In March 2010 we saw some ugly signs of religious intolerance. Events organized by Light Ministries International an association belonging to the Pentecostal Church were disrupted. A Gospel Festival was disrupted by a number of attackers upsetting chairs and tables then breaking car windshields and finally setting fire to a nearby sugar cane field.
The motivation of the attackers was because the event took place in a bastion area of their own religious culture. Fear of conversions seemed to be the driving force of the attacking mob. Following the incidents a couple of sociocultural associations publicly voiced concerns about proselytism and demanded an anti-conversion law.
These demands for an anti-conversion law have naturally been ignored by the state. Fundamental religious rights are already adopted in the Mauritius Constitution, see below.
The Mauritius Constitution, Chapter II, 11. Protection of freedom of conscience: (1) Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this section, that freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
The result of the incident is that, at international level, it gives the country a negative human rights report. See the U.S. Department of State report on this link.
You could think that the organisers of the function were foolish or provocative to hold such an event in that particular area. However, we presume that they had received civil permits from authorities to do so. In light of this and of the relevant text of the Constitution on the freedom of religion, opponents have no right to take the law into their own hands and create violence. The modus operandi of the attackers is a long way from the peaceful protest example of the great Mahatma Gandhi who defended human rights in Mauritius.
This brings a reflection on the possible hidden agenda of these activists in sociocultural associations. The “them and us” attitude in a multi-cultural society only enhances division. Provoking hatred and division in a country which is struggling to meet the challenges of globalization would hinder its own development. The impact of that would have effect on international relations such as with the EU which has a human rights clause in all their partnership agreements. The point being that the EU is a major donor to Mauritius along with several other nations.
Why mix religion and ethnicity in these times when travel and communications have no barriers? What does it matter, to others, if a person feels at ease with a religion which may not be his/her original one. After all that is the individual right. Some people take a longer spiritual search journey than others. In today’s world we even see Europeans embracing Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam which are very different from their cultural origins.
So the question for our times is do we practice what we preach? If we preach peace then it is supposed that we will propagate it.