A fortnight ago this column strayed from its usual path of picking on Hindu right-wingers to focus on the Catholic bigot. The varied responses to that column justified the decision to take up the issue of the Catholic bigot. Rich and varied have been the response, some supportive, indicating that it was something that needed to be said, some sympathetic pointing out that the Goan Catholic elite are a group that history has left behind, while others were frankly piqued and peeved. It is the last that are perhaps most instructive and useful to construct a counter.
Before moving on to these piques though, it should be pointed out that the earlier column was not about the Goan Catholics, nor about the Goan Catholic elite. It was more specifically about the bigots that populate both these groups. A supportive response rightly highlighted that while the column provided ‘picture of a part, or even a good part of this elite…there was another relevant part (of the Goan Catholic elite) that was anti-Salazarist, active or quietly, and that though even professionally dependent on colonial rule had the courage not to compromise with it.’ To be sure there were these brave persons, whose examples we cannot and must not forget. Indeed, these women and men are the examples we need to hold aloft. However it needs to be pointed out that the bigotry of the Catholic elite was not merely tied to Salazar. Salazar was only one facet of a larger problem that colonial values created in Goa. In contemporary Portugal Salazar is conveniently made a bogeyman for all things bad, so that to stone him allows contemporary Portuguese to self-exculpate themselves from post-colonial faux pas completely. To brutally paraphrase the Urdu poet Faiz, there are greater evils in the Lusofone world than Salazar.
This defense of the past column to affirm that it was not calling all Goan Catholics bigots stems from the fact that the largest piques resulted from this particular misreading. These posts inquired why the column was ‘baying for the blood’ of ‘Goan Catholics in Goa (who) today are a shrinking minority. Jason can get around and finish the job he has set out by crucifying the remaining.’ This is a somewhat bizarre response since a shrewd appraisal of the situation would point out that when a community can identify its bigots, and effectively deal with them, it creates the space to protect the larger community from external attack. This response was indicative of the manner in which the sense of persecution or marginalization (the fact of which this column has consistently argued for) contributes to an inability to introspect and address problems within. It is in this sense then that Hindutva (or any other majoritarianism for that matter) prevents minority groups from addressing issues of inequality and injustice within it. When pushed to the wall, the dominant groups within a minority invariably manage to suffocate internal challenges to the status-quo. Thus the critique of a bigoted mindset among Catholics was castigated as a challenge both to Goa and to Catholics itself. As argued in the earlier column, given the representational dominance of the elite, it is elite representations of Catholic Goan-ness that get frozen as the representative of an entire community. It was also within elite Goan Catholic contexts, that this peculiar brand of bigotry was produced. To this extent then Catholic bigots (like bigots in any group) are not harmless but act as foils for majoritarian attack, and also work together with this right to undermine the non-dominant groups within their fold.
There is also a need for us to challenge notions of a homogeneous and unified Catholic community. Just as there is no single Hindu community, but a Hindu community fractured by region, caste and class; just as the Indian Muslim is a fictitious character, similarly the ‘Goan Catholic’ too is a largely fictitious entity. This is not to deny that there are factors and features that bind different groups together as Catholics and Goans. This is merely to point that this unity is not total. It is fractured by the existence of caste, class, region and goodness knows how many other factors. The last column was castigated for dragging caste unnecessarily into the issue. This was surprising given the last column argued that Catholic bigotry was not restricted to a class or class, but can be, and is present, among all groups. I would like to extract two comments here. The first, ‘I am a sudra fighting for the Goan cause.’ And a second, ‘Not sure which Bamon rubbed Jason Keith Fernandes on the wrong side for him to paint all Goan Catholics with his dirty muck calling them bigots!’ These comments tell us that there is more to caste among Catholics than we care to admit. Both these comments assume the blemish-free nature of Sudras and non-brahmins, and assume that it is always Brahmins or Bamons who are trouble-makers. This column has time and again argued that Brahmins do not hold a monopoly on brahmanical thinking. However, given that the brahmanical frameworks work to their advantage, like other dominant castes, they have a tendency towards it.
Speaking of bigotry among Goan Catholics is important because their bigotry often masquerades as a call to ‘Save Goa’. It prevents any opportunity for internal debate as they present the Hindu right as a far greater threat and call for ‘unity’ in the face of this attack. In both cases there is a reason to fight, both for Goa, as well as Christian security in India and in Goa. But we should not allow the bigots to colour our choices and strategies. These bigots would not have us work with other minority groups or create a genuinely democratic politics. Thus in Goa, they would have us spurn choices to align with the cause of Muslim persecution in Goa, or to work with Dalit and tribal causes in both Goa and other parts of India. They will not contemplate the possibility that Goa's emigration/migration problems could perhaps be partially addressed through better and respectful labour conditions. The bigot would have us believe in our superiority merely because we are Catholic and embody (forgotten) Portuguese values. Indeed they would use discontent with the present to produce an idyllic and blemish-free Portuguese past, which indeed it was not. The bigot would have us confuse uniformity (of opinion) for unity. And in these embattled times, this is no option at all.
(P.S. The reference to 'Save Goa' is not a reference to the 'Save Goa Movement' that existed fas a coalition of groups or a brief moment in recent Goan history)
(A version was first published in the Gomantak Times 19 Jan 2010)