Goa’s Reservation Scam, Part 1

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by Amita Kanekar

scamalertGoa’s decent social indicators and liberal appearance—compared to much of India—actually hide a huge social scam: the widespread failure to implement caste-based reservations across government bodies and educational institutions. According to a petition submitted on 10/06/2016 to the Governor, and signed by more than 50 citizens (including this writer), the government of Goa is ‘blatantly, callously and illegally not implementing important provisions [of the law] which ensure inclusion of marginalized sections of the population in public sector education and employment’.

The scam operates in many ways. One is the failure to maintain proper rosters. Every department and educational institution is supposed to maintain post-based reservation rosters. Each roster contains a list of all posts in a particular cadre (e.g. Assistant Professors), together with the category of the post (whether reserved or not). The percentage of reservations decides which post will be reserved: i.e. the reservation for STs is currently 12%, which means that there must be 12 ST posts in a 100, or 1 in every 8.5 posts. The Goa University roster for Assistant Professors addresses this by marking Post no 9 as the first post reserved for STs, Post no 17 as the second post, and so on. The roster also shows the names of the people who occupy each post, and whether they are reserved category candidates or not. The reserved posts filled by non-reserved category candidates are thus clearly visible.

Each roster ends with a summary of the total number of seats reserved in each category and the number filled by appropriate candidates; the difference between the two is the backlog which is required to be filled as a priority during the next recruitment. Thus in one single place, you have the complete picture of reservations filled and unfilled, in that cadre, and also a clear guideline for future recruitment advertisements.

The problem is that all the rosters checked by the petitioners were either incorrect or incomplete. Either the lists are initiated at a date much later than mandated (they are supposed to start in 1997), or they don’t show all the people recruited, or they provide other wrong information. An example is the Goa University’s roster of Assistant Professors, available on the University website. This roster shockingly states that the reservation for OBCs is 19.5%, when it is actually 27%. It also seems to omit the names of many assistant professors listed in the University’s own Annual Report of 1997-98. It is worthwhile to note that this roster with its mistakes bears the signatures of University officials as well as the Government’s Social Welfare and Tribal Welfare Directorates.

It is also found that many institutions employing staff on a contractual or hourly-rate basis (like colleges which employ teachers on lecture-hour basis) do not bother about reservations at all, even though the rules are clear that any post or position that is over 45 days length has to follow the provisions of reservation.

Similarly, when it comes to reservations for students, although all University-recognised educational courses must clearly display the number of reserved seats of each category in each subject, many of them, especially the self-financed courses, do not implement reservations at all. And since most self-financed courses are professional in nature and directly connected to paying jobs, ignoring reservations here amounts to not just breaking the law but also a denial of job opportunities to marginalised communities.

There are some blunders that regularly take place during the interview and selection process. One example is of ‘Own Merit’ candidates. Own Merit candidates are those belonging to the SC, ST and OBC communities whose qualifications are above the cut-off limits for the unreserved (or ‘general’) category. Such candidates are required to be selected under the unreserved category; they cannot take up reserved seats. However, this rule was ignored in the interviews for the B.Ed course held this month by the Department of Higher Education; the Director of DHE himself admitted that such students were ‘given a choice’ of applying in either category.

Another required recruitment procedure is proper advertisement. Advertisements for jobs must show the number of reserved positions available in each category, the posts they belong to, and also the relaxation in age, qualifications and experience. Further, reservation candidates are supposed to be interviewed separately from non-reservation ones, to ensure relaxation of qualification norms; the selection panels are also required to include representatives of reserved category communities. Finally, the backlog of unfilled reserved posts is supposed to be the priority in any recruitment. But these rules are routinely ignored in practice, as seen in the University of Goa recruitments of 2013-14.

The authorities would have us believe that all these anomalies are mistakes resulting from ignorance of the rules. But ignorance is not an excuse. Also, how is it that the result of all these different mistakes is invariably the same: a reduction in the number of reserved positions? It is clear that these mistakes are not mistakes at all, but deliberate steps to undermine caste-based reservations and continue the domination of the privileged castes over government, jobs, and education.

(With thanks to Alito Siqueira for many details; to be continued…)

Diana and Actaeon: Brexit and the end of empires

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by Jason Keith Fernandes

 

‘Diana and Actaeon’ this was the allusion that struck me when I heard the news of Britain’s vote in the recently conducted EU referendum, popularly known as Brexit.

The myth of Diana and Actaeon can be found within the Roman poet Ovid’s epic narrative, Metamorphoses. The tale recounts the fate of a young hunter named Actaeon and his encounter with the chaste Diana, goddess of the hunt. In the myth, Actaeon unwittingly stumbles upon Diana bathing nude in a spring with help from her escort of nymphs. The nymphs scream in surprise and attempt to cover Diana, who, in a fit of embarrassed fury, splashes water upon Actaeon. The hunter is transformed into a deer and, robbed of his ability to speak, promptly flees in fear. It is not long, however, before his own hounds track him down and, failing to recognize their master, tear him apart.

 

The myth can be interpreted in multiple ways. In one interpretation, Actaeon could represent David Cameron. Before the 2015 elections in Britain, Mr. Cameron had pledged to hold the referendum on EU membership if his party, the Tories, won a majority. The pledge to hold a referendum was a way of mollifying members of his own party and others, who were unhappy about the UK’s membership in the EU. In making this promise, Cameron disturbed a delicate scene very much like that of the goddess bathing. Given the fact that despite authorizing the referendum Cameron had in fact been campaigning to stay within the EU makes him a figure very much like the unwitting Actaeon, who really had no intention of intruding on Diana’s bath. Regardless of his intentions, however, Cameron has faced an Actaeon-like fate, having now promised to step down from the post of Prime Minister. Only time will tell if this exit marks the end of his political career, but for now, the allusion holds.

diana
Diana and Actaeon by Paul Manship. 1925

Another way to read the myth in the current context is to see Actaeon as the English constituent of Great Britain, who will now be set upon by the hounds that the English have held on an imperial leash for so long. Like so many political entities, Britain is a cobbling together of various entities. Britain was constituted by the imperial ambitions of the English, who first added Wales to their imperium and subsequently Scotland and Ireland. There is a long history of resistance to English imperial rule that has resulted in the assertion of regional identities, as in the case of the Welsh, and wars of independence, as in the case of the Irish. More recently, the Scots made an unsuccessful bid for freedom through a referendum to leave the UK. However, in the wake of Brexit, which shows that the Scots overwhelmingly chose to stay in the European Union, and it was the English who chose to leave it, there is every likelihood that the Scots will demand another referendum. This time round, the English may not be so lucky and find their imperial union being torn apart. England may regret that it trespassed upon a site that it should have left alone in the first place.

A third contemporary reading of the myth could allow Britain to be seen as Diana, who has cursed the Actaeon EU to now potentially be torn apart by the Eurosceptic hounds. No sooner was the Brexit result announced than a host of largely right-wing hyper-nationalist leaders across Europe begin baying for their own version of the referendum. Marie Le Pen, the leader of the National Front in France, made one such demand, as did the Islamophobic, anti-immigration Geert Wilders from the Netherlands. Similar noises also emerged from the Italian Lega Nord or Northern league. In the case of this group, the League would also like to break up the current state of Italy, and there are many in this outfit who would ideally like to get rid of the south of the country, a section that they feel is unduly burdening the more prosperous north of Italy.

While the leadership of the EU suggests that all is under control, one wonders whether this is mere bravado and if Britain has unleashed not merely Actaeon’s hounds but also the dogs of war. Europe was very similarly tied up in a set of international treaties and riven with ethnic tensions on the eve of the Second World War. What was also at stake at the time of this war, and the first, was the future of various empires. In the First World War, it was the future of the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the second, it was that of the Japanese and German Empires. There are some who argue that the EU is in fact a non-coercive imperial formation. What is currently at stake, therefore, is the future of another empire. Given the larger state of the world, which exists in a state of armed conflict and the intervention of third-party states, and the fact that a number of treaties that have kept Europe stable during the past fifty years are now coming undone, one wonders if this is what the beginning of the end of the world order as we know it is going to look like.

(A version of this post was first published in The Goan Everyday on 26 June 2016)

Electoral Options and a Politics of Alliances

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by

Jason Keith Fernandes

What is undeniable about the current political climate in Goa is that there are a number of people who are desirous of change. Most of them are in fact singularly opposed to the return of the Congress, as well as the BJP. This is already a good start. The problem is that those who are translating desire into political action and setting up political parties are all after the same pie, and hopelessly divided.  It is this division, and the grandstanding in which each party will field its own candidate which, will ensure that the BJP will return to power. The fact that this singular fact has not seemed to percolate into the public rhetoric of the various parties, and that these various apparent opponents of the BJP are jostling each other suggests that we are in for very dark times indeed. Preventing this should be highest on our agenda.

What are our options if this is the bleak scenario that faces us in the upcoming elections? There are a couple of solutions that I have to offer. These solutions rest on the argument that we abandon the idea that the next elections are going to bring about a sea-change in Goan politics. Despite the tall claims that are being made by all and sundry, there is going to be no utopia following the elections. Such claims fail to recognize the complexity of the electorate and the electoral system. Indeed, I would argue that some of these utopian claims are based on a fundamental disrespect of the electorate and the way in which the marginalized use their vote. Further, some of challengers of the dominant parties fail to recognize that many of the problems we face are not the result of bad people in politics, but a problematic system that is in place. As such, unless one recognizes that it is the system which is the problem, even a good, honest, person usually becomes part of the same old system or is rendered helpless.

The problems as I see them are the following, first, there is a need to ensure that the BJP does not return to power. The second, is that we need to begin restricting the way in which electoral politics in Goa works. We cannot merely do good within the existent system, the entire system itself has to be overhauled. We are thus faced with one immediate agenda, and another more long-term agenda.

HeraldThe strategies of BJP-opposed electoral parties in Bihar have already shown us the way to address the short-term goal identified above. Through their strategic grand alliance, the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress Party effectively routed the BJP. This is the route that all individuals and political outfits serious about change in Goa must necessarily follow. Take the following scenario for example, where the Goa Vikas Party, the Goa Forward Party, the Goa SuRaj Party, the Communist Party, and the AAP come to an agreement that they will support each other, campaign for each other and field a single individual in every constituency. A combination of this sort seems unlikely now, and even crazy, but it would ensure not only a united front against the BJP and Congress, but would also yield a variety of long-term benefits.

To begin with even if a single party currently opposed to the BJP-Congress were to be able to win all forty seats, this would be bad for democracy. First, a ruling party with no opposition is a bad idea. This idea has already been articulated by Amita Kanekar in a recent op-ed, where she argued that “given the limited choices, what we should aim for is simply a weak government.” Her reasoning, with which I concur, is that even though we are constantly urged to vote for a strong government, such governments invariably ignore criticism and overrule normal procedures. Rather than a strong government therefore “ A weak government, i.e. a minority or coalition government, would serve better, with more assembly discussions and cabinet meetings, rather than dictatorial orders, and where everybody might be too concerned about their survival to do much damage.”

Like Kanekar, I propose that we should look to 2017 elections through a pragmatic lens even as we hold utopian visions. The 2017 elections should be an exercise in cooperative behavior, encouraging newer voices and parties to emerge. It is now more than ever that the dictum “united we stand, divided we fall” holds true. The buildup to the 2017 elections and the period until the next legislative elections should be seen as preparatory time necessary to challenge the system that currently obtains. Even as many new entrants to the political scene have begun campaigning, it would be more realistic to recognize that the swing towards new entrants will be minimal. It makes more sense to prepare for the elections scheduled in 2022. We would do well to recognise that the success of currently dominant parties has been built over such a long period and was never the result of campaigns of a couple of months. As such a politics of alliances makes the most sense.

Of course there will be those who will be horrified by this suggestion. “Make alliances with the corrupt and the cynical?” would be the question of groups like AAP in Goa. The various bahujan groups that are trying to cobble together a response in the upcoming elections will ask if the suggestion is to make alliances with the various Brahmin-dominated parties.  To such positions my response would be yes. Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, demonstrated that making alliances with Brahmins is not necessarily out of the question. What is important is not rhetorical grandstanding, or ideological purity, but gaining access to political power so as to begin to change the system. However, since process is also important, how one gets to power is also critical.

The politics of purity, whether ideological or otherwise, is a dangerous politics because it presumes a monopoly on the truth, and an almost divine power to realize it. The strategy of alliances would allow a diverse group of voices to get into the legislature. It would open the possibility for a legislative politics that is about debate and mutual respect. This would engender real political change in Goa. Democratic politics is the politics of compromise. One makes priorities, sees what one can suffer, what one cannot, communicates this to one’s partner/s, and then works towards maintaining the alliance, and hopefully influencing the other. When one realizes that the alliance is not working, one can pull out. As Kanekar has pointed out, it is an alliance-based weak government that we should aim for in the upcoming elections, even as our sights are trained for 2022.

(This post has been profoundly influenced by the theology of Pope Benedict XVI as contained in his encyclical Spe Salvi. I would encourage readers to engage with this text.

A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo dated 24 June 2016)

Why is the Children’s Court Neglected?

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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

The Children’s Court was set up in Goa in 2004. It was visualised as a child friendly space where children against whom crimes were committed by adults would feel safe to speak and have their concerns addressed and issues validated. In such a Court, the best interests of children were to be the primary focus.

 

This meant many things. For one, it meant that the way the presiding officer, that is, the judge, approached the case had to be different from the way the cases of offences under various laws had to be approached. There had to be a different way of dealing with or handling complainants/ victims/ witnesses. There had also to be a jurisprudential shift.

 

There was also the question of the physical environment in the place. It is well known that generally the spatial arrangements as well as the clothing in the Courts feel intimidating, more so for children. That is why the Judge in a Children’s Court is expected not to wear the grim clothing that he or she is otherwise expected to wear.  The environment has to be light, with appropriate colour effects as well as addressing the issue of scale. This of course need not be construed to mean that matters must be taken in a lighter vein. The Child against whom a crime is alleged to be committed is already carrying the baggage of being violated. There is already heaviness on that account.

 

It was out of all these concerns for a violated child that a special legislation for Goa’s children was lobbied for and came to be enacted in 2003 as the Goa Children’s Act. But the machinery envisaged under it which included a Children’s Court was not set up. It took a petition from Bailancho Saad to get the Court set up and functioning in 2004. After that also, it was only with persistent lobbying that a full time presiding officer was assigned to the Court in 2014.

 

While the Court was required to have a presiding judicial officer of the rank of a Sessions Court Judge, the same was set up under the Directorate of Women and Child Development, and the staff was allocated to it from that Department. This meant a hard grind for the staff and those at the helm, as it meant that the staff who otherwise handle administrative matters in a Government Department were required to be trained to handle ‘court work’, as it is called.

 

Also , as a temporary measure, when the Court was set up, it was housed in a regular Government building. Buildings are not mere structures. They have to be designed for the intention for which they are going to be used. That was not at all the case with the Goa Children’s Court which did not meet the requirements of architecture and design.

 

Apart from there being limited space for the Court, which brings along with it its own difficulties, such as difficulties locating the items associated with the crime, which have been attached in the case (muddemal), there was also the question of access. Access is certainly about physically reaching the Court. But access is also about not being subject to intimidation, or feeling intimidated on the way to the Court.That is why, it was visualised that the child complainant/victim should not have to compulsorily face the accused as happens in other cases, while at the same time ensuring the rights of the accused to a fair trial and cross examination of the child, albeit in a sensitive way.

 

This aspect of access is far from being taken care of in the Children’s Court in Goa.  In the sense that while inside the court, due precaution is taken, the very structure of the building is such that before entering the Court, the child and the accused could very well be in the same lift or on the same staircase, instead of separate entrances, thereby making a mockery out of that salutary provision in the law of the child not having to face the accused.

 

In the rest of India, it was about a decade later that the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, (POCSO) came into force. This new law also required Courts designated as Special Courts for specifically handling sexual offences against children. Already under POCSO, Delhi has at least four designated Special Courts with special child-friendly buildings, which meet architectural design requirements suited for distressed children. Goa could have been a model for the rest of India, but Goa’s children are yet to get a proper Children’s Court building, thirteen whole years after the Goa Children’s Act.

 

What is worse, is that the administration does not seem to be helping. It has notified Courts of the rank of Sessions Courts to be the Special Courts under the POCSO Act, but the Children’s Court is seemingly ousted. This puts the clock behind for the trendsetting work that Goa and its civil society did to pave the way for sensitivity and effective prevention and deterrence regarding crimes against children. It is about returning to the routine spaces instead of making the existing Court space more child-friendly.

 

While infrastructure is fancifully thrown around by the Government for areas that they possibly stand to gain from, are we to conclude that the Children’s Courts and their positions are too hot for the Government to handle? Why else this wilful neglect?

 

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

Can Upper Castes fight Brahmanism?

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 By AMITA KANEKAR

fistWhile in Panjim’s Campal area the other day, I passed the Luis Francisco Gomes Garden. Now this old public park is a pleasant place, partly for its setting under shady rain trees planted around a hundred years ago, but also for its friendly design of low walls, plentiful seats, and bandstand. Campal was an elite residential locality at one time, whose residents probably were not very welcoming of ‘commoners’, but the garden design certainly was. The low broad walls are especially notable, inviting one to sit or even nap on them, or easily hop over them into the garden without bothering to locate the (many) gates.

Or rather, they used to be. Now however, the top of the walls is covered with closed-spaced sharp stone pieces, set vertically. Touch the walls at your own risk.

What kind of public attitude does this renovation betray? Only someone who belongs to the elite, with private resources for relaxation and a car to commute in, and who is infused with brahmanical ideas of treating non-elites shabbily, could have come up with such a heartless transformation of a user-friendly space—where a tired pedestrian passerby might take rest—into something that will injure you if you try. But this is the norm nowadays, with the ‘public’ in public parks referring more to funding than usage. Our new parks—with their high walls, forbidding gates, no shade, water-guzzling lawns adorned with ‘keep off the lawn’ signs, and commercial events for the spending classes—are clearly aimed at elite users who come in the evening with cars and jogging shoes. All that remains are fees and those pipe-benches which discourage seating for more than two minutes.

amitaThis unfriendliness of our public spaces may seem unimportant when compared to the big issues facing Goa today, from rampant land grab, the MoI fight, malignant casino tourism, the marginalisation of nonHindu cultures, shortage of decent jobs, and so on. But, in the event of the forthcoming elections, all these issues are linked together by a question: can parties led and dominated by upper castes really bring change to Goa? Brahmanism is at the root of why India has not been able to create a real democracy. Can we solve this with people of the same privileged, conservative and elitist background sitting at the helm? The Aam Aadmi Party and Goa Forward claim to be alternatives to the BJP and the Congress in Goa. Their leaders talk about the need for change, but can they really bring change when most of them come from the same caste and class?

Almost all the issues facing Goan bahujans today see them up against Goan elites. For example, as Raghuraman Trichur pointed out in a recent lecture, Goa is becoming the Florida of India, with wealthy Indians buying second homes or setting up businesses that cater to other wealthy outsiders, even as many locals are fast losing their first homes as well as livelihoods. But at the heart of the land-grab in the villages, and the rash of real-estate development over the plateaux, are Goan land-owners, business partners, developers and brokers, eagerly flogging every last bit of Goa to the highest bidder. What stand would any of the upper-caste-dominated parties take on this conflict, especially when so many of their leaders are connected to real estate and related businesses themselves?

Another example is the MoI issue, where parents of children in government schools are not being allowed to choose the medium of their children’s education, and where the future of bahujan Goans is being sacrificed at the altar of the baman-bhas, Nagri Konkani. All because of the desire of Goa’s bamans to proclaim an Indian language of their own, even while their own families study in private English-medium schools.  What change can we expect here, when GF’s leaders are known to be close to the Nagri Konkani lobby, while AAP’s Valmiki Naik claims to support both sides?

Corruption is always a buzzword for those speaking of change. But corruption is of many kinds. One often condemned by upper castes is freebies during elections. But seriously, is it such a problem if poor people are provided free transport to political rallies, or money/biryani before they vote? It is only the elites who believe that such gifts swing elections, who think that the poor do not have the sense to accept gifts—perhaps the only things that these politicians do for them—and still vote as they wish. To demonise these gifts is to continue the illegalising of the poor which upper caste politicians and media have always done.

But another kind of corruption rampant in Goa is the subversion of the reservation rules mandated by the Constitution of India, in which upper castes have been blithely usurping the jobs and educational seats meant for the most deprived sections of Goan society, viz. dalits, tribals, and OBCs. Will these upper-caste-led parties take up this huge corruption issue?

One thing seems certain: Bahujan Goans are not going to benefit from another upper-caste-dominated party in power. What we really need is a party that is not just led by dalit-bahujan-tribals, but which sees dalit-bahujan-tribal interests as primary. Only through this can we have a meaningful and inclusive democracy, and the potential of development reaching all.

(A version of this post was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 2 June, 2016)