Wednesday, 17 February 2016

ROADS, RECKLESS DRIVING, AND ACTS OF AGGRESSION



The alarming rate at which accidents are on the rise in Goa is an issue of major concern. While the number of victims in road accidents keeps on rising, repeated attempts to bring about policy decisions and laws seem to be destined to fail. This article is not a dissection of why these aforementioned measures fail. Rather, it will try to dwell on how we, as Goans, relate to each other whilst making use of roads. Think about it this way, why would the person behind you honk incessantly despite there being no place for you to give way and despite the fact that you are driving at a decent 50 kmph? Why is it that people in cars and on bikes rarely wait to allow pedestrians to cross the road? And why, when tables turn, does one indulge in the same behavior?

Goans with memories of having good roads and good traffic sense would today be quite rare. What would not be rare is the constant usage of the phrase “angar yeilo/yeta” to describe reckless driving. Interestingly, this is the exact same phrase that is used to describe physical aggression: “to mhojea angar yeilo”. So if one thinks about the two contexts in which this Konkani phrase is used, one can argue that driving on roads in Goa is an aggressive act. Thus, whilst on the road, we are either subjected to aggression or we inflict aggression upon someone else. These acts can be reckless driving wherein the vehicle driver endangers the life of others; in other circumstances, it can be loud and incessant honking, or using the full beam at night, or not recognizing the rights of other motorists and pedestrians to share the same space as you. And in the last instance, it can even be the use of verbal abuse and physically scuffling with others.

The next logical question to ask is why are roads sites of aggression in Goa? To answer this we would need to focus on power and privilege, as the architect and urban studies scholar Vishvesh Kandolkar does. Writing not so long ago, Kandolkar argued that one of the reasons is the privileges afforded to them by the Indian caste system that empowers ‘elites’ and/or high-end car owners to flout traffic laws as they do. To that we can also add the fact that as many are denied power and privilege in their social and political sphere, reckless driving can be a manifestation of this lack, enabling non-elites to momentarily feel a sense of power and privilege. As a result they assume themselves to be always in the right and above the law.

If we briefly focus on the history of who could afford cars and scooters in Goa, it would be apparent that privilege has a lot to do with why roads are sites of aggression. The wealthy and the landed class in Goa were the ones who could afford cars and scooters, back in the days when buses and bullock-carts were the more accessible means of transportation. I do not want to claim that only the wealthy and landed classes purchased cars in Goa, because others would as well. Many of the cars were purchased as a business investment, for providing transport facilities or taxi services. Generally, the one who invested would be driving the car and earning a living. However, cars purchased and used solely for the convenience and conveyance of the family members was a privilege that was only available to either those who owned land or those, due to employment in Gulf and on cruise liners, could afford cars from the ’80s. In other words, one could feel a certain entitlement – in the sense of owning the roads and driving on them.

With liberalization of the Indian economy and the availability of loans to the middle-class in the service sector, more and more Goans were able to acquire vehicles. This, in itself, is not a bad thing as more and more people could acquire prosperity. However, one cannot but help thinking if an anciently entrenched form of privilege along with a sense of entitlement is the only way through which we understand how to use roads. In other words, an ‘elite’ behavior and understanding that ‘I’ and solely ‘I’ am right – the other is not, is the only way we know how to behave on the roads and relate to each other. Ultimately, due to the virtue of owning a car or a scooter, ‘I’ do not recognize the right of others to share the same public space because ‘I’ think that ‘I’ am entitled (and above the law) and that everyone else should make way for me. Like in other public spaces such as parks, ‘we’ as a community have until now not been able to lay our collective claim on it. Only some of us can, while others resent it. There is always a friction which causes us to display aggressive behavior.

This is not to suggest that aggressive behavior is solely the cause of accidents on roads. Factors like sleep-deprivation and bad roads can also be major causes. However, the acts of aggression exhibited on Goan roads make the experience of moving from one place to another unpleasant and frustrating. This aggressive behavior on roads does not allow us to value human life, as it should be. While the efforts of the state, such as wider roads and more policing (which actually leads to harassing the citizenry) have not borne any results, checking our aggressive behavior could be a start at fixing the problem.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 17 February, 2016)

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

APOLOGIES AND OUR PAST



Recently, Sudhin Dhavalikar of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) demanded an apology from the current Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Costa, who is of Goan origin, when the Goa Legislative Assembly moved a motion to felicitate him. Costa should apologize, said Dhavalikar, for colonial injustices. The RSS soon joined Dhavalikar and demanded an apology not only for colonialism, but also for conversions to Christianity. It would not be out of place to revisit past instances of demands for apologies due to the manner in which Portuguese colonialism is used as a stick with which to beat Christians in Goa.

In June 1980, the name of Camões was mired in controversy. This controversy erupted, it seems, for a number of reasons. These included the cultural programs organized to commemorate the Fourth Death Centenary of Camões, the installation of a marble medallion bearing the image of Camões on the Ashoka Pillar in the Municipal Garden in Panjim, and the invitation extended to the last Governor-General of Portuguese India, Manuel Antonio Vassalo e Silva to attend the celebrations. Owing to the fact that diplomatic relations were normalized between Lisbon and New Delhi in 1974, the decision to commemorate the Fourth Death Centenary of Camões and to invite Vassalo e Silva seems to have been approved at the highest governmental levels in Portugal and India.

The Nationalist Citizens Action Committee mobilized the protests against the celebration of a Portuguese literary and national icon. There are no prizes for guessing what these protests were against – Portuguese colonialism and the indignities, injustices, and oppression of four-and-a-half centuries. In the ensuing melee, the one event that actually grabbed headlines was the apology that Vassalo e Silva was made to offer, after a demonstration that stopped him from paying his respects at the Martyr’s Memorial in Panjim. As one of the newspapers at that time reported, “The former Governor General yielded to the demand for [an] apology when the demonstrators told him that they had no objection to his placing the wreath but only if he expressed regret for the indignities committed on Goan people including freedom fighters by the erstwhile Portuguese regime”.§

Vassalo e Silva was forced to apologize despite the fact that he believed that “[t]he liberation of Goa was in the interest of Goans. Though Portugal ruled Goa for 450 years, this territory had always remained a part and parcel of India, irrespective of some people who might feel otherwise. It was also in the interest of Portugal that Goa should go back to the hands of Goans”. Similarly, George Vaz, a member of the Communist Party of India, made an important observation which can help us in understanding why Vassalo e Silva held such an opinion: “General Vassalo e Silva … when he was the Governor General of Goa, was secretly associated with the left movement in Portugal, which finally overthrew the Salazar dictatorship; a movement which ushered in the liberation of most of the African colonies of Portugal … General Vassalo e Silva represented that section in Portugal which had hailed the Liberation of Goa”.§

In fact, during the days surrounding the controversy, the “humanitarian approach” of Vassalo e Silva and his love for Goa were highlighted. Writing to the editor of a newspaper in June 1980, D. W. Desai observed, “If there would have been any other representative [of] an imperialist country to govern Goa, Goans would have suffered horrible bloodshed. In spite of this fact, many Goans are kept [in the] blind to the good deeds of this good man.  [Goans] are prejudiced by his picture as is exhibited by some politicians who wanted only to create ill-feeling towards [the] Portuguese regime” [emphasis added].§
From Navprabha (Marathi daily), dt: 5 June, 1980. Workers of the Panjim Municipality are pictured removing the marble medallion bearing Camoes' image. 


The 1980 demand could appear to be ‘secular’, with the protests against Vassalo e Silva led by the Nationalist Citizens Action Committee; and the Camões-medallion incident being condemned by the Bharatiya Depressed Classes League, Goa Unit, and the Congress-I.  Much like today, it would not be surprising if the protests in 1980 also had a subtext of hurt at the history of Christianization in Goa, as is today clearly expressed by the statements issued by the RSS. Thus, even though we might observe secular political outfits and Bahujan organizations leading the protests in 1980, the movement nevertheless was trapped within a nationalist understanding of Goa’s past, wherein Christianization and Portuguese colonialism are viewed to have caused the destruction of the culture of Goa.

The multi-faceted figure of Vassalo e Silva and the complex history in which he was situated, exposes the hollowness of demands for apologies. For surely, one apology tended by a former functionary of the colonial regime should have been enough, right? But apparently that is not so. The business of apologies has an insidious relationship with nationalism and how Bahujan identities are manipulated for devious gains. Given that Indian nationalism in Goa has always pitched itself against an enemy, first against Portuguese colonialism, and then against Goan Christians as continuing that ‘colonial’ legacy, it is by ignoring and/or distorting certain facts/events in history today that the Hindu Bahujan are perpetually pitched against their Christian counterparts, and as a substitute for Portuguese colonialism. This is perhaps how brahmanical power and communalization thrives in Goa.

 Due to his association with the Portuguese left, Vassalo e Silva may have believed that an apology may have been apt for past colonial rule. However, such apologies end up condemning Christians in Goa, marking them as enemies, and pitching Hindu Bahujans against them for crimes that are more ‘imagined’ than real. It is time to recognize this fact.    

§ Quotations from The Navhind Times, dt: 10 & 11 June, 1980. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 3 February, 2016)