aimed towards them, anyway. This rumor is hurtful on multiple accounts, in particular because it depicts my sisters and I as nothing more than receptacles for the morality of our father. We are not seen as people in our own right. We are not viewed as capable of having principles of our own. We are simply little plasticine figures that political discourse can forge into whatever it wants.
My sisters and I do not take issue with criticism, as long as it is founded and fair. After all, should reproach not be rooted in evidence? And if we do have to face it, should it not be on our own account – for our own viewpoints, our own ideas, our own choices and our own mistakes? The rumor mills did not even bother to decide which one of us to attack; or to fashion a credible backstory for this socalled “transit”.
Corruption and abuses of power do happen, and they must be called out. But allegations must be researched and documented before being leveled. Calling “wolf” when there is none is a disservice to the cause. And the spread of fake news – the malicious spread of false information with the specific intent to cause harm – is itself a crime that must not be taken lightly. One of the people propagating these accusations is Mr. Rama Valayden, a former Attorney General. Mr. Valayden occupied one of the highest posts in the country; and yet, the best way he found to strike out at a political opponent is to throw his unnamed daughters under the bus. The attitude is clear: This is a fight between men in politics. Who cares about the casualties generated along the way – which, once again, just so happen to be women?
My sisters and I have always striven to find our own path in life, far from our father’s shadow. We are at the beginning of our careers, and the glass ceiling is already glimmering above us. Because of these accusations, fingers are raised at our integrity before we have even had a chance to prove ourselves. For a long time, I thought that there was no point in responding to such rumors. Les chiens aboient, la caravane passe. Keep your dignity, rise above it all. But what does this bring us? There is no end in sight; just a wheel of patriarchal politics that keeps grinding on. History is full of women – of wives and daughters – condemned to lives as bargaining chips in the games of powerful political men. I refuse to be one of them. If you are convinced that an adult woman has cheated her way out of quarantine, then Mr. Valayden, please: call her out by her name. She is more than just her father’s daughter.
PhD candidate in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard University.
Find her at nikhitao.com, and contact her at [email protected].