Marathi and the Hindu Bahujans

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The presence of Marathi in Goa is looked upon with suspicion by some for its links with the demand for Goa’s merger with Maharashtra from the period between 1961 until the Opinion Poll of 1967. In writing off Marathi as a Maharashtrian import, people often ignore the centuries-long historical presence of Marathi in Goa, as well as its current usage in the public sphere. Gauging by this usage, one can safely say that Marathi is as much a carrier ofthe Goan ethos as Konkani (both Romi and Nagari) and Portuguese.

The demand for Marathi as official language was largely made by the Hindu Bahujan Samaj of Goa initially, many of whom also identify with a Maratha identity. The Bahujan Samaj is a conglomeration of lower caste groups in Goa that was comprised of Kshatriya Maratha Samaj (Fisher communities), Gomantak Maratha Samaj (temple servants), Naik Bhandaris or Kshatriya Naik Marathas (toddy tappers), Kshatriya Komarpant Maratha (service caste) and Gaud Maratha (tribals). Following the rise of Maratha power in 17th century and Maratha invasions in Goa, Maratha identity had become a cultural resource through which lower castes imagined a modern identity, as Parag Parobo articulates in his book India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015). This reorganization of Hindu bahujan samaj in Goa around Maratha identity was aimed to contest brahminical hierarchy and social dominance.

The potency of the Maratha symbol for the bahujan samaj was further deepened in the course of the merger-language debates that dominated public discourse from the 1960s until their culmination in 1987. Recognizing that the pro-Konkani forces were in fact directed by Saraswat interests, the bahujan Hindus realized that the imposition of Nagari Konkani was a tool towards instituting Brahmin hegemony in Goa. It was for this reason that they chose to side with Marathi as their preferred language of expression. The political establishment in Goa was well aware of the emotional currency that Marathi carried for Hindu masses in Goa. Hence, there was a provision made to grant ‘equal status’ to Marathi in the Official Language Act of 1987 (OLA) and subsequently it was notified that Marathi would also be used in official purposes of the state government.

The suspicion of Marathi, especially among the Catholic communities in Goa, isn’t surprising. The merger with Indian union in 1961 implied the arrival of Indian nationalist discourse in Goan public sphere which meant a preferential bias towards Hindus while Catholics would be rendered as second class citizens. The animosity of Catholic communities towards Marathi is precisely because of this reason and the Marathi camp in Goa did not make any attempts to address this problem. Instead the Marathi supporters further validated the apprehension that Goan Catholics harbored towards them by fashioning their demands of merger with Maharashtra and official recognition for Marathi with Hindutva symbolism.

But much has changed since the passing of Official Language Act, 1987. The Official Language Act did not give any recognition to Romi Konkani despite the fact that the mass support in favour of Konkani emerged from those who desired the recognition of Romi Konkani. If the demand for Marathi was seen as suspect as a bow towards a Hindu majoritarianism in Goa, instituting Nagari Konkani as the sole official language proved that suspicion right. One of the recurring argument made by the Nagari leaders against Romi Konkani was that the Roman script is ‘western’ and not ‘Indian’, and hence unfit for any official recognition. Secondly, they argued that the adoption of Nagari Konkani will help bring the Goan Catholics into Indian mainstream. What these two arguments not so subtly implied is that the Catholics in Goa would have to adopt the modes of life set by upper caste Hindus while rejecting the peculiar history that the Goan Catholics were part of. It is about time that Goan masses realize the brahminical agenda operating in the name of Nagari Konkani. The recent debate over the Medium of Instruction (MoI) issue is a direct result of this agenda and the failure of subsequent governments to amend the Official Language Act in order to make it more inclusive by giving equal status to Romi Konkani and Marathi.

The current Marathi leadership, however, is not positioned against countering the brahminical agenda operating via the Nagari Konkani camp nor do they seem to be interested in addressing the issues of caste tied with the assertion of Marathi in Goa. To make matters worse, the leadership within the Marathi camp is assumed by upper caste individuals who have suspicious links with right wing groups such as the RSS and VHP. What they will end up doing is to push down a brahminical Hindutva agenda on Hindu Bahujans. Also, the current Marathi movement, especially the one led by Marathi Rajyabhasha Prasthapan Samiti, is geared to oppose the alleged onslaught of English in Goa. Such a stance will curtail the possibilities of upward mobility to Hindu bahujans in a world that is dominated by English. An ideal assertion for Marathi in Goa would be one that recognizes the bahujan position of Marathi in Goa as well as that which employs Marathi as a gateway to learn English and helps the Goan bahujans access a world view beyond regional parochialism of Goa or India.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 22 December, 2015)

Bread and Circuses

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902 buses were reportedly organised by the BJP to ferry people from distant villages to Panjim for Manohar Parrikar’s birthday party, resulting in a city that was completely choked with traffic, amidst BJP cheers about the popularity of their leader. Behind the cheers though, what was obvious and heartening was that the arrangements of free transport, snacks, and other goodies were motivated by the obvious fear that nobody would turn up for the spectacle otherwise; this fear is a compliment to Goans’ good sense, even if this good sense did not extend to refusing the all-paid-for circus.


‘Bread and Circuses’ is a term that comes from classical Rome, coined by the poet Juvenal to describe the way in which common Romans were kept happy and quiet, thanks to food doles and free spectacles of violent entertainment, leaving the republican government free to do whatever it wanted. It is still used for broadly the same thing, the provision by governments of pleasurable distractions for the people, in order to rule as they wish. And as an example of it, we have today’s Goa.


Let us remember another and recent evening of state-organised mass bussing. The ten-day-long International Film Festival India (IFFI) was on in Panjim at the time, in its usual spectacular way. On November 20th, the very first day of the spectacle, a couple of film students were arrested from the IFFI inauguration venue and whisked away to a distant police station; the students had been trying to draw attention to the problems they were facing at FTII, India’s premier film institution. The second day saw another student arrested, as well as another unrelated protest: a public demonstration at Panjim’s Ferry point, to demand serious investigation into the strange death of Fr. Bismarque Dias, well-known opponent of much of the state-backed land-grab happening all over Goa. A huge number of police broke up the demonstration before it even began, pushing people into buses, to ferry them to police stations in distant villages. Some 105-odd people were arrested and released only at night.

The purported crime of these arrestees was to gather in public despite the imposition of Section 144 on the city; Section 144 being a law in India’s Criminal Procedure Code that bans the holding of public meetings, the gathering of more than 5 people in public, also public banners, placards and arms. But IFFI was on at the time, with banners all over the city, trees groaning under strings of lights, pavements likewise with strings of food and drink stalls, open-air music and film shows at a number of public spaces, and everything else that would lead to hundreds of people, in large and small groups, gathering all over. A bit bizarre, one might say – to ban gathering in public in the middle of a big international jamboree. But the law, although in place all over the city, was only applied selectively. It was only for the protestors, both those grieving Fr Bismarque’s death and those worried about FTII. The FTII student’s arrest on November 21st in fact did not even have this fig-leaf of law to cover it; he was arrested within the IFFI premises (for which he was a registered participant), for reportedly doing nothing more than wearing an FTII t-shirt.


What better place to discuss the problems in film education, if not at a film festival, among international film-makers, film students, and audiences? But that wouldn’t be mindless spectacle. So IFFI continued, the usual buffet of mostly liberal and anti-oppression films from all over, which this time notably included, along with the mandatory WWII Holocaust film to keep sympathy alive for Israel, films on the holocaust in Palestine BY Israel. So while film buffs ensconced in cool auditoria were lost in all those troubling, or cathartic, or sometimes almost holier-than-thou, kind of feelings produced by serious cinema on serious issues; and outside these venues, other bon vivants enjoyed live music and fancy cuisines from all over – but of only the shudh brahmanical variety, mind you – still others, not that far away and including some women above the age of 70, were waiting to be released from prison.


The FTII protestors were trying to ‘tarnish India’s image’ said a Union Minister to the press later. Image is always important for Bread-and-Circus politics, right from the time of the Nazis with their grand Berlin Olympics in 1936, which conveyed a glowing and united image of Germany to cover up the monstrousness just behind. And of course, these arrests in Panjim were not the worst the state can do, not by far. People have been found dead in police custody in Goa; protestors against land-grab, house demolitions, and polluting projects have been beaten up by bouncers, lathi-charged by the police, even shot. But normally not when the world is watching. The fact that this government had to do this, had to arrest film students and ban student films at an international film festival, and then ‘disappear’ 100 people from the heart of the capital, even as it basks in the public eye, is also a sign of desperation, a sign that it cannot hide the dissent, a small victory against the all-round attempt to stifle the public will.


(The title and idea of this essay is owed to a comment about IFFI by fellow-arrestee, Dr Luis Dias.)


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 17 December, 2015)

Car-Free City!

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Indisciplined parking and a substantial increase in the numbers and sizes of cars have resulted in the choking of streets in most Goan cities. The result of which is that there is hardly any room for pedestrians. In Panjim, pedestrians have been further strained by the new plan for one-way vehicular movement, which has led to an increase in vehicular speeds, making it dangerous for pedestrians to cross roads. In ideal cities the pedestrians are supposed to rule the road, but in our cities they are forced to risk life and limb every time they step on the street.

At a public consultation held by the City Corporation of Panjim (CCP) on 27 November 2015, to receive public feedback on Smart City proposals, Commissioner Sanjith Rodrigues recounted the problems the authorities face while implementing parking rules, despite employing contractors to clamp vehicles which flaunt these rules. An example he cited was of the no-parking area in front of the Caculo Mall in Panjim; some vehicle owners would apparently park their vehicles right in front of the mall, challenge the authorities to clamp them, proceed to have a meal inside the mall and, on their return, not only pay the fine but also offer an extra amount as a tip, and then drive off with glee. This vile kind of display of entitlement seems widespread in Goa nowadays.

Financial deterrents through fines are usually not adequate to discourage people from abusing the law (since the biggest law-breakers are usually the wealthy and powerful in any case!). But the efficient clamping by the contractor did help in bringing about some limited form of traffic discipline within the city. This, however, did not last long as the Panjim Councillors decided, a few months back, to dispense with the services of the said contractor (O Heraldo: 13 Aug. 2015). The city representatives probably succumbed to the pressure applied by elite vehicle owners and high-end shopping patrons. As a result, unlawful parking, whether in front of Caculo mall or other parts of the city, continues unabated and engaged in by many more.

The elite car owners dislike being ‘policed’ by ‘ordinary’ clamping workers or police constables, even if they have the money for the fine. So, even when their cars were parked illegally, many vehicle owners would abuse these workers who were simply doing their job. This desire to flaunt one’s power and privilege by flouting the rules is a typical structural problem which emerges from the graded hierarchy of the caste system, where the privileged are always assumed to be right even when they are legally not.

The historic character of Goan towns is their compact built environment. Widening of streets to accommodate more cars is only going to destroy this unique character. Moreover, widening of roads to ease vehicular traffic is a vicious cycle: the wider the roads, the more the numbers of cars, leading to more traffic jams. Bangalore is an excellent example of a city which has lost its character because of rampant road widening and innumerable flyovers. Despite these technological interventions, however, the time taken to get from one place to another has not reduced; on the contrary the opposite has happened. To make matters worse Bangalore’s pedestrian life has been completely compromised.

Given this situation, rather than discussing how to make more space for individually owned cars, citizens must debate how to make the city free of them. In his article End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile (The Guardian: 28 Apr. 2015), Stephen Moss argues that cities around the world are coming to the same conclusion: they’d be better off with far fewer cars. In order to achieve this, the city needs to adopt a vision in which residents no longer rely on their cars but on efficient and respectfulpublic transport.

The citizens of Panjim, who are discussing how to make their city smart, need to make some tough decisions, without which the city will soon come to a grinding halt. There is an urgent need to expel the cars from the city and make way for efficient public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. One great example we can learn from is the case of Amsterdam. Journalist Renate van der Zee (The Guardian: 5May 2015) writes that although cyclists rule in the Dutch capital today, great pains had to be taken initially to accommodate them. Zee argues that it was because of the tough decisions taken in the 1970s that contemporary Amsterdam (or for that matter the whole of The Netherlands) is equipped with an elaborate network of cycle-paths and lanes, so safe and comfortable that even children and elderly people use bikes as the easiest mode of transport.

It is time for Panjimto go the Dutch way. World-over, more than the technological infrastructure installed by experts it is the actions of inspired citizens that make a city smart. It is only thanks to fierce activism, writes Renate, that Amsterdam has succeeded in becoming what it is, now: the bicycle capital of the world. The smart city, then, is really about wise citizens, who canvass for the right kind of smart systems.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 6 December, 2015)

The Bismarque Moment

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The death of Bismarque Dias in suspicious circumstances, is signalling different things to different people that can all be woven together in what can be called a Moment. The Dead Bismarque is more dangerous than a living Bismarque, a poster reads. Indeed an activist like him committed to a vision and a cause is invincible, even in death, or more so in death. Repression begets revolt. The premature malicious feeding by the State through the media, about how Bismarque’s death came about, has inspired community investigations, speculation and reflection.


It is the Bismarque Moment. Sprouting from a mysterious death that has taken away someone who would steadfastly mobilise and stand by people as they inched forward with their concerns. A Moment that has therefore caused mass mobilisation of people and triggered debates on contemporary people’s concerns to counter this move of suppressing Bismarque in death. A Moment that can weave a beautiful tapestry of Bismarque’s qualities of compassionate engaging, thinking, provoking, empathising, innovating, of unassuming abandon.


This Moment emerges  at a time when the world is weathering the commodification of people and nature, and suffering assaults on land, culture and ideas. It is a moment where there is no space for blind presumptions and assumptions, no canards, no room for State manicuring. It is a moment of community mobilisation and inquiry and speculation and reflection.


The visual image of Fr. Bismarque that stays with me, is that of him in a T-Shirt and three-quarter trousers in front of the statue of Cristo Rei at Santo Estevam, with open arms signifying, it would seem, a gesture of unassuming abandon and adoration of nature.  In envisioning there is need for such abandon. As has rightly been said: if sometimes we don’t get lost, we may never find our way.


The Bismarque Moment unravels unique weapons in our collective struggle against the assault on land and ecological rights, and the mission for special status from a peoples’ perspective. Bismarque’s weapons were those of mass instruction and construction. They included a guitar, lyrics and renderings of song, books of law and history, a Kindness Manifesto, nostalgic engagements with nature, visions of justice. It is quite clear that his weapons are substantially different from the weapons of mass destruction that destroy both  the weapons’ users and the people they target. The battle grounds? Various courts, and tribunals such as the Administrative Tribunal, the National Green Tribunal, church pulpits, church steps,  public open spaces, elections.


At a time when thoughts and ideas are under assault, these weapons were a hard-hitting way of fighting back. “What will you do, if the rivers stop flowing for you? What will you do, if the birds stop singing for you? What will you do, if the trees stop breathing for you? What will you do? What will you do? What will you do?” he implored the world around to think, through song and guitar accompaniment. What will you do? An imploring moment that is intertwined with the glocal moment. Bismarque’s Kindness Manifesto released prior to the 2012  elections, which he contested from the Cumbharjua constituency, tells you that he believed in being glocal, that is, thinking globally from the local, and acting locally. There is not a single mention of Goa in the central text. It is a global vision, but a political statement to be acted on locally.


Bismarque’s Kindness was not without its share of protest. The Khariwado residents’ houses were under threat of demolition in 2011. The State hung provisions from Criminal Procedure Code on their heads, much like Section 144 recently. Bismarque consulted and was their guide. The Khariwado residents simply blocked the traffic into the Mormugão Port Trust harbour, by strategically positioning their trawlers, and most importantly circumventing the law as it is perceived by the State. This was a classic Bismarque moment. Strategic positioning, that could foreground both the threatened homelessness  and consequent loss of livelihoods of the fisher people at Khariwado, and the mighty forces of globalisation operating through the Mormugão Port Trust, and challenge them.


The Bismarque Moment has therefore also transitioned into a moment about questioning the propriety of introducing section 144 of the CrPC, or still having it on the statute book, in this day and age, in the name of ‘public order’ and ‘war against terror’  So public order in the eyes of the State is so clearly a seeming peace with the turmoil sought to be swept under the red carpet of IFFI. Terror is about people ‘conspiring’ to get together and raise their voices against injustice and for Justice for Bismarque,


In the mean time, allegations of ‘drawing political mileage’ have been floating around, with different kinds of people seen associated with Justice for Bismarque or singing paeans to him. But  drawing political mileage was in fact Bismarque’s political strategy. Not seen as a problem when drawn for transformational politics of Goa, only a problem when drawn for personal profiteering.


Bismarque may not have grappled with some complexities of society . But he wasn’t superhuman, he was human and being human means a person cannot fit into your image of the ideal. That is a Bismarque moment too. His life and death throw up diverse takes on what a priest should be, should not be, what a politician should be, should not be, what secularism should be, should not be.


One can only say that this is the Bismarque Moment. It is a moment that needs to be seized. For Goa, for India, for the world, and with all the complexities of the time.


See also ‘Reading The Kindness Manifesto: Politics and Fr. Bismarque’ here; ‘Fr. Bismaque Dias: Martyr of our Times’ here; and ‘Policing in the time of Terror and Loot’ here.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 3 December, 2015)