A Bahujan Challenge to the Mining Mafia

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By AMITA KANEKAR

 

The ironies of the so-called development of Goa are indeed unlimited. On the one hand, the government and elites of this state hard-sell it to India as a place of unlimited ‘good times’, to be used for holidaying, partying, drinking, gambling, and other increasingly unpleasant pleasures, the price of which is paid in many ways by common Goans. On the other, the Bahujan communities, esp. Bahujan Christians whose culture is sold as Goa’s tourism USP, are painted as anti-nationals by the Goan elites when they ask for their Konkani – i.e. Roman script Konkani – to be recognised as one of Goa’s languages, or even for English-medium education for their children. As for the physical landscape of Goa, hyped as paradisiacal again for consumption by largely Indian tourists, it is disappearing before our very eyes. Whether it is destructive tourism of the casino and golf course variety, ‘development’ projects like DefExpo, the cancerous growth of second-homes and holiday-homes eating up the hills, or a refusal to mine Goa’s mineral wealth in a transparent, sustainable and community-conscious way, Goa’s ruling elites, in close collaboration with those of India, seem determined to squeeze out the maximum profit in the shortest possible time, leaving a desert behind.

 

But they are in a fight. Slowly and steadily, the many small and scattered oppositions are gathering strength, some with both better vision as also concrete plans to replace the destructive and neo-liberal developmental policies currently in place. The struggle at Caurem village is one such, where a people’s movement to create a sustainable and equitable mining industry is growing despite virulent opposition from the powers-that-be, including the latest: a brutal assault on one of the leaders of the movement, inside the Sada Sub-Jail.

 

On 21st March, Ravindra Velip, tribal activist and panch of Caurem village, was arrested along with other villagers, after they stopped trucks  transporting ore from the Fomento-owned mine in the village. They were released on bail but arrested again the next day, when they once again stopped the trucks. This time they refused bail and were hence remanded to judicial custody in Sada Sub-Jail, Mormugao.

 

The next morning, while on his way to the jail toilet, Velip was grabbed, gagged and blindfolded by what seemed to be four men, and carried some distance away. There he was flung up into the air, so that he fell to the ground from a height, breaking his arm, after which fierce blows began to rain on his stomach and back, from boots and fists. ‘You think you’re a dada, do you?’ someone taunted him. It was only when he managed to move the gag and scream for help, that the assailants ran away.

 

What was the reason for this murderous assault, carried out brazenly in the jail premises where nobody can enter without the permission of the authorities? The immediate issue was the illegal transportation of ore from mines in the Caurem-Pirla village panchayat. According to the villagers, many of these mines have been implicated in over-extraction of ore or violating the lease boundaries. But the Goa government has till date not investigated this illegal mining, nor recovered the stolen ore, nor prosecuted the perpetrators of the crime. The government has also not bothered to record the amount of ore currently stacked at the mining leases despite numerous petitions from the villagers. In fact, the ore continues to be in the possession of the same companies, even though the villagers have again repeatedly asked the government to take control of it, only again to be ignored.

 

On top of all this came the transportation of the ore out of the village, destroying evidence of these illegalities. This transportation seems to have been deliberately scheduled during the Shigmo festivities, when the locals are busy with traditional rituals which also involve travelling out of their villages. Despite this, Velip and others managed to halt the illegal transportation; but, instead of receiving thanks for saving the state exchequer from being robbed, they were themselves arrested.

 

Caurem: the heart of Goa’s struggle against rapacious mining

Caurem is a Scheduled Tribe village; more than 95% of the population here belong to the ST community. The villagers here have been involved in mining since the days their forefathers mined iron ore with their bare hands and a few manual tools. But the same community is today up in arms against the mining companies and the government that backs them, having repeatedly attempted to stop the illegal mining that started in 2008, which, they say, is destroying the water, agriculture and forest resources of the village.

 

It would take too much time and space to describe the long struggle of the Caurem villagers to stop illegal mining, including exposés of attempts to over-extract, to conceal ore as dumps, to make fraudulent inventories (showing quantities of ore much lower than what the villagers measured), and to destroy the evidence of large scale over-extraction. They have also sent innumerable letters, petitions, and RTI applications to the authorities demanding the monitoring and supervision of mining activities, and challenging the secrecy in which these are conducted; most of these have been ignored.

 

The villagers accuse the government of brazenly ignoring all the promises made to the Supreme Court regarding mining operations. According to their letter to the police, chief minister, and other authorities, of 21 March 2016, ‘There are no personnel of the Director of Mines at the site, in spite of clear orders requiring the presence of such an official during all transportation operations. The Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee is also never at (the) site and has also totally ignored our letters.’

 

The situation is again ironical, because the Supreme Court allowed the mining to resume only after the state government’s plea that local communities depend on mining for sustenance. The reality, according to the villagers, is that even the information about the ore auctions and transport operations have been kept secret from the locals, ensuring that all contracts, employment, and profits from the auctioned ore remains in the hands of the same mining companies, government officials, and local MLAs, who were responsible for the mess in the first place.

 

But the biggest irony is that it is the villagers who are monitoring the mining operations and pointing out the flaws and illegalities. This is actually the job of the state. Law and due process are critical to the functioning of democracy; it is the state’s job to ensure due process. Instead we have a situation where it is the people who are checking procedural lapses and demanding the implementation of law, while the Goa government is undermining due process and thus the law as well. What is this if not a rogue state?

 

The solution: a Bahujan take-over of mining

The Caurem villagers are however not just opposing the illegalities; they also have a solution – and it is probably this that scares the powers-that-be the most. After years of struggle, and much thinking about the problems of their village and their own future, the villagers concluded that sustainable, just, and equitable mining can only be done through a co-operative of the local population.

 

Accordingly, they formed the Sadhna Multipurpose Co-operative Society, under the leadership of Ravindra Velip, and with the intention of developing a co-operative approach to agriculture and other economic activities in Caurem-Maina, including mining. However, although they have been trying to get their co-operative registered with the government from as far back as mid-2014, they have so far only met with refusal. Which is not really surprising, since this venture has the potential to transform the way mining is done in the locality and beyond.

 

But the fight is on. This murderous assault on Ravindra Velip, though clearly intended to terrorise the villagers into submission, seems doomed to fail. Velip’s complaint pins the blame for the assault squarely on not just the jail authorities, but also the mine-owners and the local MLA. The Caurem villagers have meanwhile demanded the withdrawal of all charges against the arrested five and an immediate investigation into the illegal mining. They have also filed a petition in the High Court, against the refusal of the authorities to register their Co-operative. Ravindra Velip is the promoter of the venture, which is probably also why he was targeted.

 

Finally, this is a moment also to remember Mangesh Gaonkar and Dilip Velip, murdered in 2011 in Balli, south Goa. Young and brilliant leaders of the Velip tribal community, they were fighting for the implementation of the law regarding government jobs and political reservations for their people, when they were brutally cut down in their prime. The grim resonance of the assault of today with this past is not a coincidence. There is no doubt that the ruling elites of Goa are seriously threatened by the rise of independent thinkers, activists, and leaders from the Bahujan communities. Because they know that if the Bahujans are allowed to develop their own visions for their villages and communities, the economics and politics of Goa will not be the same.

 

(A version of this article was first published in DNA (Web) on 30 March, 2016)

Banking on Flamboyance, Electronics and Brand Values: The Signs of the ‘Good Times’

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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

March saw the ‘King of Good Times’ Vijay Mallya in the news for defaulting to pay a debt of 9000 crores. It was reported that Kingfisher’s gross block (investment in fixed assets) was a fraction of its total debt from day one. Some of these loans were given by the 17-bank consortium of lenders on pledging office furniture like folding chairs and electronic equipment such as boarding pass printers, and on the so-called brand value of Kingfisher. SBI petitioned the North Goa Collector for assistance to attach Mallya’s villa in Candolim, but unlike the prompt action when it comes to small borrowers, or small people who are not even liable, in this case, if you please, the Collector chose to have hearings.

 

Thus, we see the nexus between bankers who winked at the value-hyped securities offered for the loan, an administration that apparently colluded (going by an interview with the SBI chairperson) and an entire system that let the developments play out to Mallya’s benefit. The Mallya-Kingfisher episode has in fact brought the spotlight on two aspects. One, the very development model around which the banking model is crafted, where speculation is the new normal and instability of the common person is key. Two, the corruption and prejudices in lending, which in turn are located in a system that lacks transparency and accountability.

 

The system calibrates items like brand value of a business (howsoever it is computed), the expensive flamboyant lifestyle image of a person of ‘Good Times’ with an expensive flamboyant lifestyle, and office furniture of a corporate including folding chairs, as good security.  But a track record of consistent small business does not qualify similarly. This calibration of assets in our present banking system is symptomatic of the perspectives that inform the present development model.

 

At the micro-level, when an individual submits the loan application form, its copy is not made available to her. Also, often the forms are not encouraged to be fully filled by the Applicants and are subsequently filled by the bankers, leaving room for manipulation. No periodic statements of the amounts due are issued at the respective points of time. This results in unwittingly continuing defaults in payment once one default occurs. The small borrower also does not know, or rather, is not informed when the payments being made by her will be adjusted against the principal amount as against on interest payable, what are the possibilities of one time settlements and the criteria on the basis of which they are effected (be it political backing or genuine concern for the defaulter and to recover what is recoverable).  So the small time borrower often ends up literally tying a noose around her neck when taking a loan despite real creditworthiness and sincere intentions and efforts to pay.

 

It is the same story with the collateral offered. A housing loan is granted based on title documents of the house, not documents of established possession, only ownership. So a big corporate may own property but may lease it to its other avatars or to a substantial stake-holder in the business and get a loan.

 

Banks say they require original documents to ensure the asset is not already mortgaged. But this is overlooked with influence. With old houses, most people will not have such original documents. The banks do not accept court orders as a proof of encumbrance-free title, or ownership, or settled possession. The pre-1961 system of inscription and description was meant to indicate the devolution of property including any alienation but it was dismantled and not substituted by any system that records transfers and alienation of property as is now reflecting in the hakkache patrak, for instance, in Maharashtra.

 

So, if you possess a maintained old house which may be much sturdier than the flats you come across, or if you are economically backward or even a professional single woman, a whole set of doubts persist. But if you sell the same old house to a builder who seeks a loan with the Deed of Sale, he and the purchasers of the proposed flats can get whopping loan amounts. The assumptions here are about creditworthiness of flats, especially those built by big name real estate companies, as against old houses; the lack of creditworthiness of single women or economically backward sections, presumed to have nobody else or nothing to fall back upon.

(First published in O Heraldo, 24 March, 2016)

Cantaram as political dissent

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By KAUSTUBH NAIK

Earlier this month, Goa Government’s Department of Information and Publicity held a ‘Konkani Kantaram Utsav’, a cantaram singing competition in which the participants were asked to sing about the achievements of the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This competition attracted a lot of criticism, noticeably from the tiatr community, questioning the government’s intentions behind organizing such a competition. Cantaram competitions are usually held without any pre-decided themes and certainly not with a rule that prohibits participants from criticizing the government. On the contrary, one of the several requirements of a cantar and cantorist is that of political sharpness. Cantorists ranging from Conception-Nelson-Anthony (famously known as the Trio kings) and William de Curtorim in the past, to the current sensation Francis de Tuem, have been famous for their radical political positions. Cantaram carry a huge affective magnitude for the Goan Catholic communities and it has played a key role in influencing public opinion at various historical junctures in post-colonial Goa.  The concerned department, in its official press release, stated that “[s]ong and drama is one of the medium used to propagating various policies, programmes and the schemes of the Government [sic]”. While using traditional cultural practices to propagate government schemes is not unheard of, there is more to the said cantaram competition than meets the eye.

11754510_905717512811034_6447163134040975280_oCantaram are an indispensable part of the tiatr, a theatre form that is popular largely among the bahujan Catholic communities in Goa. Audio CDs of cantars have brisk sales across Goa and is one of the most consumed form of Konkani music. In digital space too, a cantar shared on YouTube would have an average of 25,000-30,000 hits, a popularity that no other Goan cultural form enjoys. But the potency of cantar form lies in how, over the years, it has become a medium of formulating a discourse about the Catholic communities in Goa, wherein they retain their own agency. Cantaram, beyond its appeal as a form of entertainment, are employed to narrate and remember Goa’s history from the perspective of bahujan Goan Catholics. For instance, it would be helpful to look at two Goan political leaders, Dr. Jack Sequeira and Dayanand Bandodkar and their respective portrayal in cantaram and popular history. The popular narrative of Goan history escalates Bandodkar as a leader of masses while Sequeira’s role in Goan politics is inadequately discussed. But in cantaram, one finds an inversion of this narrative where Sequeira is celebrated for his definitive role during the Opinion Poll in 1967 while Bandodkar is subjected to sharp criticism for wanting to merge Goa with Maharashtra.

Such popular commentary on the state of Goa, emerging from a marginalized community poses a significant discursive threat to the regimes in power. Almost a year ago, the current BJP led government was exploring possibilities of setting up a censor board on tiatrs. However, the popularity that tiatr enjoys in Goa is far too powerful for the censors. Following a backlash over this move, the BJP government had to retract its decision. Having burnt their fingers once, this time the BJP led government saw it fit to organize a cantaram competition, with a clause that no adverse remarks could be made on the government, effectively imposing the censorship.

While the BJP draws its support largely from its anti-minority rhetoric in rest of the India, such stance hasn’t proven to be a success in Goa. In fact, any political outfit in Goa cannot afford to neglect the bahujan Catholic voters that until recently, could make or break governments. This is not to reduce the bahujan Catholic communities in Goa merely to a vote bank but to point to their acute political awareness, which marks them distinctly from the rest of the Goan population. The manner in which the Indian state has been rendering the Goan Catholic communities as dispossessed citizens, for example, by the denial of official recognition to Romi Konkani or the recent uproar over state grants to English medium primary school, makes them confront the state machinery in a manner which often proves to be litmus tests of Indian democracy in Goa. Cantaram and tiatr are central to the production and distribution of the discourse that makes this political awareness among the bahujan Catholic communities possible. By organizing the Cantaram Utsav, the BJP government precisely wanted to seek control of that discourse.

However, the tiatr community almost boycotted this event as a mark of protest. A collective that identifies itself as “Musical Warriors” gave a clarion call to Tiatrist and cantorists to gather outside the competition venue for a parallel cantar singing competition. This competition aimed at bringing forth the truth about the last four years of BJP governance and their anti-people policies and schemes. Singers Francis de Tuem, Lawry Travasso, Marcus Vaz among others, gathered outside the competition venue and singing critiques of the BJP-led Goa government in a sharply satirical cantar titled ‘Acche Din Aane Waale Hai’. This performative protest was sheer brilliance on the part of these singers to indicate that they will not compromise their political position for state patronage. While one fears that cantaram would lose its radical potential owing to attempts of appropriation by the state such as the said Kantaram Utsav, the tiatr community, through this protest kept alive the tradition of political dissent.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 21 March, 2016 )

Fooling the Eye, Eyeing the Fool

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

20160309_124728The writings of the great Roman savant Pliny the Elder in Naturalis Historia present to us an interesting episode from the history of art. In this anecdote Pliny recounts a contest between the two great Greek artists, Zeuxis and Parrhasius. Keen to settle which of them was the greatest artist of the time the two agreed on producing an image that was most realistic. For his part Zeuxis painted an image of fruits that is reported to have been so life like that it deceived the birds that came to peck at it. Parrhasius then invited Zeuxis to view the former’s painting that was hidden behind a curtain. Zeuxis attempted to pull back the curtain only to realize that it was in fact the curtains that constituted Parrhasius’ image. While Zeuxis may have possibly felt like a fool, Pliny recounts that Zeuxis is supposed to have been gracious in defeat acknowledging Parrhasius as the winner with the acclamation: “I have deceived the birds, but Parrhasius has deceived Zeuxis.”

This desire, and the capacity, to fool the eye and imitate reality so completely was not restricted merely to these two great Greeks but has persisted down into our time. In the Baroque period this skill was acclaimed by the French term Trompe-l’œil, which means “to fool the eye”. This skill was put to use not only to imitate objects, but to transcend space through painting architectural and natural details on walls and make it appear as the wall had given way to the scene painted on the wall. Churches in the Baroque period would, for example, use the knowledge of perspective to depict domes where in fact only a flat ceiling existed, or better still, depict the heavenly hosts bursting through the ceiling.

One does not need visits to Europe to encounter trompe-l’œil. The technique is present in two of Charles Correia’s creations in Goa; the Kala Academy, and the Cidade de Goa hotel complex. I imagine that Correia’s design provided hundreds of children, and perhaps adults, hours of delightful fantasy as they contemplated the world on the other side of the walls of his buildings. This was their effect on my own childhood.

More recently I had fun encounters with trompe-l’œil, at the Museu Serralves in the city of Porto, Portugal.  Conceived of in 1989 by the Serralves Foundation as a space to host a collection of contemporary art, the museum building project was commissioned to the internationally renowned Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, and the building completed in 1999. In his brief, Siza was invited to design a museum building that took into consideration the specific characteristics of the physical setting and the need for integration within the surrounding landscape. Siza fulfilled his task with aplomb given that the museum sits discreetly, an obstrusive presence in its natural settings. It is, however, as one moves through the fourteen galleries that constitute this museum that one realizes the extent to which Siza took his brief seriously.

Perhaps playing with the tradition of trompe-l’œil, in these galleries Siza has included huge windows that allow for the outside to enter into the building. Given that the museum sits within a marvelously landscaped garden, all too often the vistas that these windows look out onto are stunning. In addition to gazing on art works that are hung on the walls, one can also look out on to the artfully landscaped outside. However, thanks to the insulation of the building one is bereft of the sounds from the outside, one is never quite sure if one is on the inside looking out, or merely looking at another art work that bends our sense of space. In an era where one is often confronted with video installations that may or may not include sound, my sensation when walking through the galleries was like being confronted with the kind of vistas television companies utlise when selling their gigantic television screens. Whether Siza intended it, or not, the visitor to the Museu Serralves is definitely once again in the playing fields of trompe-l’œil.

But there was another way in which the ghosts of Zeuxis and Parrhasius haunted me at Serralves. Walking away with delight from another gorgeous vista that Siza had opened up, I came upon a wall that seemed to hold a fine metal mesh. To my embarrassment, however, I realized that it was not a mesh at all. Rather, it was lead pencil drawings on a wall, the artist Sol Lewitt’s creation titled Wall Drawing #133 (Arcs from Four Corners). Wall drawing # 133 is in fact a mobile and variable art work, capable of repetition in any part of the world as long as it follows the artist’s instructions.

“The draughtsman in charge of Wall Drawing #133 (Arcs from Four Corners) must draw arcs at five-centimetre intervals, coming from the four corners of the wall. Large or small, horizontal or vertical, rectangular or square, the wall must be used fully and the resulting work varies according to those variables.”

While still in raptures over my encounter, I peeked into the alcove next to Wall Drawing, and found a fire extinguishing assemblage located in the centre of a wall. Given that I was in the section of the Sonnabender Collection devoted to minimalism, I contemplated the assemblage a while longer, until I realized with some blushing awkwardness that it was no art installation, but exactly what it appeared to be, basic life and property saving infrastructure in the great museum. Somewhere up above, I could hear the artists chuckle at my predicament in the halls of the immortals.

(A version of this post was first published in The Goan Everyday, dt: March, 2016)

Between Scylla and Charybdis: Catholics and their Dilemmas

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

In recent times the Catholic Church across the world has hauled up not merely for the sexual abuse committed by priests against minors, but also the inept, and unjust manner in which the complaints about this abuse was received by diocesanal authorities. All too often, rather than take strict action against such priests, the response of the diocese was to transfer these offenders who merely continue their abuse. In doing so, these dioceses violated not only the integrity and dignity of these individuals, but also compromised the ministry of the Church. Priests are looked up to; they operate as figures of trust. When such figures violate this trust, and their superiors look the other way, it impacts not merely the persons involved, but the Church itself.

Not too long ago, this controversy was expertly opened up to the world through Spotlight, the Oscar winning film directed by Tom McCarthy. The film takes its name from the Boston-based newspaper, The Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team that investigated the misguided handling of complaints of sexual abuse committed by priests in the diocese of Boston, USA. What is great about the film is the muted manner in which it has focused on the investigative process of the Spotlight team allowing us to absorb the horror that such violations involve, rather than opt for easy sensationalism.

The sexual abuse of minors is not, however, the only crime that plagues the contemporary church. One need only look at the real-estate scandals currently rocking the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman for one example from a list of other moral and legal violations that are too long and upsetting to list here. All manner of unpleasant questions are being raised with regard to the manner in which properties belonging to, or under the care of, the Archdiocese have been sold off to property developers, at the cost of the residents and tenants of these properties. There are some who claim that the Archdiocese has a valid explanation for every case.  And yet, the scandal continues, and grows even, to the extent that some are now asking for the resignation of the Archbishop, largely because of the inept and fumbling manner in which the Archdiocese has mounted, or not, its response to these allegations.

Two sentences from Michael Kirwan SJ’s review of Spotlight in the blog of the British Jesuits help understand the crisis that impacts the Catholic Church today. The first sentence reads “The city of Boston’s strongly-knit but introverted and defensive Catholic culture thus stands indicted.” The second sentence, later in the text read, “Too often the Church’s default position towards secular media, towards secular feminism, has been defensive and oppositional.”

These two sentences captured two radically different positions that may be present within the same institutional framework. The first sentence speaks to how the failure of the Curial hierarchy can be the result of a defensive Church, a defensiveness brought about when the Catholic community in the area is a marginalized one. The second sentence suggests that the problem lies with the culture of the Curia being oppressively patriarchal.

What is often unknown, and not adequately highlighted in Spotlight, is that until recently Catholics, and the Catholic Church, in the United States lived under severe restrictions and social hostility. This kind of hostility is not dissimilar to that faced by non-Hindu groups in India. Universally too, at least from the time of the French Revolution, the Catholic Church has been pushed to the wall and represented as an evil institution. It is this culture of hostility that creates a culture where internal differences are quashed, often with the grudging consent of the victims, so as protect the larger group. In other words, external hostility works to feed authoritarian leadership and suppress democratic dissent within marginalized groups. If, therefore, justice issues within the Catholic Church are not discussed, one has to also lay the blame for it at the feet of the dominant culture.

But this is not to suggest that there is a patriarchal traditional within the Curia that is not sui generis. Any institution that provides leadership invariably succumbs to the assumption that it knows best, and its ways are the best. Patriarchy, in this sense, is not merely about misogyny, but about the way in which power is wielded, excluding the voices, and indeed the concerns, especially of marginalized persons within the group. The tragedy is that when the Curia behaves in this patriarchal manner it betrays the understanding that the Church is not merely a physical institution, but also, more importantly, a mystical one. In failing to appreciate this distinction so much is lost. Indeed, as Kirwan points out the voice of God can also come from outside the church, and the Church needs to listen to it. There is also the loss in terms of those who find this a reason to move away from the Catholic Church into the embrace of agnosticism or other churches.

Resolving the crisis the Church faces lies in finding a path between the two problems Kirwan identifies. And yet, this is an awkward position. How do we go forward? Carrying the question before statal authorities, especially when the state is hostile, or seeking to assert its own power, poses a great risk. One way in which this tension can be resolved was demonstrated by some of the protestors in Goa who have presented their claims to the Apostolic Nuncio. In doing so they have shown great nuance. Taking the issue, not before the state, that could possibly prove hostile, but a superior authority within the Church structure, they have opened up a space for the conflict to be resolved internally. One prays that the authorities within the Archdiocese of Goa will recognize this opportunity and respond appropriately, and create systemic change rather than leaving room for a conflict that we can ill afford.

The Bahujan Challenge to Goa’s Brahmanical Shrines

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By AMITA KANEKAR

dsc05647Goa’s old temples need change, but they also need to be protected from change. There is no contradiction here: the change – or even revolution – they urgently need is in the realm of the social, political and economic; but connected to this is the issue of their unique Portuguese-era art and architecture, which needs protection. And the solution to both problems might be the same: the bahujan take-over of these currently savarna establishments, as is being attempted with the Navdurga temple at Marcaim.

Looking at the second problem first, there is no knowing what to expect at any of Goa’s old brahmanical shrines nowadays. A recent visit to the Mangueshi temple at Priol is an example. It was part of a trip to show some visiting students the syncreticism of Goa’s early modern architecture, which included visits to Old Goa and Ponda’s Safa Masjid. At Mangueshi, however, we found that the old Mulkeshwar temple had been completely rebuilt. The new temple is certainly grander (though somewhat like an upmarket Udipi restaurant), but is that a good reason to demolish an old structure, along with all the local history it contained?

But this is what is happening to old temples across Goa. What comes up in their stead are forms like those of the brahmanical temples in India, described by laypeople as ‘more Hindu’. This is precisely the reason for the replacement, although the official one is usually the need for expansion. Goan temple forms are indeed not Hindu, or rather brahminical, enough; they are brilliant examples of the European-Islamicate encounter. They often also show some pre-brahmin roots; Mulkeshwar, also known as Rakhandar, is supposed to be a non-brahmin or bahujan diety.

These temples thus can tell much about Goa’s rich cultural past, which however does not sit well with brahmin nationalism. Replacing them is good business of course; it provides the chance to create larger and grander Indian-style temples which attract the moneyed Hindu tourist eager to ‘consume’ religion (Meera Nanda, 2010). But replacing them also serves a political purpose: to erase Goa’s Portuguese, Islamicate, and bahujan past, along with its syncretic architecture and working traditions (Catholic artisans are supposed to have built these temples). And thus to invent a Goa that was always brahmanically Hindu.

It was just such an attempt, to change the old idol at the Navdurga temple, Marcaim, which has now blown up into a struggle demanding a different kind of change. Because the temple managements, so eager to demolish old architecture, art and icons, are the opposite when it comes to their own social, economic, and political privileges. For example, even today, none but the ‘mahajan’ families – all savarna — are allowed within the sanctum sanctorums of these temples. Prohibited from entry are even those members of the bahujan communities who work for the temple, doing everything from daily maintenance to playing the music during rituals; they are treated as ‘temple servants’. The same brahmanism prevails in rituals outside the sanctum. Along with this, menstruating women are denied entry anywhere inside the temple, as were foreigners some time ago. When questioned about all this, the temple managements claim that the temples are privately owned and thus free to limit public access.

But savarna hegemony over temples is not just an issue of religion. Some of these old temples are also landowners (bhatkars) who control vast immovable property as well as the lives of those who live and work there. Many of the latter have been unable to get their land deeds in their name to this day, with the result that they can be pressurised to continue with their humiliating ‘temple servant’ roles, using the threat of eviction.

Bahujan communities in Goa are unwilling to accept all this any more. The villagers of Marcaim have demanded that the Goa government intervene to ensure that the old idol is not replaced. They also want to know, they say, why the temples in Goa are considered the private property of savarnas, when temples in India are public temples. Their demand is that all who work for and worship at the temple should enjoy exactly the same rights and access.

This will not be an easy struggle, given the brahmanical nature of the Goan and Indian authorities. For example, the Supreme Court of India recently overturned the policy introduced by Tamil Nadu’s former DMK government to allow persons from any caste to apply for employment as priests. The court ruled that appointments should be according to the old ‘Agama Shastras’. With the brahmin-composed Agamas not surprisingly preferring brahmins, the ruling will preserve a brahmin monopolisation of this job. Would this court support a bahujan takeover of brahminical temples?

The other question though is, even if the savarna mahajans are defeated, will these temples really change into non-hierarchical and completely public spaces? Or will the only change be the replacement of savarnas by the more powerful among the bahujans? Let us not forget that Dalits are still barred from many of the ‘public’ temples in Maharashtra; people have even been murdered for entering. It was not for nothing that Dr Ambedkar advocated leaving Hinduism altogether; that is what some dalit-bahujan communities in Goa and India still opt for today.

For the moment, though, a good struggle is on, and one can only wish it well.

(With thanks to Ashwinkumar Naik for information on the Marcaim struggle.)

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 10 March, 2016)