Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Booking A Trip to Goa 5 - Two Anthologies

Two Anthologies

As delightful reads as all the abovementioned books may be, they all suffer from one primary problem. They are told from the standpoint of the upper-caste Goan Catholic. Even Chakravarti’s story is told from this standpoint, and the biases and blind spots are obvious. If one wants to escape this prism and gain the flavour of a cross-section of Goan life experiences, then the choice would undoubtedly be the two anthologies on Goa, both published by Penguin.

Ferry Crossing

Short Stories from Goa, edited by Manohar Shetty, is the older of the two books and comprises a collection of 27 short stories from a wide gamut of literary Goans. The book’s USP is without doubt the fact that it has brought into English translation stories written in Goa’s many literary languages, besides English— Portuguese, Konkani and Marathi—and has as a result captured the inner rhythms of Goan life, which would perhaps be otherwise impossible. As captured in the blurb of the anthology, Ferry Crossing captures themes that vary from the touching naiveté of first love, a favourite trope of upper-caste writers in Konkani, as in Chandrakant Keni’s “Innocence”; to the humiliation of poverty, brought to the fore in Konkani by writers from Goa’s Bahujan Samaj, in this case represented by Pundalik Naik’s “The Turtle” and “When An Ass Mounts A Cow”; it frames the clash of egos among rural elite in a manner that Gip would have approved of, narrated here by Tivolem’s author Victor Rangel- Ribeiro in “Senhor Eusebio Builds His Dream House”; to a vignette in “Theresa’s Man” by that chronicler of South Goan catholic life, Damodar Mauzo.

Reflected In Water

Last, but most certainly not the last, on our list of recommended readings for that cerebrally exciting Goan holiday is Jerry Pinto’s Reflected in Water. Reflected as a book does just that, it reflects the many imaginings of Goa as they occur(ed) through time and space. The book has excerpts from a Dutch traveller in 16th century Portuguese-India, follows a modernday Indiana Jones on the trail of St. Francis Xavier, achieves contemporary brilliance as a book for including a graphic story that could emerge only from the mind of a Bombay Goan, and has oodles more stories, reflections and accounts of Goa. The book has precisely 44 contributions by a host of people who could have some claim of a relationship with Goa. Pinto, for sure, did not set out on a Holy Grail quest to distil all that was purely Goan, did not exclude the non-Goan from representing Goa, and made style and content the only criteria for inclusion in this book. For this reason, Reflected in Water is perhaps the best Goa gift you could give a friend.


Booking a Trip to Goa 4: Once Upon A Time In Aparanta

Once Upon A Time In Aparanta

In case you’re contemplating picking up Once Upon A Time In Aparanta for that definitive and authentic telling of the tale of Goan society, then put that book down at once! The book is no authentic teller of the society. It serves only to retell with some aesthetic merit the tropes of the Goan community already made familiar by third-rate Bollywood films. Thus you are treated to the murderous syllables that pass off as the English of a Konkani-speaking community, and cultural conventions that some Goans will have to search hard for. What this book does effectively do however, is present to the reader a pretty good telling of current conflicts by one of the many Indian flotsams that have drifted on to Goan shores. Sudeep Chakravarti, a neo-Goan with a history of journalism behind him, has used his talents to weave a story of what some are already describing as a low-intensity civil war taking place in Goa.

Aparanta has been hailed by some local activists as the story of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan, the social front that was at the forefront of the opposition to the destruction of the Goan environment. As such, the book captures some of the dilemmas faced by Goa; of the inevitability of the sale of land that will soon end the magic that nature is able to weave in this space; it draws attention to the sins of the mining industry that daily rips at the belly and life-force of Goa, threatening drought with every passing day; and the anger “directed at everyone and everything—‘political worms, ore-sons and un-real estate developers’ and other conquistadors of Aparanta’s land.” This book highlights the injuries that have wounded Goa and Goans, an injury that increasingly manifests as xenophobia, but is really the confusion of a people being pushed steadily into poverty and uncertainty. While doing all of this though, Chakravarti has also managed to insert into his telling of the Goan story the bitter animosities that underlie Goan society, whether it is anti-Portuguese, anti-Konkani or pro-Marathi. While doing this, Aparanta also captures the fatality that is part of Goa’s ethos, that there is no future, all that is Goa was in the past. It is this fatality that is at the root of the many nostalgic writings one finds on Goa.

Booking a Trip to Goa 3 - Goa; A Daughter's Story

Part 3 of the originally single essay that appeared in the December issue of See Goa.

Goa: A Daughter’s Story

There were demands when Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy appeared in the bookstores, that it be sold with a statutory warning for those with weak wrists. A similar warning should be issued when recommending Goa: A Daughter’s Story for a read; the book is not as heavy as A Suitable Boy, but it still is one ferociously heavy tome!

Written by Maria Aurora Couto, when the book first came out in paperback, it proved to the world that there was a market for serious writing on Goa. It also sent every Goan bigname scurrying to the bookstore to figure if their family name figured in it (and Gip’s critique of Goan society was proved right!). It sold like hot cakes and that it has subsequently been reissued in paperback is a testament to its readability.

On the surface, A Daughter’s Story begins as the story of a daughter, namely Aurora, speaking of her father, who she clearly adored, and in later pages of her mother, by all accounts a strong woman. The book goes beyond this realm though and details the passionate relationship that Aurora has with her motherland as well. It documents the story of her relationship with the land and its waters, her arrival as the wife of an IAS officer soon after the Indian police action in 1961 that united Goa to the Indian Union. If Gip on the one hand was inordinately critical of the empty intellectual lives of his contemporaries, Couto exalts the same society for the manner in which it embraced intellectual currents from the West, the ideals of the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and incarnated them within Goan society. A Daughter’s Story is a wonderful way to engage with some of the debates that have seized Goan minds and will continue to dominate some of their conversations for a while.

Available in entirety at

Booking A Trip to Goa 2 - Tivolem

Part 2 of the originally single essay published in the December issue of See Goa


Tivolem is the name of another mythical Goan location, this time a village, and the name of Victor Rangel- Ribeiro’s novel capturing the workings of Goan village life. Set in the 1930s, the story revolves around the eventual romance between bachelor Simon Fernandes, a violinist and a retired civil servant from Kuala Lumpur, and 35- year-old Marie Santana, who returns from Mozambique to take care of her grandmother after her parents’ death.

The book is a nostalgic tract written by a Goan settled in New York and clearly yearning for an era that has passed and will never return. Yet, the book does not bore, like so many other books that attempt to capture this essence of Goan Catholic village life. Although it is unfairly skewed towards the characters that are rooted in the feudal order of the Goan Catholic world, that cannot be helped as the author himself belongs to that order and it is this order that has for better or worse captured the ‘right’ to define Catholic Goanness.

Booking a trip to Goa 1 - Jacob and Dulce

The December issue of See Goa carried my review of 6 books on Goa. I am including these reviews, one book per blog post (for easy reading). Happy Reading!

Booking a Trip to Goa
– jason keith fernandes

For those of you who are familiar to Goa, you will know that the Goan is always complaining that both Goa and the Goan are so keenly misunderstood. They will protest that in fact Goa is much more than the beach, and that the label of sun, surf and sand is but one small part of a larger, rich cultural mosaic. The next time you get down to Goa for that do-nothing-all-weekend holiday, do yourself and the Goan a favour: pick up one of the following books to get inside the workings of its society!

Jacob and Dulce

Written originally in Portuguese and only recently translated into English, Jacob and Dulce is perhaps the one book that must grace the bookshelf of every literate Goan or Goalover. The book, Originally presented to the world as short sketches that appeared in the newspaper, O Ultramar, in the 1890s, is a sharp and caustic take on the Goan society of the turn of the 19th century. Some Goans will insist that the social critique made in the 1890s hold good even today. Penned by one Francisco João da Costa under the pen name Gip, the book is set in the mythical Goan town of Breda. It documents the lives of Jacob, a young scion of a family of some means, and his wife Dona Dulce, and through the story of their wedding and life captures the workings of the world of the upper-caste Goan Catholic elite.

Given that da Costa was from Margao, and that the book captured a slice of urban life, many at the time of its publication were convinced that the book was a thinly veiled story of Margao. Persisting with this idea has its benefits, as it allows us the pleasure of actually recreating the life of those pretty homes around the Travessa of the Holy Spirit Church in that city.

Gip was not kind to his society though and lashed out against the vapid lives filled with (in his opinion) meaningless rituals that marked the existence of the social world of Jacob and Dulce. It is because he was attempting to critique his society right down to its very detail that Jacob and Dulce provides us a sharp sketch of what it meant to be this kind of Goan Catholic at the turn of the 19th century. Unlike the writings of later and contemporary writers, Gip was not afflicted by nostalgia and the desire to embellish, and this in itself makes for refreshing reading.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Violated Christmas: Of armed soldiers in Churches and the spirit of Christmas

Christmas eve midnight services in Churches across Goa this year were marked by the presence of police, armed soldiers, commandos and other paraphernalia suggesting a state of heightened security. What would a Christian response to the security arrangements have been and what were the options open to us?

Yearly we are reminded by the elders of our faith that the bulk of the word Christmas is formed by the alphabets spelling Christ. It is Christ and his message that must form the bedrock of our Christmas celebrations, and temper the physical and material aspects of the festival. It is then to this Christ, his message and the traditions of his Church that we must turn to when attempting to uncover a Christian response to this most uncommon of events.

If we regard the scene of the nativity in Bethlehem, two millennia ago, what we behold is a scene of stark vulnerability. God is born; not as man, but as a child, dependent on his impoverished parents, in a stable that relies as much on animal heat as it does on straw for warmth. This is a child born not in a time of peace and security but under the threat of death. And yet despite his options, Christ chose to be born not in a palace that would afford him the security of arms and soldiers, but in manger surrounded by human bonds that are the true foundation for the peace that he came to establish on earth. The presence of weapons and soldiers at the midnight services then, should be seen as an unwelcome and defiling presence to a moment necessarily dedicated to peace born from brotherhood and a voluntary adoption of vulnerability.

It was this conscious adoption of vulnerability again, and the conscious choice for death that motivated Christ to accept death on a cross. If Christmas is a time for spiritual renewal and the honing of the virtues of vulnerability and self-sacrifice, then once again, the presence of soldiers worked contrary to this spiritual exercise. Let us assume for a moment, that there was a genuine threat of attack on Christian congregations across Goa. Our presence, unarmed and without security would have been a conscious act of readiness for martyrdom, underlining the spirit of self-sacrifice which the Nativity was only the prelude to. Gandhi, though not Christian, is perhaps among the foremost of political Christians, offering a political agenda suffused with Christian ideals. The path of the satyagrahi, is the act of non-violent and conscious offering of our bodies to the aggressor; an act that simultaneously shames and converts the aggressor into the path of dialogue and permanent peace. It is the act of the Christian willing to be martyr, in imitation of Christ.

This Christian and satyagrahi option, in fact opens up a wide avenue to deal with the terrorism that is the scourge of our times. It offers a committed and non-comprising response to political and social violence. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much blood you are willing to shed, we will offer it up, unprotesting, without converse recourse to weaponry until you realize the futility of terror and violence. This option, that shuns automatic and explosive weaponry, opens up the path for dialogue and the breaking down of social barriers that at the end of the day cause the forms of terror that we have been witness to in recent times.

For a religion that encourages people to accept the crown of martyrdom, the presence of soldiers to prevent the possibility of that martyrdom was an abomination and an option for spiritual education sadly lost. The elders of the faith had a wonderful opportunity to offer the faithful the choice between the world (and its notion of security) and the faith. We had the option of not attending the midnight service if we chose the softer option. The Church failed in its duty of preventing this armed intrusion. In not making a symbolic act of rejecting the offer of such illusory forms of security, the Catholic community of Goa has lost a golden opportunity. For this loss, the spiritual leaders of the Church must necessarily reflect on this, their failure. Even more unfortunate, is that this community has in this act become complicit in the charade of the State. A charade that offers meaningless, token gestures that offer only an illusion of security. This tamasha does not provide any real security it merely strengthens the hands of a state that seeks more and more power while refusing to address the basic needs and problems of the people. In the face of the continuing struggle of the Goan people alone, this militarized offer of security ought to have been politely declined.

Clearly, the logic I offer does not fall into what one would call ‘rational’ and ‘practical’. However, I offer the suggestion that there are multiple realities available, depending on the position one chooses to adopt. When Christ was resurrected he inaugurated a new dimension in time and space. Indeed, while on earth he clearly indicated that his kingdom was not of this earth. In being members of his flock, we are invited to appreciate the reality of this alternate dimension, participate in its logic, and alternatively structure the reality offered to us by the State (and market). Both Christ and the early Christian tradition were very clear about the extent of the Christian’s relationship with the material world presided over by the State, a position aptly summed up in the phrase “unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’.

As the faithful proceeded to service at Don Bosco’s in Panjim, they silently fell into line in front of the lone metal detector. As they crossed that metal detector without complaint, into the grounds where a sacred service was to be held, they entered not the realm of space and time inaugurated by Christ, but the realm of fear, produced by the State. In this space security and liberation from fear came not from the path of Christ and the faith of his Church, but from the barrel of the gun. This Christmas then, our moral universe itself shifted over from the right hand of God, to the Right.

And yet, even if it would have liked to, would the Church have been able to say “No, thank you” to this offer of ‘security’ from the State?

It is likely that had the elders of the Church in fact taken this stand, it would have still been possible for the State to override the rejection arguing that this security must be put in place for the larger security of the State. This overriding would have resulted in the inability of the Church and Christians to spiritually engage, in the forms outlined in the arguments above, with the multiple forms of terror that are faced by society today. What this effectively translates to is the emptying out of our spiritual universe as a result of the actions of the State preventing a meaningfully engagement with a spiritual tradition. In such a scenario, as was played out this Christmas, the Christian tradition is severed from its spiritual realm and forced into merely a ritual and superficial performance of religiosity. Thus the Christian is produced not as a mystic, but as a member of a group that performs certain rituals, dress in a particular manner and who have certain common holidays. It is when religion is pushed into this secular and non-mystical form, that the trouble really begins to start, once more making a case against the Christmas tamasha that we were forced to be both actors of and audience to.

A Christian response to the ‘security’ arrangements in Churches this Christmas eve would have been to reject them in one voice. The alternative would have been to commit to the non-violent path toward dialogue and establishing the foundations for a society purged of social and political violence. Should our refusal have been over-ridden, it would have been incumbent on the preachers in every Church to denounce this unchristian act and urge a greater suspicion of the false promises of security offered to us by a State that seeks to induct us into its own notion of reality.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 31 Dec 2008)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Making Muslims Citizens

Proposing an agenda to incorporate the rhythms of Islam into Goan public life

What happened to the minor and female students of the residential school in Vasco last week was an act of State terror perpetrated by police officers of our State. Lame excuses have been proffered by the responsible officers, but they fail to impress and clearly elaborate what necessitated treating children, who were in no way responsible for the acts of the school authorities, like criminals. Not that the school authorities seem culpable. They have presented eminently plausible reasons, that refer to an existing understanding and cordial relationship that was rudely and violently interrupted on the 16th of December 2008.

It is because there seems to be no rational argument forthcoming from the police that this column will not dwell further on this instant case. It is on the episodes and issues thrown up in the aftermath of this incident that we could dwell on. Subsequent to the incident, the All Goa Muslim Jamaats held a press conference in Panjim. What emerged in stark relief was the large cultural (and informational) divide that separates the Goan (inclusive of the Indian) Muslim from the larger populace of the State.

When I speak of a divide, I am not referring to a Muslim refusal to be “more Goan”. On the contrary, a large number of the Muslims at that press conference were fluent in Konkani, some had worked for the state as high functionaries, and were definitely not the stereotypical bearded and capped Muslim. The divide if at all stemmed from the other side. This is the unfortunate truth of most calls to assimilation, all the effort has to be made from the minority that is being accommodated; the majority has to simply be its stubborn and provincial self, closed to any sort of cosmopolitanism.

For example, in the course of this press conference, one of the trustees of the school volunteered the information that the school that was being called a Madrassa was in fact not a madrassa, but a Dar-ul-uloom (Dar for place; al meaning of; and Uloom being the plural for Ilm, learning/ knowledge; therefore house of knowledges). The non-comprehension of the term was embarrassing enough; this was compounded by the subsequent flip-flopping by the trustee. Having revealed this new term, he failed to clearly elaborate what it meant, and went back to referred to the school as a madrassa, effectively confusing everyone in the audience now.

What possibly motivated this flip-flopping, this half-hearted volunteering of new terminology? The first, possible, and less charitable suggestion could be that this trustee himself was not particularly clear as to what he was suggesting to the audience. The second, more charitable, and in the larger scheme of things more plausible reason would be that even while volunteering, he didn’t actually believe that there would be an audience interested in knowing the difference between a madrassa, and a dar-ul-uloom, and just gave up before he even began.

The point that I would like to make here, is that if we are to make Muslims equal partners in our society, and effective citizens of our purportedly secular state, we need to make efforts to understand the cultural frameworks and references of the multiple Muslim communities of our State (and country). In more programmatic terms, the challenge before us is also to inquire as to how we can incorporate the rhythms of Islam into our public life.

The task before us may not be as difficult and impossible as it may possibly seem. The periods of the Sultanate and that subsequent to the Portuguese conquest of Goa have marked our society profoundly with an Islamicate culture. Whether it is the Konkani we use that is peppered liberally with words of Persian and Arabic origin, some of the social mores of our land, the architecture that we proudly call Indo-Portuguese (as code for Hindu-Catholic); we are a people profoundly marked by an interaction with Islamicate cultures. We fail to see this, first because these features are such an integral part of our lives, and secondly because the representations of Goa have overly focused on the ‘European’ Portuguese, and when focusing on pre-Portuguese have erased the Islamicate, to focus only on the Sanskritic aspects of that time. A more balanced focus would reveal to us the ties that bind us with people who profess Islam as a faith.

This however is an intervention required at the level of ideas, the impact of which will take time to be felt. The more immediate requirement is to incorporate the rhythms of Islam into our public life. In this regard, as a supreme example of failure, my thoughts go back to a lecture-discussion I had organized titled “Rethinking Secularism” on a day that happened to be the last Friday of Ramzan. Given that the last Friday of Ramzan is a particularly significant day in the holy month it was not the most sensitive choice of dates. To his credit, we did have a lone Muslim in the audience, but shamefully, we had made no preparation either to help him break his fast (a glass of water) or to set aside a space for silent prayer subsequent to his breaking the fast. Such acts should not be seen as extravagant. They are only as extravagant as the act of pausing mid-sentence when the church bells ring for Angelus, or providing a vegetarian option at festive banquets.

An agenda of incorporating the rhythms of Islam does not necessarily have to be tied to incorporating and making space only for religious practices of Muslims. However, in the scenario, where large numbers of Muslims have been forced into the fold of religious practices and rituals as a result of a hostile state and society, making these moves would serve to in fact buttress the secular credentials of the Indian republic. Having suggested this though, this agenda must necessarily include extending our cultural space to include cultural, literary references that move beyond the tiring repetition of the image of Mosques, and bearded and capped men hugging each other. This cliché will however be broken only when we explore our own personal and domestic cultures and realize within them the debts we owe to our forgotten and ignore Islamicate pasts.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 24 Dec 2008)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

After Bombay...

In the name of security our State could now take liberties with our…Liberty

Among the many stories that the Puranas contain, one tells us of the mythical churning of the ocean of milk. A task taken up by the Gods and the Demons, the process released a host of products, good and beneficial; and the bad and harmful. The violent episode in Bombay will perhaps be assigned a similar status in the mythology of the early 21st Indian century. An event of significant proportions, it has and will no doubt continue to, release both the good and the bad, even as its significance will either blown out of proportion, or sought to be placed in context.

Among those seeking to blow the event out of proportion are the forces of the Right, of which most of the news media are proving to be the vanguard. They argue that the episode in Bombay constitutes India’s 9/11. Amitav Ghosh in an op-ed in the New York Times has convincingly argued that we should dismiss this hype. The event was painful, but not 9/11, since the number of dead in NYC far exceeded those killed, and unlike the US, India has seen large massacres of the kind we saw in Bombay. (We cannot forget the massacres of Partition; the anti-Sikh riots; the anti-Muslim pogroms, most significantly those in Gujarat; the violence against Christians most recently; the displacement of tribal and rural peoples sometimes twice in a single generation; and never for a moment forgetting the daily violence visited on India’s dalit peoples). To put this event in perspective, a great number of persons have written essays and comments, indicating that while the violence and death that Bombay saw was shocking and calls for soul searching, we have to also remember that in addition to this violence, the vast multitude of India’s citizens suffer daily terror attacks, most often than not from the forces of their own State.

The desire to pin down the carnage in Bombay as India’s 9/11 speaks of at least two tendencies. The first, as already suggested, is to blow this one event entirely out of proportion. This desire stems primarily from the shock value that must necessarily be drummed up if television channels are to hold us enthralled, even as they continue to beam advertisements and whet our appetite for continued consumption. The bottom line basically reads; No drama, no consumption!

The other more disturbing tendency is the desire to use this event to demand for war on Pakistan, harsher laws for ‘terrorists’, and greater security and surveillance. Goa has seen a number of meetings hysterically demanding war on Pakistan. While we cannot ignore these calls, we are better served dismissing these calls, and sending these ‘patriots’ off to the loony bin for at least two reasons. The fools have no real clue what war means, and are highly unlikely to even serve if this war is initiated. Secondly, India is better served encouraging the democratic forces in Pakistan now struggling to recover from a military dictatorship. If the fool-hardy invasion of Iraq (and other countries by the US) has taught us anything, it is that invasions entirely preclude the possibility of encouraging the establishment of a democratic polity.

If this first demand does not (if we are lucky) materialize, it appears that the second and the third options most certainly will. The sensationalist media coverage that milked this tragedy has indicated that the Indian powder-puff elite are quite willing to allow for the setting up of a police state, if it will allow them to continue to live their ivory-tower (read 8-storey apartment building) existence. Indeed, as the differences between the ultra-rich and the poor in India grow wider, we will need more and more policing to maintain a semblance of law and order in this country.

A concerted effort is on right now to convince the average citizen that she is better off with harsher anti-terror laws and greater surveillance. Nothing could be further from the truth. The average citizen stands only to loose from this new-found security obsession. Greater powers to the police, harsher anti-terror laws and greater surveillance allow police and military force unrestricted power over suspects. It is not the terrorist that is the subject of most of these laws, but the suspect. As our experience in a number of recent cases has shown, all too often the suspect turns out innocent. Take for example the almost 100 odd people rounded up in Chimbel and Vasco. What was their crime? Nothing! They were rounded up merely on suspicion and not carrying identity papers. The harsher laws that are being called for really amount to an invitation for the abuse of human rights, and a persecution of citizens who are often time raising valid grievances.

The heightened security and surveillance that we see building up around us, are at the end of the day, useless and pointless. They serve only an aesthetic function; they assure us that we are being looked after. The price for this feeling, is the giving up of our freedoms. Take the example of the recently concluded IFFI. Post Bombay security was beefed up, but it was still possible for a host of people to slip inside of the festival arena without flashing their delegate card. The real impact of these efforts become clearer if one realizes that in the US of A and Europe, despite bomb scares and attacks, people are still allowed to walk in and out of airports, unlike in India, where a valid ticket holder is for some strange reason prevented from leaving the airport terminal once she has gotten in. what purpose does this serve? No logical reason, except to enforce a general paranoia, control the citizen, and show them that the State is in control. The exercise in Chimbel and Vasco represent the efforts of an ineffectual and illegitimate Government trying to pretend that it has everything under control. Since the persons rounded up are ‘small people’ no one is really going to complain.

The security of the people of India are better served if we pull our collective heads out of the sands we have stuck them in and question the State of our Republic. Is the average citizen truly being served by the State? Or is the State merely securing the interests of a small segment of the population? Why are there angry protests all over India, demanding not a harsh state, but a state that provides employment, that does not gobble up livelihood resources? What is the Indian State doing to ensure that minority groups ranging from Mulism, Christian to Dalit feel secure in a country that seems increasingly to not care about their security?

It is when we answer these questions, and redress the grievances of the majority of India’s population, that we will be able to stem the tide of violence that is continuing to grow in our country.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, December 11, 2008)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Another Film Festival: Random Notes from the Goan Peoples’ Film Festival

Forgive me if I sound triumphalist over the successful conclusion of the Panjim leg of the Goan Peoples’ Film Festival. The Festival was held to protest the silence with which the Goan State has been treating the various memoranda and questions of the Ganv Ghor Rakhon Manch (GGRM) pertaining to the continuing rise of speculative real-estate projects, and the State’s lack of commitment to participatory planning that is the first demand of the Goan people.

The Festival was accomplished under handicaps of various sorts. The first of these was that of time. We contemplated this move of drawing attention to the abuses of the Goan State (and administration) only on the fifth of November. And yet despite this late decision the response that we had from people both in Goa and the rest of India was overwhelming. While the support in Goa was understandable, it was the support from India that was truly heart-warming. Directors from across the country, at a moment’s notice couriered films to us, sending messages of support and solidarity. If one of the aims of the Festival was to draw Indian attention to the Goan struggle, then in some measure the Festival succeeded in drawing national attention to our cause.

The relationship between India and Goa was one that featured in some of the discussions at the Festival. There were some, myself included, who feel that the dominant relationship between India and Goa is in fact a colonial one. It is a colonial relationship when it comes to viewing Goa as a holiday destination (India’s holiday state as NDTV once put it) for the country; and as another space for exploitation (of mineral resources) where the voices of the local people don’t really matter.

And yet these voices, didn’t call for a Goan nationalism, but rather an articulation of a healthier relationship with India, based on democratic and constitutional norms. To do this however, we recognized that we will have to rearticulate not only the manner in which the Goan economy is currently structured, but also the mythologies of our State.

When speaking of restructuring mythologies, it was suggested that we also need to think in terms of restructuring geography. It is not just in Portuguese-Indian mythology that Goa is seen as a land apart. The whole Parashuram myth also sees Goa, as the land beyond the end. New (and this emphasis on ‘new’ needs to be noted) land that was created for invaders (migrants?) from the North. Mythologies of other groups would show us connections of the land we now call Goa, with Bijapur, with the Deccan and the Kanara coast, that link us in organic ways with India. Routes that don’t push us into self-isolating insularity.

Another way we can connect with the India, along democratic and constitutional norms, is in finding our own voice, among the voices of resistance in India. The insular position that Goa (and Goan causes) find themselves in, is also the result of a certain patriarchal provincialism that sees nothing in common with Goa. As such, one heard the question, but what do these documentaries have to do with Goa? The answer was aptly given by Ramesh Gauns after watching Rakesh Sharma’s ‘Aftershocks: The Rough Guide to Democracy’ that dealt with the fate of villagers displaced to allow for lignite mining. “I felt I was watching not Gujarat but Goa!” Ramesh Gauns would know what he is talking about he has been at the mining issue for a while now.

Yet another parallel between the Indian experience and the Goan, came across after watching ‘India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart’. The film dealt with the experiences of Dalits across various parts of India. Dadu Mandrekar, another persistent voice, this one dealing with Dalit issues, was visibly moved by the film. It is a mistake to presume that we in Goa do not suffer from the kinds of violences that are meted out to Dalits in other parts of India. These do exist, but are very effectively silenced. It is possible that these violences may be limited to small sections of our territory but the daily experience of humiliation by upper-castes is an undeniable fact. And at the end of the day, who am I to judge if your humiliation is greater to or less than the humiliation of some other person. Humiliation is humiliation, period.

Engaging with the resistance in India, will allow us in Goa to nuance the arguments that we present to the opposition here in Goa. It will open up newer options for us, options that we in our small society, oftentimes dare not dream of.

The smallness of our society was cause for another one of the handicaps that the Festival had to deal with. ‘Why do you want to do it alongside IFFI?’ ‘Are you hosting a parallel film festival?” “Why! What will the Government say?” Indeed, one of the supporters to the Festival threatened to pull out at the last moment fearing a souring of their relationship with the State if they helped in hosting a parallel film festival.

These responses and the fear of this particular supporter speaks volumes about the Goan state-society relationship. We are willing to go only so far and no further in offending the State and threatening the socio-economic elites that support and benefit from it. It is the size of the Goan territory and its elite that allows this almost tyrannical situation to continue. Tyrannical because when no one is willing to break the conspiracy of silence, tyranny is the only situation that comes to mind. Once more it is in joining forces with a larger Indian resistance to State, corporate and elite tyranny, that we in Goa stand a better chance.

The Goan Peoples’ Film Festival ended its screenings in Panjim yesterday, and will now reconvene in Colva to allow the dialogue initiated in Panjim to continue. If you are even vaguely interested in the issues on the boil in Goa, you would do well to visit the Festival!

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 26th Nov 2008)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Regional Plan and Terrorism

Goan Activists will be the likely target for the proposed ATS

A certain sense of jubilation accompanied the reporting of the proposed establishment of an Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the State. “The state could have its own anti-terrorism squad in a short while with the police almost finalizing a proposal for the same, said police officials on Sunday” read one newspaper reporting this imminent occurrence. One can almost hear the anticipated gushing response from the reader. “What! Our very own ATS! Wow! Fantastic Man! Hurray!”

Those excited by the prospect of an ATS in our own State need to take a sober view of the whole issue. They need to inquire into what exactly the ATS will be used for, and what is the exact form of this terrorism that we are being is told is “likely” to target our home state. What we should not forget in the euphoria of setting up of the ATS, is that surveillance and increased security measures and forces invariably mean the reduction of democratic space within the State, increased control over the citizenry by the State and a reduction of normal processes of law to give extraordinary powers to the police, very often allowing a free hand for human rights abuse.

“Terrorist groups have targeted the nation and this probably forced the state police to ask for its own ATS” reads the same report on the squad. Let us ignore for this moment the entire discussion possible around the bogey of (Islamic) terrorism in India, and train our sights a little closer home. I refer you to page 79 of the Draft Regional Plan. On this page the Draft Regional Plan reads “growing organized activism typical of a small but well-informed state and also more than a normal share of VVIP movements add to problems in policing....Thus Goa has as large a range of crime typologies as Mumbai or Chennai”.

The Regional Plan is effectively equating the “growing organized activism” emerging from a “small but well-informed state” as a policing problem! In other words the Goan citizen-activist is an embryonic criminal/ terrorist! It is here, in the pages of the supposedly pro-people Regional Plan that we should locate the possible reason for the setting up of the ATS in the State.

Given that activism in Goa is blocking the irresponsible deployment of significant amounts of capital, especially in the mining and real-estate industry; we should not be surprised that industry and state have begun to consider the activist a criminal and incipient terrorist. The signs of course have been in the air for quite some time now. The harassing of activists, and the more recent physical abuse that some of them have had to encounter. The framework has already been set in place with the political elite drumming out the refrain that the Goan has become negative. To explain away this negativity, they are denying the fact that it is the average citizen who is standing up and protesting. They deny this fact and go on to indicate that it is the activist who is leading the people astray.

I had earlier pointed out that increased security measures and forces invariably mean the reduction of democratic space within the State. It is this situation that I am referring to. The justified concerns of the people are not being addressed, on the contrary, they are being targeted as terrorists, and this targeting has in fact already begun. The ATS will just be icing on the cake.

The comment in the Regional Plan also drives home another truth regarding the war on terror; terrorists are produced as a result of not addressing the valid issues of the people, and also by actively labeling activists as terrorists. When they eventually do take up armed revolt, it is entirely the result of frustration with a non-responsive State. Else, you just find someone who is annoying you, squat them down like they were a fly, and justify your irritation by calling them terrorists. The fake encounters in the Batla House case are a perfect example. The boys killed in the ‘encounter’ were shot at point blank range, hardly an encounter killing.

What is more troubling though is that this errant phrase in the Regional Plan seems to have slipped in without the awareness of the experts on the Task Force. I had occasion to raise this issue in a public forum where one member of the Task Force, and one bureaucrat intimately involved with Regional Plan were present. Both of them were blissfully unaware of the presence of this phrase in the Regional Plan!

Now this means one of two things. Either these two gents did not read the Regional Plan cover to cover and blindly affixed signature to the document; or that they did read the text, and thought nothing of labeling the Goan citizen-activist a possible criminal. In the case of the first scenario, one wonders how much of the Regional Plan is just a result of blind copy-pasting, and how much the result of application of mind and debate by the Task Force members. On the other hand, if the Task Force members have in fact read the document from cover to cover, perhaps they will provide the people of Goa with written justification as to why they have treated the Goan citizen-activist with such total contempt? If they are unable to do so, then what is called for is an immediate retraction of the errant phrase by the State, and a public apology to the people of Goa. Nevertheless with every reading, the Draft Regional Plan sinks into further disrepute.

In the context of the Goan upheaval, that shows no sign of abating thanks to a largely silent and criminally-complicit political class, the setting up on an ATS in the State, in the background of the national environment (where innocents are branded terrorist) and statements in the Draft Regional Plan, does not augur well for the state of democracy in Goa.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 19th November 2008)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Right to Public Comment?

How to have an effective say in the draft Regional Plan

The announcement of the period of public comment on the Draft Regional Plan 2021 gives us the space to raise a number of rather interesting questions about the whole process of public comment. What exactly do we mean by public comment? What should constitute public notice? And does the state have any obligations in aiding the articulation of public comment?

The Task Force apparently prevailed on the Government to allow for not the usual 60 days period for public comment, but a period of 90 days, three months for the public to comment. The Task Force no doubt had good intentions, but it is my contention that this extension of time alone will not serve the purpose of greater public participation. At the most, without being tied to a genuine rethinking of the whole process, it will remain a mere token gesture while the game continues to be played as always.

The Draft Regional Plan was apparently notified on the 8th of October 2008 via the government gazette. Some amount of the population got to know of it a few weeks later via newspaper reports. When these good citizens got to know about it, they rushed to the relevant offices and asked for their copy of the draft plan and the maps pertaining to their village (prohibitively priced for an average citizen by the way). The answers they received was in the ‘they are not ready yet, come back next week’ range. Close to a month after notification, a good number of Panchayats have not yet received copies of the plan and the maps pertaining to their jurisdiction. If such is the case, can we seriously argue that the period of public comment has begun? Or is this just another perfunctory exercise, where we move through a ritual and say “hurray, we did it!” and move along with out any genuine public debate?

To understand the ridiculousness of this practice of publishing prospective legal change in a gazette and presuming that the period of public comment has begun we need to look into the beginnings of modern democracy; where the checks on the powers that be, came from a powerful bourgeois (commercial and business) class that demanded it have a say and stake in the running of the state. For this class, unfettered with daily menial chores of the working class, discovering the joys of the print media, and encountering a world with familiar limited issues, obtaining information via a newspaper, or the odd governmental gazette was perfectly convenient. Democracy in the old republican model comprised a club of a small group of gentlemen who debated issues over tea. Information from the newspaper you had all day to pour over, and the club to discuss issues over, allowed for a fair amount of participation in governance. Goa under the Portuguese Republican regime provides us an appropriate example. It gave to a small class of Goans this taste of democracy, and for this little club, it was a very satisfying experience indeed.

Democracy has since moved on though. It has itself been subjected to democratic urges, and democracy today is also the space for the working class and the rural peasant. These groups are finally demanding not merely technical compliance, but effective communication, to allow for genuine participatory governance. If the Government (and indeed the well-meaning Task Force) is serious, it will ensure that the period of public comment begins not from publication in the gazette, but from the moment the Regional Plan in entirety descends to every Panchayat in the state of Goa. If not, lets take it as fact that the Government is not really serious about this participatory exercise.

There is another question that emerges though, when we recognize that the forms of the law are geared toward a privileged class that inaugurated the first phase of democracy. When we say open for public comment, who exactly is this public? Theorists of popular culture inform us that there is no such thing as a ready-made and existing public. A public has to be created. And definite kinds of public are created through definite kinds of contexts. What is the kind of public that these public comment provisions create therefore?

The sad truth is that the Regional Plan does not really bother with identifying the public that needs to comment, or indeed enable it to be in a position where it can effectively comment. In the case of the Regional Plan, the public resides in the gram sabhas and municipalities of the state. Creating the public therefore would require the State to actively convene special assemblies where the technical details of the Plan are explained to this public. Only subsequent to this process, can we effectively say that a period of public comment has in fact begun.

This proposed process may seem ridiculous to those who accept the current procedures as sufficient. But if we agree that the current procedures are insufficient and incapable of enabling genuine participation, then clearly there is a need to move towards more effective procedures. Such renewed forms of participation alone will allow us to move back from the precipice of populism that the Indian democracy has moved to.

To carry forward the idea that form determines content, have reference to the phrasing of the law that invites the public objections to a government proposal. The phrasing ensures that the ‘public’ is eternally trapped in the role of the objector. There is nothing positive that this public has to say, since they are objecting. Even if it is a positive assertion that this public makes, the phrasing ensures that the bureaucracy looks at the public comment as an objection to all the blood, sweat and tears that they may have poured into the proposal. In asking for objections, what we have effectively done is to minimize the space for dialogue (which marks a democracy) and set up two sparring partners.

There are good many aspects of the law that are based on a liberal and bourgeois understanding of the world. A law rooted in these notions is no good for a democracy composed largely of labouring classes. The ongoing upheaval in Goa is a perfect route for us to examine these notions, change them and work towards effective democracy and social stability. Towards this larger end, challenging the period of public comment on the draft Regional Plan, would be an effective first step. The period of public comment can logically and ethically begin only when every panchayat and municipality in the State has received the relevant documents, and only after an initial explanation of the features and the proposals of the Regional Plan have been explained in all these bodies. If this is not done, then we would have had no effective realization of our right to Public comment.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 5th November 2008)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Debating Free Speech

What are the limits to the Freedom of Speech and Expression?

Subsequent to my earlier column, a complaint was presented via a letter to the editor, that my column, which denounced the “We Shall Overcome” rally for allowing Manohar Parrikar to speak at the public meeting displayed to the world, my “pretentious belief in freedom of speech”. This complaint offered an alternate point of view “I (said that author of the complaint) deplore and condemn the viciously divisive and dangerous ideology of the Right (namely the Hindu fundamentalist groups), but to suppress anyone's right to express himself/herself as a citizen of Goa is doing exactly what the Right have done in similar circumstances when in power. We are not like that!”

To my mind, this argument is facile, but more importantly rests on certain principles of Liberalism, that are deeply flawed and allow for such facile and eventually dangerous assertions.

The principles of Liberalism presume that all citizens are equal. Indeed the letter to the editor says as much, we “cannot suppress anyone's right to express himself/herself as a citizen of Goa”. But this is where the Liberal vision betrays shortcomings. We may ideally like to presume that citizen’s are equal, but the fact is that they are not. There are some citizens who are, whether we like it or not, more powerful than others. This is one of the greatest problems of Liberalism. It fails to recognize the operations of various kinds of power that effectively render one citizen more equal than the other. Failing to recognize this difference in power, then allows us to make the facile argument, that preventing someone to speak at a public meeting is a suppression of the right to speech and expression. The person in question here is the leader of the Opposition! Are we seriously trying to suggest that the Leader of the Opposition, in this case the voluble and slick media-charmer Mr. Manohar Parrikar has a lack of space to express his opinion? A case of suppression of his right to speech would emerge only when the rally at Azad Maidan was in fact, his only way to get his ideas across. In such a case preventing him to speak would have definitely been a violation of this fundamental right. Clearly though this is not the case. On the contrary, in keeping with this noble sentiment of allowing citizens of Goa to speak, the floor could (and should) have been yielded to those who rarely, if ever, get an opportunity to speak. And there were people at Azad Maidan rally, who wished to speak, but were not given opportunity. So much for standing up for the Freedom of Speech.

What if Mr. Parrikar had not been Leader of the Opposition, but an average citizen, bereft of such power? Would we be justified in preventing him to speak at a public meeting like the “We Shall Overcome” rally at Azad Maidan? I would argue we would be based on two criteria. The first would be the extent of our right to expression, and the second would be context.

What is the limit of our right to expression? Can we allow for hate speech and what my critic acknowledges is Mr. Parrikar’s “viciously divisive and dangerous ideology” under the guise of Right to Speech and Expression? I don’t believe that we need to argue the obvious! Clearly hate speech and the deliberate inflaming of communal passions cannot be allowed the respectability that comes from a public platform that “We Shall Overcome” was meant to be.

But this barring of speech is not (and cannot be) a blanket ban on expression. Clearly there must be spaces where even a fascist must be allowed to speak. This is where the second criteria of context comes in. A public meeting like ‘We Shall Overcome’ is of a form which does not allow debate. One cannot respond to the hate speech, condemn it and point out its flaws. This for two reasons. First, such a meeting is one where speakers randomly come up and speak, and there is no systematic exploration of an idea or of an agenda. The hate speech then, can go uncontested and unchallenged. The second reason is the form of the gathering itself. Such rallies (and not just ‘We Shall Overcome’) gather potential mobs. This audience will gather up the stimuli and by nature of the form of the meeting, is actively prevented from reasoning out the stimuli presented to it. Clearly then, if one knows a person to be a fascist, and is aware of her/his divisive intentions, one can prevent him/her from speaking at such a public rally.

The audience at a debating club or a discussion group is an entirely different order. People gather here for the specific reason of encountering ideas, and then evaluating them to the core. To prevent an average citizen who expounds “viciously divisive and dangerous ideology” from speaking at such an audience, would I agree, be a violation of the right to free speech. The problem with fascists however, is that they very rarely enter into such groups and address such audiences. They prefer mass rallies, where they can insert hate into minds, where they can hijack agendas and meetings. Or they prefer private discussions where they are not really open to debate, but are merely bludgeoning you with their ideas.

In conclusion then, one has the right to free speech, when one is following the rules of the game, where respect for the other is present. Talking to a mute(d) audience is not the space for the right to hate speech. In such events, one has the right to block hate speech in contexts where the recipient of the argument is not allowed to pause, reflect and talk back. This is why context is so important when we discuss and debate rights. To not give the audience this right is in fact to participate in an assault on their rights (to speech, expression and multiple others).

(Published in the Gomantak Times 29 October 2008)

[For those who follow the blog, you would know that the nameless critic in this column is Dr.Oscar Rebello. I chose to leave him nameless in the column because i believe that Oscar is representative of a larger way of thinking. The issue therefore is not necessarily with Oscar, with who I may continue to have differences, but with a larger issue about the meaning of democracy and the extent of rights.]

Friday, October 24, 2008

Treating suspicious minds

[What follows is a letter to the Editor by Dr. Oscar Rebello, responding to my last column. The letter appeared in the Gomantak Times dt. Oct 25 2008]

I was amused to peruse the chaotic ramblings of Jason Keith Fernandes, a writer I otherwise admire regarding our role in the protest rally organised in support of Aires-Prajal in Panaji recently.

While frothing at the mouth, about permitting Manohar Parrikar to speak on the day (as did so many other politicians), he betrays his own pretentious belief in freedom of speech.

I deplore and condemn the viciously divisive and dangerous ideology of the Right, but to suppress anyone's right to express himself/herself as a citizen of Goa is doing exactly what the Right have done in similar circumstances when in power. We are not like that!

Also, a brutal assault on two social activists is not about brownie points being scored or political statements being managed. It is about society cutting across divides to condemn a cowardly act.

Tommorrow, it could be Jason or me at the receiving end and I hope someone, at least write a decent obit about us.

As for unmasking ourselves, we the alleged masked activists are open, frank and pretty much upfront about our positions. The only thing we will never do is to sell our soul as much as they net may convince you.

There is a medical condition called paranoid schizophrenia where everyone is suspicious of everyone else. (Must confess that even I am afflicted sometimes). But the faster we treat this the better our chances of hopefully saving Goa.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unmasking Legality

The people’s movement needs to stress legitimacy and not legality

The two public meetings that were held, one in the T. B. Cunha Hall, and the second in the Azad Maidan, to protest the attacks on Aires Rodrigues and Prajal Sakhardande, were a scam. They were a scam, because what we saw was the hijack of the genuine frustrations and anger of the people to meet rather dubious political ends. Through these meetings a situation was created where it looked like the voices of the people were being heard, but in fact there was no real attempt to convert the voices of these angry people, into a genuine agenda for change. The event remained at the level of drama alone. A tradition, of being apolitical, that the organizers of the meeting had espoused as leaders of the GBA, was thrown to the winds. Politicians of various hues, including shockingly, Manohar Parrikar of saffron fame, came up onto the stage and used the platform to draw mileage and divert our attention from the real issues of our day.

This column will not dwell on the meetings though. It will not do so, because in the hall of mirrors that is the scene of Goan politics, this accusation of scam-ing the people can be laughed away as delusional. Instead, I would like to inaugurate with this column, a series of reflections on law and the relationship to the events that are unfolding in Goa. Reflections built on the more solid bases of definite statements and suggestions made in the public sphere.

In the course of his oration, the good Dr. Rebello suggested that as activists we should stick to only to legal courses of action. Our only courses of action should be those within the ambit of the law. Perhaps he was thinking of the actions against Aires and Prajal and speaking thus. Taking the good doctor’s advice however, would push us into a very prickly situation; and it is my recommendation that his advice be disregarded and rethought.

Dr. Oscar’s ‘legal’ suggestion, would present to us a situation where there are two options, the legal and the illegal. In a situation where the people of Goa are protesting the very operation of the law and the action of the law enforcers, pushing ourselves into this corner will kill our movement. What Dr. Oscar should have recommended is that our politics and actions be legitimate. A politics of legitimacy allows for activists actions that could be legal. However, when the law itself is perverted, a politics of legitimacy would allow for actions that may contravene the presently existing illegitimate law to create a new law that anticipates a legitimate legal framework.

If we listen to Dr. Oscar we would have to necessarily condemn the recent actions of the mining activists in Quepem who blocked the roads to the mines that are destroying their (and Goa’s) access to fresh water, creating the basis for a water crisis in Goa. People have a right to protest, but they don’t have a legal right to block roads. And yet, before protesting, these activists moved from pillar to post to draw attention to the legal irregularities around these mines; and the very real situation of destruction of livelihoods, if the mining was allowed (through a perverted understanding and manipulation) of the law. The law failed to respond. In face of this silent State complicit in human rights violations against the people, these activists took up a possibly illegal, but definitely legitimate route of protest against the mining activity.

Following the Hindu right-wing initiated and BJP supported bandh however, there are questions in the minds of a number of citizens, if we should allow for bandhs at all. ‘The forcible obstruction of my daily life is illegal’ they say, and there are voices now, calling for a ban on bandhs. The recourse to law however, by these concerned citizens is misplaced. It is misplaced, because in the nightmare that is becoming the Indian Republic, such laws that we imagine will prevent the rightist goons from obstructing our lives, will in fact be used against activists like those in Quepem, and people like us when we obstruct the illegitimate actions of the State.

In fact Manohar Parrikar, the arch sponsor of the bandh, would most definitely support our call for a ban on bandhs. He knows that when in power, it would give him greater power to suppress our voices.

The answer to our conundrum lies once more in the politics of legitimacy. Was the bandh called by the Hindu right-wing legitimate? No! The desecration of temples is obnoxious. It should not be allowed to continue. But there is a strange pattern to these desecrations here, and the BJP is clearly exulting in the continuation of these acts of vandalism. It is using these actions to create more trouble. They seem to gain more from these actions than any other group. The bandh on Monday was illegitimate, because it was used not to protest the desecrations, but to show to all of us who exactly is in power in Goa; the Hindu right wing and its goons. It was used to create a situation, where they can dictate their ridiculous agendas and make all of us toe their lines. Get in a ban on bandhs, and tomorrow these right-wing goons will still violate the law and get away with it. For example, known trouble makers in Margao were arrested a day before the bandh and let off on bail! Bail? They could have been held, as per law within the Station for another day, to ensure that they don’t create more trouble. Should the people’s movements call a bandh however, we would be shown the law that prohibits bandhs.

The protests, and future bandhs of the people’s movement in Goa are being, and will be called to draw attention of the State to the manner in which the common person in Goa is being suffocated out of existence. These are very real demands that the State, politician and the law are not addressing, and these are cries for help. The desecrations of temples are acts of cowards, who like the goons who attacked Aires, attack in the night. The acts of the politico-business class are the acts of those who know they have the backing of the law behind them, and they act in broad daylight, disemboweling our earth; raising towers that touch the sky. For those who use the law in this manner, we need to employ not only legal actions, but actions based on a politics of legitimacy. The politics of legitimacy is a politics of life, and a bandh springing from such a politics, will be fundamentally different from the bandh we saw on Monday. It would be a bandh that would not be enforced by fear and threats as was Monday’s bandh, but a bandh enforced by solidarity that people would voluntarily show.

The Goan scenario is one that is crying for change. The call for total transformation of the way the State operates is a very real demand for change. This demand, the dominant caste groups, business interests and landed interests that have infiltrated the movement are deliberately blocking. These groups seek to occupy a platform lead it away from the egalitarian paradise we wish to create, into one more cul-de-sac where they can profit from our misery. These groups use masks, of faces we trust. What we need to do is ask ourselves, what is it that these masks ask us to do?

(Published in the Gomantak Times 22nd October 2008)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Putting Attacks in Perspective

The larger socio-political environment allows for assaults on activists

How does one respond to the brutal assault on Aires Rodrigues and Prajal Sakhardande? Like most of you, I too am terribly shaken and agitated by the mere fact of the enormity of the attack. Like many of you, for me too, Goa is really my shell in the face of the dance of death that plays out daily in the rest of India. It turns out though, that this dance of death not only stalks our threshold, it has entered into our very sanctum. Now that we recognize this fact though, perhaps things will change; and indeed they must. Things can’t go on like this any more, and indeed, this one incident should necessarily mark the high point of the tolerance of Goan society. No more!

What does not need to be emphasized about this assault is that it was the attack of cowards. Not only were those who executed the attack masked, but these masked bandits were in effect the mask for the puppet-master who chose not to reveal himself. Is it too much to ask for that you come out in the open and deal a few blows, if that is all you are capable off?

This act of violence must necessarily be seen as the act of not just a coward but by forces that are now well and truly at their wits end. The violent response is the response of those who have no other response to offer. This is therefore to be interpreted by the Goan upheaval as a sign of the coming victory. The end must surely be near and all it requires is one, long and hard concerted push.

But rhetoric aside, the attack of Aires and Prajal should be seen in context. The context is one where those who have been speaking out against the injustices perpetrated in the guise of development, have been systematically targeted and harassed by the forces of the politico-economic elite. We should think back a few months, when Manohar Parrikar had the audacity to brand Seby Rodrigues a Naxalite. Parrikar got away with his criminally irresponsible statements and no action was prosecuted against him. In more recent times activists from Benaulim have been targeted by the police. Some were summoned to the police station to be threatened, for others the police went to their work place to defame them there, and on other occasions activists were stopped in Cortalim under the guise of looking for terrorists. A couple of days before the attack on Aires and Prajal, anti-mining activists in Quepem were subjected to verbal and then physical abuse, and then, peacefully protesting activists were arrested and hauled off to jail. The rioters representing the mining group on the other hand received no censure from the police. On the contrary, police officers are reported to have remarked to Cheryl Fernandes, that they would teach her and her aged mother a lesson they would not forget.

It is this socio-political context that provides the backdrop to the murderous attack on Aires and Prajal. It is a context where the various activists in Goa have been branded trouble-makers by the politico-economic elite and have been offered little sympathy from the State. When the Prudent Media organized a debate around the theme, ‘Are Goans becoming Eco-conscious or Negative’, the negativity they were referring to was the negativity imputed to Goans by the politico-economic elite. At the debate itself, Nilesh Salkar and Nitin Kunkolienkar were the lone voices crying negativity. The politicos there cunningly changed their tune, but their opinion stands firm; the average Goan – who Digambar Kamat allegedly works for, has become negative.

Take this as an illustration of the entrenched view of the political establishment. At a public function in Margao this past Sunday, Mauvin Godinho chose to educate the Goans present there on why they should not be negative. We need development he said. ‘Ofcourse bad development like the SEZs should not be there’, he assured us, ‘but other development?’ Politeness prevented me from asking him what other development he and his class were planning on bringing into Goa. I refrained, afraid as I was of embarrassing him into silence. The Chief Minister sat stoically next to Godinho and chose not to comment on these statements. If Digambar Kamat felt so strongly that the Goan was not negative, a gentle indication of difference of opinion would have made the point. This was not to be however.

The point therefore is that Aires and Prajal were attacked not just because of the decision of one coward, but because the entire politico-economic elite of this State has collaborated to create an environment where it is perfect acceptable to hit the activist. There is clearly a certain breakdown of law and order in this state, since the powers that ought to be committed to upholding democratic norms are themselves flouting it. What is one to do then?

Adv. Jatin Naik in a televised report called for the resignation of Digambar Kamat, because of the breakdown of law and order in the State. This may be a good idea, since what Kamat is doing is merely providing lip-service to the angry cries of Goans that resound through this state. There is really no action that is forthcoming from him as he merely hides behind the veil of the law and pleads inability. This resignation should however be a reason for Manohar Parrikar to step into the seat of power. This will only spell doom for the movement in Goa. Would President’s rule serve the purpose? Perhaps it would? Perhaps it would allow us to make our stance extremely clear. That we have had enough of this system of politics and we demand that power be effectively delegated to the grass-roots. Our MLAs are so addicted to power (and the money it brings) that they refuse to give it up. On the contrary they mock our intelligence when they tell us that they were elected for 5 years because they were credited by the people with the intelligence to decide what was best for the people. Yes, President’s rule while we rearticulate the locations of power in our state may in fact be a good idea.

In the meanwhile though, the attack against Aires and Prajal should not be used as a reason to give untrammeled powers to the police. What we need is an inquiry and a revelation of the person who actually paid for the attack. This is what will bring justice to this particular situation. It’s the big fish we are after, not the small fry. In the meanwhile, I would use this column to appeal to every Goan to join in the protests that will be organized over the next two days. Join in, or organize one in your own neighbourhood. Act NOW, or forever hold your peace.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 15 October 2008)