Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thinking about Political Violence

Once again Manohar Parrikar has displayed his contempt for the democratic process. A false and irresponsible statement when sitting in a position of responsibility, without having any evidence to back up his statement, underlines his contempt for the citizens who he feels will gullibly swallow everything he says—and, even if they don’t, since there is no way they can curb him, who cares! This episode underlines his constant attempt to overthrow any existing government so that he has a chance to take over power. The role of an opposition is to wait out its time, and act as a watch-dog of the democratic process, not to take over power by engineering an unstable socio-political scenario. There is no doubt that Parrikar will continue with these irresponsible statements, since this is really the nature of his commitment to democracy. He may still get elected, but it is gradually becoming clear that if we do vote for him, we vote for his promises of autocracy, not the reign of a democratic rule of law. There is good cause to believe that the People’s movements have gotten as far as they have in Goa because Parrikar is not Chief Minister. He would have, as Chief Minister, dubbed us all Naxals and terrorists and thrown us without rights into jail.

Parrikar’s latest statement has nevertheless fulfilled an important task by introducing the idea of Naxalism into the Goan context. He has forced us to contemplate the place of acts of political violence as a way to address the injustices we are facing.

Any contemplation of acts of political violence must necessarily begin from the recognition that the act of political violence by the revolutionary or the activist is really the act of counter-violence. This fact was clearly pointed out at the multiple press conferences after Parrikar’s statement. The Goan people are victims of State terrorism. This is particularly true for those Goans in the mining belt who have silently borne this violence since Liberation. They are victims of State terrorism because the State refuses to recognise their right to a decent and dignified existence, and their rights to common property. The State encourages the privatization of common lands for the benefit of a few who effectively control the Government. When people protest peacefully and persistently, the violence of the State is unleashed on them, as has been done by the police in Colamb and Advalpal. Parrikar’s identification of Seby Rodrigues as a Naxal was another attempt to violently intimidate the people of Goa, and make one individual an example for the rest. Not enough importance has been given to the fact that Naxals are treated as terrorists, and regular rules of criminal procedure, that ensure the basic rights of the individual, have long since ceased to apply to the suspected terrorist.

The Goan State is the perpetrator of violence because it has emptied the State of the rule of law. The reason Gram Sabhas went on the rampage all through the summer, and the reason people are protesting on the streets on an almost daily basis, is because the State has stopped following the rules and regulations that it ought to be the guardian of. The State has shown us in numerous examples that it does not respect democratic processes, and acts only when it confronts violence. Thus the work on the IT Park in Dona Paula was stopped after active (though cowardly and reprehensible) acts of violence on the site. Similarly, the SEZ and the Regional Plan was stopped when the State was faced with the power of angry crowds. We must not forget that it was not regular procedure that got us the breathing space that we now enjoy but the threat of violence; revolutionary violence in the case of the SEZ and Regional Plan, and plain violence in the case of the IT Park.

Very clearly then, Goa is already in the grip of the logic of political violence. Initiated by the State this logic allows only violent acts to attract the attention of this bully State. We should not however, therefore presume that this violence by the State necessitates the shedding of blood or the destruction of physical infrastructure. Political violence is not limited to the act of blowing up people and buildings. Where silence is deliberately imposed on a people, it is an act of violence. The mere act of speaking up and gaining the attention of the State is therefore, in the context of a rogue State – the Goan State being prime example- an act of political counter-violence.

When Parrikar says that there are groups instigating people to violence, he continues to show his contempt of the intellectual capabilities of the citizen. One can be instigated only if one is not used to, or incapable of thinking. If people do take to more violent political acts, it is because they find no other way to express their anger and frustration toward the State. Parrikar himself does not deny that these feelings are rife in the mining area. The political establishment would do well to take note of this growing frustration in the State, and take steps necessary to prevent our collective slide into a spiral of bloodshed. Unfortunately rather than attempting to address the situation, they are still trying to maintain the status quo, where the system of an elected government responsible to the people is a farce. We have instead an elected government that is totally allied to the local capitalists in the State and does their bidding.

There are two broad options before the angry citizen in such a situation. One is the way of the mob, the other the way of the revolutionary. The violence of the mob is an unthinking violence. The mob does not really know why it does an act. It just knows that it is angry and does as it is directed. This violence eventually gets us nowhere, and is a violence that we do not need. It only serves as an opportunity for continued and heightened State repression and an eventual return to the status quo. Revolutionary violence on the other hand, is the conscious act of transgression by an individual or group that has an agenda for change. Such actions don’t necessarily call for destruction or bloodshed; in fact these may not even be necessary as Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest of the guerillas showed us. Consciously chosen acts of transgression of the rules that enforce silence is the way of the revolutionary. Every such action is no doubt prompted by the repressive State, but every action of the revolutionary disables the capacity of the State to act; it frustrates the logic of the State. An accumulation of a multitude of such conscious acts of transgression with a clear agenda in mind will get us a renewed Goa.

If Goa does see Naxal type violence, the State and its elite must be held wholly responsible for it. The role of the activist within this violent environment, is to direct the frustration of the citizenry toward revolutionary acts of transgression, away from the option of the mindless violence of the mob.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 25 June 2008)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Rape of a tool to save Goa?

The Rape of Goa, a photo documentary, by Rajan Parrikar is filled with images of violence. It speaks of a violence done to the earth, as hills are cut and forests ‘shaved’ off. It speaks of the violence done to local inhabitants, as concrete apartments rise and threaten the security and life-styles of these older residents. All in all, it is a vivid description of some of the more visible atrocities being committed in the name of development within the state. And yet, despite all of this documenting something is not quite right with the documentary.

Art historians tell us that works of art are not only geared toward a definite audience, they are also capable of creating an audience. When viewing a work of art, the viewer is transformed into a being who is not only able to appreciate the work, but also act out the message of the art work. And so it is that within the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe, the worshippers are reminded that they are mere creatures in the grand and marvelous work of creation that is the universe. Their place is to live their lives in praise of the Creator, uphold the system that He has divinely mandated, and respect the persons who mediate His mandate. Similarly with ‘corporate environments’ which create the cubicular work-spaces. These cubicles transform an individual capable of million acts of creation and leisure, into one that believes that the sole purpose of life is really to work; and be aware that they can be monitored, just as they monitor others. If the art-work produces a certain kind of an audience, what sort of an audience does ‘The Rape of Goa’ create?

The answer emerged in the course of the viewing of this documentary in the Conference Hall of the Hotel Mandovi, the day before. ‘The Rape of Goa’ is filled not only with multiple images of violences being visited on Goa and Goans, it is also filled with captions that provoke the viewer. In this slick production, music lends itself to the captions presented to the viewer. These captions by and large point out that the ‘developments’ in Goa are by outsiders and for outsiders, in connivance with a bunch of politicians, builders and miners. Overcome with the visuals being presented, one of the viewers at the Hotel Mandovi, was forced to cry out “Ye soglen Ghanti!” (All these Ghatties!). This is exactly the kind of response that ‘The Rape of Goa’ is expected to draw. The documentary seeks to provoke you, and then push you into a series of actions based on that provocation.

The question that we need to ask however is whether provocation is what we in Goa need to be doing right now. Is it provocation, or introspection that is required? A provocation creates a mob, and mobs don’t think or contemplate, they act unthinkingly and tend towards blind violence. Indeed, at the Hotel Mandovi, one of the initial comments was that the time for discussion and debate was over, it is now the time for action. The tendency towards this sort of rhetoric, one that constantly seeks to create mobs- and the simultaneous threat of violence - has been a constant feature of the mobilization in the upheaval that Goa has been seeing for a couple of years now, and this trend is extremely unhealthy.

This trend is unhealthy, because we don’t seek to engage people in dialogue and debate about how we can deal with these unhealthy developments and our personal contribution to this alleged ‘Rape’. We just identify public enemies, inflame passions, and mobilize people against these public enemies. Most of the time, as the debate in the Hotel Mandovi showed, these enemies are the builder-politician nexus and the migrant. It is the poor migrant however, a victim of multiple circumstances, who is the easiest target for mob violence. While there have been multiple instances of migrants and their children being targeted for violence, we are yet to see similar violence directed toward the builder or politician, or the buildings that they erect. (This is not a plea for such violence though).

Goa has seen numerous movements in the past, one of which was the Konkani language agitation that similarly created the enemy in the shape of Marathi. This image of the enemy was mobilized the masses, who were eventually let down. The goodies of state recognition were gathered by elite groups, and those reliant on the Roman script were left out, as their accent and script was deemed less that proper. In this context then, we must perhaps contemplate if what we had were not mass movements but mob movements? Mobs that were created, and carefully manipulated by those at the helm of power? The common person is not served by such mobilizations, only elite groups are, and in the present mobilization we should strive hard to stay away from such tendencies.

One of the options projected as a solution to the ‘Rape of Goa’ is obtaining special status on the lines of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. As seductive and attractive as it sounds, we should view with suspicion Hema Sardesai’s (and others) impassioned plea for special status for Goa. In the history of the Konkani movement, at the crucial moment, Konkani was defined as only that written in Devanagari script, cutting out entirely votaries of the Roman script, who formed the bulk of the masses then. How are we to be sure, that when this Special status is granted to Goa, the ‘local’ is not defined in a similarly perverse manner? We must remember that vast numbers of Goans are migrating outside of India. While many of them are also applying for ‘Person of Indian Origin’ (PIO) status, it should be noted that ownership of agricultural land in India is not available to them. Similarly, it is not possible for PIOs to purchase property in Jammu and Kashmir. The present mobilizations in Goa, seek to retain the ‘agrarian’ aesthetic of Goa. The Goan who migrates therefore, and yet wishes to retain a space in Goa, could possibly stand to loose from a move toward Special Status. The demand for Special Status for Goa needs to keep in mind therefore, much more than simply the current depredations of the Goan environment.

The ‘Rape of Goa’ may document the activities that most of us in Goa deem a matter a concern. However, it is not necessarily part of the answer primarily because it seeks to rouse and inflame the passions of a mob. It does not lead us to ask more penetrating questions about the structure of society in Goa that allows for such activities to take place. It pins the blame on politicians, without questioning our own complicity in this problem, allowing us to blame ‘greedy Goans’ and outsiders. A mob does not think independently, and what we require right now, is independence of thought and lots of it. This the ‘Rape of Goa’ leaves no space for, and for this reason must be a suspect tool in the battle to ‘Save Goa’.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, June 18 2008)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Anti-intellectualism and the Goan environment

To be an academic and an ‘intellectual’ is not necessarily about abstract thinking irrelevant to everyday life. On the contrary intellectualism is about asking hard questions and thinking issues through. It is about not being satisfied with the obvious and the commonsensical answer, looking for the linkages between particular acts and larger trends within society, and offering more informed answers to them. Why then, is there a strong tendency within Indian and Goan society to shrug off the intellectual, and when engaging in academic work to resist asking the hard question, and instead to engage in delightful descriptions of a situation? The answer to this question lies I believe, not with the irrelevance of academic work to daily life, but to the answers that it will reveal. Answers which will eventually shakeup the status-quo on which Indian and Goan life are ultimately based.

The difficulty of being an academic in Goan society has bothered me for a very long time. Only recently however, after random conversations with activists who have been in the thick of the fight to ‘Save Goa’, did the possible answer eventually fall into place. The first episode in this revelation came from one of the ‘leaders’ of the campaign. “Arrey Jason”, he said “what you and I write is all very nice on paper. At the end of the day the battle is being fought on the ground, and it’s a dog-fight out there man”. The suggestion was clear, essays that probe current events for their meaning and implication have no value in ‘real’ life. Episode two is a conversation with the supporter of one of the fronts spearheading the resistance to the legislative destruction of Goa. I was arguing with her that the position that the front took of being ‘apolitical’ was in the end a position that undermined popular action and allowed for backroom manipulations. At the end of the day, every small individual action is also political. Her response to my elaborate argument was simple “Aaanh! But that is thinking too much no?” Episode three involves a recently emergent populist leader of the resistance to the State, who at the end of a discussion observed “Intellectualism is used to create false bogeymen and complicate the uncomplicated”. If these are the responses of the leaders of the Goan resistance, to academics, intellectual probing and asking hard questions, then my friends we are in serious trouble.

There are two kinds of responses to academic reflections; the first as illustrated in Episode two says that it’s too hard to think. The second illustrated by Episode one claims that it cannot understand, or that the thinking is irrelevant. The first response is sheer stupidity and laziness; the outright refusal to think. Why would be refuse to think though? In episode two, my attempt was to show how the front’s claim to being apolitical, was in fact a political position that fulfilled certain ends. It allows the front to selectively pick issues that it will fight, and rather than following democratic processes of resolving the issues, engage in backroom deals. Backroom deals at the end of the day are concluded primarily by groups that are committed to the status-quo; that is they differ on minor points, but are in agreement on the fundamental bases on which society is structured. The refusal to think therefore buttresses the social dominance of the members of the dominant groups in Goan society. Since we refuse to think through our positions, and how our positions are structured by our class interests, our actions rather than challenging a status-quo that unfairly privileges certain groups, go on to further reinforce our vested interests.

The second response to academic probing has us throwing up our hands saying it is unnecessarily complicated and irrelevant. If the claimants of the first response genuinely don’t want to think too much, the second response is the response of those who do in fact think, have realized the implications of the thought and use this statement to dismiss the thought to irrelevance. Any idea that has the capacity to disturb and upset the status-quo is thus laughed away as impractical nonsense. Thus episode one above is not about the irrelevance of abstract thinking, but the conscious choice to think about the problem in the established manner. It is the outright dismissal of another way of thinking through the same issue. The act of deeming academic reflection irrelevant is thus a profoundly political act that refuses to allow set ways of thinking to be challenged. What we have to necessarily remember is that a good amount of our common-sense is in fact the result of an entire edifice of thought, not unlike the elaborate reasonings of academic thought. Academic reasoning accepted today, forms the common sense of tomorrow.

Episode three is by far the most disturbing response to intellectual endeavours within our State. It charges the intellectual with unnecessarily complicating a simple issue and sowing the seeds of division and discord. This response stops short of suggesting what every totalitarian regime has proffered to its dissenting voices and intellectuals, get rid of (read kill) them. The tendency to see an issue as simple, with every possible aspect understood is one that marks populist movements and totalitarian states. Both systems see the dissenting voice, which suggests that all is not well with the diagnosis of the problem, as the enemy. This is increasingly emerging as one of the problems of the movements within Goa today, where simple diagnosis that blame the migrant, the foreigner, the non-enforcement of morality, are increasingly becoming popular. Within such an environment, the skeptical voice of the academic will not be a welcome one. Yet, this is exactly what Goa needs at this point of time.

I have tried to suggest that a single malady lies at the root of the anti-intellectual environment in Goan society and the ongoing campaign against Governmental corruption. The malady is a refusal to think issues through and a disinclination to ask the hard questions necessary for societal change. This discomfort can be traced directly to an unwillingness to challenge the inequitable social relations that are the basis of our society. Simply put, it is not that we are unable to think, we refuse to think because it will make us face the inequity that pads our otherwise comfortable existence. If this is indeed the case, then we must realize that the revolution we are engaged in is also severely limited. It is limited to being a battle between two elite groups who are agreed in continuing the inequity that allows them to be elite, and is hence compromised. If the current revolt is to truly become a revolution, then we must agree that the agenda of the revolution must take on board the concerns of Goa’s most marginalized communities as it own. Until then we will be engaging in merely cosmetic changes, leaving the reason for the rot untouched. There is no option but to face the hard questions, to pursue the answers they throw up, and then, reluctantly or otherwise pursue the paths that they open up.

(Published in the Gomantak Times June 11 2008)