The idyll that never was: Goa and the Indian elites

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by Jason Keith Fernandes

It was with anger and disbelief that I read Deepti Kapoor’s recent article in The Guardian titled “An idyll no more: why I’m leaving Goa”. While there is no denying that Goa is in fact facing a looming ecological and political crisis, what is galling is that Kapoor does not acknowledge her own role in the mess that Goans find themselves in. Kapoor is silent about the privilege that she enjoys – the privilege of the (largely North) Indian elites, who dominated British India, led the anti-colonial nationalist movement, and who now operate as the embodiment of colonial power in places like Goa. This is precisely the relationship that is to blame for the many ills that Kapoor documents, and that allows Kapoor to escape Goa with relatively no loss, while Goans are left not only with a ruined ecology and social fabric but a continuing brutal colonial relationship with India.shackles

The relationship of the Indian elites to Goa is by no means innocent. For that matter, neither is the relationship of India to Goa. Rather, these relationships are built on the willful ignoring of history, to enable Indians to create Goa and Goans not only as property of the Indian empire but as a pleasure park where they can imagine themselves to be in their own little part of Europe. Take, for example, the way in which Kapoor chooses to label older houses in Goa “Portuguese villas” despite the fact that many Goans, including scholars, have pointed out that there is nothing Portuguese to these homes. Except for the fact that they were built by Goans, who were Portuguese citizens at the time, these were, and are, Goan homes. The reason for this stubborn insistence is linked to the fact that these houses are in high demand by the Indian elites who choose to own second homes in Goa. It is precisely in calling the built forms “Portuguese” that Goa and Goans are transformed into props that allow for the territory to be read as Europe in South Asia, as a seaside Riviera where Indian elites can play out their European fantasies.

This colonial relationship, it should be pointed out, is not unique to the relationship between Goa and India. In fact, it follows a longer colonial relationship enjoyed by the Northern European, and principally British elites, with the European South – namely, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. It was to these historically Catholic locations that the largely Protestant elites of the North fled to enjoy not just the sun but the pleasures of the flesh. The European South, and by extension the overseas colonies of these countries, were marked out as spaces for frolic and relaxation, and fabulous lifestyles afforded as a result of the poorer economies of the host locations. Additionally, these locations were identified as places for inspiration for artistes and writers. In post-colonial times, the elite British Indian has actively taken on the gaze and privilege of the British overlord, and looks at Goa precisely through the lenses that the British used to view the European South.  No wonder then that Kapoor, author of the novel A Bad Character (2014), also chose Goa as a place for future writing projects.

The continuation of this imperial gaze is also deeply rooted in colonial politics. As Sukanya Banerjee demonstrates in her book Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire (2010), the end of empire and the creation of an independent nation-state was not the goal envisaged by early Indian nationalists. On the contrary, South Asian dominant caste elites were stakeholders in the empire rather than its opponents. Given this proximity to the imperial project, what they deeply desired was the status of Imperial British citizen and equality with the British overlord. Banerjee also demonstrates the way that Gandhi himself was invested in the pursuit of this status. The figure of Gandhi is critical here, because it was he who effectively created a mass movement by recruiting subaltern groups to make what had earlier been a largely elitist cause. This mass recruitment was necessary for the elites to be taken seriously by the British Crown. The Crown was convinced that while the Indians merited the status of subjects, they could not be imperial citizens and thereby claim equality with the British. The rallying of the masses forced a change in the nature of the movement to assume the character of a nationalist anti-colonial project. Independence was now the only answer.

Thus, the objective of the nationalist elites was, rather, parity with the British and participation in the imperial project. The continued desire for imperial prominence that motivated these caste elites ensured a number of features that have marked post-colonial India. By exerting various pressures on the princely states and acquiring, forcefully if necessary, the territories of other colonial powers, the nationalist elites put together an Indian empire that even the British Raj had not managed to. This new post-colonial empire was held in place by retaining most of the colonial laws, and an imperial perspective guided the relationship with the territories and peoples that were assimilated into post-colonial India. Thus, along with Goan houses being labeled “Portuguese”, Goans have been marked out as fun-loving, relaxed, and laid back, just as the southern Europeans and Latins. Further, just as the British elites travelled to the European South for sensorial excess, so too has Goa been marked out as a place for excess. Note that Kapoor’s narrative suggests that her brother had his mind blown – normally a reference to the effect of psychotropic drugs – when he saw his first nudist in Goa. The Kapoor family’s relationship with Goa seems to be marked by an excess that is unavailable in India. As R. Benedito Ferrão points out, Kapoor suggests her own sensorial relationship with Goa through the excessive exclamation marks that she uses when listing the things that brought her to Goa: “The beaches! The restaurants! The music, and the people!” Further, as if to prove the point of a continuity between the imperial British and the contemporary imperial Indian elite, Kapoor states that she has decided “to look toward Europe or Latin America” in her search for a new place to live. It should be obvious that Latin America is placed along the same continuum as Goa in terms of being the place of Iberian influenced tropical languor and excess. Therefore, Kapoor will merely shift from Goa to another location that offers a similar southern European backdrop for the party.

Interestingly, the insistence of Indians, such as Kapoor, on labeling the built landscape in Goa as different from India reveals a disinclination to be attentive to the historical and legal differences of this former Portuguese territory. Unlike the legal scenario that unfolded in British India, Goans were constitutionally recognized as Portuguese citizens as far back as the early 1800s. This resulted in a restricted segment of the population being entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. And vote they did. Goan elites regularly sent voluble representatives to Lisbon, who established the legal and social parity of Goans with metropolitan Portuguese. This situation was temporarily suspended in the years when Goa, like the rest of Portugal, suffered an authoritarian regime from the 1930s until 1974. It was in this situation that India sent troops in to militarily wrest Goa from the Portuguese. Rather than engage with the political agency that was being expressed within and outside of the territory, India simply asserted sovereignty over the territory and extended citizenship to persons residing in the territory. Given the right of colonized peoples to self-determination, this was an act for which there was no legal precedent, but was based on the assertion of a dubious argument of cultural homogeneity.

With the normalization of relations between Portugal and India in 1975, Portugal recognized the continuing right of citizenship of residents of its former territories in India. As consciousness of this continuing right percolates through Portuguese Indian society, many have chosen to access and assert this right. The Indian state, and consequently most Indians, however, fail to see this as a resumption of an existing right. They see it instead, as the acquisition of dual citizenship, which some argue is prohibited by the Indian legal system. This places Portuguese Indians – in this case, Goans – in an awkward situation, where they have to give up political engagement with Goa, and a host of other rights, if they choose to assert their right to Portuguese citizenship. Like most Indians, Kapoor seems to fail to recognize this complexity and naively suggests that Goans are leaving, or, as she puts it, “looking elsewhere”. As I articulated in an essay some time ago, Goans are not leaving; they are merely employing one more way to maintain their historical connections and pursue livelihood options. It is only in the face of an Indian state that refuses to recognize the complexity of Portuguese Indian history, and prevents this movement, that Goans are, in fact, being forced to leave.

At the end of the day, it is the refusal to recognize this most basic of rights, that of citizenship pre-existing the Indian takeover of Goa that complicates the relationship of India, and Indians, with Goa, and Goans. The refusal to recognize a pre-existing constitutional right of citizenship transforms the Indian presence in Goa into one of occupation and not post-colonial liberation.

colonizing-goaThe colonial nature of India’s presence in Goa is perhaps best captured in the way the territory has been actively converted into India’s pleasure periphery. In his book, Refiguring Goa (2015), Raghuraman S. Trichur points out that “it was only after the state sponsored development of tourism in the 1980s (more than two decades after Goa’s liberation/occupation in 1961), was Goa effectively integrated into the Indian nation-state” (p. 13). This is to say that the integration of this former Portuguese territory, which ought to have been given the right to self-determination, was ensured through the process of articulating Goa’s “otherness” or cultural distancing, as evidenced by the social practices and performances that constitute the tourism destination in Goa. Thus, Trichur argues, Goa’s emergence as a tourism destination is more than the fortuitous agent of economic growth: “it is also an arena, a discursive frame where the Indian State intersects with Goan society” (p. 16). Tourism, then, is precisely the way through which Indian colonialism is exercised in Goa. Indeed, the usage of “Portuguese” houses, in reference to the homes of Goans, suggests homes not continually inhabited by Goans but open for occupation by the “helpful” outsiders that come to renew Goan life.

While Kapoor correctly lists the many problems that are cropping up in Goa as a result of a tourist industry gone wild, she seems to place the responsibility for the looming ecological and social disaster primarily in Goan hands. One reads in Kapoor’s narrative the usual suggestion that it is the greedy Goans who are selling agricultural land and pulling down ancestral homes, and that the local government has no vision. What escapes her is that Goans are all too often subject to forces not within their control. Goans are trapped in an economy that, rather than working on producing more varied opportunities for the locals, has for decades now relied exclusively on tapping the extractive industries of either tourism or mining, or on overseas remittances. While the tourist economy has produced huge profits for some, incomes have not risen to keep pace with the increased cost of living. In such a context, there are two options that will assure people without the material resources or skill sets to fuel social mobility of persons who cannot achieve betterment in Goa. The first is the sale of land to persons in search of the fabled Goan lifestyle. The second is migration in search of gainful and respectable employment. The irony is that the critique of the Portuguese presence in Goa was that they failed to develop a viable economy, which required people to migrate to earn a living that would assure them and their families of a higher standard of living. Indeed, for the vast majority of the population life under Portuguese rule was experienced more as life under landlord rule. And this Goan lifestyle was no idyll. It was only through migration that they could economically emancipate themselves. It was only with the economic liberation possible through migration that Goa, now a place to return for the summers, was constructed as an idyll. As it turns out, the transition to Indian rule has not changed much, as many Goans are still forced to migrate.

Yet it is not economics alone that Goans are trapped by but, the political system itself. There is a clear understanding among the many groups in the territory that this system is not delivering good governance and that there is a need for dramatic change. In their imitation of Britain, British Indians adopted the unsophisticated first-past-the-post system of determining political representatives. As Dr. Ambedkar pointed out, the ills of the system are such that it does not allow for marginalized groups to find a voice in the legislature. Even though there are moves to shift to a system of proportional representation, it seems unlikely that there will be a change anytime soon. Thus, Goans are chained to a political structure that they had no say in determining, and that clearly does not work for their territory, given that it reproduces persons who represent majoritarian politics. One wonders whether Goan politics may not have been dramatically different if the people of the territory were allowed to innovate with a proportional representation system followed in Portugal.

But Kapoor’s text is not merely illustrative of the problem that Goans have with the Indian elites. Rather, it exposes the colonial relationship of these elites with marginalized Indian populations. The trouble with the Indian elites is that they do not see themselves as a part of the political processes of the subcontinent, believing themselves too good for the rest of the citizens of India. Indeed, this is part of their adoption of the colonial gaze. These elites see the residents of the rest of the continent as a strange race that requires firm governance. The review of Kapoor’s book by Prashansa Taneja makes this quite obvious when she reports, “more often than not, she gives into the temptation to exoticise Delhi, and India, for the reader. Many Indian women cover their heads on a daily basis, but when Idha [the character in Kapoor’s book] does so at a Sufi shrine, she feels she becomes ‘Persian, dark-eyed, pious and transformed’.” One could argue that she succumbs to the use of clichés precisely because like other members of her class, Kapoor looks at the people in the city of Delhi, through a gaze adopted from the Raj.

woman-on-the-beachGoa and Goans are locked in an unequal and unfair colonial relationship with India. Until and unless this inequality and injustice are resolved, and the relationship is made more equal – indeed, until the colonial equation at the heart of the imperial Indian project is resolved – Goa and Goans may be doomed to destruction. Kapoor’s text is offensive precisely because she is blind to these facts, and while also being blind to her own privilege is completely oblivious to the extent to which her article is a gripe about the loss of her own privileges. Kapoor’s problem seems to lie in the fact that with other Indians, and not just other elites but all sorts, coming to play with her toy, the party has been ruined. While Kapoor may be able to trip off to some other island paradise and live the life of the wandering elite, where, pray, will the Goans go?

(A version of this post was first published in Raiot on 17 Oct 2016)

Caste Atrocities in Goa: A Fight against Invisibilisation

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Goa has been making headlines of late for violent crime. But while there has been criticism of the over-the-top way in which many of these crimes are reported and discussed, it is much worse when the violence is not reported at all, when it is in fact ‘invisibilised’ and thus normalised. Many Goans might not even know that a community called the Wanarmari existed before the recent newspaper reports of an attack on their settlement in Nirakal-Bethoda, Ponda. But this incident was only the latest and most overt form of violence faced by this community, one of the most marginalised in Goa. As the Goa govt danced attendance on BRICS, where Modi swanned around as the leader of the ‘largest democracy in the world’, not half an hour away is a community of Goans who have never voted, besides being denied basic education, healthcare, jobs and housing.

As the newspapers reported, on 16th October, some 30 villagers of Nirakal barged into the small Wanarmari hamlet, when the adults of the community were away at work. The intruders ripped the roofs – made of palm leaves and plastic sheets – off all the huts, and broke the timber posts of some, sending the huts crashing to the ground. Then they destroyed all the possessions inside, especially the most valuable ones, like the solar panels (the only source of night lighting in the settlement), food stocks, children’s school uniforms, stored water (carried manually from a stream one hour away), vessels, along with the vegetable and fruit trees planted near the houses.

One of the destroyed huts of the Vanarmare community. Photo: Amita Kanekar.

A week earlier, on 8th October, newspapers had reported that some Nirakal villagers had met the District Collector, and also the Industries Minister and local MLA, Mr. Mahadev Naik, to evict the Wanarmari from the village, calling them ‘dirty’ and ‘a nuisance’. Before that, on 2nd October, some villagers had visited the hamlet while the menfolk were away fishing, to threaten the women there that they would burn all the houses down; the women, fearing for their lives, ran into the jungle with their children. Finally, about a year ago, the press had reported that the Bethoda Panchayat had passed a resolution to evict the community from the village.

The Social Justice Action Committee – Goa had actually made a complaint to the Collector about a week ago, chronicling this growing harassment and demanding action before things got worse. However, nothing was done till after the 16th Oct. attack. The police even admitted that, thanks to BRICS, they had no manpower to spare; everything had to wait till Modi left the state. It is taken for granted that security for the PM means unprotected citizens!

But what was the reason for the attack? The victims themselves find it inexplicable. ‘Nothing has happened here between them and us. No fights, no problems, no complaints.’ They have worked off and on for their assaulters’ families over three generations now, they point out. And while it is true that the villagers sometimes take offence when a request for labour is met with refusal – saying: we allow you to stay and you refuse to work for us? – this has never lead to violence.

But the answer can perhaps be found in the changed context. The Wanarmaris, who call themselves Kathkari, belong to a larger tribal group living mostly in Maharashtra, where they are listed as a Primitive Tribal Group. In Goa, however, they do not have even ST status. Traditionally hunters, they were forced to give this up by the forest authorities some decades ago, and thus became wage labourers seeking work on farms, fields, and orchards. And, although they have lived in Nirakal for at least three generations now, it was never a continuous settled residence. ‘After we finished a season of work, we would be told to go,’ says Gopal S. Powar. ‘So we would go somewhere else. There too, we would be driven away after our work was done.’

Nomadism was thus not a choice. And, although they contributed to agricultural production in the region, they got little in return. But things changed in the last 4-5 years. Thanks to interactions with social activists, the people decided to send their children to school, and therefore to settle down. The younger children are now studying in Nirakal’s government primary school. Today the community has ration and adhaar cards. They were also provided solar lamps in order to facilitate the studies of the school-going kids. Now they have applied for voter’s cards.

Thus, they are finally getting the first of their basic rights as citizens. But could this in fact be the problem? After the Sunday attack, a large mob led by the Nirakal sarpanch had the audacity to visit the hamlet in order to remind the community – right in front of the police – that they had been warned to leave the village long ago. From where does this hatred come? There seems to be a resentment of the changing lives of the Vanarmare, a desire for them to remain as they were, i.e. nomadic, ignorant, and without any rights. Behind these sentiments is not just traditional casteism, but also the conviction that development for all is not possible; in such a situation it is easier to demonise and target a weaker group, rather than question the system.

And the same attitudes prevail elsewhere too: high-society murders lead to op-eds about Goa going to the dogs if it can’t attract and protect such elites, but sustained cruelty over generations to hard-working and sustainable-living tribals creates not a whimper of disquiet.

The Wanarmari say they are determined to secure their children’s right to a decent life. But will the administration – as much, if not more, to blame as all of us– get its act together at least now, to ensure at least basic security and development to all?

With thanks to Gopal S. Powar, Shalan T. Powar, Santosh G. Powar, Anjini D. Nikam, and other residents of the Vanarmare settlement, Nirakal-Bethora.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 20 October, 2016)

Z Axis 2016: Of Architectural Heritage and Contexts

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‘Everything is our heritage’, was one of the memorable statements made at Z Axis 2016, the second conference on architecture organised last month by the Charles Correa Foundation (CCF) in Goa. It was said by Chinese architect Yung Ho Chang, while speaking about how he looked for inspiration to ancient China, Soviet-era China, Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, Modernist Germany, and all buildings anywhere. At a time when attempts are on to force people in Goa and India into nationalist straitjackets of what is ‘our’ culture, diet, language, history, etc, it was refreshing to hear an argument for global heritage, even if only from the limited realm of architectural practice.


And it is limited. Architecture may include all buildings, but the practice of architecture, or what architects (are expected to) do, touches only a small fraction of them. According to Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum, winner of this year’s Aga Khan Award and another speaker at Z Axis 2016, as many as 90% of buildings are built without architects.


Even so, thinking about architectural practice is useful. Because the apparently tiny 10% comprises the big projects, the public ones, the expensive ones, and almost all the problematic, wasteful, and destructive ones. We architects desperately need to look critically at what we’re doing, if not stop doing it. The annual conference begun by the CCF in 2015 is thus a very welcome event.


Like most such events, the two editions so far have been uneven, in content as well as diversity, with almost no women speakers in 2015, and non-upper caste and local (Goan) speakers noticeable by their absence both times.


The 2015 conference, on the state of the city and titled Great City… Terrible Place, still set a high standard thanks to stellar presentations by two architects: Kunlé Adeyemi and Santiago Cirugeda. Nigerian Adeyemi’s firm NLÉ (At Home) works with local communities to develop projects like the award-winning Floating School of Makoko, part of a settlement once condemned as a slum. Spanish ‘guerrilla architect’ Cirugeda went further, challenging practically everything architects normally stand for. His architectural firm, Recetas Urbanas (Urban Recipes), is famous for reclaiming public spaces for communities in Seville, with low-cost and self-build projects in which the architect plays the role of facilitator, not for design or technical issues – those are handled by the community – but to deal with the law, politics, and bureaucracy.  Architecture is obsessed with beauty, said Cirugeda, when the really important things should be people and social function.


It was an electrifying presentation, especially for a conservative patron-driven profession like architecture. The discomfort in the student-filled auditorium was palpable, giving the lie to the idea that students love revolutionaries.


There was nothing quite as exciting at the 2016 conference, Buildings as Ideas, intended as a tribute to the late Charles Correa. At the outset, Rahul Mehrotra spoke of how Correa ‘reached into history to tradition’ as the context of Indian architecture. Some of the other presentations also touched upon context, in the realm of form, materials, landscape, as well as tradition. Too many however remained with beautiful-buildings-in-beautiful-settings, with far too many of the vacation homes, art galleries, and monuments that have given architects such a bad name.


Architecture is really a pathetic profession, admitted Chang at one point. ‘We don’t really contribute much, when we could do much more.’ One practise that seemed to buck the trend was that of Hunnarshala Foundation in Kutch, described (in absentia) by its founder, Sandeep Virmani. Hunnarshala’s focus is community-driven projects that are sustainable and make the most of traditional knowledge. One of its aims has been to revive and modernise traditional techniques of building, and train people, often villagers, in them. Some of their students have built successful careers in building techniques and even worked abroad. It has also been trying this—i.e. applying modern science to traditional community knowledge—in water-harvesting, animal husbandry, and other areas.


Hunnarshala thus stood out as a different kind of architectural practice, working with non-elite communities and their need of better shelter and jobs. Its focus on tradition, however, raises questions. How does the strengthening of a village’s traditions affect its normally casteist, patriarchal, and parochial culture? Was it better for marginalised castes and women when traditions were strong, or weak?


Some of these concerns were illustrated in another presentation, also connected to Hunnarshala, by Bombay architect Sameep Padora. It included varied urban projects, a village temple, and a community centre for Dalit Buddhist workers in a factory, the last in collaboration with Hunnarshala. The temple was presented as an exercise in form, ignoring its role of institutionalising caste, while the community centre had a floor made of – guess what? – cowdung. This extremely fragile, rough, and smelly flooring, once traditional for the village poor, was chosen because of the tight budget, said the architect. However, he added, it connects the users to the building since they have to redo it themselves every fifteen days.


But would he or Hunnarshala ever offer this ‘connection’ to the users of their other projects? Then why here? Could it be because of the social location of these users as so-called ‘low’ castes? Or the fact that, in caste society, cow dung and cow urine are traditional ways of purifying space supposedly polluted by the ‘low’?


Some answers were to be had from South African architect Ilze Wolff, who spoke of buildings as bad ideas. Her focus was the Apartheid-era Modernist architecture of an old factory building in Capetown. Pointing out how discrimination based on race, gender and class could be ‘read’ in the architecture, in the separate spaces, differing sizes of space, and differing qualities of space, Wolff too spoke of the importance of context in architecture, but what she meant was the social context, of race and gender.


In South Asia, the social context is caste. Charles Correa had spoken of how all Indian architecture is connected, whether vernacular, Modernist or monumental. One important connect is this context of caste. It is visible all over the place, but especially readable in traditional building and settlement types. This is probably why elites here, architects included, feel so attached to the latter. Our heritage might be the whole world, but what we hold on to reveals our own social location.


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

Goa: A Poster State for BRICS

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When BRICS leaders will converge in Goa mid-October, it is believed that they will be discussing industrialisation, counter-terrorism, tourism, banking, bio-technology, cooperation… And typical to summits such as these, broadening of roads and ‘connectivity’ have preceded.

Naturally, people are asking what are these summits for, who are the broad roads for and who is the connectivity for? The irony of this cannot be lost, given that Goa is a poster host for such summits and also a poster state of the very kind of BRICS-perpetrated development, and, yet, is also a case in evidence that this development model is not working. It would be important therefore for the BRICS leaders to take a peep into how this ‘development’ is panning out in the host state.

The nature of industrialisation that the BRICS leaders are talking about has however also pushed a lot of people towards migration because the industries that were set up did not match or harness the skills of the people in Goa who most needed the jobs. Even as this industrialisation displaced people from the only livelihoods they knew and had. For instance, around 4050 hectares of land under de facto tribal occupation in the central belt of Sancoale, Loutolim, and Cansaulim, was forcibly acquired for an industrial estate in which the community found little space.  The other side of this coin is the in-migration of poor non Goans, who votebank politics has bred illwill against while distracting from the colonisation by the big corporates from within and without.

Tourism development has also been the cover for casinos, golf courses, and the like. These make Goa the playground of the Indian and foreign rich at the cost of water resources, lengthening of women’s work days, and hikes in land and food prices, among other things.  The kind of support, for instance, that the corporate Leading Hotels has enjoyed from the State to set up a golf course at Goa’s Northern tip of Tiracol, in the face of stiff opposition from local people is unparallelled.

Land for homes and livelihoods goes beyond the reach of even the average Goan. Staple food is taken away from the plates of Goans. The proposed IT Parks and biotechnology Parks have been decoded to show that they are nothing but real estate scams that seek to sneak in townships and gated communities where the rule of law is specially dismantled in the guise of ‘development’.

As for the proposed BRICS New Development Bank, who will be the beneficiaries of such a Bank? Will it again be wealth-begets-wealth with the kind of acceptable collaterals that only the super-rich and the big transnational corporates possess? Will it be for only those kinds of activities and on that kind of scale that simple local people and their cooperatives do not and cannot engage in?  In other words, old wine in a new bottle?

Counter-terrorism laws? Behind each time the National Security Act or the TADA was invoked or threatened to be invoked in Goa, there is a story of economic and political dissent that the ruling party wanted to quell by hook or by crook.

And broad roads? They have meant displacement from the livelihoods of people who occupied the land that the roads took over. Huge trees have been cut. Thus they have meant inroads into Goa to make it beyond recognition, environmentally and politically.

Connectivity? It is about doctors roped in by the ruling party to connect their dots by addressing a press conference about the safety of mobile towers, no prizes for guessing which company, in the run up to BRICS to ensure connectivity for the Official BRICS delegates in South Goa. One such oncologist was known to be a super-Dean of the Goa Medical College as far back as 2001, and never brought this up then. That says it all!

As for REAL cooperation, it seems more about cooperation between or with big corporates. Smart cities, model villages are being founded on the backs of marginalised communities.  The recently announced MOU of Environment Ministers to cooperate, to conserve ponds rivers and ponds seems more like greenwashing the extractive mining policies and mega environmentally destructive projects actively facilitated by these Governments. While necessary, it is akin to planting trees, while sanctioning tree-slaughter of entire groves.

Why not cooperation to address trafficking of women? Or to ensure that local labour is gainfully employed and not rendered vulnerable by the kind of trade agreements the countries’ leaders sign, waiving off even minimum labour guarantees? Even Goa’s approximately 35% organised labour force has reason to be concerned.

Ever so many questions, as the Summit nears, straight out of people’s mouths, or mediated through civil society groups, a couple of whom have constituted themselves into a People’s Forum on BRICS. If BRICS was formed as a counter to a certain power hegemony that sought to exclude certain countries, shouldn’t it challenge that kind of hegemony even within?

Goa is a poster case for the BRICS summit for foregrounding the pangs of the present development model. It poses a challenge to interrogate democracy, justice and development, from the yardsticks of equity, people’s participation, decent wages and dignity for all. Goa wants development that is people-centric and is rooted in a creative engagement with its land and its resources. Goa wants peace. And so do BRICS countries and peoples the world over.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 6 October, 2016)

Portuguese Citizenship and the Debugging of Indian Imaginations

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I read with interest the recent opinion piece “The Portuguese nationality bug”  on the vexed issue of the rights of Portuguese Indians to Portuguese citizenship and was disappointed by the author’s refusal to see the larger picture. I suspect that this is because the author seeks to resolve the question within the narrow frames of Indian nationalism. As a result, the argument forwarded in the op-ed seems to buttress the rights of the state over those of citizens. Such legality will only strengthen the growing authoritarianism of the Indian state over subjects who, while formally citizens, increasingly lack the space to realize this condition.

In the opinion piece citizenship is presented as a status that is conferred by a state. This is not only a peculiarly lawyerly perspective but also a dated idea. Unsurprisingly, the argument refers to a judgment of the US Supreme Court from 1875. The wider field of contemporary citizenship theory recognizes that citizenship is more than a status, rather a condition to be realized. In these more recent understandings, as evidenced in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) for example, rights are not conferred by a state, but inhere in the individual. Even the Indian Constitution recognizes that it is the people who constitute the state as evidenced in the famous lines of the preamble “We the People of India….” Thus, a post-colonial political theory recognizes that states are actually constituted by the people, which formally recognize the rights of people. With the passage of time as our appreciation of the depths of rights grows, states are required to recognize these evolving rights. Indeed, this was very much the case with India as well when from about the 1950s the existing fundamental rights were dramatically expanded through the interpretations offered by the Supreme Court.

Of the many rights that inhere in individuals, surely the right of citizenship is the most fundamental.If there was one single right that the anti-colonial nationalist movements fought for, it was the right of citizenship. As in the case of British India, the initial demand was for the right to imperial citizenship, and it was only because the British, hobbled by a racist imagination, failed to recognize this right, that the Indian nationalists pressed forward for a national citizenship.

Citizenship must necessarily be distinguished from nationality. These are two distinct concepts and must theoretically be kept separate. While citizenship involves a gamut of rights that allow one to be a political subject, nationality is the status of belonging that the nation confers on some individuals, and restricts from others. This is to say, the first deals with rights, while the second is the realm of cultural belonging. One of the reasons why the debate on the Portuguese Indian rights to Portuguese citizenship is so vexed is because the various parties fail to recognize the fundamental differences between these two concepts. This is obvious even in the opinion piece where there is a constant switch between the terms nationality and citizenship as if they were the same.

This failure is not surprising given that the nation-state form that has been taken up across the world purposely seeks to conflate the concept of the state and the nation. The famous philosopher Hannah Arendt refers to this as “the transformation of the state from an instrument of the law into an instrument of the nation”. Taking up this idea, other scholars have pointed out that “It was this conquest that defined citizens of the state as nationals whether defined racially, ethically, culturally or even religiously”. There is, in fact, no good reason for the two concepts to be conflated. A state can compromise multiple nations, while nations need not have a state. Take the case of Belgium, which is composed of people that identify with two different nationalities, the Flemish and the Walloon. Or take India, which can be said to comprise different nationalities, but refuses to recognize, and in principle rightly so, that each of these nations needs its own state. Indeed, the foundation of the contemporary international order as an association of nation-states can be traced back precisely to the racist imaginations of the colonial order. To this extent, the assertions of Portuguese Indians to retaining their Portuguese citizenship while also accepting that of India stands to offer the world a model in terms of post-colonial citizenship precisely because it is born of an early modern experience that differs dramatically from the colonial experience rooted in late-modernity.

What does come out in striking clarity from the argument in the opinion piece referred to above is the legal position of the former citizens of Portuguese India in the Indian republic. In addition to the legal formulation that the argument the op-ed relies on, and the military action of 1961, this population is not a liberated population able to act on equal footing with other individuals from British India, but in fact a subjugated population whose “rights” depend on what the State of India grants them. The noted philosopher Partha Chatterjee has recently articulated a concept of political society that addresses precisely this point. He argues that not all who are formally recognized as citizens enjoy rights. Chatterjee suggests that these people are members not of civil society, but political society. Members of political society do not enjoy rights, which are permanent and inhere in the individual; they are merely extended temporary concessions when these excluded groups challenge the status quo. Once the status quo is secure these concessions can and often are revoked.

Reading the argument in “The Portuguese nationality bug” in the context of this framework, given that the citizenship rights of Portuguese Indians seem to depend on the whims of the Indian state, one can see that what the Portuguese Indians enjoy are not rights that inhere in the individual and are not granted by the state, but merely temporary privileges that can be, and are, rolled back when the State feels like. The privilege of Indian nationality was extended to these groups when the Indian state needed to consolidate its hold over the newly conquered territories creating the mirage of extension of citizenship when in fact the recognition of their pre-existing rights is what would have constituted acceptance into Indian civil society.  It needs to be noted that this is not the position of the Portuguese state that recognizes the continuing rights of citizens in territories over which it formerly claimed sovereignty.

The argument also fails to appreciate the federal nature of the Indian Union, a vision that is embodied in the Constitution. The Indian constitution patently allows for a diversity of legal regimes within the Indian Union. Take, for instance, Art. 370 of the Constitution that allows for Kashmir to have its own constitution. This particular article is the subject of much vituperation but the fact is that such resentment against Art. 370 has been the result of Hindu nationalist opposition. Ironically it is Hindu nationalism which is contrary to the constitutional mandate. Art. 370 must therefore be seen as embodying the basic structure of the Indian constitution that makes space for a federal structure that incorporates widely different polities within a single structure. Consider also the fact that Buddhist monks and nuns in Sikkim get a double vote to ensure the representative of the Sangha in the legislature. This argument for legal pluralism can also be buttressed by reference to the reports on the conclusion of the Indian state’s negotiations with the Naga activists. Though the terms of the agreement are still secret, if a dubious news report is to be believed it appears that the Indian state, under Prime Minister Modi, has agreed to the Naga demand for a separate Constitution, as well as a separate flag. Such an agreement, if true, would testify to the capacity of the Indian Union to accommodate legal difference within a single federal structure.

A resolution of the question of the Portuguese citizenship of denizens of the former Portuguese India could contribute to the failing health of the Indian Union. It would allow an assertion of the dignity of the rights-bearing individual in opposition to asserting the right of a potentially tyrannical Indian state. It would contribute to the constitutional imagination of a federal India, an imagination that has unfortunately been undermined by the desires of Hindu nationalists and successive central governments.

For a long time the question regarding the legitimacy of Portuguese Indians holding on to both Portuguese and Indian citizenship is being debated in a dry and inspired manner. Given that the question is admittedly complex, the resolution cannot be obtained through a niggardly attention to the letter of the law. Rather, what is required is a reference not merely to the spirit that animates laws, but to the larger questions of postcolonial justice and the rights of individuals, this is to say a reference to political theory and the philosophy of law. What is required is not a debugging of Portuguese nationality, but Indian imaginations.

(A version of this post was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 4 October, 2016)