What is also this talk Regarding ‘Anti-National’ About?

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Being branded anti-national is not new to Goans. As a matter of fact, the protagonist of a Konkani film ‘The Enemy’ that recently hit the theaters, poignantly raises the issue of how even a Goan who has migrated to a part of British India that eventually became Pakistan is treated not just as anti-national but as the enemy of the State.


If, after the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961, you critiqued the Indian/ Goan government, you would be seen as favouring Portuguese rule and therefore anti-national regardless of the content of the critique. At the time of the Konkan Railway agitation, the people opposing the then proposed route alignment through Old Conquests were branded as anti-nationals; this included the late Matanhy Saldanha. The demand for recognition of the Roman script has earned Goan Catholics the label of ‘anti-national’ for well over thirty/forty years. In 2006, Sanvordem-Curchorem was aflame through selective targeting and violence against Muslims, who constitute a miniscule minority in Goa. The ‘anti-national’ rhetoric was used as a justification to foment the riots against the minority and to sustain Brahminical majoritarian power. The rhetoric is also used to foist a development model that will enable a select few to hog all the benefits.


Which brings us to the moot question – who really is anti-national? Essentially, those who question the State, even when the State foments divisiveness are branded as anti-national. Somehow the word anti-national has been understood to conjure up an image of people having to get together to defend against an enemy for fears of attack. This becomes an effective means for the State to distract people’s unrest about non-compliance with its basic obligations to the varied people in the nation under the Constitution. The enemy is imaginary and the fears are also imaginary. The word anti-national is like a sword brandished to chop freedom of speech and expression, as much as assembly and association, with the ultimate aim of sustaining Hindu Brahminical power and global capital.


So, according to the State, anyone who does not show pride in being superior is anti-national. Anyone who does not claim privileges on the justification of being superior is anti-national. Anyone who goes contrary to the ‘nationalist’ trend of upholding the idea of a nation bonded by a culture of caste and cravings for massive greed and power, is anti-national.

By this yardstick of nationalism, all those abiding by and upholding the Constitution of India which is the basic document on which the Indian Republic is founded, are anti-national. All those who work for democracy, justice and peace and against systemic caste based discrimination, exploitation and oppression are anti-national. All those who are fighting for Justice for Fr. Bismarque, Justice for Rohith, and to Stand by JNU, are anti-national. All those who strive towards intergenerational equity and sustainability of the earth or a particular geographical space, including farmers and fishers, are anti-national. All those who affirm the right to live and let others live are anti-national. All those who oppose the assault on Goa’s environment and on people’s livelihoods are anti-national.

They are said to be opposed to ‘development’ and obstructing the ‘progress’ of the nation. Who is the nation? From what can be seen, those at the helm of affairs consider the nation as a collective of its majoritarianists, its ‘upper’ castes and of corporate entities that tie up with multinational chains and exclusively benefit from ‘development’. What the State does not spell out is that the development that is planned and foisted, through such things as Regional Plans is destructive and discriminatory in nature against many people who are said to constitute the nation. The State also does not respect the Constitutional imperatives of participation in governance, of people at the grassroots as so well enshrined in the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution.

The State effectively thus distracts people from the struggles against sale of their land and resources to the highest bidder without regard to the life and livelihoods of the people who till and sweat on its soil. With all the nationalist talk, it puts blinkers on gross injustices and frauds on the economy. We then miss seeing the formulation of policies and processing of files that let multinationals swoop in and squeeze people’s labour and resources and siphon the profits and plough back the foreign exchange that the nation statedly earned. The ‘Nation’ does not want to know about the processing of files for a Large Revenue Generation Scheme of the Central Ministry of Tourism, by Leading Hotels for their Tiracol Project, where Leading Hotels is a subsidiary of Asian Hotels (North) Ltd., which is a company of the Jatia Group, which in turn has 100% stakes in a hospitality company in Mauritius, that in turn has substantial stakes in Lexon a Mauritian company that has about 80% stakes in Leading Hotels. Which means that monies will eventually get siphoned.This even as politicians trade allegations against each other about monies stashed in Swiss accounts, as a facade.

So, rather than feeding this distractive debate by labelling someone as national or anti-national, or defending that one is national or anti-national, it is necessary to unpack what is behind such labeling. As a matter of fact, nationalism has been the cover or the ‘honour’ behind which every condemnable form of discrimination is to be borne and endured, and the ‘honour’ killings or torture are expected to be condoned.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 25 February, 2016)

Goan problems with the Portuguese Left

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On the 16th of February Susana Sardo, the Portuguese ethnomusicologist from the University of Aveiro, presented a paper focussed on Goan and Mando musicat the symposium organised by theKetevan World Sacred Music Festival in collaboration with the Goa University.


A 20 minute documentary, titled Sons de Goa (Sounds of Goa) formed part of the presentation. The film was produced by Rui Pedro Pereira de Oliveira based on portions of Sardo’s doctoral thesis, as well as video footage that Sardo had gathered over the years.

Almost at the very start (3 mins, 33 seconds), the documentary makes an extraordinary claim, that passes quickly, but whose implications pervade the film and Sardo’s understanding of cultural politics in Goa. Sardo suggests that Portuguese domination over India was marked by a kind of double colonization, of economy and faith. I did a double-take when I heard this characterization. Sardo’s position was in fact not very different from that of the proponents of Hindutva, who argue for Gharwapsi or reconversion. Contemporary consensus, at least since the 1940s is that European colonization was unacceptable, and formal decolonization critical to freedom of colonized persons. By the same logic, if the conversion of groups of natives to Christianity is to be seen as spiritual colonization, then surely the calls spiritual decolonization is also in order?


This is not the only problem with Sardo’s characterization of practices of the early Portuguese state in India. Sardo makes it out that conversion to Christianity was entirely the result of force. As a result, there is no space to consider the possibility that perhaps locals welcomed the arrival of Christianity. There is substantial scholarship to suggest that this was in fact the case, both with Islam as well as Christianity, and not entirely the result of force, another favouriteHindutva claim.


It needs to be emphasized that Sardo is not the only scholar who makes such problematic assertions. Indeed, the problem is common among left-leaning Portuguese academics. Opposed to the excesses of the Estado Novo, the Portuguese authoritarian state that held sway from the 1930 until 1974, a number of these academics go out of their way to invert the assertions of this regime. Added to this, given their liberal location, the only role that the Catholic Church seems capable of playing is one of force. In their eyes, partly because of the role of some members of the Portuguese clergy during the Estado Novo, but also because of the anti-clerical tendencies of Southern European intellectuals since the 1800s, the Catholic church is seen as the original authoritarian agency and hence always and forever the villain of the piece.


As a result,a good amount of scholarship emerging from left-leaning Portuguese about Goa is held hostage to Portuguese domestic politics as scholars seek to battle the political Right in Portugal, and attempt to exorcise the ghost of the authoritarian regime. While one can recognize, even sympathise with the need for such battles, these cannot be at the cost of real lives in Goa or the territories that comprised the former Estado da India. In a case where Goan Catholics are painted as clones of the colonizers, the works of scholars such as Sardo effectively justifies, though this may not be her intention, the violence of the Hindutva.


Responding to situations such as these,in his book, Refiguring Goa (2013),the US based scholar Raghu Trichur suggeststhat there is a need for “serious theoretical and methodological interventions within Goan historiography” (p. 30). I would respond that the key to such theoretical and methodological interventions lies in recognizing that the natives of early modern Goa were not merely driftwood being swept along in the current. Rather, as demonstrated by the work of ÂngelaBarreto Xavier,they were individuals and members of groups that made active choices within the circumstances at their disposal. More importantly, it is critical that the Portuguese are not allowed to hog the historical limelight. They and their contemporary descendants need to make space for other players as well.


To avoid misunderstanding it needs to be reaffirmed that this problematization of the Portuguese Left does not mean that the readings emerging from the Portuguese Right are to be embraced. If the Portuguese Left tends to deny agency to the native, and sees them largely as victims, then the Portuguese Right often swings to the other unwelcome extreme of seeing the Portuguese Indian as an image of the Portuguese original. Neither positions do justice to the history of the peoples of Goa, and the larger Estado da India. The need to call out the problems of the Left emerges primarily because not too many now take the arguments of the Right seriously. On the other hand, the Left, whether in Portugal or elsewhere, claims to speak for the cause of the colonized, and are recognized as such. As should be clear from the arguments above, this is a problematic claim since not only are members of the Portuguese Left in fact addressing their own issues, but in doing so they compound the problem by refusing to recognize the agency of the formerly colonized, and thrust us straight into the tridents of Hindutva.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 19 February, 2016)

The Lady and the Diplomat

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There is an old and still popular joke about the difference between a lady and a diplomat, of which only the reference to the diplomat is still acceptable. The joke goes that when a diplomat says “yes,” s/he means “perhaps.” When a diplomat says “perhaps,” s/he means “no.” And when a diplomat says “no,” s/he is no diplomat!


The joke can be used, somewhat unfairly to some diplomats, to suggest that diplomats are not always the suave agents we have grown accustomed to in films. Rather, they are dull, bureaucrats who are trapped with rules that allow them little leeway to act meaningfully. It is a rare diplomat who is able to cut through the red tape, act with aplomb, break out of elite circuits and reach out to the common person. Pedro Cabral Adão (1969-2006), who was the Consul of Portugal in Goa for about a year, was one such diplomat. Goa is something of a taxing and tense posting for Portuguese diplomats, thanks to the often irrational protests they have to deal with. They tend, therefore, to restrict the amount they socialise within Goan society, preferring the safe and narrow path. Adão, however, reached out to a community larger than the small cluster of Portuguese speaking elites in the territory. His most significant outreach was to the artist community in Goa. A group that is largely, but not exclusively, composed of bahujan Hindus, this was not the first, nor perhaps obvious, choice for a Portuguese diplomat. And yet, this is exactly where contact needed to be made, among the common person of Goa, who have no first-hand experience of Portugal, nor of the Portuguese, and whose images of the country and people maybe otherwise provided by the rabid hate-speech of some segments of the Goan population. The scenario was promising, and one looked forward to interesting times in Goa art until his life was tragically cut short in November 2006.


It is a testament to the power of his outreach that his name continues to be recollected in Goa, notably through the intervention of a lady, the artist Yolanda de Souza Kammermeier in the form of the annual Dr. Pedro Cabral Adão Promising Artist Award. In her own words “Dr. Adão was a huge supporter of art and artists in goa and in his short span of life in Goa had an exhibition of paintings at the consulate of Goan artists and collected works from them in his personal capacity. He showered Goan art and artists with a kind of respect and love not experienced by the art community here before from a diplomat, Goan, Indian, or otherwise.”


While Souza Kammermeier had been marking the diplomat’s passing every year, it was from 2013 that she instituted the promising artist award. Taking inspiration from Adão’s action, the competition is held every other year to support fresh graduates who otherwise find it hard to find to make an entry into the world of art.

The format of the competition is fairly simple. Every other year, young artists are encouraged to present a sample body of work for evaluation. The jury of the competition usually comprises an artist, an art critic, a gallerist, and a collector. Marked individually, the competition throws up a winner, as well as a‘People’s choice award” and the award for the “Most Commendable Entry”. In the first edition of the award, 2013- 2014 the Dr. Pedro Cabral Adão award was won by Rohit Bhosale, while this year the privilege was Deepak Shirodkar’s.


Souza Kammermeier’s initiative should first be applauded for the generosity of spirit that it displays, both in recognising the genuine interest that Adão took in Goa, as well as the outreach to younger artists. What is, however, more interesting is the manner in which she has made this award work. Not necessarily in possession of a large fund to award every year, Souza Kammermeier makes an intelligent use of the resources at her disposal. In possession of a gallery space, she offers the space free of cost for the winner to hold a solo exhibition the following year. Added to this, she is able to summon her resources to offer an opening night and promote the event among the regulars at the gallery space. This is a very clever use of existing, but scarce, resources to encourage fledgling artists who may otherwise not have access to such an opportunity. Indeed, this intervention is very much in the spirit of Adão who often spent his own income to fuel his cultural interventions in the state. In addition to the support that is offered, the award also ensures that the award winner has a deadline to work towards. Given that self-discipline is a critical component of persons who do not work within an office environment, the promise of a solo show ensures that the year after the award is spent in a focussed and productive manner.


The joke about the lady and the diplomat ends with a line suggesting that if a lady says no, she means perhaps, and if she says yes, then she is no lady. In Yoland de Souza Kammermeier’s case, what makes her a lady is precisely the fact that in organising this biannual award and making productive use of scare resources, she has said yes to generosity.


(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 14 February, 2016)

Universities or Agraharams?

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In the wake of the widespread anger over the death of the Dalit PhD scholar Rohit Vemula at the University of Hyderabad, many excuses have been proffered to divert attention away from caste. One of these is about the so-called ‘Decline of the University’. But were Indian universities really ever, as we are told, liberal institutions concerned with excellence, bursting with secular ideals, and open to, if not welcoming of, dissent?


Of course not. As political scientist Gopal Guru has pointed out, although universities are expected to espouse the concept of ‘universal’, they have always been at odds with it in India, whether in the sense of inclusive or broad-minded. Students from Bahujan communities often enter these institutions with great difficulty, fighting against economic hardship and social discrimination, and via enormous sacrifices by their families. Have these institutions ever shown the sensitivity to appreciate such students? No.


Rohith Vemula’s death is only more evidence of the same. A brilliant and erudite scholar, Vemula was also active in the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) on the campus which provided support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and also sought to intervene intellectually in civil society. But members of the ASA were accused of being ‘anti-nationals’ by the ABVP (the BJP’s student wing), after they participated in meetings to protest the beef ban and the hanging of Yakub Memon. After a series of such accusations, the ABVP charged Vemula and others with assault. Although the charge was confirmed as false by the police, the University took action, apparently following orders from Central ministers. In a step to deny them basic shelter, food and human interaction, a step that proves that the horrific practice of outcaste-ing of Dalits is neither dead nor confined to some rural hinterland, Vemula and four others – all Dalits – were evicted from the hostel, and barred from the mess and other student areas.


With no home in the city, the five students spent the nights in the open, in the biting cold of the Hyderabad winter. Rohith Vemula wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, suggesting that poison be given to Dalit students during the admission process itself. There was no response. He finally killed himself, leaving a note expressing disgust for a society where ‘the value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility… Never was a man treated as a mind’.


Vemula’s scholarship – with which he had tried to support both himself and his family – had not been paid for seven months when he died. His was the ninth suicide at the University in ten years, almost all by students from marginalised communities.


All this, and more from the University’s history, like Dalit research students not being provided supervisers for years, or a well built for the exclusive use of a brahmin professor, show the accuracy of the description by writers on the Ambedkarite portal Round Table India (www.roundtableindia.org) – that these prestigious educational institutions are really agraharams, i.e. settlements reserved for brahmins.


In Goa, for example, despite the affirmative policies mandated by the Constitution of India, many students belonging to the Bahujan communities identified as SC, ST and OBC prefer to join BA or BSc degree courses in the so-called ‘general’ category, rather than taking up reserved seats in prestigious professional courses. For it is common knowledge that ‘reserved-category’ students get ignored, if not harassed, by the mostly savarna teachers. These teachers, instead of explaining how ‘merit’ is really a euphemism for privilege, and encouraging students who are often first generation learners, identify with the savarna students and foster resentment against them.


The teachers are mostly savarna because the constitutionally-mandated reservation policy – followed grudgingly, if at all, for students – was usually ignored when it came to university teaching jobs. Even after Bahujan organisations took up the issue from the 1990s, following which the Supreme Court laid down strict guidelines for the filling of reserved posts, and professors were also brought under the ambit of reservations, only 7 % of college teachers across India were from the SC communities (against a required 15%) last year; and only 2% from ST (required 7.5%).


For example, Goa University hit the headlines two years ago when Bahujan applicants for faculty positions exposed its failure to follow the reservation rules in recruitment. While the recruitment roster showed lower figures for reserved posts than actually the case, the authorities ignored even these flawed numbers while making new appointments. Not surprisingly, the University has less than 5% of faculty members from all the Bahujan communities, when they should be nearly 50%. But even this is an improvement, according to insiders; earlier there used to be none.


So there is actually no decline of our universities, but a tiny improvement – and it has come as a result of people like Rohith Vemula fighting to make these institutions meritorious and universal, at huge personal cost. But the agraharams will not give in easily. Goa University is right now running a public course on Caste Today, under the Visiting Professors Programme, which seems like a radical step. But the course is chaired by a brahmin, assisted by guest lecturers among whom are a disproportionate number again of brahmins. The more things change, the university no doubt hopes, the more they will remain the same.


(First published in O Heraldo, 11 February, 2016)