The Unsung Glories of the Imam: Silence, Absence and the Islamicate in the Kwok On Collection’s India holdings

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(English version of the text presented at the Museu Oriente on April 19, 2017, as part of the series A Índia Visual. The original Portuguese version can be downloaded here. For the PDF of the English version click here.)


Before anything else I would like to thank a couple of people who have ensured that I have this opportunity today. I would like to thank, first of all Ines Lourenco for having invited to make this presentation. I have been following the India Visual series for a while and always nursed a secret desire to be able to speak from this platform. For this opportunity Ines, many thanks.


I would also like to thank the team at Museu Oriente, Liliana Cruz, Sofia Lopes and Cátia Souto for their help with this presentation. I recognize the presence of my doctoral supervisor Profa. Rosa Maria Perez. And finally, I would like to thank the members of the audience for their presence.


To move on to the substance of today’s presentation, I would like to begin with a confession. When I received the invitation to present at the India Visual lecture series I was told that I would have the option to visit the reserves of the Kwok On Collection and choose a piece, or pieces I would like to speak on.


As any museum aficionado knows, it is a huge opportunity to visit the reserves of a Museum, and not one to be missed. I was particularly excited because it would give me the chance to determine if my suspicion about the nature of the holdings was fact or simply a wild idea. The suspicion was that the India segment of the Kwok On collection would in fact be a collection of Hindu objects. This is to say, that India will have been implicitly understood as ‘Hindu’ by those who constitute the collection. I was not wrong in my assessment, and what I beheld in the collection, or at least the portion I was able to review, was rack upon rack of material that is associated with what we call Hinduism. Missing from these racks, at least on first glance, were materials that could be associated with Islam and Christianity. It is to this absence that the title of my presentation makes reference to, and which I would like to reflect on for just a moment before moving forward.


As Glórias desconhecidas do Imã: O silêncio, a ausência e o islamicate na Índia da Colecção Kwok On

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(Texto da conferência apresentada a 19 de Abril, 2017 no Museu do Oriente, Lisboa no âmbito do  ciclo A Índia Visual. PDF em português e PDF em inglês.)


Antes de mais gostaria de agradecer a oportunidade que me foi dada para estar, hoje, aqui.


Em primeiro lugar gostaria de agradecer, à minha colega do CRIA Inês Lourenço por me ter convidado a fazer esta apresentação. Tenho seguido a série Índia Visual durante algum tempo e sempre alimentei o desejo secreto de poder participarnesta plataforma. Por esta oportunidade Inês, muito obrigado.


Gostaria também de demonstrar a minha gratidão para com a equipa do Museu Oriente: Liliana Cruz, Sofia Lopes e Cátia Souto por todo o apoio prestado durante esta apresentação. Aproveito a ocasião para agradecer também a presença da orientadora da minha tese de doutoramento, a Professora Doutora Rosa Maria Perez. Por último, mas de modo algum por ordem de importância, quero de agradecer a presença de todos os que aqui estão presentes hoje.


Antes de entrarno assunto que hoje nostraz aqui, gostaria de fazer uma confissão: Quando recebi este convitefoi-me dito que teria a possibilidadede visitar a reserva do Colecção Kwok on e seleccionar uma peça, ou peças, sobre a qual gostaria falar.


Qualquer apreciador de arte sabe que visitar as reservas de um Museu é uma experiência única. Fiquei particularmente entusiasmado porque desta maneira poderia ter a oportunidade de confirmar se a minha intuição, sobre a natureza desta colecção, seria uma realidade ou simplesmente uma suposição . O meu pressentimento dizia-me queo núcleo dedicado à índia da colecção Kwok On seria um conjunto de objectos Hindus. Quer dizer, a Índia teria sido implicitamente entendida como ‘Hindu’ por quem constituiu acolecção. Infelizmente a minha intuição não me enganou. Na reserva da Colecção, encontrei um acervo extraordinário mas na sua maioria associado ao culto hindu. Ausente deste espólio, pelo menos na primeira vista, estão objectos ligados ao Islão e à Cristandade. Esta é a ausência a que se refere o título da minha apresentação – e sobre a qual gostaria de reflectir por alguns instantes.


Representations ‘of’ and ‘by’ Muslims

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Full English text of the presentation at the session: Representações do Islão e dos Muçulmanos nos Media (Representations of Islam and Muslims in the media), part of the Ciclo Islão em Debate (Islam in Debate series), 20 April 2017, at ISCTE –IUL, Lisbon. Download the PDF here.


I would like to begin by indicating that my area of expertise is not the study of Islam, or Muslims. Nonetheless I have quite an intimate experience of Muslims. Islam, and Muslims have also been critical to my own formation, both as an intellectual and the deepening of my own faith practice. This is perhaps not surprising given that questions of Islam have been debated substantially in the past couple of decades and produced a rich literature in a number of fields. My core area of intellectual work has been the operation of citizenship in India and the regime of secularism that apparently structures the experience of Indian citizenship. Given that Hindu nationalism has been on the rise for decades now, I realised that Christians in India faced the same challenges as did the Muslims in India; they were both seen as undesirable elements in the Indian republic. As such alliances between these various groups made eminent sense andthe belief that the best alliances are built on solid understanding gave me reason to the study various texts that I have referred to above.


There is also a personal aspect to this encounter. About a decade ago, a couple of friends and I began the Patna Collective. Among other things the Collective was interested in probing the issue of secularism in India. Was it possible that persons of faith rather than being barriers to secularism could in fact contribute to a secular society? Was religion necessarily an obstacle to the realisation of secularism? I was the lone Indian Christian among a number of Muslims in this group, and the conversations with them were critical to my experiences about Islam and Muslims. In the course of these interactions I realised that my learnings from Muslims allowed me to deepen my own faith practice as a Catholic allowing for a peculiar identification and affection for Muslims and Islam.


Finally, for some years now I have been interested in exploring the idea of the Islamicate. A neologism coined by Marshall Hodgson (1974), the term refers not to Islam or the religion itself, but to the socio-cultural complex where Muslims are dominant, or subjects of emulation. Exploring the Islamicate, I believe allows us to create a space where conversations between non-Muslims and Muslims can fruitfully take place. Where Islamophobia is replaced not by Islamophilia (just as problematic a stance) but where we can establish the contributions of Muslims, and see ourselves as partners with Muslims in the building of our futures.


To move on to the subject on which I have been asked to reflect; a mind that operates primarily in English reads the term ““Representações… dos Muçulmanos” in two ways. The first, is to read it as the intended representations of Muslims, and the second is representations by Muslims. I think it is important to deal with both these aspects for at least two reasons. We need to avoid a focus on Muslims from developing into a paternalist attitude, and from creatingspace for white saviours.What we need to do is deepen a rights discourse and as such the agency of Muslims too needs to be taken into account when we discuss representations.


Cow Politics and Slavery

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The recent comments by members of the Sangh Parivar on the complete ban on the consumption of beef in Goa have ignited a controversy. The comments, casteist as they are, have shifted the attention of the Goan people away from pressing issues like the future of casinos, the Mopa airport, the crises in the mining sector, environmental pollution, and everyday governance. That such comments divert our attention elsewhere is unfortunate; but every time such comments are made we should remind ourselves what exactly lies at the heart of such hate politics.


The online Ambedkarite portal, Round Table India, has been publishing articles critically analyzing the economics and politics of ‘beef ban’, especially since the ban enforced by Maharashtra from 2015. It is with the help of these and some other news reports that I wish to make the case that, through ‘beef bans’ and cow politics, the poor and minoritized population is being pushed further into the depths of poverty and caste, eventually making them live in conditions akin to slavery.


Following the ban in Maharashtra by the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, Arvind Kumar argued that the move had all the makings of a “social conspiracy” against the dalit-bahujans in India, especially in Maharashtra. “I see the beginnings,” he says, “of a reversal of ‘social change’”. Kumar argues that if non-productive cattle – whether used for dairy products or as draught animals – are not slaughtered then they will have to be disposed by someone after they die. Who will do this dirty work? He says that it is those who come from the ‘untouchable’ castes who will either be forced or lured into occupations such as disposing and skinning dead cattle and further “get trapped in the evil practice of untouchability”.


Kumar seems to have rightly perceived the diabolic game plan behind the ban on cow slaughter in Maharastra as the NGO that worked to make the ban a reality has similar plans. In an interview to, Rajendra Joshi, a trustee of the Viniyog Parivar Trust, said, “Cattle will now die their natural deaths scattered across the state, and it will help revive the traditional vocations of chamars and mochis [tanners and cobblers] across the state”. In making such a statement, Joshi admits that people are moving away from occupations such as tanning and hence such occupations need to be “revive[d]”. Obviously, people would not volunteer to perform such demeaning traditional occupations, hence the coercion of the state is seen as so necessary.


This emphasis on bringing back the ‘traditional’ precisely confirms what Kumar had suspected all along: undo social mobility and reorder labor relations. The idea ultimately is to return to a casteist way of life and production relations that perpetuates practices of untouchability. Talking in terms of untouchability does not mean that the issue is solely about religion, rituals, or belief; it is also fundamentally an economic issue as those who provide labor in a caste society – including those who work in agriculture and clear/skin dead cattle – come from the lower strata of society.


Studies have shown that if non-productive cattle are not culled – that is livestock rearing is not done in a scientific and economically rational manner – then the population of cattle begins to shrink. In other words, slaughter is essential if the agricultural and dairy production is to be maintained at an economically viable level. Farmers, being unable to dispose of such cattle, have to bear the burden of sustaining non-productive animals. Selling non-productive cattle (whether cows or bulls) for slaughter (with the resultant production of food, leather, and other important goods) sustains an agrarian economy dependent on bovine animals. The butcher is an integral part of this economy. In fact we can observe that a ban on cow slaughter economically burdens farmers, dairy farmers, butchers, and meat traders. However, the only ones who are laughing all the way to the bank are the beef exporters – many of them upper caste Hindus – who seem to be increasing the quantum of exports despite this hate politics.


Seen from the perspective of the ill-effects that a ‘beef ban’ and anti-cow slaughter laws have on the society and the economy, it is imperative that secular forces and those keen to maintain Goan traditions call for nothing less than a complete revocation of these ‘cow protection’ laws, including the one that the MGP government brought into force in Goa in the 1970s. It is also a litmus test to the votaries of secularism and Goemkarponn if they will push for the revocation or change of laws antithetical to the lives and livelihoods of Goans.


In Goa too, one can observe that it has become increasingly difficult for people to maintain cattle. It is simply not economically viable, and over a period of time so many people have stopped rearing cattle. Add to this, one sees a large number of cows scavenging from dustbins and other areas. The oppressive ‘cow protection’ laws – circumscribed by a upper caste Hindu morality – has made it difficult for people to maintain cows and the bovine population to sustain itself.


Thus, the issue is not simply about people being unable to eat beef (that is, without being lynched or killed for it). While it is true that ‘beef bans’ pose a threat to a loosely defined ethos of ‘secularism’, the issue is much deeper in which the laboring poor are trapped within the oppressive structures of caste, poverty, and tradition. It is a form of slavery that is perpetuated by the law and a casteist morality which is undoing the social mobility achieved through the struggles of various groups. While forcing labor relations based on caste hierarchies, such ‘beef bans’ also deny ‘minorities’ like Christians and Muslims (of all castes and classes) the choice of food and cultural practices ostensibly because it offends upper caste Hindu sensibilities.


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

Responsibility and Goan Roads

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Along with the rising temperature this summer, there has been a sharp increase in the deaths related to road accidents. The first half of 2016 produced some truly chilling statistics with the death toll for the month of January and February reaching 59 persons. April 2016 saw a staggering 11 deaths in just 5 days. While one may have heard, and received, cautionary advice at the beginning of the monsoon season owing to the slippery roads, perhaps we also need to caution each other at the start of every summer in a similar way. After all, the rising temperature seems to be making our roads, quite literally, hotbeds for fatal accidents.


How does one discuss the tragic deaths on the roads, and also the general usage of and safety on roads? The obvious question to ask is, “who is responsible?” Is it the State or the motorists? With academic studies and road accident reports reflecting that most accidents are caused by reckless motorists, it does appear that the individual driver is at fault for recklessness on the roads. I do not wish to argue against these findings, rather I would like to add to them so that when we debate the issue of road safety, we do not slip into an ‘either/or’ position.


There was a common thread running through the statements of the many activists working on road safety that O Heraldo’s Vibha Verma interviewed – that reckless driving was the cause of accidents. For instance, Ruan Mendes, an activist, observes, “One should not hold the authorities responsible alone, but he/she [the motorist] should take every precautionary measure and diligently follow traffic rules…” This reckless driving is more serious, it was argued, with persons who operate heavy-vehicles, as they are the ones who cause the most number of accidents. Thus, heavy-vehicles and reckless driving emerge as the deadly combo that is driving the accident rate through the roof.


However, the recent and tragic death of two women at Tilamol, Quepem should make us think about faulty economic policies of the State a bit more critically. This is not the first time that people have been killed at the very same spot in Tilamol. If we go back in time in 2010, a rasta roko was staged by the angry inhabitants of Curchorem and Quepem after a similar incident where a man was crushed to death. This was at the time when mining-related transportation was in full swing. Six years later, another mining-related heavy-vehicle is the cause of two deaths. While the residents of Quepem and Curchorem, then as now, demanded a separate bypass road solely for the purpose of mining transportation, nothing has come of the demand. What this also indicates is that the State is not able to effectively balance between the flow of economic activities – of which transport/roads form a major part – and the everyday life of the common people. Thus, while the person at the wheel of a heavy-vehicle is indeed indulging in reckless and potentially harmful behavior, the lack of foresight and planning on the part of the State aggravates the problem.


Similarly, one can think of road-widening projects as being counter-productive for the general safety on roads. It increasingly appears that roads are widened or repaired so that they would look good, rather than properly regulate the flow of traffic – for the traffic-flow does not improve substantially. What further complicates the situation in Goa is that the tiny or narrow roads in the villages can immediately meet a national highway, and cause confusion in the minds of the drivers. The new bypass roads constructed as an aid to the existing highways are a good example, as they run through rice-fields and villages. That land is fast depleting in Goa should also make us realize that road-widening is not a viable option.


So, we are slowly coming to realize the intervention by the State through policing, fines, awareness campaigns, regulations, and infrastructure development is not helping. Further the suitability of the urban and economic vision of the State, which privileges a neo-liberal, faster-bigger-is-better vision, should really be examined again. Rather than asking whom one should blame, it might be more useful to demand that thorough professionals be employed who are committed to a vision of streamlining and regulating the existing roads in Goa – with their close proximity to houses, trees, and other structures. Possibly, each and every road needs to be studied as to how this links to other roads and what is the best way to regulate it. In other words, the network of village, taluka, district, and city roads need to be studied as a particularly Goan problem, if we would like a meaningful solution. That and providing efficient public transport may be the only meaningful solution to the problems on roads.


I have in the past argued that the experience of Goan roads is marred by the aggression that motorists subject each other to. We need to recognize how individual behavior frustrates the implementation of state policies that are obviously beneficial, and how faulty state policies lead to chaos – and even death on roads. Both are two sides of the same coin.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 11 May, 2016)

Of Accidents, Masculinities and (absence of) Rule of Law

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The spate of accidents in the last few days has triggered a discussion on both the causes and the solutions. Coming in the aftermath of the ban on bars and the vending of liquor within 220 or 500 metres from the national and state highways (as the case may be), it is perhaps a poignant reminder that we need to dig deeper into this malaise of accidents, rather than come up with knee jerk responses or solutions that provide the justification for surveillance while not addressing the core problems.


No doubt drunken driving is a major cause of accidents. But we cannot live under the illusion that drunken driving is not possible anymore in the wake of the ban. So what is really the killer? The absence of rule of law that makes exercising road rage, road stunts and macho driving possible.


We have today a society where some people zoom past others at breakneck speed beyond the prescribed limits, whether having consumed alcohol or not, because they consider themselves as being a law unto themselves, and unquestionable. The police looking the other way when these drivers drive or ride in this fashion, lends credence to this assumption about them being a law unto themselves. A closer look reveals that these drivers performing stunts and driving with speed, often have associations with power that enable them to get away; to drive in that manner in the first place.


Take the case of one of the bikers involved in one of the recent accidents, that is, the accident at Neura. I have myself seen how terrified people would just give way or move aside, as this person’s car or super-bike sped past the National Highway, as though it were an ambulance or a minister’s car, for fear of facing consequences – physical (by way of injuries or death due to accident) or political (for not toeing in to these lords, sometimes nouveau lords), if they did not. We also make assumptions that the people who drive in this rash and negligent manner are students. Not always. The biker I was referring to, for instance, was a 35 year old. Hence profiling is dangerous, as it masks the solution. There are, therefore, two issues here. One, that there is a tendency to profile certain people, such as youngsters, as rash and negligent drivers, thereby removing the gaze from the not so young. Two, that some people wield clout by virtue of their money-power to ride rough shod over the rule of law.


What provides the base for these macho attitudes among people? One major factor is the advertisements on hoardings and print and electronic media for these super-cars and super-bikes which add in no small measure to a consolidation of macho attitudes of ‘speed-driving-is-power-and-supermanhood’. The bikes are projected to be bikes which people can speed- ride without a care in the world and which can fetch the rider some ‘pretty girls’ as acquisitions.  Manhood is associated with stunts, aggressive and risky driving, along with six packs and flexing of muscles, and so such speed driving then becomes an assertion of this ‘manhood’.


Add to this is the dadagiri (a sense of false power and manhood) that comes with the ability to finance elections and be a law unto oneself, which is seen as another assertion of masculinity.


The solutions that have been devised to redress the concerns about accidents, by way of purchase of equipment such as radars, speedometers, alcometers, vehicles, and installation of CCTVs and interceptors, do not take into account as to what use such equipment that is already existing has been put to or not put to. Again, the CCTVs as well as the robot police parked outside on highways, would have definitely captured regularly zooming vehicles such as the ones of the aforementioned biker involved in the Neura accident.


In the ultimate analysis, the problem lies hugely on the one hand, with the absence of the rule of law – of absence of enforcement of the law, and absence of accountability for non-enforcement of law by the police, and on the other hand, with a society that valorizes macho attitudes and sanctions traffic violations.

Those who do not comply with their obligations under the law, those authorities who oversee or are in collusion with traffic violators, must be held accountable. As someone has said, the salaries of defaulting officers should be reclaimed for dereliction of duty.


More important are the preventive measures. Can we begin to address the formation of understandings of manhood that are defined by speed driving, road rage, vehicle stunts – all of which ultimately claim the lives of people? Which means addressing the ideological apparatus that perceives speed drivers and stunt men as ‘real men’ or ‘smart men’? A conditioning that is propped up by the vehicle industry, particularly the super-vehicle industry, by an entire advertisement industry, and by the politics industry. This ideological apparatus needs to be interrogated to see how men are socialized into believing that their manhood is determined by speedy driving, and also to see what makes men warm up to these notions of manhood. Eventually, this sort of conditioning and orientation needs to be dismantled.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 20 April, 2017)

Jason Keith Fernandes at the Museu Oriente, Lisbon

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Jason Keith Fernandes will present a paper entitled, “As Glórias Desconhecidas do Imam: O Silêncio, a Ausência e o Islamicate na Índia da Colecção Kwok On” (The Unsung Glories of the Imam: Silence, Absence, and the Islamicate in the Kwok On Collection’s Indian section) at 18:30 on 19 April, 2017 at the Museu Oriente, Lisbon.


The “India Visual” cycle is a collaborative effort between the Museu Oriente and CRIA – the Network Centre of Research in Anthropology. This cycle, that include conferences, round tables, and screenings of films and documentaries with the presence of researchers, academics and other persons linked to India and the many dimensions of this visual culture  seeks to use visual culture in India as the point of departure for reflections on diverse themes: art, religion, politics, consumption, gender, advertising, and media among others.



Drawing on various Indian pieces in the Kwok On collection, this presentation will suggest that what often appears Hindu is in fact profoundly Islamicate in nature. The term ‘Islamicate’ was introduced in 1974 by the famed scholar of Islamic studies Marshal Hodgson in his book The Venture of Islam.  In this work he suggests that ‘Islamicate’ would refer not directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims, both among Muslims themselves and even when found among non-Muslims. Drawing on this idea, the presentation will demonstrate the manner in which practices associated with the Shia faith, and the historic figure of Imam Hussein are central to much South Asian (Indian), culture. Recognising this fact complicates and challenges the way in which both individuals and institutions – such as museums – understand the subcontinent.

Jason Keith Fernandes to participate in a discussion on “Representations of Islam and Muslims in the Media”

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Jason Keith Fernandes, a member of the Collective, and FCT post-doctoral scholar at ISCTE-IUL will be part of a round table discussion on “Representations of Islam and Muslims in the Media” which is a part of the “Islam in Debate” series, organised by Faranaz Keshavjee of the Centre for International Studies, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon. The event will take place on 20 April, 2017 in auditorium B204, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon.


Coal and a bit of Colonialism

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The decision by the state and central governments to expand the coal handling capacity of the Mormugao port is cause for alarm. From very real and obvious dangers of environment and health to the equally real threat to the livelihoods of traditional fishermen, the government seems least bothered about the citizens. On the contrary they are making haste to promote the interests of the big corporations. Indeed, plans to build the National Highway 17-B and the dredging of the Mormugao port are geared to facilitate the transport of large volumes of coal to industries in neighboring Karnataka.


According to news reports, the plans to dredge the port and build a new highway will benefit Indian companies like Adani, JSW, and Vedanta. Nihar Gokhale, a journalist who reports on environmental and policy issues, wrote some time back that clearances for the Mormugao expansion flagrantly violated rules and due procedure. If the plans materialize as per the wishes of the corporations and the government, Mormugao’s coal handling will rise to 26 million tonnes per annum from the current five million tonnes; the port town of Vasco and surrounding areas, therefore, are poised to choke on coal dust.


That the government is riding roughshod over the lives and livelihoods of the people is not surprising. In Goa, we have the instance of the Investment Promotion Board that circumvents all checks and balances to bring in the ‘mega-project development’. Case in point was the sale of a village in Tiracol to construct a golf course for the rich, while the villagers engaged in traditional occupations were manhandled to vacate the land. Through the partnership of corporations and government we see a process of ‘colonization’ wherein local resources are senselessly extracted or destroyed while the local people either get peanuts in return or nothing at all.


Thinking of large-scale processes of development as ‘process of colonialism’ – wherein shifts in political power does not necessarily alter oppressive relations – allows us to see that the nation-state of today operates in similar ways as the colonial-state of the past. As many scholars have pointed out, the neo-liberal development shares a link with past colonialism and imperialism in places likes Asia and Africa in the manner in which it extracts resources and mounts wars against indigenous peoples.There is, however, a difference between the neo-liberal development of today and the colonial development of the past, chiefly in terms of the volume of resources extracted or exploited. Activists and lay citizens need to consider this history in order to mount strong resistance against the destructions of lives and livelihoods.


Mormugao port provides us an excellent opportunity to reflect on such processes and their long history. The port, in fact, can be considered to be at the centre of colonial and neo-liberal development. There is the curious case of British India investing in the construction of the West of India Portuguese Guaranteed Railway (WIP) that had linked Mormugao to the Southern Mahratta Railway (SMR) at Londa, via Castle Rock towards the end of the nineteenth century. Looking for a cheaper and convenient point for exporting the products from the hinterlands of British India, the British Raj entered into a treaty – the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1878 – with Portuguese India. The cost of building the railway line, in true colonial fashion, was borne by the Goan exchequer.


The Portuguese were looking for investments that would revitalize the weakened economic situation, create jobs, and boost the almost non-existent industry in Goa. The Portuguese government hoped that collaboration with the economically and politically powerful British empire would modernize Portuguese India. That it did not work was due to many factors and there is no space here to elaborate why these plans failed. However, what needs to be highlighted is that many in Goa at that time felt that the Portuguese had effectively given the control of the economy into British hands. The British too wanted political and economic control over Portuguese India. They did achieve this goal to a certain extent with the control of the port and railways, and taxes on the production of salt, amongst other things.


In a sense, the developmental politics around Mormugao port in contemporary times follows this old pattern; of massive investments coming with a promise of jobs and growth of the economy. It also necessitates the investment of public money without substantial returns to the same public. Whereas in the past the flow of goods was from the hinterlands of India to other places of the world, in the present times the government-corporate nexus wants to use Mormugao as a importing and exporting node for goods (like coal and iron ore) to feed the industries in various parts of the country and abroad. The case is curious not just because of the reverse flow of goods, but also because Indian companies are extracting natural resources like coal from distant Australia (and also in places like Mozambique in Africa) and transporting it in India. Many in Australia, including indigenous leaders, and cricketers like Ian and Greg Chappell, have supported campaigns against Indian companies like Adani to halt coal extraction. These Australian activists have argued that the  proposed mine in Carmichael, Australia – said to be the largest in the world which can produce 60 million tonnes of coal every year for the next 60 years – would threaten not just  the indigenous communities there but also the eco-sensitive Great Barrier Reef.


From facts available on the ground, this present neo-liberal expansion – following roughly patterns of past colonial interventions in the economy and politics – appears eventually to benefit only giant corporations. Colonial relations thrive amidst us, destroying the environment and the lives of people. And it is not just the white men who are propagating such exploitative business practices.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 12 April, 2017)


What made ‘Goemkarponn’ so Manoeuvrable?

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From the get go, there was no sign of Goem, Goemkar, Goemkarponn at all. Not even when the 2017 Goa Legislative Assembly election results were beginning to trickle in. One would have thought that small is beautiful and manageable and that the smallness of Goem affords a unique opportunity to better and more expeditiously manage.  But despite EVM machines as in other states, which should have seen the results pouring in rather than trickling in, Goa’s results took a longer time than those of UP with ten times the number of seats.  Indeed Goa’s counting in relation to that of the rest of India’s states that went to the polls was ajeeb (strange).


Given Goa’s small size, it is possible to reach every voter in the constituency without spending money or having people descend here who have no sense of Goa’s ethos. But that was not to be, it seems. There was talk of distribution of money on the one hand, by the two leading national political parties, and then there was the AAP which had brought in who it called ‘volunteers’ from elsewhere in India and who were standing at various corners and waving AAP flags to disgusted passers-by. Neither the topis nor the topics that they raised, nor the flags they waved, had political traction or any semblance of Goemkarponn. If anything, the topis are symbolic of ‘politicians’ in the narrow sense of self-centred species, who the average Goan despises. The ‘high command’ politics sans Goemkarponn, that people had tired of in the prevailing politics, was not absent with AAP either. Therefore, when AAP beat the drums of Goemkarponn, it did not resonate for Goemkars.


On the other hand, the effort by AAP at not throwing money to voters, which can fit into the small-is-manageable Goa model, did shake the BJP, for what this can portend if such an ethic entrenches itself. Therefore, although the AAP did not open its account in Goa, the frisson of schadenfreude that was manifest by the BJP cheer leaders about AAP was palpable. Otherwise, this reaction of the BJP should be strange, considering that their joy should have been emanating from the Congress not winning a clear majority to the Assembly, which ultimately enabled them (the BJP) to manoeuvre and get to power.


The Goa Forward Party on its part, flaunting the slogan of Goem, Goemkar, Goemkarponn, did succeed in deceiving. They managed to cash in on the vulnerabilities of Goemkars who feel overwhelmed numerically as well as culturally.  The Goa Forward Party, it must be remembered, was not extolling the virtues of integrity, holistic approaches, or a serious engagement with the fields, the salt pans, the cashew hills and the seas, and the song and dance that comes with it. They were not extolling the repairs of natural embankments, and local levels of disaster prevention and management that comes together, or the development of the indigenous communities who have created and who sustain this landscape, that is projected as Goemkarponn.


They were extolling the palm-waving, singing and dancing Goemkarponn. This narrative of Goemkarponn has suited both the political parties who capitalize on the Goan nostalgia (nostalgia for the past in relation to the present) and the corporate business interests for whom this is a happy tourism and real estate economic model, in keeping with the advancing corporate interests of the times. That is where the peaceful, restful Goa (‘aaram’ to use Prime Minister Modi’s words in his pre-2017Assembly election speech in Goa) image-mongering comes from.


This business model of political parties was therefore a natural precursor to the coalition that emerged where Goemkarponn then got integrated even in the Hindutva nationalist party. It must make us think about how Indian and Goan nationalism colludes in an endeavor to destroy the people and the local people’s economies. What is it about the projection of Goemkarponn that makes it so vulnerable to be appropriated by the Hindutva ideology is something we must ponder about.


Clearly, what has been paraded is the Goemkarponn characterized by the cementing of caste and economic interests. We fail to see the writing on the wall, as to how our stated vulnerabilities as Goemkars, are channelized to forge an identity politics, that is problematic for us as a people within this geographic space of Goem and lets the status quo of caste and class dominance prevail, without questioning the structural causes of the problems that are besetting Goa.


The Congress was different from the BJP only to the point of claiming secularism and not subscribing, as a party, to the Hindutva ideology, but there were other ways of forging unity between BJP and Congress and also the regional party that called itself Goa Forward.  To reiterate, there were the common caste and economic interests to cement the relations and give it the brand of Goemkarponn. There was also the fact that there are hardly any Congresspersons who have not played footsie with the BJP or any other party. Many candidates in the last elections have been wanderers from one political party to another, in a journey towards egotropic power.


If one looks closely, there isn’t much of a difference between this kind of Goemkarponn – a sort of Goan authoritarian nationalist ideology, and Hindutva – a fascist nationalist ideology that does not see politics as a ‘power-with’ but a ‘power-over’ others.  So this brand emphasises the unity, strength and preservation of the geographical space, but the nature of this unity, strength and preservation is defined with upper caste/class coloured lens. Therefore while determining how these spaces are to be preserved, they do not focus on basics of people’s lives and their engagement with nature.


They focus, for instance, on the coconut tree in isolation, or the green fields in isolation, or the mineral wealth in isolation. The coconut trees are not seen for the coconuts which go in the making of people’s curry or for the mode of production as to who controls the coconut trees and how power is required to be diffused, so that it can cease to be oppressive and exploitative. The coconut tree becomes the reference point for height of buildings in regional plans, and for aesthetics in isolation from what makes it a part of the lives of Goan people. No wonder therefore that the coconut tree was de-notified as a tree under the Preservation of Trees Act, so as to enable the owners of the proposed liquor factory at Amdai, Sanguem, to cut all those coconut trees, and then we can so easily look to it being notified as a tree when the job is done.


Or they focus on the green fields with no measure of concern about who controls these green fields and how the real estate business does a walk over, over these green fields, without offering any solutions to the employment, spatial, or cultural concerns of the populace. So ultimately the real estate interests benefit with this kind of imagery of Goemkarponn – some green fields can surely enhance the value of their real estate business. But theyare not looking at how the green fields, and the cultivation on them and our food security too, can be sustained. Or at measures that people can take without an assault on their rights and controls as a people, such as in the maintenance of bunds, in a say on what development comes to bear in the vicinity and may affect the cultivation of the fields, in what kind of respect is given to the people who are actually cultivating the fields.


The other quaint similarity between this style of Goemkarponn and Hindutva is the fascist idolization of a leader (a führer). Such a Goemkarponn calls for one person to be idolized as a leader, and suddenly that mask of Goa’s camaraderie and joie de vivre drops. It is not about doing things together, enjoying life together, or pulling someone down if anyone advances too much leaving others behind (a la the crab). It is about insisting on a particular leader who has a convergence of all the traits that the sullied isolationist Goemkarponn they were talking about embodies. Hindutva is also the same: one leader, one voice. Its external ideological face may be different, and the local version may even pretend to be different from the national version. But this style of leadership bodes authoritarianism, arrogance and intolerance for those perceived as ‘the other’.


The führer is then seen as delivering the people from all the mess that the place has landed in, never mind if the mess is the outcome of the very brand of Goemkarponn which they are propagating. So the führer emerges with an image as a person who will put Goa’s economy back on the rails again. Never mind if it is with an illusion of an abundant budget, never mind if formal regular jobs are far from available, never mind if employment opportunities even for self-employment, are few and far between, and encouragement of start-ups will be restricted to those terrains that are required as ancillaries to the capital interests and will provide contracts to the small satraps.


Thus we see how fragile the definitions of Goemkarponn determined by a certain upper caste – class elite of Goa are in alignment with Hindutva, and bear no reflection of the Goemkarponn of Goemkars and of Goem as a whole.  The proof of the coconut pudding is in fact in the politics we are now eating.


(First published in Goa Today, dt: April 2017)