Sunday, August 27, 2017

On Vandalizations and the Rule of Law

Through the month of July, Catholics in Goa were under considerable distress following a spate of vandalizations both of crosses as well as grave stones. For a while the state seemed unable to address the situation until the police identified one Francis Pereira as the perpetrator of these acts. However, if the state authorities were under the impression that this arrest would satisfy civil society in Goa, then they were sadly mistaken. Incredulous that a fifty-year-old man could single-handedly engage in so much destruction, the arrest has become the butt of jokes and caustic comment from Goan citizens.

While the state may continue to protest its bona fides and swear that they have gotten the right man, it would do well for the authorities to take stock of the situation they find themselves in where the citizenry is deeply suspicious of them. This is at least the second instance where the citizenry have refused to accept the police’s version of events. The other incident that I refer to is that of the nature of Fr. Bismarque Dias’s mysterious death. The state authorities should realise that if this popular disregard of their findings becomes a systematic pattern, then not only will they lose the confidence of the people but it will seriously impact the law and order situation in the state. Indeed, if there is one single fear that we can take away from the grave vandalization case it is of the manner in which law and order has declined in Goa. Last month, this column reflected on the instance in the village of Mercês where rather than complain to the police, locals had taken it on themselves to avenge their abuse by rowdy tourists.

The Government on the other hand seems to not take this situation where the authorities are being increasingly disregarded seriously enough. As with most things the authorities seem to have grasped the wrong end of the stick with what law and order means. While the state should be concerned with preventing crimes like the vandalization of graves, they are instead busy building up a police, or surveillance state. Thus, rather than work to ensure that the peace of society is not disturbed, they sit back and allow for provocative rhetoric to fill the air – as in the case of the recently-concluded All India Hindu Convention. Once violence erupts, the authorities delightedly step in to augment the existence of a state with greater police surveillance. Civil society should take note that a greater police presence in the state is not a panacea. Rather, the biased way in which police can function, especially when the state is under the control of problematic forces should give one pause when considering, or demanding, greater police presence on the streets. Take, for example, the actions of police forces where they have stood by silently, or joined in the violence when Muslims are attacked by Hindu mobs. This was the case not just in Gujarat in 2002, but in various cases across India. Indeed, one was witness to such a scenario in Goa itself when I 2002 police stood by while property in Fontainhas was vandalised by Hindu right wing groups.  

There is another question that emerges when civil society considers the question of the vandalizations.  In addition to demanding that the state ensure better security, another response has been to blame Hindu nationalist groups, in particular the forces behind the All India Hindu Convention. While there is no doubt that greater state scrutiny is required of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, one should be careful to not blame the group for the violence without investigation. There are a plethora of Hindu nationalist groups, and not all of them are necessarily working with each other, even though they may all be working towards a common goal of a Hindu state. These groups are also working to undermine the strength of groups they see as being too soft, some groups demand deference because they have been around for longer are more established, and led by upper caste leaders. Thus, what is required is that, rather than wild allegations, we demand that a serious investigation be carried out by the state authorities and appropriate actions be taken. In this context, it falls on political parties that do not have representation in the legislature, but have ambitions of getting there, to take leadership. Political parties like the AAP or the Communists have funds and personnel and they ideally ought to direct these funds and personnel towards ensuring that the procedures and rule of law are followed. They should hire lawyers, and other professionals as needed, and ensure that there is a systematic follow-up. What I am arguing for, is that especially at a time when the rule of law, and the institutions that secure it, are collapsing we need to work harder to ensure that procedures are followed, and there is a firm focus on institution building.

What would be the appropriate response to these vandalizations? Catholics, and others concerned, should also be aware that these acts are possibly being carried out to gauge the responses of the public. If such is the case, responding with vigilante action would be devastating. Concerned groups need to do all they can to avoid emotional responses and insist that the state do its job. What we need at this point in time, where the state is actively abandoning its role as the upholder of law is to commit ourselves to a greater investment in institution building. What needs to be understood is that the Hindu right thrives precisely on the collapse of the secular state. We need to stem this collapse by a commitment to institution building and a respect for the due process of law.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 25 July 2017)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why don’t you see Fascism?

The bye-elections to select the representative for the city of Panjim are being seen as critical given that it will determine if the BJP-led coalition will continue to govern Goa, and will also determine the career of the BJP candidate Manohar Parrikar. It is for this reason, therefore, that most people are on edge and apprehensive about the outcome. Some of the tensions involved in this election were made evident in the article written by advocate F. E. Noronha and published in Renovação, the newsletter and magazine of the Archdiocese of Goa. In this article, Noronha all but urged the electorate to reject Parrikar at the polls, arguing that a Nazi-like atmosphere had arisen in Goa.

A newspaper article reported that Vijay Sardesai, leader of the Goa Forward party which is a member of the ruling coalition, dismissed this article as “hyperbole”. Sardesai is reported to have indicated that he thought the argument “a clear cut case of exaggeration. In Goa, where is the fascism? Which community is being discriminated or acted against by the state, through the state machinery?”

This report confirmed my own evaluation of the problems with the Indian polity, and the inability of elected representatives and politicians to either appreciate the nature of what exactly is at stake at this particular moment in Indian politics, or to ignore the implications in their drive to obtain political power.

To begin with is the sheer arrogance with which Sardesai dismisses Noronha’s argument. As a member of a Hindu dominant caste, Sardesai is in no position to idly dismiss others’ concerns.  How would he, who is under no threat - of life, or culture - be able to determine what is hyperbole or not? Rather than dismissing the concerns of a member of a minoritized group, he ought to have said, “yes, I hear you, and I will see what I can do to resolve this matter”. This dismissal is particularly callous given that Sardesai rose to power through the support of the many Catholic groups. 

It appears that Sardesai has either no idea how fascism actually operates, or is being disingenuous given that he has pledged his support to Manohar Parrikar’s election bid from Panjim. In any case, since Sardesai reportedly inquired which community is being discriminated against by the State, let us take him seriously and provide a response. This response will demonstrate the manner in which fascism has been growing, systematically pushing groups out of power and minoritizing them.

It needs to be noted that fascism does not emerge fully-grown, like some Athena from the head of Zeus. On the contrary, fascism grows through small, deliberate steps. One need only look at the discrimination against the Roman script of the Konkani language. Ever since 1981, when the Official Language Act (OLA) was legislated by the Congress party, the Roman script has been the target of hostility by the state-supported Nagri Konkani lobby. Not only have literary works in the Roman script been ignored for awards, these works have not even been admitted to competitions on the grounds that the Roman script is not an officially recognised script. This is the face of creeping fascism where the chief tool through which a social group, viz. that of the Bahujan Catholics, expresses itself is systematically and deliberately side-lined and suffocated. Indeed, given Sardesai’s claims of representing Goemkarponn, or Goanness, one would have expected him to take up the long-standing demand of such groups as the Dalgado Konknni Akademi, and the Romi Lipi Action Front to ensure that the Roman script is officially recognised. But this is not the only example of systematic minoritization and threat. There has been a stream of anti-Catholic abuse by persons not just from outside of Goa, like Sadhvi Saraswati, but persons within Goa such as Subash Velingkar, Uday Bhembre, with people like Naguesh Karmali having actually participated in the destruction of property as in Fontainhas in 2002. In all of these events, state governments of varying parties have literally looked on passively. One should also not forget the effective suffocation of the production of beef in the state a process initiated by the MGP in 1978.

One would have hoped that Sardesai would use his position in the ruling coalition to push forward agendas, like the official recognition of the Roman script, that will halt the systematic minoritization of various groups within Goa. However, Sardesai’s rhetoric demonstrates a troubling similarity with Hindu nationalists. Take, for example, that not only has Sardesai reportedly dismissed Noronha’s argument as hyperbole he has also dismissed “certain sections of Goan people” as being irrational. He suggests that such concerns are the result of “scepticism, pessimism among certain sections of Goan people” rather than rational opinion articulated after careful study and observation. Given that these comments were made in the context of Noronha’s article, one can safely assume that Sardesai means Catholics when he refers to “certain sections of Goan people.”

As should be obvious from the discussion above, fascism in our state is not limited to the actions of the BJP alone. Rather, it has had a long gestation period. Nevertheless, it is also true that the presence of the BJP, especially at the Centre, has allowed for the animosity towards non-Hindu groups to be asserted viciously. In this context we should take into consideration the words of the economist and former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis. Speaking in the context of the recently concluded French presidential elections Varoufakis pointed out that it was important to rally around the problematic figure of Emmanuel Macron precisely because it was critical that the racist and right-wing Marie Le Pen be defeated. Speaking to those who did not see a difference between these two problematic figures he pointed out that one needed to be aware of the implications of what happens when a “fascist, racist party” gets its “hands on the levers of the deep state, the levers of the police, and of the army.” This article will appear too late for it to have any impact on the outcome of the election to the Panjim legislatve seat. However, the larger point that needs to be made is to underline how fascism operates, and how it is, in fact, very much a threat in Goa.

(A version of this text was first published in the O Heraldo on 24 Aug 2017)