Trucked! Mining Dust and Protest in Goa

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

With the Sadhana Multipurpose Cooperative Society (SMCS) being allowed a legal existence as a cooperative society, the debate on how Goa should deal with its mineral resources is moving forward in a direction that holds much promise. The initiative of the setting up of the cooperative was led by the villagers of Caurem, particularly by Ravindra Velip. The villagers of Caurem had to fight for almost three years before the authorities agreed to recognize Sadhana as a cooperative society. That Sadhana was made to wait for so long is not surprising considering that their objectives is to enter the mining business whereby they will operate leases, extract ore, transport the extracted ore, sell and export it, cutting across the interests of giant corporates. This three year period, therefore, was not one of idle wait for the villagers of Caurem, but one marked by numerous protests as well as attacks on the villagers.

 

One of such protests had led to the arrest of some villagers in Caurem, including an assault on them while in jail. RavindraVelip was then the panch of Caurem. A new graphic novel, released online for free circulation about a month ago, uses the assault on Velip and his comrades as a backdrop to reflect on the struggles of people against the destruction of lives and ecology. Trucked! is a joint effort by Favita Dias, a lecturer in sociology, and the illustrator Anjora Noronha. The title of the graphic novel draws from the image of a thousand trucks that transported iron ore from the mines of Caurem to the docks in Sanvordem.  The graphic novel is about Dias’ personal experience of attending a protest meet and standing in solidarity with the villagers of Caurem.

Dias recounts her experience of negotiating her way to Caurem, where the trucks are lined bumper-to-bumper. “Follow the trucks,” Dias is told, when she asked for directions to Caurem; the empty ones, of course. Trucked! in this sense not only serves as a metaphor for negotiating the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the road from Caurem to Sanvordem, but also helps to bring attention to the most visible aspect of mining: the trucks that transport the ore.In fact those who live in the mining areas and on the route through which the ore is transported would largely agree with Dias’ characterization of the trucks as “monsters”. These vehicles speed down the roads, kicking a storm of dust and mowing down whatever comes in their path – even other human beings.

 

The graphic aesthetic also tries to capture the problems that rampant mining has brought about. The colour red – the colour of the Goan soil and of large-scale mining as well – jumps out of the pages. The powdery texture that the illustrator has managed to produce gives us an impression that it is actually the mining dust that is on the pages of the graphic novel. Much of the internal reflection or the inner thoughts and past memories of the author are depicted using shades of gray. This alternates between the red, dusty-texture of scenes involving iron ore. Thus, the graphic novel offers us a stark contrast between two worlds: the internal world whereby one tends to reflect deeply about finding solutions to problems; and the external world that witnesses a senseless and unabated destruction of lives and ecology.

 

It is important to recognize how this interiority or internal reflections can help in thinking about the problems related to mining, or for that matter any other problem that confronts Goa. Dias offers a reflection on where an individual should place herself in the larger scheme of things; how one can relate to the struggles of others. It is also about keeping faith, and gaining hope and strength from the battles waged by others, that ultimately would bring about positive changes in our own lives. Dias reflects on the manner in which the villagers of Caurem were waging their protest and resisting the assault of mining corporations and how Ravindra Velip, calm and composed, was handling all sorts of allegations against him in the fight for justice. Trucked! teaches us a way to think and feel about the problems and protests that we are witness to.

 

In fact, this ability to express the internal condition of the mind to a problem widespread in society was also seen when Dias wrote an essay on her personal experiences in encountering casteism; her coming to terms with her identity as a woman from the Gauda community (published in O Heraldo, 24 January 2016). The personal and emotional conflicts that one goes through and how one can think of these conflicts and pressures in a wider social universe is the way in which Dias structures her work.

 

It is also essential to recognize the importance of various types or modes of representations that discuss problems faced by the society. Thus, our resistance to the problems becomes stronger if, along with newspaper reports, op-eds and books, we also have other forms of representation like tiatr, songs, and graphic novels such as Trucked! Such efforts would go a long way to build a corpus of texts that record history of Goa’s struggles against destructive so-called development.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 24 May, 2017)

No Bars on the Highway to Prevent Road Accidents: Is that the Solution?

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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

The barring of bars along and within visibility of highways has had major repercussions for Goa, which as of 31st March, 2017, had 11,974 liquor outlets on its rolls. Considering Goa’s corridor status, it has 224 kms of national highway and 232 kms of state highway. Hence 3178 of the liquor outlets (nearly 35%) are mapped as coming within the ambit of the much talked of Supreme Court judgement, that is 2290 bars, 789 retail liquor shops and 99 wholesale shops.  Liquor outlets include bars, restaurants, wholesalers, retailers and warehouses.  This count only takes into account the existing highways and not the ones that are proposed to fuel projects such the coal hub, in which case that many more outlets will come within purview of the Judgement.

 

What does this Supreme Court judgement direct? Primarily that there should be no liquor outlets within 500 metres from the national/state highways, and, in case of 20,000 plus populated areas, within 220 metres. Where there are licences already issued, the same should not be renewed and no new licences should be issued for liquor outlets located in these areas. A number of these bars also had a food licence. They are free to continue the restaurant minus the bar. However, in most cases, the restaurant was seen as an appendage and the key attraction was the bar.

 

So what really did the Supreme Court judgement set out to achieve? There were a set of petitions that the Apex Court was seized with which emerged out of a concern about accidents caused by drunken driving, that even resulted in fatalities. Therefore road safety was the plank around which this judgement was passed. The Supreme Court on perusing reports and recommendations of various bodies, including the National Road Safety Council, an apex road safety body, and a string of advisories issued by the Union Government to the States, concluded that drunken driving was a major killer in road accidents, and that banning liquor outlets on highways could in some measure address the problem. The Community Against Drunk Driving had pointed out that “Twenty-four hour availability of alcohol along national and state highways results in impulsive buying of alcohol and about 72 percent road accidents on highways”.

 

Then came the question of whether this is only applicable to National Highways. The Apex Court considered it absurd that there should be different yardsticks for national highways and state highways, and mandated that the bar on bars and liquor outlets should not be limited to national highways but must also be applicable to state highways, and did not see this in disconsonance with the State excise laws that frame the scope of location of liquor outlets.

 

The Court also considered it absurd that liquor outlets on the Highway should be banned and those in the vicinity or within visibility of the highway should be spared, hence it came out with the rule of 500 metres from the highway. On moving the Apex Court again, this was modified to 220 square metres for those areas having a population of less than 20,000.

 

In keeping with this directive of the Supreme Court and the demarcation carried out accordingly by the revenue officials at the instance of the Excise Department, the Excise Department of Goa constituted and despatched teams across the State to ensure strict compliance of the Supreme Court Judgement. The liquor outlets that came within the ambit of the Supreme Court Judgement downed their shutters from 1st April, after their licences were not renewed. Shortly thereafter, in the month of April 2017 itself, there has been a spate of accidents on Goa’s streets, resulting in a number of fatalities, thereby highlighting the point that closure of bars may not be the panacea for ridding the roads of accidents or drunken driving.  Add to this the valorized machismo on Goa’s streets, and you have a heady mix that serves as the right impetus for an accident as many of these cases indicates.

 

No doubt supply of liquor has the uncanny knack of creating demand. And presence of liquor outlets prompts purchase and consumption, and to that extent there will be some respite. However, the Apex Court has failed to look at the larger picture of non-enforcement of the law that prevents driving after drinking. Or, for that matter, non-enforcement of provisions in excise laws in places like Goa, of advertising liquor products, primarily through surrogate advertisements. Neither has it looked at the issue of sensitization about road safety that will diffuse the macho attitudes that people pick up all along the way as they grow up.

 

Those who have misrepresented that their bars were located elsewhere and obtained the licence in collusion with excise authorities, may also escape at least temporarily. The Commissioner of Excise is reported to have said that the licences of liquor outlets coming within the scope of the Supreme Court Judgement, would be cancelled forever, and further that if these outlets move out of 500 metres jurisdiction then they can apply for a fresh licence, even as their existing licence will not be renewed. It is also not as if accidents do not happen due to drunken driving on roads other than national and state highways, but yes, the Supreme Court Judgment myopically looked at just the National and the State highways and that too only from the angle of one cause of road accidents, that is drunken driving.

 

Having said that, the economic fallout of this judgement is going to be immense. Even though the Chief Minister claimed that the ban will have no major impact on state revenue, it is likely that the revenue from excise, reported to be Rs. 315 crores in Goa, will reduce. But one cannot forget that the lobbying power of the liquor industry is immense. Vani Agro Farms Pvt. Ltd. wielded such power that it got the legislators of the state to amend the Preservation of Trees Act to exempt coconut trees from the Act, so that it could cut the big cluster of coconut trees off the land it had acquired, for its alcohol and brewery plant. It even got the approval from the controversial Investment Promotion Board on the pretext that it would generate 500 jobs for local people at Sanguem, even though alcohol and brewery plants do not come within the thrust areas of the Investment Promotion Board.

 

Similarly, a section of persons who were employed by liquor outlets are going to be out of employment The condition of the persons who have been living off the liquor outlets, along with their families, must be addressed. One has to distinguish between a well-oiled and polished liquor lobby that also has diversified investments in various other sectors, and the small and medium family-run enterprises that were dependent on liquor outlets for their livelihood. No doubt, there is the principle of res extra commercium, which means that by themselves, the liquor outlets are not entitled to be rehabilitated on non-renewal of their licences because they are supposed to be indulging in trade or business activities which are immoral by society’s standards and liquor trade has been perceived by the Supreme Court as one such immoral activity. Immoral or not, if people have been living on the earnings of it over the years, and the State has facilitated this dependency, then the State has to take responsibility for rehabilitation.

 

What did the other States do? Some States denotified the state highways and labelled them urban or district roads, so as to get out of the ambit of the judgement, since the distances had to be computed with reference to notified national and state highways, which shows the fickleness of the Supreme Court Judgement.  Some States even requested the Centre for a similar denotification with respect to national highways. Other States petitioned the Supreme Court to review its own Judgement. Sikkim and Meghalaya were successful, with the case they made out of their topography.

 

The Maharashtra Government has found itself in the typical conundrum where it wants to satisfy the powerful liquor lobby on the one hand, and its shrill moral overtones on the other, prompting one of its own to say, “The liquor ban on highways is not about liquor but about road safety”.  One needs to pull their bluff in claiming saving sources of revenue, like excise duty, by denotifying state highways to classify them as urban or district roads. Because an equal amount of expenditure is called for in maintenance of these roads. Already prior denotifications of roads by some states resulted in those very states again approaching the Centre to renotify, on account of further deterioration of roads under the control of local self government bodies that do not even have the resources to maintain these roads. This in turn was seen as having made the roads more accident-prone.

 

Some liquor outlet owners proved to be even more enterprising. One such liquor outlet owner from Kerala, actually built a maze that lengthens the distance from the highway to the bar by around 250 to 300 metres and thus hopes to get out of the clutches of the Supreme Court Judgement.

 

Predictably the liquor traders’ association which is headed by BJP’s unsuccessful Taleigao candidate, Mr. Dattaprasad Naik, and the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, have expressed resentment over this judgement. They argue that the judgement threatens the collapse of the liquor and tourism business. They have the CEO of Niti Ayog, India’s new Planning Commission avatar, who says it will kill the tourism industry on their side.  And this has also found an echo from the Union Tourism Minister. On the other hand, they have shown no social or legal contribution or responsibility to redress the concerns about drunken driving. They appear only to be concerned about Goa’s image as an alcohol  hub (for tourism) being dented, without a care about the implications that injuries and fatalities caused by accidents due to drunken driving, have for entire families, particularly on women and children. When women’s groups have expressed concerns about the advertising of liquor including surrogate advertising, there has been no inclination to pay attention, or rather authorities have looked the other way.

 

At another level, various ‘res extra commercium’ businesses have been touted as coup de graça for the pathetic financial debt situation of the State. States have often justified the res extra commercium businesses on the plea that they fetch the State huge sums of revenue. Then there is the multiplier revenue earned from having reduced excise duty rates, so as to draw tourists, particularly Indian tourists who throng in hordes and are projected as contributing to the State’s revenue by patronizing its businesses, including liquor business. The State simply refuses to consider a small and medium enterprise local stake holder led model of development.

 

Another argument has been that drunken driving is not a major source of accidents. The National Crime Record Bureau statistics of 2015 indicate that 1% of all accidents nationally are due to drunk driving, 31% due to reckless driving and 43% due to speeding. Goa has recorded 19 accidents due to drunken driving, of which one has been fatal, out of a total 4338 accidents. So this means 0.4% of the accidents can be statistically attributed to drunken driving. The situation is not far different in Gujarat, which is a dry state, where the percentage of accidents due to drunken driving is recorded as 0.25%. This reinforces the point that lack of effective enforcement of the law against drunken driving is the prime cause for fatal accidents resulting from drunken driving. It also does raise the point that statistical records belie the reality, because it is apparent that there have been more accidents than the statistics indicate due to drunken driving, but the police have not booked the cases as resulting from drunken driving. Apart from that, the road safety issues remain hardly addressed if so many injuries and fatalities have resulted from speeding and reckless driving. Even the most recently announced measures by way of purchase of equipment such as radars, speedometers, alcometers, vehicles, and installation of CCTVs and interceptors, is only reinforcing the State’s complete lack of a sustainable and accountable economic vision for Goa. On the contrary, the State seems to use every opportunity to become a surveillance state, to facilitate massive corporate growth at the cost of the people.

 

It is precisely this lack of a people-centric economic vision that will take care of people’s livelihoods and health and be sustainable and the lack of an accountable governance, coupled with selective impacts on the already marginalized populations that are already reeling under the social and economic crisis, that casts a super-shadow on what could have possibly been some positive fallouts of the Supreme Court Judgement.

 

Yet another point being made in this age of don’t-eat-this-don’t-dress-that, is that in a democratic society, each person should have the right to drink whatsoever he wants and however much she wants. That may be so, but the flaw however in this argument is that it is a liberal argument that fails to look at the cost of the lives of other human beings, at which this freedom is being exercised.

 

It seems that the only way that the State can get out of the present conundrum is one, to improve revenue collection from other sources that are sustainable, two, to have coordinated action on road safety and to hold accountable officials for non-enforcement of sanctions against traffic violations, three, to offer a rehabilitation package for the liquor outlets and particularly those who were working for the long existing liquor outlets, proportionate to the number of years that they have been in business, four, to conduct sensitization through various media on the perils of drunken and erratic driving and to demystify and  deconstruct the supermanhood that is ascribed to those who drive with speed, five, to address issues of surrogate advertising of liquor.

 

(First published in Goa Today, May 2017)

 

Fathoming a different Mothers’ Day

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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

We live in times when commercial Mother’s Day ads stereotype the role of mothers, even as they do not give value to their work. We live in times when jingoism runs high and we are pushed into a situation where our concern as mothers – literally and figuratively – of the menfolk on the country’s borders has to be translated into applauding them for giving up their lives or losing their lives for the ‘nation’. We live in times when we are not expected to interrogate the circumstances and political diktats under which the armed force men became vulnerable to these killings.

 

We live in times when a High Court Judge is called out by Supreme Court for contempt of court and sentenced to imprisonment, despite the Supreme Court’s own contention that he is insane. He cannot be both insane and guilty of contempt of court. Evolved jurisprudence cannot be upturned only because the Court that feels contemned or the judges that feel contemned are the Supreme Court of India. It is such approaches that embroil apex court judges in a culture of impunity even when it comes to sexual harassment at the workplace of India’s daughters.

 

The world just observed another Mother’s day in these times. It is, therefore, that we need to revert to the Julia Howard Lowe’s Mother’s Day declaration way back in 1870, imploring “Arise then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies…Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience.We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, disarm’. The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor does violence indicate possession…In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions and the great and general interests of peace.”

 

Howe transitioned from a proponent of war to an anti-war activist after she witnessed the mutual mass slaughter of the War Between the States (1861 – 1865). We see such transitioning and interrogation in India as well.

 

Leila Seth, the first woman judge of the Supreme Court of India who passed away twelve days ago (may she rise in peace, simple soul), did not hesitate as a mother of a gay son, to question the wisdom of the Supreme Court through an op-ed in a national newspaper. In that op-ed, she questioned the Apex Court’s  judgement which sought to restore section 377 treating homosexuality as an unnatural act, and said openly that by those standards her son was now a criminal, and would be further considered criminal if he married following his sexual orientation. She was upfront and made it clear that this critique came from her both as a jurist and as a mother of a gay son.

 

Just this month itself, Varsha Dogre, Deputy Jailor, Raipur Central Jail, posted on Facebook that she was a witness to the torture of minor tribal girls, at police stations, stripped and tortured, with marks of electric shock on their hands and breasts seen by her. “We need to introspect, because those who are getting killed in either side of this war in Bastar are our own people. The capitalist system is being forced on Bastar, tribals are being pushed out of their lands, their villages are being burnt, women raped — all this to grab land and forests. All this isn’t being done to end Naxalism”, she is reported to have stated.  “Farmers and jawans are brothers, they shouldn’t kill each other.”Dogre faced the consequences of her posting, was suspended and the post ended up being deleted.

 

In the months gone by,  the double speak about jawans broke apart and Gurmehar Kaur, the daughter of a defence person who had died at Kargil was no longer seen as the daughter of that revered man protecting our bordersor the daughter of Kargil’s martyr. Why? Only because she called out the goondaism of the workers of the ruling party’s student wing the ABVP, following an invite to JNU students Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid to address a seminar on ‘Culture of Protests’.  On the contrary, she claims she got threats of rape for calling out such goondaism. Can we have a comfortable Mother’s Day with such occurrences all around us?

 

Mothersas people in their country and as peoples in other countries need to be able to interrogate surgical strikes and war drums in their country as well as in the neighbouring countries and blow the bugle of peace, so mothers will no longer face anguish at the wanton loss of their sons, which could well have been averted, if the war machinery and war corporates and war mongers were not considered all that precious.

 

What is Mother’s Day if mothers don’t have the space to express the anguish they face over the injustices being heaped on their children, where even the State is complicit? One of the greatest tributes one can pay to motherhood, is to create the spaces for expressions of anguish and concern, and to showcase mothers who stand up against injustices to their children and the children of the world, and set the road for a truly peaceful democracy.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 18 May, 2017. This is an edited version)

National Interests and Local Interests

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

Goa Forward’s (GF) recent views on the expansion of coal handling at the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) should be evaluated with the party’s rhetoric of being a ‘regional party’. Surprising, some might say, that a party that stood for Goemkarponn is at odds with those who are desperately working to save Goa’s ecology. If regional interests or Goemkarponn are to be secured for the benefit of the local people, can national interests be served at the same time? Though the backlash to the statements led to a retraction as far as coal handling is concerned, nonetheless GF’s recent statements and their compromises on the issue of nationalization of rivers should make us to introspect and interrogate how national and regional interests operate.

 

Apart from the fact that national interests have a flip side of making those who do not conform to these interests as ‘anti-nationals’, terms like national interest are a curious way through which protests are muzzled, especially those against the draconian policies of the state. Often policies and projects carried out for the express purpose of securing national interest benefit multinational corporations. National interest further benefit persons of dominant caste and class groups or those who enjoy the power given unto them by the state and the media, while the land and resources of the poor and bahujan groups are appropriated wholesale.

 

Large-scale projects are not the only way to observe the operation of national interests against regional ones. In a curious way, we can see it operating in Goa’s language politics as well. By making Nagri-scripted Konkani as one of the official languages of Goa, a certain nationalist politics was put into play. The Roman-scripted Konkani and those who demanded that it too be recognized as official were left out. Within this nationalist politics it was not possible to recognize the Roman script because the Roman script is allegedly foreign. Anything foreign is not Indian, and therefore would not serve any national interests. Portuguese-inflected or -derived words in Konkani had to be purged in favor of Sanskrit-derived vocabulary to make Konkani more Indian and more national.

 

Linked to the politics of the Konkani language and its official script is the Medium of Instruction (MoI) issue. The demand for English, so the argument went, was anti-thetical to Indian culture. Forcing children to study only in “regional languages”, some believe, would instill national pride in the children of Goa. Vile propaganda suggested that the MoI in English was a conspiracy to serve ‘Catholic interests’. It is, however, a different matter that those who are demanding English as MoI are fed-up of the parochial language politics in Goa, and see no future in the manner in which ‘regional languages’ are forced onto the Goan public, more especially, on the poorer and bahujan sections who cannot afford private English education. The bottom line is that through a narrow and parochial politics, Goa’s elite classes are serving national interests that do not see any merits in including all forms of cultures and linguistic expressions. In fact one is expected to give up on certain practices if they do not conform to the national standard.

 

During the press conference which received a huge backlash, GF’s spokesperson Prashant Naik also made a sarcastic comment, arguing that if there is an opposition to all development projects then all Goans will have to “make the passport” and leave. Notwithstanding the blatant illegalities of such development projects as well as the manner in which such projects rob the people of Goa of their land and water, Naik’s seemingly off-the-cuff statement reveals a deep-seated bias. Those who opt for a Portuguese passport in order to have access to better employment opportunities, and in many ways to escape the increasingly vitiated and stifling political atmosphere in Goa, are seen as betraying the nation. They are viewed as having no loyalty to the nation. By suggesting that there is a link between those who opt for Portuguese citizenship and those who oppose mega-projects, Naik’s statement precisely draws from a ‘nationalist’ discourse that has no regard for the problems and difficulties of the people that drive migration.

 

Goa’s recent history is witness to several protests that opposed the large-scale takeover by the central governmental agencies and multinational corporations. At least from the 1980s there have been protests against such polluting industries like the Zuari Agro Chemicals, Nylon 6,6, Du Pont, Meta-Strips, the agitation against the Konkan Railway, as well as the agitation against the setting up of the Special Economic Zone, or the agitation led by the Ramponnkars, the traditional fishermen to safeguard the interests of people in traditional occupations. The agitation against evictions in Baina (in the garb of ‘cleaning’ the beaches of prostitution and migrants) amongst several others should also be remembered while the issue of MPT’s expansion is discussed. What this suggests is that in its recent history Goa has witnessed spirited opposition against a form of ‘development’ that is a direct assault on the lives of people.

 

Claims of national interest should be examined if they secure or deny rights to people, whether these rights are legal, cultural, environmental or in any other sphere. The discussion of Goemkarponn, local interests, and national interests should focus on the struggles in Goa’s recent history that has somewhat restricted the march of developmental projects. This and other instances such as the MoI issue wherein a large section of the people of Goa mobilized to fulfill certain demands tell us that the people of Goa have put local interests above so-called national ones. This is an important lesson to remember.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 10 May, 2017)

Sustainable Mining can only be done by Local Communities

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By AMITA KANEKAR

 

This article is about two mining villages: Sonshi, which has put the focus back on Goa’s nefarious mining mafia and the government that supports them tooth and nail; and Caurem-Maina, which has just succeeded in registering a village co-operative which aims to take charge of mining in the village.

 

Mining re-started in Goa only late last year after it was stopped in 2012 following the Shah Commission’s report of widespread illegalities and looting of public money to the tune of Rs 35,000 crore. But the villagers of Sonshi have exposed that, despite clear orders from the Supreme Court, not to mention any number of complaints from citizens, nothing has changed with either the unscrupulousness of the mining companies, nor the government which is supposed to enforce the law and protect public interest. Sonshi, located in the heartland of Goa’s mining belt, is the proof. 1200 truck-loads of iron ore rumble through the village every day. Everything in the village—roads, houses, trees, fields, the few children in the government school—is covered in red dust. The mining has dried the village wells; water is supplied through tankers by the mining companies and stored in covered drums, but it is both insufficient and covered in dust. People report all kinds of ailments connected to dust.

 

All of this is in blatant violation of the law, for which strict action should have been taken by various agencies of the government: the Directorate of Mines and Geology, the Directorate of Road Transport, and the Goa State Pollution Control Board. But they’ve done nothing.

 

And there is also a livelihood issue. Many villagers were employed in the mining industry before 2012, but no longer. Some of them had invested in trucks to transport ore; those trucks are also idle since 2012, even as other trucks roar past their houses. So the people languish in unemployment and loss, while profits are extracted from the land under their feet.

 

This too was of no concern to the government. The only action it took is to arrest the villagers themselves when they decided to stop the passage of trucks through their village. 45 villagers spent twelve nights in jail, refusing to pay the bail amount. It was only after the story hit the headlines that they were released, with government assurances that all their concerns would be addressed.

 

But who believes this? Everything in Sonshi points to Goa going back to the pre-2012 days of illegal and rapacious mining, destroying the environment, robbing the public exchequer, and dishing out violence of all kinds on the local communities. Will the villagers of Sonshi too finally be forced to accept some pittance of compensation and disappear, as they are being pressurised to?

 

No—not if another Goan village has its way. The village of Caurem-Maina in Quepem has a solution to the mess and, what’s more, has just achieved a milestone in the struggle to realise it. After nearly three years of struggle, the Sadhana Multipurpose Co-operative Society Ltd., a co-operative intended to take up all development issues in the twin hamlets, has finally been registered by the Assistant Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Quepem.

 

This is an important step for Goa, because at the heart of the mining imbroglio is the question of who decides about development. Thanks to the colonial approach to Goa’s development, both before and after 1961, especially with regard to the top triumvirate of mining, tourism and real estate development, development is a scary word for bahujan and tribal communities of Goa. It means robbed lands, destroyed occupations, polluted fields, gentrified villages, resource-guzzling resorts and casinos, and now coal-poisoned water and land. It means development along the neo-liberal capitalist model, providing good times and massive profits to bhatcars, corporates, and other elites, Goan and Indian. It means maximum extraction of every resource possible, while bahujans and tribals pay the price.

 

But there is hope. The decision of the tribal villages of Caurem-Maina to set up a co-operative to take charge of all development in the village, is the culmination of a fight against illegal mining that began in 2008. Even though the villagers were dependent on mining jobs themselves, they made innumerable complaints, petitions, and RTI applications over the past decade, and also organised demonstrations and protests, all to expose over-extraction, the concealment of ore as dumps, the making of fraudulent inventories (showing lower quantities than actually mined), pollution, etc. In return, they were met by harassment, savage beatings, and arrests on numerous counts.

 

The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Indian Constitution, and laws like Extension of Panchayati Raj to the Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) of 1995, and the Rights to the Forest Act (FRA) of 2006, were supposed to ensure that locals take all decisions regarding land, forests, and development, especially in tribal areas. This is precisely what the villagers were trying to do. It is ironical but sharply clear that, in this entire struggle, it is they who have been on the side of the law, trying to monitor the industry and check illegalities—i.e. doing the job of the government—while the government itself has been on the side of the criminals. Even the application for the registration of their co-operative first met with refusal; they had to fight all the way up to the Bombay High Court before they were accepted.

 

The fight is not over, of course. The Sadhana Co-operative has now petitioned the Chief Minister’s office to cancel the existing leases in Caurem-Maina, all of which are in violation of the law, so that the co-operative can take charge of mining. Will the government agree? No prizes for guessing.

 

(With thanks to Ravindra Velip, chief promoter, The Sadhana Multipurpose Co-operative Ltd.)

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 4 May, 2017)

Cow Politics and Slavery

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

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 Scroll.in, 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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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

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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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

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)

Coal and a bit of Colonialism

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By DALE LUIS MENEZES

 

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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By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

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)