Mauritius - SOCIETY
The estimated population of Mauritius in July 1993 was 1,106,516 with a population growth rate of 0.95 percent for 1993. According to the 1990 census the population was 1,065,988, of whom 34,292 lived on Rodrigues and 170 on outer islands. The country's population density, more than 537 inhabitants per square kilometer, is one of the highest in the world. The majority of the island's inhabitants are young; some 58.6 percent were under the age of twenty-nine in 1990. The capital, Port Louis, is the largest city, with a population of 142,645. Other large metropolitan areas, in descending order, are Beau BassinRose Hill, Vacoas-Phoenix, Curepipe, and Quatre Bornes. In 1991 the population was relatively evenly divided between those residing in rural and urban areas.
The rate of population increase grew to between 3 percent and 4 percent in the 1950s, resulting, in large part, from the elimination of malaria, higher living standards, and improved health care. Worried that such high growth rates would impede the island's development and tax its resources, the government and private groups instituted extensive family planning efforts. Family planning services were centralized under the administration of the Maternal and Child Health Care Division of the Ministry of Health in 1972, and together with the nongovernmental Action Familiale, which promoted natural techniques of birth control, reduced the country's birthrate significantly. The rate dropped to around 2 percent in the 1960s, and fell to 1.1 percent in 1973. In the 1980s, the rate fell below 1 percent. According to a Ministry of Health publication, the following methods of birth control were used in 1985: birth control pills, 40 percent; barrier methods, 21 percent; natural methods, 16 percent; intrauterine device (IUD), 10 percent; tubal ligation, 8 percent; Depo Provera, 5 percent. Abortion is illegal, but a Mauritian family planning official has estimated that there is one abortion for every live birth. The crude birthrate in 1991 was 20.7 births per 1,000 population, and the crude death rate stood at 6.6 per 1,000.
<>Ethnicity, Religion, and Language
The forebears of the various ethnic groups composing Mauritian society arrived as settlers, slaves, indentured laborers, and immigrants. Although the country's past contains dark chapters of inequality and exploitation, modern Mauritian history has been remarkable for its relatively smooth and peaceful transition from colonial rule and the rule of large plantation owners to multiparty democracy.
"Harmonious separatism" is the way in which one writer characterizes communal relations in Mauritius. The term, however, does not preclude the existence of tensions. Ethnicity, religion, and language have been important factors in shaping the way Mauritians relate to each other in the political and social spheres. And despite the fact that sectarian factors are less of a determining factor in people's social and political behavior, they remain an important clue to the people's past and selfidentity .
The 1968 constitution recognized four population categories: Hindus, Muslims, Sino-Mauritians, and the general population. According to a 1989 estimate, of a total population of 1,080,000, Hindus constituted about 52 percent (559,440); the general population, about 29 percent (309,960); Muslims, about 16 percent (179,280); and Sino-Mauritians, about 3 percent (31,320).
The ancestors of the Hindu and Muslim populations came predominantly from the Indian subcontinent, and, from the censuses of 1846 to 1952, were classified as "Indo-Mauritians." The ancestral language of most Hindus is Hindi or Bhojpuri, with a minority of Tamil or Telegu speakers. Hindu immigrants brought with them the caste system. Upon arrival to the island, many members of lower castes upgraded their status to join the Vaish middle caste. Although the caste system was not supported by the occupational structure as in India, minority members of the high Brahmin and Khsatriya castes sometimes joined with the Vaish to exclude lower castes from top civil service and political jobs. For the most part, however, the caste system is not an important factor in social organization and, if anything, lingers mainly as a basis for choosing spouses. Most of the Hindu population adhere to the orthodox rituals of the Sanatanist branch of the religion. These Hindus observe their rituals in rural community centers called baitkas. The Arya Samajists adhere to a reform branch of Hinduism popular with the lower classes and instrumental in the Indo-Mauritian community's political and cultural development in the early years of the twentieth century.
The Muslim population is approximately 95 percent Sunni and Hindi-speaking. Other languages include Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Urdu, and Arabic. The principal place of worship is the Jummah Mosque in Port Louis, but there are many smaller mosques in the towns and villages. Among the Shia minority, some have their origins in different parts of India, others are adherents of the Agha Khan from East Africa, and still others are Ahmadist from the Punjab.
The earliest Chinese immigrants to the island came from the Canton region and spoke Cantonese, but most Sino-Mauritians descend from Mandarin-speaking settlers from Hunan. Some adhere to Buddhism and other Chinese religions, but many converted to Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century.
Unlike members of these specific population categories, those grouped under the general population rubric do not share close ethnic and cultural bonds. Members of the general population have in common only the fact that they do not belong to the other three groups. This category includes Franco-Mauritians, other European immigrants, and Creoles. The Creoles are ethnically diverse, some with black African ancestry, others of mixed descent, and still others from parts of Asia. They share a common language, which is a patois based on French, and the Roman Catholic religion.
In the past, a close association existed between certain occupations and ethnic groups. Although these patterns persist, they are changing. The Chinese, for example, predominate in commerce, as store owners and assistants, and in the restaurant and casino businesses. Hindus form the majority of agricultural workers, and members of the Muslim and Creole populations are artisans. African Creoles tend to be dockworkers, fishers, transportation workers, or service employees. Franco-Mauritians dominate the sugar industry and own most of the hotels, banks, and manufacturing industries. The civil service attracts educated members of all groups.
Mauritian society is noteworthy for its high degree of religious tolerance. Mauritians often share in the observances of religious groups other than their own. In part as a result of the multiplicity of religions, Mauritius has more than twenty national holidays. In addition, the government grants subsidies to all major religious groups according to their membership. According to the 1990 census, 49 percent of the population was Hindu, 27 percent Roman Catholic, 16 percent Muslim, and 0.5 percent Protestant; 7.5 percent belonged to other groups.
Language is perhaps the most complex and perplexing aspect of the Mauritian social mosaic. This intricacy derives from the number of languages spoken combined with the uses to which they are put and the sociopolitical connotations they bear. Philip Baker and Peter Stein, scholars studying language use in Mauritius, have found that English is associated with "knowledge," French with "culture," Creole with "egalitarianism," and other languages, "ancestral heritage." Consequently, although Creole is the most widely spoken language in the country, French predominates in the media, and English is the official language of government and school instruction.
The growing use of Creole by non-Creole Mauritians reflects a widespread movement away from ethnically based language use. Among Muslims and Sino-Mauritians, for example, Creole is the principal language. According to the 1983 census, the top five languages were: Creole, 54.1 percent; Bhojpuri, 20.4 percent; Hindi, 11.5 percent; French, 3.7 percent; and Tamil, 3.7 percent. These figures indicate the principal language used in the home. Most Mauritians, however, speak several languages.
The education system in Mauritius, patterned after the British model, has improved greatly since independence. It has been free through the secondary level since 1976 and through the postsecondary level since 1988. The government has made an effort to provide adequate funding for education, occasionally straining tight budgets. In 1991-92, reflecting the trend of earlier budgets, the government allocated 13 percent for education, culture and art. Nonetheless, facilities in rural areas tend to be less adequate than those in Port Louis and other cities. Literacy in 1990 for the population over fifteen years of age on the island of Mauritius was 80 percent overall, 85 percent for males, and 75 percent for females.
In 1979 the government established a new unit in the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs to oversee and coordinate teaching resources at some 900 private preschools. The increasing participation of women in the labor force necessitated the expansion of the preschool system. The government established public preschools in 1984. Primary education (standard 1-6) is compulsory, and 6,507 teachers taught 137,491 students in 283 schools in 1990, representing an estimated 92 percent of children in that age group. During the same period at the secondary level (forms 1-6), 3,728 teachers taught 78,110 students in 124 schools. As in the British system, students must pass standardized exams at several stages to be able to continue their studies. About 50 to 60 percent of primary students pass the exam for admission to secondary school. In 1986, 60.7 percent of the form 5 students taking the School Certificate exam passed; not all went on to form 6. In the same year, 53.7 percent of the form 6 students taking the Higher School Certificate exam passed. In addition to government schools, there are many private primary and secondary schools, but statistical data on these are lacking.
The country's principal institution of higher education is the University of Mauritius, where 1,190 students were enrolled in 1991. Other postsecondary institutions include the Mauritius Institute of Education for teacher training; the Mauritius College of the Air, which broadcasts classes; and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute. Of the several hundred Mauritians studying abroad each year, most go to Britain, France, and India. In addition, 1,190 students were enrolled at eleven vocational training centers, and 690 were taking courses at three technical institutions and five handicraft training centers in 1991.
From standard 4 onward, English is the sole language of instruction. Before that, teachers use Creole and Bhojpuri when teaching English to those students who do not already know it. From standard 3 onward, French is a required course. Students may also take classes in several Asian languages.
The government of Mauritius regards education as a sphere of utmost importance in its move toward the "second stage" of economic development, namely becoming a newly industrialized country. Therefore, at a donors' meeting in Paris in November 1991, the minister of education presented an ambitious Education Master Plan for the years 1991-2000. The plan calls for expanding education at all levels, from preprimary through university, through the establishment of new schools and the improvement of existing facilities, especially technical and vocational education; the latter is an area that to date had not provided the technical skills required by island industries. Despite the population's 95 percent literacy rate for those under thirty years of age, government officials have been concerned at the high dropout rate, especially at the secondary level. University places are also being increased to 5,000, and new courses of study are being introduced. The donor response to the plan was very favorable. The World Bank pledged US$20 million, the African Development Bank US$15 million, and other donors an additional US$14 million.
The news media in Mauritius, especially the press, are lively and free. During the 1970s, the government attempted to impose some restrictions, particularly on those newspapers opposed to its policies, but fierce opposition led to the elimination of the laws.
There were five French dailies (the two principal ones being L'Express and Le Mauricien) and two small Chinese dailies with a combined circulation of more than 80,000 in 1993. Several weekly, biweekly and monthly papers and magazines are also published, some of them in English. Most of the printed media are in the hands of political parties, religious organizations, or private firms.
The government controls the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), which regulates television and radio broadcasting. Mauritius has two television and two radio stations, which broadcast in twelve languages. About 50 percent of MBC broadcasts are in French, 25 percent in Hindi or Bhojpuri, 14 percent in English, and 11 percent in other languages. Most Mauritians also receive French television broadcasts from Reunion.
Government-funded health services and facilities are widespread and accessible to most of the population, although facilities are concentrated in urban centers. According to data from the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, between 1972 and 1987 the number of doctors per 100,000 population increased from twenty-seven to eighty. The number of hospital beds decreased from 328 to 285 per 100,000 population in the same period. In 1992 Mauritius had 3,094 hospital beds, and 1,090 physicians (including 152 specialists). Life expectancy at birth in 1994 on the island of Mauritius was 74.6 years for females and 66.6 years for males, for an overall life expectancy of 70.5 years. In 1994 infant mortality stood at 18.4 per 1,000 live births. In its 1991-92 national budget, the government allocated 7.7 percent (about US$57.9 million) to health care.
Malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases prevalent in preWorld War II years have been brought under control by successful public health measures. The major causes of death in 1990, in descending order, were diseases of the circulatory system, diseases of the respiratory system, and cancers. With growing affluence and changes in social conditions, drug abuse has become a problem. By 1993 all the population had easy access to potable water. Nutritional standards are high; the daily per capita caloric intake in 1987 was 2,680, or 124 percent of the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization recommended requirement.
In the early 1980s, forty social welfare centers and thirty village centers provided training in nutrition and maternal and child health care, as well as recreational facilities and courses in home economics and dressmaking. The government provides services, including board and lodging, to the elderly and the infirm. Family welfare allowances are also available for the poor. The Central Housing Authority and the Mauritius Housing Corporation provide funding for low-income housing.
As in other industrializing countries, the role of women is changing rapidly. A major force for change has been the rapid influx of women into the many jobs created in the 1980s in the export processing zones (EPZs). Although low-paying for the most part, the jobs allow women formerly confined to the roles of mother and wife to gain a certain degree of personal and social freedom. One woman, in a 1993 National Geographic article, said:
For a Mauritian woman, to work is to be free. Before, a girl could not leave home until her parents found a husband for her, and then she moved into her husband's family's home and spent the rest of her life having babies. I met my husband at work, and it was my decision to marry him. Now we live in our own house.
The government has taken measures to promote equality of the sexes by repealing discriminatory laws dealing with inheritance and emigration. In 1989 the government appointed equal opportunity officers in the principal ministries to deal with women's issues. Reports by the Ministry of Women's Rights and Family Welfare and others indicate, however, that violence against women is prevalent. The increased employment of women has created the need for more child-care services and for more laborsaving devices in the home.