Reflections on Republic Day

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Come Republic Day and an apparent prevailing disregard for the Constitution becomes an occasion to stock take and introspect.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court came down heavily on tendency of re-promulgation of ordinances. The apex court reasoned that this can amount to a fraud on the constitution, when an edifice of rights is built by subverting due legislative processes. It termed it as legislative overreach.

Leave alone re-promulgation of an ordinance, even an ordinance is required to be promulgated under exceptional circumstances, as it signifies a departure from the basic constitutional order. In this also, Goa did not lag behind. The Goa Regularization of Unauthorised Construction Ordinance, was promulgated on 24th June, 2016, without any coherent reason for not waiting for the matter to be discussed in the Assembly.

A disturbing development is the accentuation of how ‘difference’ is being treated or deployed. The Constitution of India considers that to treat individuals located differently on the social and economic spectrum, the same way, would be to treat them unequally. But the ruling dispensation does exactly this: it treats differently located people the same way resulting in inequality.

People in an unequal situation cannot be treated the same way. Writing in 1894, French novelist Anatole France had sarcastically remarked, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread”. Fast forward to November 2016 and there is still a basis for articulating such sarcasm, despite a Constitution that upholds the principle of substantive equality. Prime Minister Modi announced, in the aftermath of demonetisation, that “this (meaning demonetisation) move has brought the rich and the poor on the same tangent”. He completely missed the point that the rich can negotiate tangents with their financial clout, while the poor cannot. For instance, the rich could swipe their cards at malls, while the poor were cashless, cardless and even shirtless. The small vendor has been struggling with her business, which is not something the rich businessman (such as a mall-owner) would have to endure.

Another disturbing aspect is how ‘difference’ is deployed to imply that Goa may not need the special provisions focussed on addressing the discrimination based on difference. Even recently, at a youth convention in Goa, former Chief Minister (and currently India’s Defence Minister) Manohar Parrikar blew hot and cold stating that “though the situation in Goa is different, the social condition of SC and ST people across the country is not good”. Again completely missing the point that the reservation policy mandated by the Constitution, is grossly violated by the State in Goa. And as if this was not bad enough, even the wings of Commissions statutorily set up to monitor the enforcement of rights of marginalised sections, are clipped by a mere executive order when they choose to act on their respective mandate. As has most recently been the case with the Goa State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which has been told in no uncertain terms that it has no jurisdiction to look into denial of constitutional protection in service matters, after some persons began to tap the potential of the Commission for redressing denial of reservations.

It seems that Goa’s difference has over the years been projected to its disadvantage. It was the basis, for the Parliament not extending the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, suggesting that Goa’s women are not afflicted by the problem of dowry because Goa has a uniform civil code, where sons and daughters have equal rights to parental property. As if the uniform civil code has a correlation with the incidence or lack of incidence of dowry demand and dowry related harassment. Thus they made having the uniform civil code a reasonable classification for denying Goa some of the laws enacted in the rest of India to address women’s issues. It took a lot of persuasion by the women’s movement in Goa to get the law finally extended over three decades later.

Same with the acknowledgement of the existence of child sexual abuse and other crimes. The State has always tried to shirk responsibility by denial or by making odious comparisons. Ditto with the existence of AIDS in Goa. In these cases, the myth of difference – of being peaceful and safe, was sought to be deployed to cover up the existence and consequently to deprive the local population of appropriate measures of redressal.

Why, after reneging on last time’s poll promise of special status, as reflected in its 2012 election manifesto, the BJP’s Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar now says that Goa cannot get special status as it tops on all fronts. The arguments of a different history and connected consequences for citizenship, including holding of agricultural property and voting rights, as the rationale for a special status, are quietly swept under the carpet, not even considered.

Thus we see that difference is either not recognised, or the discriminatory attitude to being differently located in or vis-à-vis power, works negatively, but positive discrimination has rarely been the privilege of those in Goa who deserve it most.

Or where the difference is recognised, Goa and its people are commodified, used and abused. Everyone in Goa, it seems, has to remain content with Goa being referred to as a mole that lends beauty to the nation. Amit Shah in his recent visit reflected the spirit in which dominant India, including the ruling establishment, looks at Goa. Different and commodified, for selfish motives of a select few.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 26 January, 2017)

आंतोनियो कॉश्तांच्या माफीचे राजकारण

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कौस्तुभ नाईक/KAUSTUBH NAIK

गोमंतकीय वंशाचे व पोर्तुगालचे सद्याचे पंतप्रधान आंतोनियो कॉश्ता हे गोवा भेटीवर असतानाचे निमित्त साधून साडेचारशे वर्षाच्या पोर्तुगीज राजवटीसाठी कॉश्ता ह्यांनी माफी मागावी अशी मागणी महाराष्ट्रवादी गोमंतक पक्षाचे नेते सुदिन ढवळीकर ह्यांनी केली आहे. ऐन निवडणुकीच्या तोंडावर आलेली ही मागणी आणि ढवळीकरांचे सनातनी हिंदुत्वप्रेम लक्षात घेतल्यास ह्या मागणीचा रोख नेमका कुठे आहे हे सुज्ञास सांगायची गरज नाही. पण अशा घोषणामागे गोव्याच्या वसाहतवादी इतिहासाचे एकसुरी चित्र रंगवून सामाजिक तेढ निर्माण करण्याचे प्रयत्न अधोरेखित केले पाहिजे.

पोर्तुगीजांनी गोव्यावर साडेचारशे वर्षे राज्य केले खरे पण आपण एक लक्षात घेतले पाहिजे कि साडेचारशे वर्षे हा खूप मोठा कालखंड आहे. ह्या कालखंडात पोर्तुगीज राजवटीत तसेच जागतिक वसाहतवादाच्या इतिहासात अनेक स्थित्यंतरे घडली. मुळात सद्याचा गोवा प्रदेश पोर्तुगीजांनी जुन्या व नव्या काबिजादी अश्या दोन टप्प्यात काबीज केला. ह्या दोन्ही काबिजादी पोर्तुगीजांच्या अंमलाखाली येण्यामध्येच सुमारे दोनशे वर्षांचे अंतर आहे. नव्या काबिजादी पोर्तुगीजांच्या राजवटीखाली येता येता पोर्तुगीज सत्ताकारणाचे धार्मिक पैलू बदलले होते त्यामुळे साडेचारशे वर्षे सतत इथल्या लोकांचा धार्मिक छळ वगैरे झाला हे एक मोठे थोतांड आहे. जुन्या काबिजादीत देखील जी धर्मांतरे झाली ती सगळीच काही तथाकथित जुलुमांतर्गत झाली नसून त्याकाळाच्या जातीय समीकरणांचा ही धर्मांतरे घडवून आणण्यात खूप मोठा हात होता ह्याचे अनेक तपशील विविध इतिहासकारांनी नोंदवलेले आहे. गोमंतकीय इतिहासाची मींमासा करताना आपण हेही लक्षात ठेवले पाहिजे कि गोमंतकीय समाज हा काही एकजिनसी स्वरूपाचा नसून जात, धर्म व वर्गवार वैविध्य व विषमता असलेला हा समाज आहे. गोमंतकीय समाजाच्या विविध घटकांचा पोर्तुगीज सत्तेशी विविध पातळीवर संबंध होता. इथल्या स्थानिक ब्राह्मणांचे वर्चस्व हे बहुतांशी त्यांच्या पोर्तुगीज राजवटीकडे असलेल्या जवळीकेमुळे आहे. गोमंतक मराठा समाजाला स्थानिक ब्राह्मणांच्या जोखडातून मुक्त करण्यात पोर्तुगीज राजवटीचा मोठा हात आहे हे राजाराम पैगीणकरांनी आपल्या आत्मचरित्रात नमूद केले आहे.त्यामुळे संपुर्ण गोमंतकीय जनतेचे पोर्तुगीजांकडे एकसुरी व शत्रुत्वाचे संबंध होते असे मानणेही इतिहासाला धरून नाही. नव्या काबिजादीत पोर्तुगीजांमार्फत सत्ता चालवणारे हे बहुतांशी हिंदू ब्राह्मण होते. विविध सरकारी आस्थापनात तसेच सत्तेच्या इतर व्यवहारात त्यांची वर्णी लागली होती. इथल्या बहुजन समाजाचे शोषण पोर्तुगीजांपेक्षा इथल्या ब्राह्मणांनी जास्त जवळून व जोमाने केले आहे. गोव्यात असलेली जमिनीची कोमुनिदाद व्यवस्था व देवळातील अधिकार व मालकीचे हक्क आखून देणारा महाजनी कायदा व ह्या दोहोत असलेले स्थानिक हिंदू ब्राह्मणांचे वर्चस्व हि खुद्द पोर्तुगीज सरकारने इथल्या ब्राह्मणांना दिलेली ‘सप्रेम भेट’ आहे.

हल्लीच मडकई येथील नवदुर्गा मंदिराच्या प्रकरणामुळे पोर्तुगीजकालीन महाजनी कायद्याच्या अंतर्गत असलेल्या अलोकशाही तरतुदींवर नव्याने चर्चा झाली. ढवळीकर हे खुद्द मडकई मतदारसंघाचे नेतृत्व करतात पण ह्या वादात त्यांनी कसलीच ठोस भूमिका घेतली नाही. पोर्तुगीजांनी केलेल्या अत्याचाराची जर एवढीच चीड त्यांना होती तर सेवेकरी ग्रामस्थांच्या हक्कासाठी त्यांनी निश्चितच आवाज उठवायला हवा होता आणि हा कायदा रद्द करावा अशी मागणी विधानसभेत करायाला पाहिजे होती. तसे काही झाल्याचे ऐकिवात नाही. मगो पक्ष हा एकेकाळी बहुजनावादाचा किल्ला गोव्यात लढवत होता. किंबहुना त्या बुनियादी तत्वांची जाण ठेवून पक्ष पातळीवर देखील मगो पक्षाने महाजनी कायद्याला विरोध दर्शविला नाही. इतिहासात मागे जाऊन माफीच मागायची झाली तर एक मोठी यादीच तयार करावी लागेल. पोर्तुगीजकालीन महाजनी कायदा बरखास्त करण्यासाठी विशेष प्रयत्न न केल्यामुळे मगो पक्षानेदेखील गोमंतकीय बहुजन समाजाची माफी मागण्यास काही हरकत नसावी.

Of Temples, Conversions, and Apologies

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The Portuguese Prime Minister should apologise, say the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), ‘as soon as he lands, for all the atrocities committed on the people of Goa, while the Portuguese ruled Goa.’

Let us leave aside the fact that these apology-seekers have long been part of the present ruling establishment, and thus should themselves apologise first for their failure on every single front—for the freely proliferating casinos, for the mining mess, for the numerous white elephant projects destroying the environment while driving the state into massive debt, for the communities being uprooted right and left, for the lack of decent employment and wages for Goans even as the government prepares to clean out the state coffers to provide the 7th Pay Commission bonanza—to itself.

But let us ignore the fact that this talk of apologies for the past is clearly an attempt to distract us from the issues of the present, and to make some nationalist mileage out of the visit of the Prime Minister of Portugal to Goa. Let us also ignore the fact that it is ridiculous to ask for apologies for past events whose participants are dead and gone. What I would like to look at instead is the history peddled by the MGP and GSM, which, as expected, is both one-sided and brahmanical to the core.

So what are these atrocities that they want an apology for? ‘There was maximum destruction done by the Portuguese by destroying temples and bridges, just as they left Goa in 1961,’ claims former PWD minister Sudin Dhavalikar. Plus there was the ‘oppression under the Portuguese rule, conversions and inhumane treatment’, adds GSM president Anand Shirodkar, not to mention the introduction of the ‘English language culture’.

Now this is the first time one has heard of temples destroyed in 1961, probably because it never happened. There are of course records of temple destruction by the Portuguese earlier. But it is really a question whether this calls for apologies. Because what exactly did these temples represent? Even today, many Hindu temples across India are strongly brahmanical institutions.  Dalits have been beaten, even killed, for stepping inside temples in India not centuries ago but in current times. In Goa, while overt violence might not be heard of, Dalits are still barred from Hindu temples in Pernem. Even elsewhere—as in Marcaim, represented by Dhavalikar in the Goa Assembly—full access is allowed only to certain castes, while every single job, ritual and celebration sees the enforcement of the caste system with its ideas of purity and pollution.

The bahujan struggle at Marcaim to democratise the control of the temple is, not surprisingly, yet to receive a word of support from Dhavalikar.

How would it have been centuries ago when the temples of the Velhas Conquistas were destroyed? These dominant-caste temples were not just the owners of wealth, including lands, gold, and all kinds of slaves, but also the heart and soul of caste society. As Xavier and Zupanov (Catholic Orientalism, 2015) point out, the temples were the ‘centre of local sociability, a memory archive of social distinctions, a collective treasury, and the seat of village authority’. This was a society that upheld sati (banned by Albuquerque) and treated bahujans literally like dirt; not even accepting them as animals, forget humans; not allowing them to eat or dress decently—because that was against religion, the religion upheld by the temples. It was a time when Dalits could be killed in religiously-sanctioned sacrifices for the construction of all grand projects, as the inscriptions in Vijayanagara (Hampi) describe.

The destruction of such institutions by the Portuguese would thus surely have been seen as a moment of liberation by many, even though it was probably done not for liberation but as a statement of power.

As for conversions, according to Ângela Barreto Xavier (2007), the untouchables (farazes) were willing converts to Christianity, for they saw it as a chance to escape caste oppression. It is another matter that, thanks to many dominant castes also converting in order to retain power and wealth, caste itself entered Goan Catholicism. Even so, Catholicism still offered the message of equality, at least theoretically. The combination of this theory with the jobs, education, and other opportunities offered by the Estado to Catholic bahujans, meant that they could leave their former humiliating conditions and seek new opportunities. As Raghuraman Trichur and Peter de Souza point out, this in turn provided an opportunity for oppressed castes in the regions outside the Estado. For the Velhas Conquistas now needed labour; bahujan outsiders could find work here and thus escape their old positions and identities.

Conversions to Catholicism were thus a boon for Goans, not just the Catholics but all Goans. And the destroyed temples were similarly hardly likely to have been mourned by anybody but the dominant castes whose position they upheld. As for the ‘English language culture’, only casteists would want to deny this culture to all, along with the social and economic benefits it entails.

So, apologies for what? Vasco da Gama’s arrival in the Malabar is in fact considered by many Dalits as a milestone in the history of Dalit liberation (Aditya Nigam, 2006).

It is high time that Goans stop falling for the history narratives peddled by casteist myth-mongers. For them, the only problem in Goan (and Indian) history is the arrival of the Portuguese (and the British); before that, we supposedly lived in a Golden Age. But this was a Golden Age of only the dominant castes, and the sooner we recognise this, the earlier our real liberation.

(A version of this post was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 21 January, 2017)