Wednesday, 30 March 2016

TEMPLES AND MAHAJANS



Post-colonial Goan politics has always been about playing the Hindu bahujan against their Catholic counterparts. Fear of the Hindu bahujan is repeatedly instilled in Catholics using the bogeyman of Marathi and merger; the Hindu bahujan are constantly made hostile by falsely stating that the government panders to every Catholic demand, and by stoking communal sentiments about forced conversions, the Inquisition, western culture, food habits and so on and so forth. Of course, both these sections are quite often pitted together against Muslims. In all of this the hegemony of the Hindu upper-caste is left untouched. This pattern is amply clear if we look at the Konkani language agitation in the past, and the present mobilization of the Bharitiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) and RSS, along with some Marathivadis. Note also the manner in which Nagri Konkani in the Antruzi dialect (which is the dialect of the Saraswats) is still the official language of Goa.

The movement by the Forum for Rights of Children in Education (FORCE) launched in 2011, took a clear stance against this hegemony. More recently, the issue of replacing the old idol at the Marcaim temple in Ponda is on the boil, and is rightly termed as a “Mahajan v/s Bahujan” issue. Of course the antecedents of these two movements are not recent. The demand made by FORCE – that of government funding for English medium primary schools through an act of legislation – can be traced to the resentment over the imposition of Nagri Konkani as medium of instruction (MoI) from 1994. The conflict between the “Mahajans v/s Bahujans” also has a history, with bahujan communities repeatedly trying to gain greater access and control of the temple properties and management, currently in the control of the mostly Saraswat Mahajans. The Nagri Konkani writer N. Shivdas, for instance, has been part of movements to gain access to such brahmanical shrines.

With a judicious and cautious use of the imagination, if we try to put these two movements together, it can be argued that it is not just the temples across Goa that are jealously controlled by Mahajans, but also the ‘temples of learning’ (pardon the metaphor), thus sustaining their hegemony in Goan public sphere.

Allow me to explain a bit more. By demanding that the Mahajan Act, or the Regulamento of 1886, be scrapped, the bahujan communities are in effect asking for a greater control of temple resources, the upkeep of which uses their labour and devotion. They are asking for the freedom and liberty to exercise their choice of deciding how the temples are to be run. Similarly, the movement launched by FORCE is also a movement that demands the freedom and liberty to make a choice to educate children in the language that the parents deem fit. This choice, as we all know, is currently held hostage to the irrational and casteist worldviews and politics of the BBSM-RSS combine – in other words, ‘Mahajans’ of the temples of learning. Isn’t it after all the futures of bahujan children that are being held hostage by these ‘mahajans’?

It is a similar form of power and hegemony that FORCE and the temple movement at Marcaim are fighting. However, we need to point out and understand some shortcomings within such movements.

In relation to the movement spearheaded by FORCE, there are some crucial gaps in their political mobilization that have come to light. Despite many views asserting that FORCE’s demands are not just the demands of the Catholic community, FORCE was cornered into being an organization which represents the demands of Catholics alone. As O Heraldo’s group editor Sujay Gupta recently observed, “…when the government was clearly trying to split the movement for rights of all [emphasis added] children by catering to – or ostensibly catering to – just minority institutions, FORCE allowed this to happen by not pointing out that the government was trying to shift the goalposts”. In other words, there was complacency in FORCE’s mobilization of making more and more allies.

Thus, one can observe that FORCE failed to sustain a consistent articulation that its demands are beneficial for the whole of Goa. Although the bahujan movement at Marcaim does aim for larger political gains beyond the control of temples, yet these aims are not articulated as such; or at least not discussed in the Goan press. The ongoing debates only highlight the potential impact that the Marcaim temple movement could have on the next elections. Limiting (or allowing to limit) the Marcaim issue or the movement by FORCE to shifts in electoral politics would mean that we set our eyes on short-term goals. Both FORCE and the people leading the Marcaim temple movement should think of themselves as fighting similar ‘Mahajan’ control and hegemony.

In the past, we have seen some notable – though short-lived – attempts to unite Catholics and bahujan Hindus through an alliance of the Marathi Rajbhasha Andolan and Romi Konknni Andolan. Perhaps, the only way lasting change can be brought about is by a sustained attempt over a number of years to build solidarity between bahujan interests across religions, that is, assert universal caste and class interests over other sectarian ones. It is in such solidarity that the hope for a common, nurturing, and secure society lies. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 30 March, 2016)

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

THE NATION AND THE MARGINS

The almost month-long ‘anti-national’ saga played out from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the newsrooms in Delhi has brought some problems within India’s national identity forcefully and violently to the fore. The public spectacle that was created out of the alleged seditious speech of some student leaders of JNU has damaged the thin veneer of secularism and liberalism that Indian nationalism claimed to represent and embody. Thus the questions of what does it mean to be ‘Indian’ and who can be rightfully Indian is now being debated furiously in the national press and the national centers of power and learning. Though these debates seem to be reinforcing the ideals enshrined in the Constitution of India, one can arguably see the superficiality of these if we think about the JNU incident from a politicized Goan Catholic perspective. After all, were not Goan Catholics suspected of being ‘anti-national’ decades before this event?

Let’s start from the beginning. Goa was not a part of the Indian state in 1947. Thus, Goa was not part of the founding moment of the Indian state and the debates surrounding the formation of the Constitution of India and the linguistic re-organization policy. Thus also, the Indian identity of Goa and Goans had to be fitted in almost 15 years after the establishment of the Indian state. This identity was largely negotiated through linguistic markers. Though tourism also played a part later on, I will not dwell on it in this article.

Let us consider how the Konkani language in the Nagri avatar was recognized in the ’70s and ’80s by the Indian government and its national body of letters – the Sahitya Akademi. Konkani as a language had to produce a classical and Sanskritic past in order to be recognized as a legitimate Indian language. This was a blessing for the proponents of the Nagri script as the superficial similarities with the script would easily allow them to latch onto a Sanskritic norm defined by Indian nationalism. So in effect, what we have here is a nation that would only accept the Konkani language as belonging to the illustrious lists of ‘national’ languages only if it had a justification in a Sanskritic culture and past, as Rochelle Pinto observed, while participating in a session on ‘Rewriting Goan History’ at the Goa Arts and Lit Fest, 2015. Thus there was a scramble to find and publish Sanskrit classical texts that were rendered in Konkani. The Konkani renderings of the Ramayana and Mahabharata were obtained from the Municipal library of Braga, Portugal, and published in Goa. And what is also interesting is that somehow the Konkani language could produce such a Sanskritic heritage only thanks to the Catholic missionaries, who had written down these renderings in the Roman script, in the sixteenth century!

This Sanskrit-privileging linguistic culture and policy in India was also very much disrespectful of the diversity and history of the Konkani language. We have over the years witnessed the scorn that is poured on Romi Konkani and the cultural artifacts that are produced in that script. Romi was (and is) considered ‘foreign’ (read as not Indian) and hence it is argued that it had no space in the cultural/literary life of India. Thus, the largely (but not entirely) Catholic users of the script were asked to give up Romi in favour of the more Indian, though artificial, Nagri variant. In the ’70s and ’80s, people like the Gandhian Konkani litterateur Ravindra Kelekar was quite blatantly making such arguments.

Unfortunately, the project to expand a Nagri and Sanskritic culture, like other national projects, was not an innocent one. It was marked by a considerable degree of cultural violence against the Catholics in Goa. Catholics in Goa – especially from Bahujan backgrounds – were subjected to casteist and communal abuse. Further, they were told that they were culturally inadequate, or carriers of a culture that was fundamentally flawed and impure. All for the purpose of making Goan Catholics better Indians.

Merely demanding that the Roman script and its cultural productions be recognized within the culture and constitutional rights of the Indian state earned Goan Catholics the ire of the Hindu upper-castes, and it also led to Catholics being branded as ‘anti-national’. In fact it is not just the Roman script, but Catholic food-habits, dressing, and life-styles which have come under tremendous attacks for being deviant to the established Indian norm.

So, the issue is not simply about who is a ‘patriot’ and who is an ‘anti-national’. When groups in Delhi that are aligned to the left and center-of-left political ideologies, in other words the traditional guardians of Indian secularism, claim that the Hindu-right has no business in issuing certificates of nationalism and patriotism because they are nationalist and patriotic enough, it seems that there is no regard and concern for the pernicious effects of Indian nationalism on several thousands of communities for over half a century. The marginalization that Indian nationalism creates needs to be confronted; and precisely at a time like this, when the confidence of the secular-liberal Indian elite is jolted. Goans have to think about the nation through their own experience rather than passively accepting a national discourse.


The fact that none of these ongoing debates would consider the Goan Catholic experience as important would tell us how blind they are to multiple experiences in different parts of India. Once again, what it means to be Indian and nationalist/patriot will be defined by those who are unaware of and uninterested in our experience. The question ultimately is, do we have a choice and a say in this national politics?

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 16 March, 2016)

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

PROPAGANDA AND HISTORY: THE LAST DAYS OF THE ‘ESTADO NOVO’



The Facebook page Memórias da India Portuguesa regularly posts old photos and videos of Goa largely produced during the last few decades of Portuguese rule in Goa, Daman, and Diu. While the visual value of these images is indeed rich, there is hardly any history-related engagement with the same. Since these images are only recently collected together from diverse sources, in effect constituting a historical archive, issues such as engagement with the propaganda within the archive can be subjected to a scholarly analysis.

One of the videos that Memórias shared was a documentary produced by Time magazine in 1953, under the ‘March of Time’ series. This rich archive produced from 1935 to 1967 was recently restored by HBO Archives. It is said that Time magazine wanted to create a new form of visual journalism, a cross between docudrama and journalism. ‘March of Time’ thus used re-enactments and reportage, often leaving people completely baffled and unable to make sense of their films.

Keeping with its style of reenactment-journalism, the episode on Portuguese Goa opens with the director of ‘March of Time’, Dwight Godwin paying a visit to Goa’s then Governor-General Paulo Bernardo Guedes. Owing to the fact that nationalist movements were prominent around the 1950s, and due to the immense pressure that was exerted on the Portuguese by the Indian state and the international community, Godwin’s first question to Guedes was not surprising: “We’ve been told,” he said, “that here in Goa the level of [economic] prosperity is very good…do you feel it is true, sir?” Guedes replied, “É verdade”, adding that Godwin should ascertain for himself if it were indeed true.

And then for the next fifteen-odd minutes, the documentary rapidly projects the economic and social condition of Goa. There are visuals that show the port of Mormugao where “flags of all nations fly in the harbor…just like in the sixteenth century (sic)”, the export of Manganese ore, as well as the mining operations in one of the mines. Although the narrator of the documentary remarks that manganese mining and exports are done in a labour-intensive manner, it nonetheless does not affect the potential of the Goan economy. The import of luxury goods and a very busy customs house impresses the documentary-makers – even if they do not approve of the smuggling that is clandestinely carried out across the border with the territory of neighbouring India.

Though one might suspect this rosy picture of the economic condition of Goa in the 1950s, it must be stressed that no serious historical research has been carried out to ascertain the conditions during this period of time. And as such, the glimpse of a Goan farmer, Caetano, his wife, and their four children, working in the paddy fields is quite interesting and useful. For one, the documentary claims that, like many other farmers in Goa, this farmer is content in being a citizen of Portugal, and is also able to provide two modest square meals for his family – which is better than the then prevailing conditions in India. The emphasis that the documentary places on citizenship extended by Portugal is not a misplaced one, as Portugal recognized the citizenship rights of all Goans after 1910. Yet saying that farmers in Goa were content with Portuguese citizenship might be far from the truth, as most of the agrarian labourers worked on lands that did not belong to them. Until the reforms introduced by Dayanand Bandodkar, the hold of the bhatkar class on Goan land-ownership was almost absolute. Which is why when trying to understand colonial propaganda, one not only has to question the obvious colonial motives involved, but also the class of natives whose control over resources and alliance with the colonial regime worked together to subjugate common people. Thus, one can also speak about class and caste oppression within Goan society under colonial rule, and not just foreign colonial oppression.




Another important glimpse that the documentary offers is that of the African soldiers from Moçambique stationed in Goa. While very little is known about these soldiers from Africa, their presence is sometimes not even acknowledged properly. This is understandable as Goan history is often hijacked by Indian nationalist concerns, and those who are marginal to this worldview are simply ignored. Even histories of race are marginal to the nationalist historiography, perhaps the reason why we do not see African soldiers in Goa as integral to Goan history. Thus, the visuals of Moçambiquan soldiers singing (or being made to sing) their native songs, due to homesickness or nostalgia, allows us a small glimpse of the African thread in Goa’s history.

To be fair to the documentary-makers, not everything in the documentary furthers Portuguese colonial propaganda. For instance, as far as the naval and armed forces stationed in Goa, the documentary remarks that the army “though larger [in comparison to the navy] is a token force”. While Goans have often heard stories of horror perpetuated by the Portuguese on pro-India freedom-fighters, the meager policing resources at the disposal of the colonial state might suggest a different reality.


The documentary ends with Godwin paying another visit to Guedes, after his tour around Goa. Godwin comes to the conclusion that “there does not seem to be any feeling of colonialism amongst the Goan people”. To which Guedes responds, “Goa is not a colony but a province, like any other province, of Portugal”. It is true that Portugal changed the nomenclature of Goa to an ‘overseas province’, but we cannot be sure what it exactly meant for the people living in such circumstances. Colonial propaganda, therefore, cannot be simply rejected, and neither can it be accepted at face-value, claiming that it represents the true images of Goa’s past. But within the claims and counter-claims of propaganda, there is a lot that can be unearthed.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 2 March, 2016)