Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Goa Made in India

I thought that it would make sense for me to add a link to Rajdeep Sardesai's essay titled 'A Goa Made in India' that I refer to in the earlier post, some of which points I address as well.


Of Rapes, Murder and Drugs and the ‘Real Goa’

A week or so ago, in the face of the storm that sought to blow the Scarlett Keeling incident totally out of proportion and paint Goa as a sleazy drug den, Maria Aurora Couto pointed out on NDTV’s ‘We the People’ debate that the Goa where this event transpired, was not “her Goa”. Around the same time, Rajdeep Sardesai pointed out in his essay in the Hindustan Times that “The Goa of a tiny strip of beach between Candolim and Anjuna is constantly in the media gaze and makes front page headlines. The vast majority of Goans who live outside this world are rarely documented because their lives seem much too unexciting to be explored.” This Goa, ‘our Goa’ as they would like to represent it to us, and have the media focus on is a Goa of “deep social conservatism, of folk religiosity in its village temples and churches, of simplicity of lifestyle within rural communities, of a premium on education and of immense pride in its plural, multi-cultural heritage”.

Point well made you guys, since there is a need to strike back at the deliberately created image of Goa as a destination of sun, surf, sex and sand. And yet, there is much to be feared as well, in this move to shift focus away from the perverted gaze of the tourist and Indian media industry. When we claim that the real Goa lies in her villages, and not on the beach belt, what we are also doing is denying any claim to authenticity of the Goans who actually live and work in the beach belt. Participants to the sub-culture that has emerged in the beach-belt, these are Goans too, and thus the sub-culture on the beach belt, is genuinely Goan culture as well. To say this however, is not to say that we must turn a blind eye to the illegal trade in drugs that has filled the scene there, merely because a few Goans make a living (killing?) out of it. On the contrary, it is quite clear that there is a need for regulation in this area. The point I seek to make however, is that the argument regarding the ‘real Goa’ that seeks to deny the existence of the sub-culture of the beach belt is located in a definite class and caste location. A position which if not monitored consciously could see us unconsciously laying the ground for a rightist takeover of the Goan space.

When Sardesai says that Goa is a place of ‘deep social conservatism’, is he justifying this setup as idyllic? Dare we contemplate that for a good many Goans, who were and are at the wrong end of the stick, this ‘conservatism’ leads not to gentility but the suffocation of social and economic opportunity? A good many Goans who buy this argument of the ‘real Goa’ hark back to the days when Anjuna was a quite little village, when everything and everybody went to sleep by 8 in the evening, when decent norms were observed. But whose Goa and Anjuna was this, whose order was it that was maintained in villages such as Anjuna? The answer is best provided in the words of a landlord from Anjuna, who proclaimed with certitude, “this would not have happened if we were still in Anjuna”. And for sure it would not have happened, since all the little fisherfolk and peasants of the village would have been firmly under you thumb my friend! Tourism, for all its evils (and there are some) also provided a way out of enforced and oftentimes suffocating codes, it provided a way out of the lifestyles that were simple not necessarily out of choice, but because of the poverty of the Goan village (that it was nothing compared to the worst case of poverty in India is not an argument does not draw from the experience of poverty).

Already following the moral hoo-ha in the course of the Keeling incident there have been efforts to suggest the imposition of an end to rave-parties, a firm stop to the nigh-life post 11 in the evening. And of course, because such events are not in keeping with ‘Goan’ culture, it finds legitimacy, no bother that it is going to impact on the livelihoods of local Goans, who may not necessarily be engaged in drug or sex trade. The morality argument in effect serves two rightist interests. It allows Goa’s upper class and upper caste to gain the respect of India, based on middle-class values of respectability and the appeal to caste brotherhood, and it serves the interests of the underground drug trade. Create an environment where drug consumption is totally banned, and what you have, as is the case now, is a space wide open, for the police to cooperate with the drug lords.

What was remarkable about the NDTV debate was the total absence of the lower caste and class Goan. Think closely and you will realise how their image of Goa almost never has space in the official representation of Goa. The only lower class person on the NDTV debate was Fiona MacKeown, and we saw just how exactly her status was used in the debate- and elsewhere- against her. A telling example maybe?

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 26 March 2008)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Upper-caste Catholics and the dream of the Hindu Right

In the flush following the Festival of Ideas, the moderator of an egroup of research scholars on Goa was inspired to cry out “Why don’t we dedicate the group to AbbĂ© Faria and D.D. Kosambi, we could then have one for each community!” Responding to this idea, a friend blinked his eyes and inquired; “Two communities?” He paused, scratched his head and asked again “Two communities? How two communities? Aren’t they both Saraswat?” This had not been my own response; my own had been to fume and remark on the manner in which the Goan Muslim had once more been written out of the equation. My friend’s response though scored higher on two counts, not only did he manage to humourously ridicule this suggestion (as it should have been) but the man had also hit the nail on the head and unlocked in an instant the key to understanding the emergence of communal tensions in our fair (?) land.

Its been going on for sometime, but since the past few years one hears a number of Catholic Brahmins stand up to proclaim their Saraswat status. To be proud that they were (are?) Brahmin we can argue is as old as the sun, but to see themselves as Saraswat is a relatively new phenomenon. It is this fact, and the fact that Chardos can claim to have a Maratha heritage that will ensure that there will be no major confrontation between the two major religious groups in Goa. This does not translate to the fact that there will be communal harmony however. It is clear, especially in light of the recent clamour that there be a ban on cow slaughter in Goa, that the Hindu right will persist in stirring up trouble. However there may be a management of the tension through the alliance that is brought about through the identification of the Catholic upper-caste groups with their Hindu upper-caste brethren. It may not be openly acknowledged, but these two upper caste groups have time and again collaborated to ensure that the status-quo is maintained, the easiest example being the manner in which the Konkani agitation was managed. Upper caste Catholic and Saraswat combine to create the (Konkani) terms for their dominance. And since it was upper caste interests and alliances that were focused on, it is no surprise that where Konkani was concerned, the lower caste Catholic was sold out and deliberately left with no real linguistic option. The implications for communal strife through Catholic upper-caste identification with Hindu upper-castes is more in evidence in Mangalore. Most Mangalorean Catholics are so eager to pass themselves off as upper-caste, that they have in recent years produced Brahmin identities for themselves, and sharpened their weddings with Brahmanical rituals. The result is that whenever there is communal strife in the area, they are able to persuade themselves that it is a Muslim problem and lie low; play the Christian cheek as it were. That this strategy does not work for long can be seen by the fact that not too long ago was the attack on a group of Catholic religious, where one of them literally had his teeth pushed in. Quite clearly then, the assertion of an upper-caste identity by non-Hindu groups works only to ensure a management of communal tension, as these groups work hand-in-hand to keep the lower castes in check, until they realize that the communal situation has blown up in their collective faces!

Goa may not see Catholic-Hindu riots but it has and will continue to see unprovoked attacks on Muslims, because the upper-caste Catholic, who is in control of Church and community has internalized Hindu nationalist logic about the Muslim. As such, rather than realizing that they stand to gain should they identify with a minority group that is being punished for not being Hindu upper-caste, they join in the persecution of the Muslim. Another reason for the persecution is the Goan Catholics’ own insecurity about their status and future in the state. It is a fact of history that rather than stand together against a common bully, the weak fight among themselves. The anti-Muslim feeling in Goa should really be put down to this, the weak fighting the weak, one set of dominant groups stoking the fire and the other playing ostrich trying to blend in. It didn’t help the assimilated Jews in Europe, why would it help us?
(In commemoration of the communal violence perpetrated in Curchorem-Sanvordem 2006)
Published in the Gomantak Times 5th March 2008