Thursday, December 21, 2017


Standing on the cusp of the New Year, it is useful to reflect on the year gone by. This we do with the hope that the inevitable new beginning will be better than what we experienced in the past, in terms of our personal and public existence. And in that spirit, I think, we should take every opportunity to evaluate our political, social, and cultural existence during the past year.

Environmental and cultural concerns can be argued to have dominated the political discourse in Goa in 2017. Indeed, the protests articulated in places like Mopa and Sonshi demonstrated how environment and culture influenced the present discourse on Goan identity. The year witnessed a massive public hearing on an environmental issue. Choking on coal dust, many gathered in Vasco to make their grievances heard. This unprecedented event signaled yet again the growing sense that Goa’s environment and ecological health is endangered, and, if not addressed urgently, will lead to an unmitigated disaster.

Similar to the urgency to address the issue of coal handling and pollution to stop Goa’s environment from deteriorating, the resistance to the development of mega infrastructure projects, such as the new greenfield airport at Mopa, in Pernem, was also in the news. We are also witnessing opposition to other projects, like the double-tracking of the Konkan railway route, the re-starting of mining and the effects there of. This time around, many activists have successfully tried to shift the discourse to demonstrate how aspects of Goan economy fit in a larger system of global capitalism. An increasing number of Goans can be said to have realized that they are being reduced to cogs in the larger system of capitalism. There is awareness that a remote Goan village is not isolated, on the contrary it is linked to distant industrial or commercial hubs. However, the awareness of how global capitalism is a continuum of feudal (or feudal like) system of land ownership and control prevalent in Goa is still lacking; one hopes that it will be a part of mainstream political discourse soon.

There are instances where the issues are old but the sites of protest and resistance have shifted to new villages or areas. Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly clear to all that urban and rural Goa is categorically speaking out: Goa’s ecology and the quality of life of Goans are under threat.

Concerns with the environment were closely linked with those of preserving Goa’s culture. In fact, one’s identity cannot exist without the interplay of the environment and cultural productions. Identity, then, was a common thread that ran through the various protests and grievances articulated in the course of this year, as it has been over the last several years. The allusion to the intertwining of identity and environmental issues does not simply refer to the utterly cynical politicking over the coconut tree – being de-notified and re-notified on governmental whims – but rather upon instances wherein Goa’s identity and the belonging of Goans in a wider world was debated; indeed the discussion only deepened by acknowledging the complex history and culture of Goa.

António Costa, the Portuguese Prime Minister, who visited India in January, provided the occasion for re-thinking the cultural belonging of Goans; particularly their connections with Portugal and other Lusophone spaces. Costa, who has Goan ancestry, was celebrated in Goa as well as in India for possessing Indian roots. Minor details like Costa or his father, Orlando Costa, having no connection with the modern Indian nation-state did not deter the grandiose celebrations of homecoming. Even those most critical of Goa’s continued contacts with Portugal and Portuguese culture maintained a somewhat uneasy silence. Of course, it helped matters much that Costa came with the intention of fostering business ties with India and Portugal. But even while Costa’s Indian roots were celebrated, one thing became inevitable clear: Goa and Goans are still undeniably connected with Portugal through history, culture, and migration.

The major events within the spheres of environment and culture – the protests, debates, and discussions of future visions – occurred within a political system. This is the system that needs to hear our grievances and resolve them. We, the people, elect our representatives who are entrusted to run the system. Indian democracy that is built on periodic elections is based on the assumption that one person – or one citizen – has one vote, and this vote has one value. This means that everyone in the country, who has the right to vote, indeed exercises this franchise, are equal with other citizens of the country. This, however, is not the case in reality as caste and class differences obstruct the true realization of democracy in India.

In short, because of the existing social and economic conditions, the political system is unable to represent the interests of all – or at least most of us. Laws and policies are therefore made not to protect the interest of all constituents in the polity, but only to further the interests of a few. This is why one witnesses draconian laws enacted and executive fiats beings issued that impinge on the rights and livelihood of millions of people in the country. Of the many challenge in the New Year, and those that will follow in the years to come, the most important one is to make good of the promise that political representation would lead to the empowerment of all citizens.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 20 December, 2017)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


There is, I think, a delicious irony in the pastoral letter written by Thomas Macwan, Archbishop of Gandhinagar. Writing at the time when the Gujarat legislative assembly elections are around the corner, Archbishop Macwan in his pastoral letter of 21 November 2017 said, “Nationalist forces are on the verge of taking over the country”. Unmindful of the spirit in which the letter was written or the realities that affect the various communities in India due to violent politics, one witnessed the usual hue and cry in the media. Many commentators even questioned the right of the Archbishop to express his views.

At this point, one might ask who these ‘nationalist forces’ are. Aren’t those who consider themselves Indians ‘nationalists’, one way or the other? Are we to conclude, then, that India needs to be saved from its own people? Especially when a distinction is often made between right-wing and secular nationalists, what could the rather ironic remark by Archbishop Macwan indicate? The statement was made in the context of political power and the way it influences the people in contemporary times. Particularly, the statement hints at the use of nationalism to spread hate and trample upon the rights of people. In this sense one can argue that Archbishop Macwan was referring to those forces that use nationalism to create disorder in society.

Speaking of the increasing attacks on minoritized religious groups as well as the human rights violations against other marginalized groups, Archbishop Macwan’s statement reveals that all is not well within the nation. He observes, “We are aware that the secular fabric of our country is at stake. Human rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, church personnel, faithful or institutions. There is a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities, OBCs, BCs, poor etc”.

Archbishop Macwan’s reference to ‘nationalist forces’ sans distinction perhaps hints at some fundamental aspects of Indian nationalism and the manner in which the Indian identity was crafted, chiefly through the freedom struggle. As I have written in the past in this very column, Indian nationalism and identity is based on Hindu majoritarian ideals and works towards maintaining the power and privileges of savarna castes, mostly across religions. By not making a distinction between the secular and right-wing nationalists, or remaining non-committal on that distinction, Archbishop Macwan cut through the politicking hullabaloo and simply pointed out that violence and marginalization is routine for many in India.

But one can also think of the Archbishop’s caution against excessive nationalism as emerging from a nationalist understanding of India’s past and culture. In other words, reproducing the very problems that the letter tries to tackle. The idea that India was a well knit secular society is an old Nehruvian one. What this idea does not take into consideration is the presence of the caste structure in Indian society and the manner in which it obstructs the formation of an egalitarian, let alone secular, society.

The banal violence and marginalization stands starkly against the supposed ideological lines drawn between secular and right-wing nationalisms in India. The recognition of the banality of violence and marginalization in present times should also make us realize that there is a long history to marginalization, including the time when secular, liberal nationalism held sway in India. There cannot be a secular society if millions within that society are subjected to discrimination and violence. As such, Archbishop Macwan’s plea to safeguard the “secular fabric” of the country need to be understood as requiring the creation of a secular society in the first place.

The letter also confronts all those who consider themselves as proud nationalists. Rather than play the usual blame game where one type of nationalists (such as the secular liberal ones) blame the other (right-wing) for all the ills in present times, Archbishop Macwan’s letter demands introspection from all those who claim themselves to be nationalists. It demands that they scrutinize the source of their nationalism, identity, and pride.

The ironic remark in the Archbishop Macwan’s letter should also be an occasion for us to realize that if there is a growing insecurity amongst the ‘minority’ communities that prompts such statements, it is not necessarily because such minority communities are inward-looking and that they cannot look beyond their own selfish gains. It is rather prompted by a very real experience of facing daily marginalization or minoritization and observing how other communities too are subjected to similar discrimination. We in Goa have observed how legitimate issues raised in a church-run magazine were brushed aside by the whole political establishment. The discussion of the Archbishop’s pastoral letters seems to follow a similar script; the storm that is whipped up about the letter diverts us from the pressing problems.

At the end of the day, the issue is not whether nationalism works or not; it is rather the gap between the ideals of nationalism (no matter what shade) and the reality that it ends up hiding. The real challenge that confronts us is to bring the discussion back to the problems faced by the multitude of minoritized and poor communities in India. In this task one might profit much in heeding to the call for safeguarding the constitutional values.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 6 December, 2017)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


India’s bid to be a superpower, or at least economically dominate the region of Asia has guided many policy decisions in the last decade or so. The Mopa airport is part of this scheme. Ever since the airport was proposed, circa 2000, India’s economic policy has consistently promoted airports and projected them as a way to allow small cities or towns, and rural areas to partake of the economic benefits of a surging economy, while also opening up these spaces for the investment of global capital and infrastructure development. The brunt of this ‘development’, as is all too familiar for Goans, has to be borne by the people on whom it is forced – especially the marginalized ones. The idea that smaller undeveloped areas can be included in the circuits of a surging economy – in turn benefiting the people of these regions – by massive injection of infrastructure investment simply does not hold water.

This neoliberal model of development has also met its opposition. In recent times we are familiar with the opposition to mega projects at Tiracol, Sancoale, Mopa, and Vasco as defining the political discourse in Goa. The massive, and hitherto unprecedented, public hearing in Vasco demonstrated that spirited public debate poses a challenge to governmental inefficiency and generally misguided policy making. The resistance that is shaping up in Vasco in comparison with other recent cases can help us identify the forces that are crucial in the success and failure of people’s resistance against development. Simply put, why did a public hearing this effective take place in Vasco and not in Mopa?

To begin with, one has to look at what is being opposed. Coal pollution is visible, its effects felt immediately through respiratory disorders, whereas clearing large chunks of forests changes the climate and ecology slowly, at times almost imperceptibly. This perhaps impacts the urgency with which people mobilize. The literacy rate and the access to higher education also have an impact on the protest and resistance for a particular place. Even if the literacy rate stands at 83.63% at Mopa, there is an absence of professionals such as lawyers, whose skills and clout come in handy in times of crises. Vasco on the other hand has a good number of such professionals – lawyers, teachers, doctors – who can contribute to the fight. Moreover, while Vasco contains a diverse population of people – diverse in terms of education and social background, Mopa’s villages largely have farming and pastoral communities, or communities belonging to the bahujan samaj. The 2011 Census reports that there are about 70 persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes communities. These communities are rather scattered from each other, while the area that is marked for the Greenfield airport is a lush green plateau that is largely forested.

If the fight for Goa’s identity and environment must go on and won in the favor of its people, it needs the active support of diverse sections of the society. In the same way, one can think of how certain pockets of Goa which contain small communities need the support from outside resources to make their voices heard. These ‘outside resources’ could be access to higher education or professional education to its members, access to centers of judicial and executive power, and access to media platforms so that grievances once articulated reach the widest possible people. Linked to the issue of internal collaboration is the ability to understand that local mobilizations are connected to other struggles elsewhere in the world. Thus, activists in Vasco were able to include the struggle of people in Carmichael, Australia as part of their own discourse of protest. The same, however, is not observed in Mopa despite the fact that there are global movements against aerotropolises, and many places in Poland, South Korea, Taiwan, and Nepal are fighting against the development of mega airports.

However, the most crucial factor that affects the success or failure of protest is the social background of the communities that are fighting to protect their rights and/or the environment. Many of these developmental projects are situated on lands that subaltern communities use for their sustenance. Further, marginalized communities are deliberately divided amongst themselves by selective offers of jobs, or some other largesse which is denied to other marginalized communities within the same area.

We can also think of the importance of literacy and education as being crucial in understanding the policies formulated by the government. Many of the families living in Mopa had received notices informing them of the government’s plan of acquiring the land. However, these notices were in English which resulted in most of the people having very little clue of what was happening. In this context, it was heartening to note that activists during the Vasco hearing demanding that all material pertaining to the project, including the minutes of the public hearing, be made available in other local languages – a procedure which the government machinery had failed to follow.

Thus, it would appear that the way a society is structured and the way this very society treats its subaltern members directly impacts its ability to resist power and annihilation. Moreover, if governmental policies and private capital is constantly able to move ahead despite the express wish of the people then it is an indication of how democratic processes have failed many communities within a particular society. And in the final analysis, how there isn’t equality amongst all Goans.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 22 November, 2017)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


There should by now be no doubt in our minds that any large infrastructure development in India happens only through the destruction of resources like land, water, and air. This economic system is largely the legacy of British colonialism and Nehruvian socialist policies that promoted large scale land acquisitions and mega projects such as massive dams and industries. The many protests and demonstrations that one witnesses against polluting industries and wholesale land acquisitions in India is a fallout of this process initiated by the British Raj and followed through – ostensibly due to national interest – by the independent nation-state of India.

The excellent reportage by Smita Nair (in a reputed national daily and also published in O Heraldo)  on the coal transportation corridor from Mormugao Port to Bellary clearly reveals that people – through whose houses and villages this new  corridor passes – have no say whatsoever in governmental policies even when they destroy their lives and livelihoods. Several studies that predict an ecological disaster and even a massive public hearing – unprecedented in the history of India – which provided enough testimonials on how the expansion of coal handling would affect (and is affecting) the people of Goa, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. In short, ‘development’ as it currently unfolds in Goa is a destruction of life-sustaining resources and a direct assault on the lives of the people.

The responses by those who are affected by the developments in Vasco and other areas, through which the coal is transported by road, rivers, and rail, is indicative of a shift in the debate. For this reason, it is important to dwell on these responses together and understand their implications for the future. I have selected these responses dealing only with the need for infrastructure such as roads, public transport, and hospitals. These responses indicate to us that we do have a way to prioritize the needs of the locals over and above everything else.

Lumina D’Costa Almeida is categorical in her understanding that the Goan way of life is antithetical to the development of the government-corporate combine: “You bring highways and a sense of hurriedness. You won’t appreciate susegad (a ‘quiet’ life) and its importance for a healthy living. Your definition of development is different from ours”. This development is often promoted without any proper information given to the public. As Dan Vaz says, “The highways are being made into four lanes, six lanes. No one is telling us what they are being widened for. When we say we do not want such unplanned infrastructure, we are told it is in the national interest”. Obviously, the locals see no improvement in their lives, as Meena Barretto asserts, “Without expanding public transport for locals, they are building highways for the trucks”. That the basic infrastructure needs of the locals are not satisfied is clearly visible in Zulema Barros Pereira’s plea to “[g]ive us a hospital first”.

If one puts together these various views, what is the picture that emerges? First, the state has grossly failed to provide basic infrastructure to the public. Despite this obvious and glaring shortcoming, the state is reluctant to recognize its fault. Rather, the state chooses to cover up its shortcomings by promoting mega projects that further deplete the quality of life of its citizens. Secondly, the state does not view the citizens as stakeholders in the economic and political future of the land. If indeed the citizens were seen as stakeholders, Goa would not have witnessed the government-corporate combine trying to bulldoze its way through villages and forests.

But why do we need all this development if its effects are disastrous? Stated in another way, how is such development justified in the first place? The simple answer to this – one that politicians often give – is the need to create jobs. The casino industry can be a good example: while it was promoted or justified as creating employment for locals, the recent migration of peoples from the ‘northeast’ regions of India to service this industry indicates that local Goans either don’t want to, can’t find or are not given employment in this sector. The same is true of the five star hotel industry. And now we are witness to the same ‘it-will-create-jobs’ rhetoric as far as Mopa airport is concerned. Some days back, some 15 persons, each belonging to 15 Dhangar families affected by the Greenfield airport, were given appointment letters – to what post exactly? – by the private firm that is developing the airport. Only 15 so far in an airport that projects to service millions of passengers. Obviously, many more people will be needed from outside the state to service the airport once it is ready.

But the point that needs to be stressed is how the pattern of development is similar in the cases discussed above: entailing the widespread destruction of natural resources. Environmental damage, whether caused in Vasco or Mopa, will impact other places. What good are jobs when people will not be able to breathe properly?

The notion of development needs to change within Goan and Indian politics. Thus, rather than a vague idea of development led by government and corporate, every election needs to see people demanding a collective future for Goa, one that is infused with the vocabularies of human rights, people’s participation, and the privileging of the local people – and not just one section of the populace over the other. Goa’s decades-long struggles for protecting its identity and environment have led us to collectively ask the right question today: whom is this development for? 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 8 November, 2017)