Idle Trucks, Striking Taxis, and a Broken System

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

The recent ban by the Supreme Court of India on mining activities in Goa for a second time reminds us of the plight faced by those dependent on the mining industry. But the court order also brings to mind other Goans stuck in a similar situation of facing economic uncertainty and the consequences of large-scale illegalities. For instance, it is, I think, useful to compare the mining industry and the tourism industry as both have been touted as the ‘backbone’ of Goan economy, and both these industries witness conflicts and illegalities in equal measure.

 

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The ‘Mothers’ of Goa

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

Every few months the issue of identity emerges in Goa, and vociferous debates and discussions undoubtedly follow. One can observe a certain tendency wherein political issues are reduced to issues of Goan identity. This is done by emotionally appealing to the masses that their existence solely depends on protecting an abstract idea – the Goan identity. This abstract and loosely-defined idea assumes different forms around events, symbols, and objects as the political and ruling classes see fit. One way in which these emotional appeals are made is through the idea of ‘mother’.

 

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Bhima Koregaon and Lessons for Goan History

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

The commemoration of the East India Company’s victory against the Peshwas at Bhima Koregaon, and the subsequent violence that was witnessed, provides some pointers to understand Goan history. In recent times, those lakhs of Dalits who congregate at Bhima Koregaon to pay their respects to the fallen warriors have been termed as “anti-nationals” by the Hindu right. The ostensible logic of the Hindu right is that commemorations such as those at Bhima Koregaon signify the celebration of ‘foreign’ victory over ‘Indian’ forces. We are thus presented with a history that appears to contain a clear divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ‘us’ here is a unified political and cultural community called India, and the ‘them’ being the foreign rulers who did not have their origins in India.

 

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Environment and Culture: Taking Stock of 2017

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

Standing on the cusp of the New Year, it is useful to reflect on the year gone by. This we do with the hope that the inevitable new beginning will be better than what we experienced in the past, in terms of our personal and public existence. And in that spirit, I think, we should take every opportunity to evaluate our political, social, and cultural existence during the past year.

 

Environmental and cultural concerns can be argued to have dominated the political discourse in Goa in 2017. Indeed, the protests articulated in places like Mopa and Sonshi demonstrated how environment and culture influenced the present discourse on Goan identity. The year witnessed a massive public hearing on an environmental issue. Choking on coal dust, many gathered in Vasco to make their grievances heard. This unprecedented event signaled yet again the growing sense that Goa’s environment and ecological health is endangered, and, if not addressed urgently, will lead to an unmitigated disaster.

 

Similar to the urgency to address the issue of coal handling and pollution to stop Goa’s environment from deteriorating, the resistance to the development of mega infrastructure projects, such as the new greenfield airport at Mopa, in Pernem, was also in the news. We are also witnessing opposition to other projects, like the double-tracking of the Konkan railway route, the re-starting of mining and the effects there of. This time around, many activists have successfully tried to shift the discourse to demonstrate how aspects of Goan economy fit in a larger system of global capitalism. An increasing number of Goans can be said to have realized that they are being reduced to cogs in the larger system of capitalism. There is awareness that a remote Goan village is not isolated, on the contrary it is linked to distant industrial or commercial hubs. However, the awareness of how global capitalism is a continuum of feudal (or feudal like) system of land ownership and control prevalent in Goa is still lacking; one hopes that it will be a part of mainstream political discourse soon.

 

There are instances where the issues are old but the sites of protest and resistance have shifted to new villages or areas. Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly clear to all that urban and rural Goa is categorically speaking out: Goa’s ecology and the quality of life of Goans are under threat.

 

Concerns with the environment were closely linked with those of preserving Goa’s culture. In fact, one’s identity cannot exist without the interplay of the environment and cultural productions. Identity, then, was a common thread that ran through the various protests and grievances articulated in the course of this year, as it has been over the last several years. The allusion to the intertwining of identity and environmental issues does not simply refer to the utterly cynical politicking over the coconut tree – being de-notified and re-notified on governmental whims – but rather upon instances wherein Goa’s identity and the belonging of Goans in a wider world was debated; indeed the discussion only deepened by acknowledging the complex history and culture of Goa.

 

António Costa, the Portuguese Prime Minister, who visited India in January, provided the occasion for re-thinking the cultural belonging of Goans; particularly their connections with Portugal and other Lusophone spaces. Costa, who has Goan ancestry, was celebrated in Goa as well as in India for possessing Indian roots. Minor details like Costa or his father, Orlando Costa, having no connection with the modern Indian nation-state did not deter the grandiose celebrations of homecoming. Even those most critical of Goa’s continued contacts with Portugal and Portuguese culture maintained a somewhat uneasy silence. Of course, it helped matters much that Costa came with the intention of fostering business ties with India and Portugal. But even while Costa’s Indian roots were celebrated, one thing became inevitable clear: Goa and Goans are still undeniably connected with Portugal through history, culture, and migration.

 

The major events within the spheres of environment and culture – the protests, debates, and discussions of future visions – occurred within a political system. This is the system that needs to hear our grievances and resolve them. We, the people, elect our representatives who are entrusted to run the system. Indian democracy that is built on periodic elections is based on the assumption that one person – or one citizen – has one vote, and this vote has one value. This means that everyone in the country, who has the right to vote, indeed exercises this franchise, are equal with other citizens of the country. This, however, is not the case in reality as caste and class differences obstruct the true realization of democracy in India.

 

In short, because of the existing social and economic conditions, the political system is unable to represent the interests of all – or at least most of us. Laws and policies are therefore made not to protect the interest of all constituents in the polity, but only to further the interests of a few. This is why one witnesses draconian laws enacted and executive fiats beings issued that impinge on the rights and livelihood of millions of people in the country. Of the many challenge in the New Year, and those that will follow in the years to come, the most important one is to make good of the promise that political representation would lead to the empowerment of all citizens.

 

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

Deliver us from Nationalism?

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

There is, I think, a delicious irony in the pastoral letter written by Thomas Macwan, Archbishop of Gandhinagar. Writing at the time when the Gujarat legislative assembly elections are around the corner, Archbishop Macwan in his pastoral letter of 21 November 2017 said, “Nationalist forces are on the verge of taking over the country”. Unmindful of the spirit in which the letter was written or the realities that affect the various communities in India due to violent politics, one witnessed the usual hue and cry in the media. Many commentators even questioned the right of the Archbishop to express his views.

 

At this point, one might ask who these ‘nationalist forces’ are. Aren’t those who consider themselves Indians ‘nationalists’, one way or the other? Are we to conclude, then, that India needs to be saved from its own people? Especially when a distinction is often made between right-wing and secular nationalists, what could the rather ironic remark by Archbishop Macwan indicate? The statement was made in the context of political power and the way it influences the people in contemporary times. Particularly, the statement hints at the use of nationalism to spread hate and trample upon the rights of people. In this sense one can argue that Archbishop Macwan was referring to those forces that use nationalism to create disorder in society.

 

Speaking of the increasing attacks on minoritized religious groups as well as the human rights violations against other marginalized groups, Archbishop Macwan’s statement reveals that all is not well within the nation. He observes, “We are aware that the secular fabric of our country is at stake. Human rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, church personnel, faithful or institutions. There is a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities, OBCs, BCs, poor etc”.

 

Archbishop Macwan’s reference to ‘nationalist forces’ sans distinction perhaps hints at some fundamental aspects of Indian nationalism and the manner in which the Indian identity was crafted, chiefly through the freedom struggle. As I have written in the past in this very column, Indian nationalism and identity is based on Hindu majoritarian ideals and works towards maintaining the power and privileges of savarna castes, mostly across religions. By not making a distinction between the secular and right-wing nationalists, or remaining non-committal on that distinction, Archbishop Macwan cut through the politicking hullabaloo and simply pointed out that violence and marginalization is routine for many in India.

 

But one can also think of the Archbishop’s caution against excessive nationalism as emerging from a nationalist understanding of India’s past and culture. In other words, reproducing the very problems that the letter tries to tackle. The idea that India was a well knit secular society is an old Nehruvian one. What this idea does not take into consideration is the presence of the caste structure in Indian society and the manner in which it obstructs the formation of an egalitarian, let alone secular, society.

 

The banal violence and marginalization stands starkly against the supposed ideological lines drawn between secular and right-wing nationalisms in India. The recognition of the banality of violence and marginalization in present times should also make us realize that there is a long history to marginalization, including the time when secular, liberal nationalism held sway in India. There cannot be a secular society if millions within that society are subjected to discrimination and violence. As such, Archbishop Macwan’s plea to safeguard the “secular fabric” of the country need to be understood as requiring the creation of a secular society in the first place.

 

The letter also confronts all those who consider themselves as proud nationalists. Rather than play the usual blame game where one type of nationalists (such as the secular liberal ones) blame the other (right-wing) for all the ills in present times, Archbishop Macwan’s letter demands introspection from all those who claim themselves to be nationalists. It demands that they scrutinize the source of their nationalism, identity, and pride.

 

The ironic remark in the Archbishop Macwan’s letter should also be an occasion for us to realize that if there is a growing insecurity amongst the ‘minority’ communities that prompts such statements, it is not necessarily because such minority communities are inward-looking and that they cannot look beyond their own selfish gains. It is rather prompted by a very real experience of facing daily marginalization or minoritization and observing how other communities too are subjected to similar discrimination. We in Goa have observed how legitimate issues raised in a church-run magazine were brushed aside by the whole political establishment. The discussion of the Archbishop’s pastoral letters seems to follow a similar script; the storm that is whipped up about the letter diverts us from the pressing problems.

 

At the end of the day, the issue is not whether nationalism works or not; it is rather the gap between the ideals of nationalism (no matter what shade) and the reality that it ends up hiding. The real challenge that confronts us is to bring the discussion back to the problems faced by the multitude of minoritized and poor communities in India. In this task one might profit much in heeding to the call for safeguarding the constitutional values.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 6 December, 2017)

The Anatomy of Resistance: Society and Protest

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

India’s bid to be a superpower, or at least economically dominate the region of Asia has guided many policy decisions in the last decade or so. The Mopa airport is part of this scheme. Ever since the airport was proposed, circa 2000, India’s economic policy has consistently promoted airports and projected them as a way to allow small cities or towns, and rural areas to partake of the economic benefits of a surging economy, while also opening up these spaces for the investment of global capital and infrastructure development. The brunt of this ‘development’, as is all too familiar for Goans, has to be borne by the people on whom it is forced – especially the marginalized ones. The idea that smaller undeveloped areas can be included in the circuits of a surging economy – in turn benefiting the people of these regions – by massive injection of infrastructure investment simply does not hold water.

 

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Mormugao to Mopa: A Case of (Ob)noxious Development

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

There should by now be no doubt in our minds that any large infrastructure development in India happens only through the destruction of resources like land, water, and air. This economic system is largely the legacy of British colonialism and Nehruvian socialist policies that promoted large scale land acquisitions and mega projects such as massive dams and industries. The many protests and demonstrations that one witnesses against polluting industries and wholesale land acquisitions in India is a fallout of this process initiated by the British Raj and followed through – ostensibly due to national interest – by the independent nation-state of India.

 

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Culture Wars: Portuguese Heritage In Goa

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

The Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts (IGNCA), based at New Delhi has been documenting and studying Indian culture since 1985. Recently, the IGNCA has embarked on an ambitious project of promoting the endangered culture and traditions of various tribes in India. As part of this initiative, the IGNCA has decided to establish three regional centers in Ranchi, Jharkhand, Pondicherry, and in Goa. Sachchidanand Joshi, Member Secretary of the IGNCA was quoted in the press explaining the general objectives of the project, “We do not have reliable database for various tribes including endangered tribes. These are changing and someone needs to document the change”.

 

Though the objective of this project seems to be oriented towards preserving marginalized groups and their endangered traditions, IGNCA’s view of Goan culture, tradition, and history seem to be lacking as far as Goans are concerned. In the first place, IGNCA understands Goan culture as one that is “dying”. An official from IGNCA was quoted in a prominent national daily, “…we have set up our regional centre in Goa and signed an MoU with Ravindra Bhawan to launch a massive hunt for the folklore artistes to take part in theatres, perform folk dance, sing folk songs and play various musical instruments which have nothing to do with Portuguese culture. The idea is to save the dying cultural heritage of Goa by reviving and recording them”. In other words, the IGNCA has already written the epitaph of a vibrant and living community and its culture.

 

Secondly, and perhaps more problematically, the IGNCA posits Goan culture, especially that of rural and Bahujan Goa, as being different from and untouched by Portuguese culture. To assume that rural cultures exist without any external influences is to essentialize them as cultures isolated from the rest. If they have been isolated from the rest it is largely because these traditions were limited to a particular caste or tribal group, and not part of the traditions of a wider and diverse community.

 

This is not the first time that cultural chauvinists – both from Goa and outside – have had a problem with Goa’s different culture; different, that is, from what is seen as “mainstream” Indian or Hindu culture. This Goan difference is not simply confined to the Christians of Goa. Indeed, the temple architecture until very recently borrowed elements from Renaissance architecture as well as from Islamicate art. That the IGNCA is today leading this movement of reform or purification is not surprising given that one of the aims of the Centre is to “evolve models of research programmes and arts administrations more portinent [pertinent] to the Indian ethos”.

 

India’s caste system ensures that tribal and Dalitbahujan communities remain backwards. Preserving cultural practices mired in casteist and discriminatory social relations could also mean that these people remain marginalized. Thus, the whole idea of preserving cultural practices – of creating essentially happy museumized cultures – necessarily must address the issue of how these very same practices allow for discrimination to persist.

 

And it is not like all kinds of Goan cultural traditions have not received the support and encouragement of state machinery – whether of the colonial or of the nation-state. And each of these states has promoted these cultural traditions for their own selfish ends. For instance, the late Portuguese colonial state, around the 1940s and 1950s, was responsible for the identification and promotion of several folk traditions from Goa – such as the ghodde-moddnni and dangar dances – as authentic Goan folk traditions. Ironically, this is the precise moment when many of folk traditions found in Goa come to be seen as Goan for the first time ever.

 

With Indian rule from 1961, the Indian and Goan government promoted many of these folkloric traditions for generating income from tourism from the 1970s. And now the present government with its narrow understanding of Indian and Goan culture seems to be promoting a ‘Goan culture’ or parts of Goan culture in order to purify the same from Portuguese influences.

 

So where does this leave Goan culture in contemporary times? Probably in a bad place because new efforts to define (or re-define) Goan culture possibly would rob it of its diversity and the various cultural influences in its history. For instance, if we say that we have to rid Goa of its Portuguese influences then an art form like the mando would have to disappear. Goa will be poorer because a classic mando like Adeus Korcho Vellu Pavlo, composed by Torquato de Figuereido in 1905, will no longer be part of its cultural heritage. One could even say that tiatr, owing its origins to western opera can also be termed as foreign or un-Indian. The list, perhaps, will be quite long if we hold on to this thinking of ‘cultural purity’.

 

Cultural purists in India and Goa miss a crucial point: the intervention of the Portuguese and the cultural practices that evolved in this long period are crucial in the creation of Goa or how Goa developed through time. There is no Goa outside of this history of myriad cultural influences converging to form its cultural characters, beginning from the time of the Estado da Índia. In a similar way it is also important to remember that many traditions fundamental to Indian culture, such as in food, developed as a result of Portuguese commercial policies. Chilies and potatoes, for instance, reached the shores of the Indian subcontinent some five centuries ago. Stated in a different way, there is no pure Goan culture – whether Portuguese or Indian.

 

To not recognize this fact would only mean that we will be hastening the process of fabricating our own history and promoting a general amnesia regarding the same.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 25th October, 2017)

Season of Plenty?: Tourism and the Locals in Goa

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

In most discussions on the impact of tourism on Goa, the issues that locals face as a result of the tourism do not enjoy much attention. With charter flights landing from the beginning of October, there was quite a buzz in the media speculating a successful tourist season. The buzz, perhaps, was created because the industry is in such dire straits and much of Goa’s economy is believed to depend on the footfalls of tourists. In all these reports, there was an image that stuck in my mind, which I think is symbolic of the misguided way in which tourism is conducted in Goa.

 

Those who arrived on the first charter flight were given a warm welcome with roses, and a brass band belting out some tunes in the background. These were scenes of happy and hospitable Goans. Apart from drawing on the stereotype of Goans being ever open to tourists and tourism-related activities, the welcome given to the charter tourists looked like an attempt by the Tourism department to remedy the image of Goa’s tourism industry which has taken a hit due to reports of mismanagement, environmental degradation, the rising rate of crime, and the destruction of Goan resources through an unsustainable increase in the number of tourists.

 

The aforementioned image seems to be a part of a pattern: a history of tourism policy-making that has only viewed the average Goan as a happy-go-lucky person who does nothing but enjoys and entertains. One can access this history of the creation and implementation (or the lack of proper implementation) of tourism policies in Goa through two documents: the “Master Plan for Tourism Development in Goa”, July 1987 and the recent “Tourism Master Plan”, 2016. These documents tell us how the policy-makers conceptualized Goa as a tourist destination, and how, through the implementation of this policy, the successive governments failed to take account of the problems that were identified in these documents. For instance, the ‘master plans’ recognized that there are limits to the number of tourists a place can accommodate; yet, we see that successive governments have tried to increase the number of tourists in Goa. More tourists require more people to service them and this has led to large-scale migration of labor into Goa. While the absence of proper labor laws and regulatory mechanisms have led to the influx of a large number of migrant labor and consequently their exploitation as well, the high influx also indicates that tourism as an industry has failed to provide gainful and dignified employment to local Goans as one can observe Goans migrating elsewhere for better job opportunities. So, how has all this tourism benefitted Goa and Goans?

 

During the 1980s when the Indian state and the Goan government were trying to promote tourism, they created the image of Goa as a timeless paradise. Goa was marketed as a blend of the East and the West, a slice of Southern Europe in India that tourists could afford for a fraction of the price. As Paul Routledge writes in his essay, “Consuming Goa: Tourist Site as Dispensable Space” in the Economic and Political Weekly (2000), the tourism industry was driven by the logic of consumption; nothing could stand in the middle of ‘Goa the paradise’ and the leisure consumption of the incoming tourists.

 

In such a scenario of Goan resources being offered for the consumption of tourists, what happens of the local Goan? The problem is that the local Goan is only included in the planning of tourism development as a service-provider, or worse, as someone who has to endure the mismanagement of public infrastructure because the tourism industry requires that Goa’s resources – roads, water, land, etc –  be pressed in the service of the tourists. Thus, a lot of Goa’s economic planning today is oriented to serve the tourists, not the locals. The casinos in the Mandovi are a great example of this kind of development. Even the viral e-petition that demanded the introduction of app-based taxi services in Goa argued that the main reason why Goa needs such alternate transport services is because “[t]ourism is the backbone of Goa’s economy and tourists across the world & India are used to services like OLA/UBER, it’s [sic] time to allow them to operate in Goa”. The first benefit of such a move, the petition suggests, is – not surprisingly – a “boost to tourism”.

 

Could this e-petition, like much of Goa’s tourism policy-decisions, be oriented in a different direction? Could the locals be privileged over the tourists? Could the petition have said that because of the increase in Goa’s population and the abysmal public transport system, the locals need to be provided with alternate and affordable modes of transportation?

 

While governmental policy has favored tourists over locals, the response from Goa’s civil society, too, seems to be trapped within the same logic. At the end of the day, Goans giving into the logic of leisure consumption or of understanding Goa as a pleasure periphery (especially of India), effectively means that local Goans – us – have very little say in our own collective economic and cultural future. Even if the economy is in a bad state and the state coffers are almost empty, one must find better ways to rejuvenate Goa’s economic situation. Such a scenario would be always better than selling away our say in our collective future for a few pieces of silver.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 11 October, 2017)