What Government Demolishes Homes in the Pouring Rain?

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What kind of government demolishes homes in the pouring rain? A government that is confident that the chattering classes will not be bothered. It is not only the Parrikar government that is to be condemned for an attack on the very lives of people, especially the aged, ill, and children among them, whose houses were recently bulldozed in Baina, Vasco, during the downpours of July. One child in Baina was 6 days old, according to a newspaper report, just home for the first time from the Chicalim nursing home, when his house was demolished. Now his mother, weak after a tough delivery, is ill and cannot care for the baby who huddles in his grandmother’s arms under a tarpaulin sheet.


The responsibility for this lies not just on the administration, but us well-off folk, secure in our warm dry homes, along with of course the media we pay for, who, as veteran Goan journalist Govind Potekar pointed out recently, give reams of attention to proclamations for and against bikinis, but hardly any time or space to an atrocity against the poor.


In the few discussions on the topic, the consensus in Goa seems to be that while it should not have been done in the rains, it had to be done. They repeat the government claim that the houses were within the high tide line and ‘demolitions were done to protect the people’. What an oxymoron! And as environmentalist Claude Alvares asked, why haven’t we heard of the demolition of the big bungalows and hotels that are also within the CRZ? Why take action only against the poorest and most vulnerable?


Well, the answer is that that’s what we’re good at.  And we bolster this tendency by tons of unsubstantiated reportage about how such informal settlements harbour criminals and anti-social elements. It is not that we really believe this rubbish; any fool in this country knows that the real criminals are to be found not there, but in much more secure and protected and even lavish homes, which are never demolished.


But it is not that we are always so uncaring. An example of a different response was that met by the Campa Cola Compound case in Bombay. This large upper-class and illegal apartment complex in the plush Worli area was condoned for years, even after an order for demolition. And when the Campa Cola issue was discussed in the media – which was frequently – one could see the genuine sympathy of the reporters for the bank managers and businessmen who were losing their flats and penthouses, even though they had chosen to buy them in a building with no municipal clearance. Contrast this to the Baina settlement, which was demolished less than 2 months after the people were given notice; the demolition was described by many press reports as Parrikar’s  ‘cleaning-up drive’, implying that the residents are some kind of dirt.


The lack of empathy goes well with a lack of intelligence. These settlements don’t come up anyhow. A popular upper-caste adjective for them is ‘squatter’, which implies people just settling down freely on a spot and making it their own. But slums in Goa and India are not squatter settlements, for they are paid for right from the word go. Nobody can sit for half an hour anywhere in an Indian city without being questioned by the cops. Nor do slums come up anywhere, but usually on waste or wet lands unfit for development — a major reason for allowing them is thus also about making the land ready for other real estate projects.


The pattern — perfected in Mumbai but visible in Goa as well – is of the new settlement being laid out in advance by local agents in cahoots with the authorities, then sold to homeless buyers, usually migrants. Huge amounts of money are paid by the buyers for water, electricity, and other facilities, legal or otherwise. Everything happens in broad daylight, with the full knowledge of the local authorities, including the police, and the payments that are made are part of the oily system of graft on which the bureaucracy thrives. And so homes are built and lived in for a while, with local problems of water seepage and soft soil being dealt with by the settlers. And then one fine day the houses are broken and the people thrown out, the nicely-solidified and dry land is used for other things, while everybody else looks shocked and wonders who allowed them there. And the cycle goes on.


Slum-dwellers are vote-banks, is the other complaint of the middle-class, it’s the politicians who back them. This again is a perversion of the truth – as though these settlers are beneficiaries instead of victims. The real problem is that the politicians don’t back these settlers; that they don’t oppose this extortionist cycle which keeps people insecure and dependent.


Slums are not caused by the poor. They are caused by bad urban policies, which give no importance to public housing. In other words, they are caused by the rich and the powerful who make our policies and rules; they are caused by us. If you want to employ people — domestic workers, drivers, sweepers, watchmen, errand-boys, gardeners, labourers, doing all the hard or dirty work of every kind – but you don’t want to pay them enough to afford the market rates of rent, and those people have no other options but to take your low-paying job, and the government just twiddles its thumbs in the meanwhile, what do you expect?


Most civilised societies in the 20th century realised that basic public housing was one of the jobs that cannot be left to the profit-driven real estate industry; it has to be handled by the government. But we have yet to still learn that in Goa, where the government has land for all kinds of money-making projects, including posh vacation homes which are used for 2 weeks in the year, but not for mass housing. In fact, the Parrikar government has just announced that those who got land illegally for SEZ’s – criminals, in other words — will be allowed to keep 30% of it! Why – because Goa has “enough” land, apparently.  Why can’t we then build cheap rental housing? Or create schemes where people can buy small serviced plots, on a low monthly payments, and build their own houses? Surely it’s not that difficult to plan and implement, unless one envisages all land as reserved for either cronies or profit-spinning enterprises.


Goa has all kinds of bhaile, or outsiders – tourists, hoteliers, real estate developers, moneyed folk who like the slower life. But the most maligned, in word and deed, is the one that contributes the most, viz. the labourers. Can Goa do without migrant workers for even one day? Isn’t it then time that we started thinking about how to develop a more equitable, inclusive and civic-conscious society, rather than following the inhuman traditions of Indian metropoli?


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 31 July, 2014)

Unburdening the Language from Motherhood

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The debate over Goa’s language issue continues because the conflict is far from being resolved.The passing of the much controversial Official Language Act (OLA) in 1987 did anything but resolve it. In my previous columns, I have argued that the passing of the OLA was an act to impose Hindu Saraswat hegemony onto the Goan people, particularly the Hindu and the Catholic bahujan communities. In a book published in 2004, bahujan activist Ramnath Naik termed Nagari Konkani as ‘Bamani’, indicating the caste location from which the Nagari Konkani assertion emerged and is sustained till today. BJP MLA Vishnu Surya Wagh, in his op-ed article in a Marathi daily few weeks ago, also made a similar assertion, attracting sharp reactions from the Nagari Konkani camp.

Every time the legitimacy of Nagari Konkani as an all encompassing cultural marker for Goans is challenged by Romi Konkani and Marathi supporters in Goa, its proponents religiously argue against it. Instead, they assert that Konkani as the sole Goan language since it is widely spoken in Goa. They would put forth the idea of Goa as the ‘mother’land and Konkani being the ‘mother’tongue of all Goans. By Konkani, they of course mean Nagri Konkani. What distinctly marks the responses of the Nagari Konkani proponents is the manner in which they cover their defense with seeming emotional overtones, when in fact they are solidly reasoned out to assert their cultural supremacy. To nuance these conversations, one needs to undo a lot of generalized assumption about Goan history and language politics.

It is crucial to remember that there’s nothing natural about the languages we speak, contrary to what is often believed. We pick up languages that are being spoken in our environment. If speaking ‘a’ specific language was as natural as having a biological mother, we would have been hard coded into speaking only the language that our mother would speak, irrespective of the social context that one would be born in. In a multilingual environment such as South Asia, one is bound to know more than one language with equal ease and proficiency. Further, this patriarchal fixation with defining languages as ‘mother tongue’ needs to be critically scrutinized. Characterizing language with the chaste figure of a mother,as something which needs to be protected is a pattern often observed in proto-nationalist movements.Such political movements not only restrict the role of woman as a passive symbol of political discourses which are largely driven by men, but their underlying masculine nature often tends along the lines of fascism.

French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari, in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987), argue that “there is no mother tongue [but] only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity”. This is to imply that the project to naturalize languages(and script) as ‘mother tongue’ is essentially an attemptin fixing the language of the most dominant social group as the sole vehicle for cultural identity for those under subjugation. So, when Naik or Wagh refer to Nagari Konkani as Bamani, they are not merely hinting at the specific caste location of ‘official’ Konkani but also targeting the resultant fixing of the Hindu Saraswats in Goa as the ideal bearers of Goan identity, by the virtue of their dialect of Konkani being the official language binding onto the entire state.

It also needs to be emphasized that contrary to the claims of existence of one single Konkani since antiquity, history indicates otherwise. As Jason Keith Fernandes has argued there could have been several proto-Marathi and proto-Kannada dialects in use prior to the arrival of Portuguese. These dialects must have been largely confined to speech and associated with various caste communities. One must also remember that the access to knowledge was a privilege available only to the upper castes. Thus, even if there existed any tradition of writing in proto-Konkani prior to the arrival of Portuguese, it wasn’t a democratic tradition to begin with. A transition of a dialect to language is marked by its dissemination and popularization through networks of circulation. In Goa too, as argued by Fernandes and recently by Wagh, it was the work done by Catholic missionaries in codifying and disseminating Konkani through the Church that enabled the emergence of Konkani as a language. It is imperative to note that this version of Konkani predominantly used the Roman script. Rochelle Pinto’s Between Empires (2008), an inquiry of print and politics in nineteenth century Goa,also hints at the glaring absence of Nagari Konkani in the networks of print circulation while Romi Konkani, Marathi and Portuguese were thriving in Goa as well as in colonial Bombay. Thus, this false assumption that Nagari Konkani as a language was always present in Goa – even before the arrival of the Portuguese – has no basis in history.

Languages do not operate solely on impulses of emotions or identity, especially for communities which are displaced to the margins.  Rather, people adopt languages that will provide them opportunities and social mobility. Multi-lingual practices are important to facilitate social mobility in a caste and class setting that would diligently deny this mobility. Marathi, Romi Konkani and Portuguese have historically played that role for various Goan communities and therefore are very much the languages of the peoples of Goa.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 28 July, 2016)

Goa’s Reservation Scam, Part 2

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My last column was on how the system of caste-based reservations, which is supposed to ensure representation of all communities in government and education, is consistently subverted in Goa. This is commonly done by fudging the reservation rosters (which contain each department’s record of implementation, on a post by post basis), or by not following the proper procedures in recruitment, admissions, advertisement, etc, or by simply acting as if reservations don’t apply.


Examples include the improper reservation rosters of Goa University, and improper admission procedures to the B.Ed course by the Directorate of Higher Education. For improper advertisements, one need only open any newspaper: almost all government departments and colleges, along with the University, ignore the rules regarding announcement of reserved posts/seats, viz. clear mention of the number and location of the reserved posts/seats, the method of application, the relaxation in qualifications, etc. And those who simply and illegally ignore reservations include many schools, private colleges, self-financed courses, as also contract and hourly-basis employment everywhere.


Such is the ongoing subversion of the rules. In this article, I want to discuss the implications of this subversion, and also how some of the rules themselves are a problem.


According to the Goa government’s employee record (of 1/1/2015), while 41% of posts are reserved for SC, ST and OBC communities, only 23.4% are reserved posts actually occupied by reserved category recruits. 43% of the reserved posts are thus held by others. But the law says that no reserved post can, after 1997, be allotted to an unreserved (UR) candidate. This means that the post-1997 appointees in this 43%—numbering into the thousands—are illegitimate occupants of these posts and should immediately vacate them. Their ignorance of the scam is not an excuse. If you buy a stolen car in ignorance, are you allowed to keep it? No. Similarly if you accept a stolen job, you can’t keep it.


And even this figure of 23.4% is probably inflated. One recalls the roster examined in the last article (of Assistant Professors at Goa University), where various ‘mistakes’ conveniently resulted in a higher percentage of filled reservations. Only an examination of all the government’s reservation rosters will reveal the true situation.


The Goa’s Government’s demarking of a total of only 41% posts for caste-based reservation is also questionable, given that the Supreme Court has allowed caste-based reservations up to 50%, and that SC, ST and OBC communities are over 50% of Goa’s total population.


There are also problems in the roster lists. Non-caste reservations like Physically Disabled (PD) and Children of Freedom Fighters (CFF) are not supposed to be listed like caste-based ones, for they cut across caste. E.g. a PD recruit would also be UR, SC, ST or OBC. So the proper way of maintaining the reservation roster is having the 3% PD recruits occupy UR, SC, ST, OBC positions, as the case may be, and by selecting one PD candidate in every 33 recruitments. Goa however chooses to fix separate posts for these.


How are all these posts fixed? According to the system in central organisations, if the reservation for ST is 7%, i.e. 7 in a 100 employees or one in every 14, the first ST post is No. 14, the second No. 28, and so on. Now this is only for central government where the cadre strength is generally large and the smallest reservation is 7%. State governments are supposed to work out norms that fit their situation.


In Goa, the smallest caste-based reservation is SC at 2%, i.e. one in 50 employees. Applying the above rule places the first SC post at No. 50 on the roster. This means that it will take forever for the first SC recruitment, especially with many small departments/cadres. E.g. in a cadre of 10, the SC appointment will happen only after the retirement/dismissal/death of not just all the first 10 recruits, but also their successors, the successors of their successors, and so on, till the 5th generation, i.e. after perhaps a hundred years. This obviously defeats the purpose of reservations. If one really wanted to achieve representation of all communities in a tiny cadre, one would put the first SC, ST, OBC posts at Nos. 1, 2, and 3 on the roster.


Goa’s government however applies this central rule, but with casteist modifications. The lowest reservation percentages in Goa are SC at 2%, CFF at 2%, and PD at 3%. With CFF and PD listed on Goa’s rosters just like castes, the first CFF post should be No. 50 (like SC), and the first PD No. 33. But Goa has instead put the first PD at No. 1, and the first CFF at No. 10, while the first SC is far away at No. 49. Thus, there will be PD and CFF recruits even in small cadres, but not SCs. Why this discrimination? Obviously, it’s because PD and CFF recruits can be UR, and usually are.


Thus there are innumerable ways in which caste-based reservations get subverted in Goa. And changing this looks difficult, given the brahmanical tendencies of all our political parties. But an attempt is on. Following many complaints by individuals from the marginalised communities, members of Goa’s Social Justice Action Committee (sjac@gmail.com) are conducting workshops to create awareness on the issue. And the group ‘We for Reservations’ (v4reservations@gmail.com) has announced a conference on reservations in Ponda, on August 28.


Bahujan Goa is fighting back.


(With thanks to the ‘Discrimination in Reservations’ workshop conducted by Yugandraj Redkar and Prof. Alito Siqueira.)


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 28 July, 2016)

One Part Existence

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They don’t exist in surveys conducted. They don’t self-declare their existence. The light of the Constitution is not allowed to shine in the poisonous gas-filled sewers in which they work. Even the ordinary labour laws pass them by, when they work in the most dangerous conditions.   They are the sewerage cleaning manual scavengers in Goa.


And then they die without existing and their deaths do no create the ripples that other unnatural deaths in Goa normally do. Their cause was never a wave. They are usually migrant and they belong to a really depressed caste whose conditions fail to draw the requisite attention obviously because of the caste location of the people who are involved in decision-making.  And yet the work they do has protected health of others at a cheap rate. What can one call these deaths but ‘murders by apathy’, to borrow a phrase from A Narayan of the NGO Change India?


The newspapers reported that the two workers who died last month, had been engaged by a contractor to clear the sludge of a starred hotel at Bogmalo. A few days later, a case was booked against the contractor who had engaged the workers, though the five star resort that engaged the contractor was not at all seen as having any measure of culpability. The contractor is now reported to be missing.


Reports from different parts of India indicate that the sewerage workers who are most in need of proper labour dues and security are the ones who are generally employed as contract workers. Neither is there a scrutiny of the contractor, nor is there any onus cast on the owner of the premises for hiring a contractor who does not have anything to show by way of safety measures for his workers.


In the case of the sewerage deaths at Bogmalo also, the workers were not locals. The name of one was Gajanan Dayanand Patil, while the other was Vishal Piyush Noronha from Mangalore. What is it about our humanity that these deaths do not stir us?


There is no comprehensive data about manual scavengers. Goa is happy to even deny their existence. As per the 2011 Census, out of 3,22,813 households in Goa, 667 households had night soil disposed into open drains, but the column of the number of open drains serviced manually read as nil. Correspondingly, the State-wise funds released under the Total Sanitation Campaign during the last three years, and also the current year, for Goa was zilch.


Maybe Goa doesn’t have people carting human excreta.  But the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, defines a manual scavenger as a person engaged or employed on a regular or contract basis, by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrines is disposed of, or on a railway track or in such other spaces or premises, before the excreta fully decomposes. A person engaged or employed to clean excreta with the help of devices and protective gear is not considered a ‘manual scavenger’,


But the deaths of people now and in the past in the sewers show that manual scavenging, by way of sewerage cleaning without protective gear, is very much alive in Goa. Such workers because of the way manual scavenging is defined come within the twilight area of being manual scavengers in the sense of dealing with the sludge before complete decomposition, and yet not being definitively so considered because if they do work of this nature with the help of devices and protective gear they are not considered manual scavengers.


Earlier last month, Goa’s Directorate of Social Welfare beseeched manual scavengers to make a self declaration to the block development officer of their respective taluka about their profession so that necessary steps can be taken for their rehabilitation or regulation of their work. No one seems to have yet declared that he or she is a manual scavenger, and yet there are deaths of manual scavengers. The series of sewer deaths confirm that there are no protection systems for the workers. Therefore they should have been considered as manual scavengers and be rehabilitated.


The Tourist Trade Act must put an embargo on any tourist trade establishment engaging contractors who do not comply with labour laws and ensure proper working conditions for the workers they engage.


The system of manual scavenging is rooted in casteism that imposes this work on persons at the lower rungs of the caste hierarchy. This kind of culture that sees this work as God-ordained for certain castes finds legitimation in Narendra Modi’s book ‘Karmayog’ (2007) where he says that “manual scavenging is an experience in spirituality bestowed upon Dalits by gods and they must continue doing their work happily for centuries”. To this, one can only retort tongue in cheek, “How unfortunate that Brahmins have not been bestowed with this experience! And may be there should be 100% reservations or preference for Brahmins and other upper castes in these posts of safai karmachari in order to also experience this spirituality!” After all, in August last year, the Central Government had listed manual scavenging as a career option on its National Career Services Portal.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 14 July, 2016)