The Shame of Speaking Konkani – III

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Pride and shame, it appears, are two sides of the same coin. Invariably, pride seems to be a logical solution when an individual recognizes that s/he is being shamed by political institutions and establishments. In the past few weeks we have had occasions to discuss the operation of shame and humiliation within Konkani language politics. The discussion initially focused on a song by Alfred Rose and made some observations about the type of politics in which the man and his work were entrenched.

Since Alfred Rose did not invent the type of politics that he often propagated, the question is: who did? I believe that issues related to the shaming and humiliation within Konkani language politics will become clearer once we scrutinize the life and writings of Vaman Raghunath Varde Valaulikar. If there was one individual on whose shoulders Konkani activists, until fairly recently, placed the burden of single-handedly rescuing the Konkani language from untold miseries, it has to be Valaulikar. No person, we have been made to believe, worked as hard as Valaulikar for the cause of Konkani language and thus the Goan identity. The attempts to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Valaulikar as ‘Konkani asmitai year’ in 2002, exemplify this.

Valaulikar’s written output was (or is) considered to be seminal in Konkani literature. This he did, we are told, by not only producing Konkani literature of high standard but also by stepping up to the challenge posed by Marathi-supporters; in fact demolishing their every argument. What is important for our purpose is to focus on the manner in which Valaulikar tackled the issue of shame felt by the Catholic and Hindu communities in colonial Bombay, thanks to the accusation of Marathi-supporters that Konkani was a form of ‘impure Marathi’.

In his text, Konknni Bhaxechem Zoit or The Triumph of Konkani, Vaulikar tells us that Konkani was derogatorily referred to as ‘impure Marathi’ by Marathi-speakers and -supporters (p.47). ‘Impure’ obviously because, unlike Marathi at that time, Konkani language had not yet incorporated Sanskrit inflections, prior to Valaulikar’s project. While Valaulikar may have felt shamed and humiliated because of his ‘impure Marathi’, it becomes quite a different story when one considers that persons using the Roman-scripted Konkani had to bear a greater brunt of such shaming – with repeated call for standardized orthography – because the language that they used was not a Sanskrit-inflected one, like the ‘proper’ Marathi. Not surprisingly, Valaulikar’s response did not reveal the underlying aspiration of his caste politics in which the brahmin groups like his were trying to gain power and privilege in colonial Bombay. On the contrary he suggested that Konkani-speakers needed to work for the development of the language to give it world recognition (see Konkani Bhaxechem Zoit, Ed. K. S. Nayak, Bombay, 1930). In other words, one had to take-on to the challenge of Marathi-supporters by feeling pride in a Sanskritized Konkani by speaking and writing in the Antruzi variant, rather than ask why Konkani was referred to as ‘impure Marathi’. Or indeed ask why Hindus and Catholics in Bombay felt ashamed of their own types of Konkanis.

That he wrote in and championed the cause of the Nagri lipi and the Antruzi boli was not a problem for Valaulikar. Neither was it a problem for him that the Konkani in which he wrote his books was a new fabrication. As one of Valaulikar’s interlocutors Balkrishna Waman Sawardekar quite rightly and cheekily noted, “Shanai Goebab has, in his books, clothed Konkani in sacred robes and as such it has assumed a very beautiful and chaste form. His is a completely Konkani diction (sic) no doubt but this is what has made it very unintelligible” (p. 19). Sawardekar further asserted that this has resulted in Valaulikar producing a “fossilized Konkani” (p. 22) (see The Language of Goa, Panaji, 1971; originally published in the Portuguese in 1939).

Though Valaulikar’s project responded to the derogatory attitude of the Marathi-supporters and the Marathi language establishment in Bombay, it was a project of consolidating Saraswat caste identity against the backdrop of many other brahmin groups in colonial Bombay. The misguided ideas that Konkani is the natural mother-tongue of Goans and that it is in the blood of Goans emerged and consolidated with this project of Valaulikar.

While there is no doubt that persons like Valaulikar and likes may have faced a few instances of shame and humiliation of speaking Konkani, the non-upper caste and working class groups of Goans must have felt unimaginably more. With the rise of Nagri script (and by extension the Antruzi boli) as the sole official script of Konkani in Goa in recent times this shame and humiliation for persons who do not embody the ways and manners of being of the Nagri/Antruzi Konkani can only be said to have increased manifold. Thus, the project initiated by Valaulikar and carried forward by his ardent bhakts of creating and imposing a singular Konkani language of high literary merit has been a miserable failure for the bahujans and Catholics.

Valaulikar’s career and the history of the nagri-scripted Konkani suggests that shaming has been present in Konkani language politics for well over a century, if not more. In such a grim scenario it is quite logical that Goans – who cherish their respective forms of Konkanis – also make a demand for English. Though the possibility of him being sarcastic is eminently plausible, Valaulikar advised his antagonists – the Marathi-supporters – that rather than their obsession with Marathi, they should “at least select a language which will give them the maximum gains… [and they should] assiduously and diligently study the powerful English language” (p. 35) (see Triumph of Konkani: A Translation of Shenoy Goembab’s Konkani Bhasechem Zoit, Tran. Sebastian M. Borges, Margao, 2003). Sarcasm or not, access to the “powerful English” is no doubt a sensible strategy out of the sorry mess that is the linguistic politics of Goa.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 30 September, 2015)

Of Muthalik and Nagri Konkani

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The ban on entry of Pramod Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene into Goa has now been extended till January 2016 by the Goa Government. Drawing attention to another sinister group engaged in cultural policing, last week, BJP MLA Vishnu Wagh urged the chief minister to impose a ban on Sanatan Sanstha for its alleged links with the murder of Govind Pansare in Kolhapur.  While Sanatan Sanstha was alleged to have been involved in the Margao blast case few years ago, Muthalik, who achieved national attention after his associates ransacked a pub in Mangalore in 2009, wanted to set up a Ram Sene branch in Goa.

Goa has been a target of these groups for the supposed ‘western’ outlook and character. Outfits like Ram Sene have stated their intentions to cleanse Goans of western influences. Such cultural imposition of right wing Hindu outfits must be resisted, though whether to ban them or not is a topic for another article. However, while it is important to be vigilant of these external forces altering plurality of Goan society, one must be aware of such culture police locally present within Goa. This local culture police might not be as formally organised as Ram Sene, but their larger project has similarities, i.e. to impose a singular identity by carefully erasing all cultural differences to ensure the hegemony of a dominant social group. It is also interesting to note that some of these individuals indulging in cultural policing are also active members of a Facebook group called “We Don’t Need Ram Sene in Goa”.

I am referring to the lobby that propagates Konkani as the authentic embodiment of Goan identity. The Official Language Act of 1987 instituted ‘Konkani written in Devnagari script’ as the sole official language of Goa. This Konkani, however, was not the extant and popular Concani. Rather, it was the dialect spoken largely by the Hindu Saraswats of Goa. By officially recognizing this Konkani as the only official language of Goa, the state excluded two major Goan communities i.e. the Catholic and Hindu Bahujan groups. The Catholics in Goa largely use the Roman script to write Concani. By specifically mentioning ‘Konkani written in Devnagari script’, the official language act slyly suggested that Devnagari script is the marker of ‘Indianness’ in Goa.

As Goan historian Parag Parobo suggests in his book India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015), the upsurge of Maratha power in 17th century had turned Maratha identity as a symbol of cultural resource. The lower caste Hindus in Portuguese Goa articulated  a modern identity through the Maratha symbol to escape caste oppression.  The potency of this symbol was further deepened in the course of the merger-language debates that dominated public discourse from the 1960s until their culmination in 1987. Recognising that the pro-Konkani forces were in fact directed by Saraswat interests, the bahujan realised that the imposition of Nagri Konkani was a tool towards instituting brahminical hegemony in Goa. It was for this reason that they chose to side with Marathi as their preferred language of expression.

The symbolic power attached to Nagri Konkani by its institutionalisation through the state apparatus has rendered Goan Catholics and Hindu Bahujans as ‘lesser’ Indians and Goans respectively. Instead, it frames the Nagri Konkani supporting Hindu as the ‘ideal’ representative of Goan identity. Such idealisation is in the interest of sustaining the caste hegemony of Saraswats in Goa. In the popular press or social media platforms, any demand for official status for Romi Konkani is vehemently opposed citing it as a representative of the colonial hangover of Goan Catholics. Similarly, even though the pursuit of merger is no longer feasible, the demand for official status for Marathi in Goa is held under suspicion as a step towards Goa’s merger with Maharashtra. Both these demands emerge out of a resistance to upper caste hegemony and are a call for accommodating the plurality of vernacular cultures in Goa. However, the ‘Nagri Konkani sena’ has time and again opposed such assertions by labeling them as a threat to “Goan identity”; implying that such identity should be expressed only through Nagri Konkani. Those demanding official status for Romi Konkani are asked to leave for Portugal. Similarly, those asserting a Marathi identity to resist Nagri Konkani hegemony are asked to settle in Maharashtra.

Muthalik and the Nagri Konkani lobby may have different organizational structures and modus operandi but they strive towards similar agenda. In the case of Muthalik, it is the militant imposition of Hinduism as the authentic Indian culture, by attacking cultures that challenge the idea of ‘Hindu rashtra’. In the case of the Nagri Konkani-wallahs, it is professing of Nagri Konkani as the sole vehicle of Goan identity. Any opposition to this is accused of being a ‘traitor’ to Goan and Indian society. Muthalik has often resorted to violent ways of propagating his claim while the Nagri lobby systematically executes its agenda through an equally violent, albeit insidious, state apparatus. Both consider themselves to be the guardians of monolithic identity formulations that are validated only by excluding the subaltern communities of the land. While there is no doubt that Goans need to be vigilant against the Ram Sene, there is clearly a need to challenge such locally present cultural policing as well.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 29 September, 2015)

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim

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In the furor that followed the renaming of New Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road, the long dead emperor has been enjoying some of the best press he has had for the past 100 years. While there were some critics who still clung to his standard demonical image, saying that the renaming has just given an evil man unnecessary publicity, or that there are even worse characters gracing Delhi roads, quite a few appear to have realised that he was not as bad as all that.

So, we are told, Aurangzeb did not actually destroy as many temples as he is supposed to have, did not slaughter Hindus as he is supposed to have, and did not forcibly convert millions. Scholars of Mughal history from all over the world have been petitioned, and they declare that Aurangzeb in fact supported more temples than he broke, broke only those belonging to political opponents, patronised the founding of some, and granted tax-free lands to other. Also that he employed a greater number of Hindu officers than any other Mughal ruler till then; plus that he did not remove the ban on cow-slaughter that his great-great-great-grandfather Babur had announced soon after conquering Delhi.

Aurangzeb thus turns out to be almost as ‘great’ as Akbar, a poster-boy of Indian secularism. For what more does today’s India expect from its ancient rulers than protection of temple and cow? To be considered ‘great’ or ‘good’ or ‘secular’ in post-‘47 India, one has to be pro-savarna. Cow and brahmin are of course pre-eminent savarna issues, while all big temples were always savarna establishments.

But somehow Aurangzeb still does not qualify. He was, according to some historians, the most law-abiding, hard-working and compassionate of all the Mughals; he also expanded the empire to its greatest limits. And yet, leave aside the BJP, even many anti-BJPites and admirers of Akbar would hesitate to credit Aurangzeb with greatness. Why this discrimination? No, it is not because of his rebellion against his father and his murder of his brothers; that was the norm those days. It’s because of his ‘fanaticism’. Aurangzeb was a religious fanatic, says almost every shade of Indian opinion today. But what they mean by this is simply that he was a devout Muslim.

Akbar was not, which is a big reason for his popularity. Akbar is less admired for his many military victories over the Rajputs than for his cultural alliance with them, adopting their attitudes to women (strict purdah and the banning of marriage for royal women) and of various Rajput kingly traditions like jharoka-darshan and publicly weighing himself in gold, besides cancelling the jizya tax, launching the translation of Sanskrit texts, condemning of education for ‘low’ people, and referring to sati as the ultimate test of love. Who benefited from all these savarna traditions? As a discussion on the Ambedkarite portal Round Table India ( once pointed out, the time of the ‘secular’ Akbar is also the time of brahmin sants like Tulsidas, while the time of the ‘intolerant’ Delhi Sultans is the time of the socially radical and non-savarna Kabir, Ravidas and Tukaram.

Like Akbar, Aurangzeb also gave up eating meat, but unlike him he is not admired or even remembered for this. But he is remembered, and condemned, for giving up wine and music—it is even declared, wrongly, that he declared a public ban on these. These personal austerities, like his condemnation of the glittering court and grand architectural works of his father Shah Jahan, and his decision to be buried in a commoner’s tomb himself, are all, according to popular history, proof of his ‘fanaticism’, on par with his rejection of Rajput rituals and re-imposition of the jizya tax.

Yes, his taxes discriminated between Muslims and non-Muslims. But his jizya was not to be collected indiscriminately: the indigent, peasants suffering crop failures, and widows were all exempt—though brahmins as well—while poorer people were taxed less. Besides, he also cancelled about 80 other taxes because he found them improper according to Islamic law. It is another matter that, with the Mughal administration famously corrupt by then, many of his strictures were ignored. He also banned sati outright, unlike Akbar’s wishy-washy rule that sati was fine as long as it was voluntary. Aurangzeb’s was of course not the first ban of sati in South Asia; our very own Albuquerque had banned it in Goa a good 150 years earlier. But it is still something, anybody would say. Except our history textbooks.

Aurangzeb was a devout Muslim for whom brahmanical norms were of secondary importance. But devotion to Islam is considered fanaticism in post-‘47 India, while devotion to brahmanical Hinduism, as was found among most of the Rajputs, is considered admirable, even though this meant upholding caste and patriarchy, including practises like untouchability, sati, johar, and child marriage, many of which are crimes in today’s world. APJ Abdul Kalam is considered a good Muslim by today’s BJP, and Akbar by yesterday’s Congress, for the same reason: their respect for brahmanical practises. While Aurangzeb remains a bad Muslim because, although he did fund some temples and mathas like most other South Asian kings, he made it obvious that he was personally unimpressed by Hinduism.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 24 September, 2015)

The Shame of Speaking Konkani – II

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The writing of a second installment to my article ‘The Shame of Speaking Konkani’ (published a fortnight ago), is partly for emphasizing the problem at hand and partly fortuitous. I say fortuitous because, in response to my article, Damodar K Kamat Ghanekar wrote a letter to the editor (4 September, 2015) and had a rather interesting anecdote to narrate in the same. The manner in which the abovementioned anecdote is narrated further allows us to see how shame and humiliation operates within Konkani language politics.

Recounting an incident which happened some 40 years ago, Ghanekar mentions how he came across Alfred Rose and his wife conversing in English in Panjim. When Ghanekar inquired whether it was really Alfred Rose, he indicates that Alfred Rose became painfully uncomfortable so much so that one could “well imagine the contortions of embarrassment [emphasis mine] on his face [Alfred Rose] which I [Ghanekar] still remember”.

There is something deeply unsettling about recounting a person’s embarrassment in a public place with such gleeful abundance. In Ghanekar’s telling, Alfred Rose not only appears to be a deeply shamed person but also a hypocrite. However, there is nothing hypocritical in what Alfred Rose did. In fact, as I have pointed out time and again it is quite normal for persons to use two or more languages to negotiate through their daily life. So why did Alfred Rose feel so embarrassed by the encounter with Ghanekar?

Unfortunately, I do not have an exact answer to this. This is because as students of history well know, we are confronted with only one side of the story. And, as we are aware, it is often the victor who recounts the story. Further, rather than being embarrassed about speaking in Konkani, Alfred Rose was allegedly embarrassed for speaking in English. It is highly unlikely that Alfred Rose’s English skills were the source of his embarrassment; surely his English was as good as his Konkani!

Presumably, Ghanekar approached Alfred Rose in Konkani, for if it was in English than we would not have had any problem. My suggestion here is that Ghanekar was using an Antruzi variant of Konkani and this, I believe, is the key to the source of the embarrassment. The problem is that the Antruzi boli, located within an upper caste location and politics, is the source of much shaming and humiliation to anyone who fails to adequately reproduce the speech and ways of being of this dialect. The failure to live up to the Antruzi dialect does not simply cause embarrassment, but also causes much pain and anguish – resulting in the silence of many in Goa.

Such a situation has been noted by some other writers as well. For instance, an anecdote recounted by Jason Keith Fernandes in his doctoral thesis seems to be apt in understanding the embarrassment (or silence) that Alfred Rose experienced. Fernandes recounts, “In the course of our conversations [with a priest] around Konkani, this priest indicated a strong friendship he enjoyed with a Hindu gentleman. At one point however, the priest recounted that he was reproached by his friend: ‘Why is it that you never speak to me in Konkani’ the friend asked. To this question the priest responded that he felt ashamed, since his friend’s Konkani was so perfect, so pure, whereas his own was the ‘impure’ version that the Catholics speak”. At the risk of stretching the anecdote that Ghanekar provides ad absurdum, I would like to suggest that Alfred Rose was doubly trapped as the language politics that Alfred Rose subscribed to privileged only Konkani, and being called out for speaking in English by a person speaking Antruzi Konkani meant that there was no hope for redemption!

And what are we to make of the abundant glee with which Ghanekar recounts a 40-year-old anecdote of sarcastically indicating to Alfred Rose that he should do as he preaches? The clever way in which Ghanekar slipped a line from Alfred Rose’s song in the conversation – “Tika [Konkani] shellant heddun menn diunk zai” – is another way in which the shame of speaking Konkani is perpetuated. While Ghanekar’s encounter with Alfred Rose had resulted in “contortions of embarrassment” 40 years ago, the recounting of the same in the columns of a newspaper without any sensitivity or understanding has surely contorted many a Goan face with embarrassment today.

It is not surprising that in trying to prove the hypocrisy of Alfred Rose, Ghanekar reinforces a similar diktat that Alfred Rose does in his song Anv Konkani Zannam – to restore the pride in Konkani. Though Alfred Rose actively propagated some key tenets of the Nagri/Antruzi politics, he seems to have not escaped the shaming due to Konkani. After all, didn’t he say that we should feel proud about Konkani?

To reiterate, I strongly believe that Alfred Rose was not being hypocritical. On the contrary he was a product of his times as well as a victim of it. But to think that Alfred Rose was merely embarrassed for being ‘caught’ speaking in English is to not recognize the pain and suffering behind the “contortions of embarrassment”. By denying the real pain and suffering we perpetuate the shame and humiliation. As a linguist/lexicographer of Nagri Konkani, Ghanekar at least ought to have known this.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 16 September, 2015)

The Rise of the Villament: The New Investment Buzzword That Will Hit Goa

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Villament has already become a buzzword in Bangalore’s real estate lexicon (Anshul Dhamija, TOI: 2011). It is a concept that is gaining popularity, writes Dhamija, with those who want the luxury of a villa and yet crave the comfort and convenience an apartment affords. A villament is a large duplex apartment, usually with a double-height living room, large balconies and, most importantly, a terrace with a garden which gives the feeling that one is on the ground despite living in a high-rise building. Although the Goan real estate market is still rife with villas and apartments as separate building types, one can wager that the arrival of villaments is not too far off.

But before we focus on the impending arrival of villament-type developments in Goa, let us reflect on the current popular building type in the real-estate market, the vacation-house. In his seminal essay ‘A time for space and a space for time: the social production of the vacation house’ (Society and Architecture: 1980), sociologist-historian Anthony King broadly defines the vacation-house as the occasional residence of a household that usually lives elsewhere and which is primarily used for recreational purposes. He argues that the capitalist economy produces not only a surplus of wealth, but also, for a sizeable minority, a surplus of time. King claims that the motives of owning vacation homes include seeking compensation for city living, understood as escaping from perceived overcrowding, noise, traffic congestion, air pollution, and the pressures of city life (p.194). No wonder then that the elites of the large metropolises like Bombay and Delhi seek to own a vacation home in Goa, as it is perceived as a perfect holiday destination with its sun, sea, and sand, apart from the Europeanised atmosphere that they don’t find anywhere else in India.

However, the vacation house is not simply a house; its very architecture differs from a full-time residence. King argues that the ideological preference for ‘nature’ results in a preference for country or semi-wilderness locations, preferably with extensive views. He says that these purpose-built houses have features which integrate the ‘indoors’ and ‘out of doors’ and at its most extreme, whole walls and roofs are cast as windows, giving extensive vistas of vegetation, or views of distant fields and beaches. King further elaborates that in densely settled vacation areas, the vacation homes are of courtyard plan, where their occupants turn their backs on the outside world to gaze at the enclosed vegetation of the court within. The vacation-houses also use artificially produced ‘natural’ materials like the rough-cut timber, cane, grass matting, hand-woven fabrics; again these are attributes, King claims, of an ideology that is anti-urban, anti-industrial, and desirous of a ‘simple life’. The strongest criticism that King confers on this type of lifestyle is that “[o]nly for the materially satiated did the ‘simple life’ have an appeal; the ‘Great Outdoors’ was attractive only if one had comfort within” (p.213).

During the 1990s, large vacation houses in Goa were generally the affairs of the super-rich, like the Mallyas, who owned sprawling properties on ‘virgin’sites overlooking the sea. Now, the situation has changed as a large number of the rising urban upper class, from Indian metros, are buying second homes in Goa.The surplus wealth created in metros gives these urban elites an advantage to invest in a comparatively cheaper real-estate market of Goa.The investment though is not limited to buying vacant land and villas, as many are also buying apartments to fulfil their need to have a second home in this Europeanised holiday destination. But it stands to reason that these investors will not be happy with simply buying any apartments. They would want their apartments to have the feel and features of vacation-houses. And this is where the concept of villaments with catch up, as it promises the luxury and feel of a villa yet is relatively affordable due to the stacking of many units on one piece of land. With the villament-type developments, the holiday homes in Goa are all set to go high-rise.

Increasingly, Goa as a tourist destination is not just in demand to be consumed for its ‘sights’, but worryingly, through ‘sites’, by the process of ownership, of this land and properties, by tourists (Raghuraman Trichur, Refiguring Goa: 2013). So,“What can we understand about a society by examining its buildings and physical environment?”(King: 1980).To say the least,the current real-estate developments in Goa reflect the aspirations of urban Indian society much more than the local needs of average Goans. While popular belief directs attention against the nibbling away of land by the poor migrants, one should be aware that the large, elite, property sharks from the Indian metros, ably aided by the local real estate industry, are taking bigger bites of this scarce land, and that too as a second, or a third, helping, in their insatiable lust for property ownership and leisure.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 13 September, 2015)

Say Yes to Reservations

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The demand for OBC status by the Patels in Gujarat has brought the issue of caste-based reservation to the fore and the otherwise not so faint anti-reservation murmurs are now being further amplified to demand total abolition of caste-based reservation in education and government jobs. Simultaneously there are several myths and false information being circulated on social media to intensify this demand, overlooking the affirmative principles of justice that reservation aims to serve. Before arriving at any impulsive conclusions, one needs to take cognizance of the socio-historical context of Indian society in order to understand the necessity of caste-based reservation.

Contrary to popular misconception, reservation is not a policy that was introduced post- 1947; it existed in various forms even during British rule. The earliest implementation of reservations were carried out by social reformers like Jyotirao Phule and Shahu Maharaj for free education to non-Brahmin students in 1891 and 1901 respectively. In 1932, the British government announced separate electorates for the Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Dalits in British India. The Dalits, i.e. depressed classes, were assigned a number of seats to be filled by election from special constituencies in which only voters belonging to the depressed classes could vote. This move was supported by many leaders among the marginalized communities, most notably by Dr. Ambedkar. M.K. Gandhi feared separate electors for Dalits since that would fracture the Hindu majority he was trying to manufacture. Hence he opposed it, and threatened to end his life in protest by resorting to an indefinite hunger strike. In an agreement that has come to be known as the Poona Pact, Ambedkar succumbed to Gandhi’s arm-twisting and agreed to have a single Hindu electorate, on the condition that Dalits would have seats reserved within it.

A major step in post-1947 India was the implementation of recommendations made by the Mandal Commission in 1989 to consider the question of reservations and quotas to redress caste discrimination. The commission eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine backwardness. According to the provisions made by Mandal commission, members of lower castes (SCs, STs and Non-creamy layer OBCs) were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, increasing them to 50%. These recommendations were implemented in 1989 by the then Janata Party government which received harsh criticism, mostly from upper caste communities, that continues till date. One of the myth that is being circulated is that the reservation policy that was introduced after India became a republic were meant to continue only for ten years. This is not entirely true. The ten year period for reservations was only for political reservations, ie in houses of the parliament and state assemblies. The reservations in jobs and educational institutes do not have a specified time limit.

Caste identity has historically deprived the possibility of economic and social mobility to those born in the lower ranks of caste hierarchy. Traditionally, avenues of education were available to a few upper caste communities and thus they were ahead of others in upward mobility. This disproportionate access to minimum educational facilities across the country continues today, holding back students belonging to dalit bahujan background from acquiring knowledge and other skills. Those criticizing caste-based reservations, mainly the upper castes, often ignore the hurdles of social mobility that lower caste communities have to face every day. There have been instances reported wherein upper caste teachers have refused to even check notebooks of dalit students. Not to mention the discouragement and humiliation dalit-bahujan students face in educational institutions, regardless of one’s economic status. In such scenario, the argument that merit or economic backwardness should be given preference over caste is rendered irrelevant.

It is important to note that caste-based reservation is not the only form of reservation in India. There is provision for reservations for person with disabilities, wards of freedom fighters/NRIs/Army personnel, single girl child etc. In many ways, there is already provision for class-based reservation. But these forms of reservation never receive the severe criticism which caste-based reservation does. It affirms that the problem upper castes have is not with reservations as such but with being deprived of their entitlements and privileges. This is exemplified in the case of Patels. Patels are a land-owning, affluent and a dominant community in Gujarat today. They do not have the disempowered status of most of the communities in the Mandal Commission list and are fairly represented in institutions of power. Thus their demand for inclusion in the OBC is unjustified, much like the Jats of Haryana and Marathas of Maharashtra.

Inequality is at the very foundation of India’s social structure, and remains so even today. The argument by anti-reservation lobbies that abolishing reservation will bring in an equal footing for all holds no ground. In fact, it is only by ensuring reservations for the marginalized that we can aim for a society that is less exclusionary. Upper castes form a minor portion of India’s total population numerically but continue to dominate all spaces in the public and civic sphere. Caste based reservation is a way to flatten this dominance of upper castes by ensuring better representation of all communities, and hence should be unstintingly supported.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 15 September, 2015)

The Shame of Speaking Konkani

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In this column I would like to discuss one of Alfred Rose’s most popular songs, Anv Konknni Zannam (I Know Konkani), which he sang along with his wife, Rita Rose. Given that the issue of language – particularly ‘mother tongue’ – is being hotly debated in Goa presently, this particular song provides an opportunity to reflect on a serious issue about the Konkani language that is rarely spoken about.

The song is a duet featuring one singer as a crooner who desires to get a break into the Konkani tiatr industry and the second singer, Alfred Rose, essays the role of an interviewer, scrutinizing the singing skills of the crooner in question. However, there is one problem: the crooner cannot speak Konkani ‘properly’. Her Konkani is highly anglicized, which provides much fodder in the song for ridicule. For example, when this highly anglicized Konkani is being scoffed at, the crooner protests saying “Mhaka eok chance diun, why don’t you try”. To which the ‘interviewer’ retorts: “Try try try kitem kor mhunntai try,/…Osli Konknni bhas Goenkar uloit zalear,/ Konknnichi, zali chili fry”.

Further in the song, the aspiring crooner actually tries to demonstrate her Konkani skills – albeit in her anglicized Konkani – by singing some popular mandde (or Indo-Portuguese folk songs in Konkani). When she is abruptly stopped by the ‘interviewer’, the aspiring crooner sings, “Why are you angry, I’m very sorry,/…I’ve asked my daddy, I’ve asked my mummy,/To teach me to speak real Konkani”. What needs to be noted is the emphasis placed on “real Konkani”. At this point, the song takes a preachy turn, wherein Alfred Rose sermonizes about the necessity to speak Konkani. I would argue that this song also reproduces some of the oppressive strands of Konkani language politics. But more on this later.

Alfred Rose as the ‘interviewer’ superciliously reasons with the crooner saying that in Africa she would speak Swahili, in Germany she would speak German, and Arabic in Arabia, so how did she forget Konkani, which undoubtedly is her ‘mother tongue’ owing to the fact that her parents are Goans? It is at this juncture that the crooner reveals that in reality she did not forget the Konkani language; rather she was feeling “shy” to speak Konkani. Further, she had learnt Konkani from the cooks (kuzner). Hence, Alfred Rose sings that when the parents speak Konkani, why should the children be brought up in English? Rather than treating Konkani as a second-class language, we should all be proud of it, he adds.

Although ‘shyness’ is given as the cause of the crooner not speaking in ‘proper’ Konkani, in reality it is the shame and humiliation associated with speaking Konkani publicly that generally prevents people from robustly using the language. This feeling of shame and humiliation is not a rarity, but in fact is deeply symptomatic of the public experience of Konkani. This means that one would not experience this shame or humiliation whilst speaking to or conversing among friends and family, but would certainly do so in a Konkani language classroom or while interviewing for a job, both situations that require fluency in the Antruzi dialect and the nagri script in the Goa of today. These feelings are strongly tied to the caste system, and dialects are markers of caste, religion, and region that are used to discriminate people who associate with such dialects.

Within the current Konkani language establishment, Romi Konkani and the various types of accents and dialects other than Antruzi-nagri Konkani are not given public legitimacy. Hence, many bahujan Catholics and tribal peoples across Goa feel shamed and humiliated to speak their Konkani outside the comfort zone of friends and family. In fact, on the public level, speaking and standing up for these non-Antruzi-nagri forms of Konkanis would certainly be nothing short of an ordeal by fire! Being humiliated for speaking other forms of Konkani is a very serious problem.

It is this problem of a large number of Goans, of feeling shy, ashamed, and humiliated, that is not taken into consideration by either Alfred Rose in his song or even by Romi Konkani activists. Instead, what is generally done is to blame the mass of Goans (for instance, the Catholics) for failing to serve the Konkani language – and thus their Goan identity – by refusing to speak or support it publicly.

Further, by emphasizing on a ‘real’ and ‘proper’ Konkani, this song also privileges a singular form of Konkani as acceptable. Making fun of anglicized accents can also mean that the ‘foreign’ influences on Konkani need to be shunned. This particular song (along with others) of Alfred Rose reproduces a vision of language politics in Goa that values only the Konkani language. If such prejudices were handed down by the dominant or Nagri Konkani establishment, it can be observed that the Romi Konkani activists have not done much to rectify the problem.

So in conclusion one can say that Alfred Rose was both right and wrong simultaneously. He could see the problem but not in its entirety and seriousness. This has been the failure of Konkani activism till now. Perhaps, this is also one of the reasons why the mass of Goans demand English for the primary schooling of their children. In this grim scenario, English seems the only way out of being shamed and humiliated on a daily basis. Before we can read, write, speak, and preserve Konkani forever (vach, boroi, uloi sodamkal), this chronic shaming and humiliation needs to end.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 2 September, 2015)

Redressing Sexual Harassment in Schools: Educating the Education Directorate

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While educating parents, teachers, about issues around sexual harassment and creating preparedness for dealing with sexual harassment are indeed laudable moves, getting drenched with talk about awareness on sexual harassment within a disabling environment at the helm remains a concern.

Having conducted awareness sessions in schools both individually and with a group, one knows that awareness breeds a certain consciousness and that leads in some cases to complaints in situations where sexual harassment of a school child is noticed or felt. But apart from the general routes available to anybody anywhere who is a victim of sexual harassment, there needs to be clarity as to whom in the school can a student complain and what is the procedure that follows? The Directorate of Education chooses to remain duplicitous or indifferent and generally lethargic.

It has either not reconstituted its own Committee for prevention and redressal of grievances of sexual harassment, under the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act), 2013, or has rendered it dysfunctional by not calling meetings. This itself speaks of the attitude of the Department. That too on an issue which impedes the child’s very right to education. It runs contrary to the very grain of the Right to Education Act, 2005.

It was already noted that if a teacher sexually harassed a student at school, it was too far-fetched to expect somebody from another location in Goa, to come all the way to the Education Department at Porvorim to redress their problem. And why should they? It was in order to make access to redressal systems easier and real, that it was demanded that at all levels, including the school level, there should be committees set up to prevent and redress complaints of sexual harassment. A persistent follow up by concerned citizens and the then Goa State Commission for Women resulted in the Education Department issuing a circular in 2013, to Government schools, to set up committees.

Came the present law and it was mandatory not only for Government schools, but for all schools to constitute these committees. Why is constitution of the committees not a precondition for continuing recognition of these schools? Will the Chief Secretary, who also heads the task force of the Beti Bachao Abhiyan, note that the Education Department is not even taking the elementary step of ensuring that every school puts in place a prevention and redressal mechanism? On this point, it shouldn’t matter whether the schools are aided, unaided, Government, private, recognized, unrecognized, or which Board they send their students to write exams to. It is a requirement of the new law and non-compliance means penalty.

What is worse, the Education Directorate does not even recognize the gravity of sexual harassment and its consequences. Children have left school after their complaints of sexual harassment have been unaddressed or after they have been intimidated following their complaints and the teacher is seen walking free. In one known case, a child was reported to have committed suicide on account of the harassment with no resolution in sight. Because it reached such an extreme, there was public uproar. That outrage was sought to be placated by constituting yet another Committee to look into the issue as a whole. This High level Committee submitted a report with a series of recommendations, which again came to bite the dust. The Report was not even made public. The pretext was that the Report had names. Any names and identity revealing details could have been anonymised. But in a patriarchal society establishments know how to (mis)appropriate provisions meant in the best interests of children to their advantage!

Furthermore, the Directorate appears to be itself unaware that sexual harassment, when inflicted by a teacher who has so much power over a student, can be construed as a major misconduct under service rules applicable to school teachers in Government schools and in schools which it aids. The Directorate empowers erring teachers with the idea that sexual harassment is not such a grave act after all. It falsely assumes that if a child does not promptly complain, that the complaint is necessarily fabricated. It does not recognize the unbalanced scales of a society that is tilted to sympathise, for instance, with charged teachers, who are shortly due to retire, even as the complaint of sexual harassment is viewed with extreme suspicion. It does not recognize that while due process is the right of every accused, this due process must also be circumscribed by sensitivities in how a child may be asked questions. It also falsely assumes that a teacher has to be convicted by the Children’s Court for his services to be terminated. One has only to turn to the Directorate’s own documentation on the subject for verification of the contentions in this article.

The Goa Sate Commission for Protection of Child Rights which is mandated to hold all concerned authorities accountable in the matter of child rights, has made a good beginning in calling for a report in this case, but it must go beyond to get the Augean stables of the Directorate of Education cleaned, so no perpetrators bolt each time and roam and intimidate students. Otherwise the awareness will be akin to planting a couple of trees while others are destroying entire forests.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 10 September, 2015)

Shivaji and Subaltern Identities

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Well-known writer B. M. Purandare (also known as Babasaheb Purandare) was recently given the Maharashtra Bhushan award by the government of Maharashtra for his work in popularising the life and times of Shivaji Bhosale, the Maratha king. Purandare’s writings on Shivaji are widely circulated in Maharashtra and elsewhere but many scholars have criticised his work for lacking academic rigour and objectivity. He is often charged with appropriating Shivaji as a saffron messiah to suit a pro-Hindutva narrative and fostering hatred against Muslims in Maharashtra.

Purandare portrays Shivaji as Go-Brahman Pratipalak (Guardian of Cows and Brahmins) and perpetuates the myth that Shivaji was an avatar of Lord Shiva who was meant to save the Hindu religion from the tyrannical rule of Muslims. There have been alternate narratives on Shivaji which challenge this such as “A Ballad of Raja Chattrapati Shivaji Bhosale“, written by Jyotiba Phule. Phule’s ballad presents Shivaji as the leader of the lower castes and attributes his achievements to the strength and skill of his shudra and ati-shudra armies. More recently, Rajkumar Tangade and Sambhaji Bhagat revived Phule’s lineage of thoughts through their play Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla in which they present Shivaji as a leader who did not discriminate among his subjects on the basis of caste and religion while debunking several myths created in process of Shivaji’s appropriation by Marathas and Brahmins.

Purandare’s work does come across as an almost fictionalised account of Shivaji’s life, rather than a rational way of reimagining the historical past. For instance, he writes that while being pregnant with Shivaji, Jijabai’s cravings during pregnancy were to scale the walls of forts, wear armour and go to war (Raja Shiva Chatrapati, p. 81-82). Purandare’s followers defend such stories by arguing that these are literary devices employed by the writer to heighten the readers’ experience. This may well be the case, but what it also does is to turn Shivaji into a mythical character; in turn, this denies the reader’s ability to connect with Shivaji on a human level. Also, using literary tropes to heighten the reading experience is fine, but it becomes a problem when the readers start believing these versions as “history”.

Purandare’s project of mythologizing Shivaji continued through the staging of the play Janata Raja, a magnum opus based on Shivaji’s life. The script for the performance was derived from Purandare’s writings and hence retained his problematic approaches to narrating history. Janata Raja was performed in Goa too by Ponda-based collective Vijayadurga Sanskrutik Mandal in 2002. It is important to note that this performance was not an ordinary proscenium stage play but a spectacle that employed huge sets, stage gimmicks, and mobs as theatrical devices to create an overwhelming impact on the audience. Spectacle performance was a genre that was greatly used by Fascist regimes in inter-war Europe. A number of scholarly works have pointed out that the effect of the spectacular is that it creates conditions that make reason subservient to passion.

The issue here isn’t just that of honouring Purandare with a state award, but the larger concerns of history writing in post-colonial spaces such as India. History, in such spaces, shares a curious relationship with the nation-building process as it favours monolithic narratives of pre-colonial pasts. Historical narratives that conform to this nationalist agenda are given preference through state apparatuses, such as school textbooks and state- sponsored events – (Shiv Jayanti ceremonies in this case). The act of conferring Purandare with the state award is a move to further legitimise his pro-Hindutva portrayal of Shivaji while systematically blurring the visibility for narratives that challenge the underlying brahminical hegemony in history- writing.

In India, this kind of privileging of particular historical discourses is not a new phenomenon. To sustain India’s image as a “Hindu” nation, discourses that talk about Islamicate, European or Graeco-Buddhist influences on the subcontinent are often pushed into oblivion or perceived as threats to the “idea of India”. Purandare’s writing reeks of Hindutva pride and contempt for Muslims, often taking readers’ attention away from the relatively egalitarian principles by which Shivaji ruled his subjects. Purandare’s Go-Brahman Pratipalak image of Shivaji has been favoured by political outfits such as Shiv Sena and BJP to spew hatred against minorities. For a long time, Brahmins and Marathas of Maharashtra have appropriated Shivaji to suit their politics, often maintaining silence over his shudra roots.

Shivaji is a key figure to understand subaltern identity politics, not just in Maharashtra but also in Goa as he enjoys immense popularity among Goan Hindu bahujans. Hence a nuanced understanding of Shivaji’s life is needed instead of such uncritical celebrations of Purandare’s work which give a skewed understanding of Shivaji. One should be suspicious such histories as they are often just a tiny part of the whole story. These selectively written and propagated histories are the foundations on which the edifices of the nation are built which need to be shaken so that alternate histories oppressed by those serving nationalist interests can claim space and gain visibility. People like Purandare are but the guardians of this fragile edifice and their masquerading as “historians” need to be critically questioned instead of being taken at face value.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 1 September, 2015)