Tuesday, 30 September 2014

KONKANI, MoI, AND COLONIAL LEGACY



Around two months ago, at the launch of the Indo-Portuguese historian Teotonio de Souza’s latest book, Eduardo Faleiro, former Union Cabinet minister and former NRI Commissioner of the Goa government, argued for imparting primary education in the local language. Excerpts of his speech were recently published in The Goan Review (September-October, 2014), and therefore his key arguments are available for greater scrutiny. Speaking at the launch of Goa Outgrowing Postcolonialism, Faleiro sought to trace a linear and rather simplistic connection between the violence of colonialism, the destruction of native culture, and the (purported) contemporary need for education in the native language(s).

The core of Faleiro’s speech rested on the understanding that Portuguese colonialism resulted in the destruction of the Konkani language “almost completely”. Since “[l]anguage is central to culture”, Faleiro seems to argue that one can undo the damage and alleged humiliation of colonialism by regaining the pre-colonial glory of native culture. He therefore suggests that Konkani and Marathi need to be studied at primary level and that “[t]here is no justification for English as a medium of instruction at the primary level”. Also, “Konkani should be taught in the Devnagri script as it will provide access to Marathi and Hindi… [and] Children will learn the romi script when they learn English”.

While acknowledging the ills of colonialism, one should be careful not to take the idea of wholesale destruction under colonialism at face value. Also, how valid is the idea that the pre-colonial period was a glorious epoch and thus worthy of recovering? For the problems with such thinking clearly come to the fore when Nagri script is considered as a way out of the ills of colonialism. The underlying assumption is that the Nagri script is more ‘Indian’ and hence best suited for the task of recovering the lost cultural heritage.

Faleiro is not making any new suggestions as far as the linguistic and cultural realms of Goa go. By making the argument for the Nagri script, he joins a very long list of largely upper-caste Nagri protagonists who have thus far ensured the denial of Government recognition to the Roman script. One can understand why Faleiro is favouring the Nagri script, as in the worldview that he seems to be drawing upon, the culture-destroying Portuguese colonialism is where Konkani in the Roman script had its birth. However, such an understanding fails to take note of the very real possibility that through the Roman script, written texts (chiefly Christian literature) were made available to a large mass of people. This access was not possible prior to missionary intervention because until then it was largely the brahmin pundits and other upper-caste groups who had sole control over the production and access to knowledge. This is exactly the point that Jason Keith Fernandes made in his talk The Secret History of Konkani, arguing also that one needs to view the Catholic Church in Goa, through the intervention of missionaries, as a producer of a language through the Roman script. Thus, according to this argument, the Konkani language and knowledge was not destroyed completely but was made available to a greater number of people.
The colonial legacy of the Roman script itself is reason enough to reject it as a carrier of authentic Goan and Indian culture. Such thinking can stray in dangerous directions. For, within this argument, is the unsaid condemnation of Christianity and Islam, for the destruction of natives and native culture in the process of proselytizing these religions. As much of recent work by historians and anthropologists of Christianity and Islam in the Indian subcontinent has demonstrated, conversion did not necessarily result in a loss of native culture. Many historians have suggested that conversion could also be a way out of caste. A perusal of these works would convince many that the colonial past is a complex history and would need a deeper understanding than what is allowed by our contemporary political setup.

The argument that English cannot be the medium of instruction is again a bit suspect. Faleiro’s contention is that the “academic performance” is not affected if education is imparted in local languages. However, if one considers his understanding of colonialism and his espousal of the Nagri script for Konkani, it becomes evident that Faleiro’s arguments have very little to do with “academic performance”. Several Goan writers have stressed that the parents should be given the right to decide for their wards. Recently, a Supreme Court judgment too argued for upholding the choice of the parents in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India. The denial of English as medium of instruction is also a denial of the legitimacy of the aspiration of parents for their children. If thousands of parents/guardians feel that access to English language would provide their wards with greater opportunities in later life, then we need to consider their point of view much more seriously, and not brush it aside the way Faleiro does.

We need to start recognizing that the issues of the Roman script, medium of instruction, and Portuguese colonialism are not isolated, but are intertwined with each other. This is the reason why, one can suggest, Faleiro started his speech with a general reflection on the destruction and mayhem of colonialism and ended with a suggestion for the organization of “programmes to sensitise parents as to the need for their children to learn in the mother tongue”. Rather than privileging the diversity of Goan culture, only certain cultural traditions are privileged and recognized. In a society that is struggling to maintain its plural and peaceful character, such thinking will only add to our woes.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 1 October, 2014)

See also: 'Supreme Court, MoI, and 'Mother Tongue': Good News for Goa?', here.
'Medium of Instruction in Goan Schools: Mother Tongue or Multitlingualism?', here
'Battle of the Konkanis: Separating Wolves from the Lambs', here

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

WHEN ISLAMOPHOBIA SUDDENLY STRIKES: REFLECTIONS OF A GOAN CATHOLIC



In my last few columns on the problems that the minorities face in India and Goa, I had an occasion to reflect on how Muslims become the victims of Islamophobia in the manner in which they are perceived by Christians. I had also talked about how the predicament that the Indian Muslims face has many similarities with the problems that the Goan Catholics have to deal with. Such problems, I suggested, were not isolated from the relation that the Muslims and Christians (and their history in the subcontinent) have with the Indian nation. To explore this predicament further, I would like to narrate a personal incident.

I found myself on a very early morning flight from Goa to Sharjah a few weeks ago. Since the flight was to depart at around four in the morning, and since I had a deadline to meet, I was working on my laptop till I heard the boarding announcement. Exhausted by doing many things, the least of which was packing, I decided that I would doze off as soon as I took my seat in the plane.

The Air Arabia flight has screens that drop down from the overhead baggage compartment wherein the necessary safety information is projected for the passengers. As the plane was taxiing to the runway and the whir of the engines was lulling me to sleep, I was suddenly woken up by something that I had never heard in a plane: “Allahu Akbar…”, the drop-down screen said. For two seconds I was wide awake and astounded. It was only when I rubbed the sleep off my eyes that I realized that it was the beginning to a meaningful prayer, asking God’s protection from the travails of travel. The prayer was in Arabic, with English subtitles for the benefit of those unschooled in that language. Sure at that moment I smiled at myself sheepishly. It was mildly embarrassing for me. Now clearly, despite knowing better, Islamophobia had caught me unawares.

But thinking more about the incident, I realized why I sat wide awake, even if for two brief seconds. I also recalled when, years ago, I had read about a Muslim, woman journalist writing for the Indian Express, who when about to board a flight and speaking on the phone and trying to assure the person on the other end of the line that her flight will be a safe one, had said something to the effect of, Inshallah plane uddega, only to get nervous stares from the person standing next to her. We can either laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of such incidents, or we can (and I would rather prefer such an alternative) think about such incidents in a sympathetic manner.

The reason why I am narrating this incident, indeed confessing almost, is because it is not isolated from what I have talked previously in this very space. What I would like to stress is that one needs to be not only cautious of the overt manifestations of Islamophobic and anti-Muslim worldviews, but also such subtle and covert instances that, one can argue, feed the violence against minorities. The advantage of dealing critically with such covert and subtle instances is that racism, casteism, and other injustices that the minorities (or ‘minoritized groups’, for communities become minorities owing to the injustices of race and caste, for instance) have to face on a daily basis can be dealt with greater efficiency. The injustices that happen on a daily basis are much more pervasive and can kill the soul of a person much more effectively than physical violence. As Dr. B. R. Ambedkar suggested, “Most people do not realize that society can practise tyranny and oppression against an individual in a far greater degree than a Government can. The means and scope that are open to society for oppression are more extensive than those that are open to Government, also they are far more effective. What punishment in the penal code is comparable in its magnitude and its severity to excommunication?”

So what has the everyday (almost banal) Islamophobia to do with the Catholics in Goa? I can concede that it may not directly relate to the life of Goan Catholics. But a sympathetic recognition of Islamophobia’s overt and covert manifestations can allow the Goan Catholics to think about their own position in Goan society in new and different ways. Should not the Goan Catholics ask themselves whether they are responsible for the ills of Portuguese colonialism and Inquisition, when the Muslims are expected to bear the burden of a history of ‘invasions’? The Goan Catholics can ask why they are stereotyped the way they are, like the Muslims, in popular culture? The Goan Catholics can ask whether Christianity and Islam are really ‘foreign’ to India. The Goan Catholics can also ask whether demanding rights and justice is ‘minority appeasement’. These are some of the many similarities that can be summoned up in the context of what has been just discussed.

If one is convinced that Islamophobia is a real and a serious problem, I think being caught unawares by it can be a blessing in disguise. Being caught unawares is not the same as being consciously Islamophobic, but such an incident – as the one described at the beginning of this column – can enable us to search for answers to the problems that are plaguing the minorities in this country. Not recognizing Islamophobia as a serious problem, however, can compound the problems that the minorities in India face. It can further bolster those ideas and ideologies that legitimize the exclusion of minorities from mainstream politics.

And yes, I did have a safe and pleasant flight!

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 17 September, 2014)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

‘GUNAAJI’: GUNN ANI OGUNN



Gunaaji hem Konkani cholchitr kaim satolle zale Gõychea sinema halls-amni dakhoitat. Hanvem hem cholchitr polleun ghetlem ani mhojea koplak mirio poddleo. Kiteak tem hanv hea lekhant uzvadd ghalunk sodtam.

Sahitya Akademicho puroskar favo zalolo borovpi, Pundalik Naikachea eka novolikecher hem cholchitr adarun asa. Pustok rupant prokaxit zaunche poilim, hi novolika 1998 vorsa Konkani Bhasha Mondollachea vorsuki Konknni hea masikacher ani Raxttrmot hea disalleacher bhagamni (serialized) uzvaddak ailoli. Tor ami oxem mhonnonk zata ki cholchitr zaunche polim he novolikentli kanni  boreach vachpeam meren pavloli asa. Khub pavtti filmachi kanni pustokant asa toxi nasta dekhun hanvem hem pustokui vachun kaddlem.

Gunaaji hi eka raknneachi kanni, zo Gõychea eka ganvgirea vattharant ravta ani zaka sogleant boro rakhnno mhonn raxttriya inam favo zata. Gõyant savn Novi Dil’li to koso provas korta ani uprant puroskar gheta tem hea filmant dakhoilam. Gõykarank manovta tosle dixttave hea filmant asat. Pustokant ani filmant zaite hansovpi ani mon dhados korpi khinn asat, ani choddant chodd kodden pustokant asa tich kanni filmantui dakhoilea.

Punn jea suvantancher pustokantli kanni filmant veglli dakhoilea tachi mat ami nond gheunkuch zai. Chodd korun je don prosong asat tacher ami nodor marunk zai. Pustokache/filmache survatek Gunnaji aplea jivitantlo ek khinn sangta, koxe bhaxen tannem ek pavtt eke gayek marunk vhortoleank addailolem tem, kiteak gayek marop mhollear vaitt dekhun, ani kanniechea xevottak aplo puroskar svikarlea uprant Gunnaji bhaxonn ditanam hoch ‘point’ porot sobhemazar manddta. Cholchitrantlea hea donui prosongant jem Kristanvanchem patr (character) dakhoilam tachem vornonn pustokant khoinch kelolem mellona.

Punn, hea filmant  oxem dakhoilam zache vorvim amcheamni somzunk zata ki hea donuim prosongantlim patram Kristanv mhonn. Poilea prosongant Konknnichi ji boli vapurlea  ani  dusrea prosongant Gunnaji-n aplea bhaxonnant voir ul’lekh kelolo ‘point’ kelea uprant, rokdoch kemera machier boslolea eka “Shri. Melvin Pereira”-acher focus zata. Tedna tache  hav-bhav matxe nervoz zalolea ani lojek poddlolea bhaxen distat.

Hea pustokacho borovpi, Naik,  filmachi ‘screenplay’ toyar korpant aslolean  ami   ho prosn vicharunk zai: Goroz nastanam kiteak ani koslea karonnank lagun  Kristanv patram filmant dakhoileant?  Pustokant ekuch zagear borovpi Kristanv monxeacho ul’lekh korta ani to mhollear jednam Gunnaji ‘airport security’-cher pavta. Punn ho prosong kannientlea mukhel kolpone kodden matui sombondhit nam.

Tor Gunaaji-n mhojea koplak mirio kiteak ghatleo? Hachem karonn mhollear  gayek marop (mhonnche gayechem mas khavop) ani Kristanvam modem aslolo sombondh, zo hea filmant dakhoila. Gõyant Kristanv ani Musolman lok gayechem mas khatat, ani halinchea kallar  gayechem mas  khavpacher zo bhovxik virodh zata tachi amkam zanniv asa. Tor oslea vatavoronant  koxe toren ami hi novolika somzun gheunchi, ji 1998 vorsa uzvaddailoli ani 2014 vorsa filmachea rupant porot loka mukhar ailoli? Amcheamni oxem mhonnonk yeta ki gayechem mas khavop ani Hindu bhavna dukhovop hachem rajkaronn Gõyant vo Bharotant novem nhoi. Gõyant ‘right wing’ xoktimni gayechem mas khavpacher, Evropi sonvskruticher, Purtugez vosnnukponn ani Kristanvanchea jevnna-nhesnnacher, ani her dusrea sonvskutik chali-ritincher virodh korche adim  pasun ho ‘process’ chalu aslolo.

‘Anti-minority’ rajkaronnant Naik fuddakar gheta oxem ami mhunnonk sodinant. Punn Naikan je toren Bharoti raxttr-jinnentle kaim vichar – zoxe porim olp-sonkhechea lokanchem mot kana-monar sarkem ghevop na – kolltta vo na-kollttam mandun ghetlolea karonnank lagun amcheamni tachea Gunaaji-k prosn korunk yeta. Hem film amkam inosent disot (ani kaim zageamni tem inosent-ui asa) punn je toren ukteponnim ani lipovn kaim khinn hea filmant asat te Kristanv vo olp-sonkhechea monxeak ugddas korun ditat ki tanchi sonvskruti ani tancheo rit-roviseo sodanch ‘majoritarian’ (bhov-sonkhyea) sonvskruti poros veglleo asat mhunnon ani tannim sodankal ‘majoritarian’ sonvskrutiche xeka khal ravpak zai mhunnon. Naikan hi bhirankull stithi nirmunk nam zait punn tannem tika urba dilea hantunt dubhav nam.

Tor Gunaaji kitlem borem cholchitr zaun asa? Hacher mhaka bhasabhas korunk naka. Punn mhaka oxem sangunk zai ki hi novolika ani hem film sadheo ghoddnuko nhoi. Kaim gozali distat titleo sadheo nastat ani tantuntlim gupit karannam amche modem aslolea boreantlea boreank pasun tim kaim pavtti disti poddonant. Jeo sonvskrutiyo ani rit-roviseo Hindu nhoi teo poisavpachi pod’dot   (trend) Bharotant atanch suru zaunk na. Taka xembhor odhik vorsancho itihas asa. Zor tor amkam hea itihasacho ugddas na zalear olp-sonkhechea lokank ami  rajki ani her molla voilean poisavunk zababdar thartole.

(Ho lekh Amcho Avaz-acher uzvaddak aila, tarik: 6 Setembr, 2014)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

'TIATR' AND THE GOAN PUBLIC SPHERE



With the declaration made in the Goa Legislative Assembly that the right-wing Hindu outfit, Sri Ram Sene will not be allowed to set up its base in Goa, the ‘drama’ (pun intended) over Tousif de Navelim’s Akantvadi Goeant Naka, seems to have finally ended. The successful staging of the tiatr was viewed as the triumph of Goemkarponn or Goan-ness (and indeed it seemed all and sundry were clamoring to give and receive credit for the staging of the tiatr). What was actually quite disappointing to note was the myriad other issues that were not discussed/raised in the interest of Goemkarponn.

First and foremost we should recognize the fact that if the tiatr as a medium of cultural expression has thrived, it is solely due to the steadfast support of working-class and subaltern caste Goan Catholics, though it is not restricted to Catholics alone. This recognition is important as for most of tiatr’s history, tiatrists and the people who patronized them were held to be lacking in standard and sophistication by elite Goans. One can suggest that the reason why Tousif, being a Muslim himself, could capture the imagination of different sections of Goan society is because tiatr as an art form has been developed largely outside the fold of upper-caste and -class Goan cultures and discourses. To extend this point a bit further, we can also suggest that if Goa would like to further its image as a society with plural ethos, the tiatrists and tiatrs need to be accepted as bases crucial for ‘secularism’ in Goa.

The power and importance of the subaltern Catholic groups of Goa was on full display during the staging of Tousif’s tiatr. Naysayers could only bicker and complain about how the tiatrists themselves lacked moral integrity. To my mind, this is a non issue for the simple reason that right from the days of Antonio Salazar when the civil liberties were curtailed, tiatrists have spoken out and have not let their voices be censored (though one wonders the extent to which the Portuguese censors understood the references in the tiatr!). Thus, there is no justification for tarnishing the entire community of tiatrists in one brush and colour. Further, such a tarnishing is no different from the elite Goan assertion that tiatrs and tiatrists ‘lack standard’. In the triumphal celebrations that followed Tousif’s tiatr, Goa (it seemed) willingly forgot that the very people they were celebrating had been repeatedly told that their art (and by extension their social background as well) were not ‘good enough’.


This kind of ‘tarnishing’ should ideally make us confront another issue: that of the Roman script in Goa. Tiatr is not isolated from the politics of the Roman script and Portuguese colonialism. Fr. Victor Ferrao forwards an interesting argument in his book Being a Goan Christian, suggesting that owing to the fact that the era of Portuguese colonialism was perceived by the dominant (Hindu) discourse in Goa as an ‘era of pollution’, the cultural practices and productions such as writings in the Roman script and tiatrs, were seen as not being able to represent the authentic culture of Goa. Though the Tiatr Academy and the Dalgado Konknni Akademi receive government funds, the Goa government has not recognized Konkani in the Roman script as one of the official languages. The problem of the recognition of the Roman script may lie in such an understanding that Ferrao discusses in his book, as even in the staging of Tousif’s tiatr it was immediately hailed as a victory for Goemkarponn (and not Romi Konkani culture, for instance), thus leveling any differences in the bargain. What sort of Goemkarponn is this that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Roman script, without which tiatr is impossible?

Since this column seeks to contextualize tiatr within the Goan public sphere, a note on how the various events leading to the staging of Tousif’s tiatr reported in the media would not be out of place. While I acknowledge that most of the media had stood behind Tousif, the reportage failed to highlight the various voices that were alarmed by the threats issued to him. This is not the first time such threats have shaken up the minorities in Goa and as such this could have been a great opportunity to talk about the problems of the minorities in a sensitive and sympathetic manner. The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of the insecurities and fears of these people (many of whom are ardent tiatr-lovers) found little or no space. Instead, hateful comments against Catholics and Muslims found their way to the front pages of leading Goan dailies. The reason why the reportage in the media should be critically analyzed and viewed with a healthy balance of skepticism is for the fact that for too long and for too many times, the promises of a better tomorrow have not really translated into any concrete action. The staging of the tiatr may have been a vital step in combating communalization, but it cannot be said that the problem of communalization has been addressed. In the celebrations that had followed, the contribution of the minority communities of Goa in actually providing a bulwark against communalization has so far not been acknowledged.

To reiterate an earlier point, we have to acknowledge that it is these men and women who through their support and patronage of tiatr are the ones to be credited for maintaining and nurturing the plural ethos of Goa. That Goa even remotely resembles such a plural space is because of the fact that such subaltern men and women have a critical voice in the politics of Goa. To keep them away from the mainstream political life, wherein their help is only sought when an external threat is poised to jeopardize the status quo of Goan politics, will itself be detrimental to all of us who genuinely believe in a peaceful and inclusive Goa.

To all the under-recognized tiatrists and more particularly their faithful audience, thank you for the laughs, thank you for the drama, thank you for the sharp political satire, and thank you for your sacrifices.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 3 September, 2014)