Racism: Theory and Practice

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By AMITA KANEKAR

 

How can we forget Atithee devo bhava (the guest is god), that pillar of Indian culture? Such was the lament from some sections of the Indian media following the latest murderous attacks on Africans, this time in Noida and triggered by the death of a local teenager. Five Nigerian students in the neighbourhood were arrested after being accused by locals of everything from drugging the boy to eating him, following which mobs began to search for and beat up other Africans, grievously injuring four men who were cornered in a mall. Except for arresting the Nigerians on charges of murder (they were later released for lack of evidence), and thus adding credence to the wild rumours going around, the police did nothing.

 

These events are sickening but hardly surprising. Similar racist assaults on black people happened in Delhi and Bangalore last year and before, one even led by AAP minister Somnath Bharati. Goa is no better, with a black tourist dying in a northern village last year, apparently after being beaten by villagers in the presence of police; the victim was dismissed as a thief, as if it is fine to assault thieves. And who has forgotten the vicious mob attack in 2013 on a group of Nigerians who had blocked the Porvorim highway to protest the murder of a fellow-Nigerian? That attack found widespread support from the establishment, including then-MLAs-now-Ministers Vijai Sardesai and Rohan Khaunte.

 

As before, this time too the Indian government had denied that the violence was racist, resulting in strong criticism from the African diplomatic missions. Some worried murmurs have also come from India’s liberal intelligentsia, apparently worried about the international image of India, and about a possible impact on Indian investments in Africa. Something, they say, needs to be done.

 

But it would be foolish to expect any action from the Indian government. Because deeply engrained in the savarna psyche is the idea that racism is what others do to Indians. The reason is that, in India, racism is a normal and everyday thing; it never gets singled out because it’s simply part and parcel of our great Brahmanical culture and tradition. Here the preference for white skin is not something to be ashamed of, it is in fact celebrated in art, films, songs, and, of course, commerce. If white skin is seen as beautiful, pure, high and savarna (literally ‘good colour’), black skin is considered polluted, low, avarna (‘no colour’), and treated accordingly. No surprises that, even without the attacks, the experience of black people in India is terrible: verbal abuse on the street, mockery, discrimination, rejection, and stereotyping as drug-peddlers, criminals, prostitutes (when women), and even cannibals; the last being, as Jael Silliman (March 31, 2017) pointed out, the ultimate ‘othering’ and dehumanisation.

 

This is actually the same treatment meted out to bahujans, minorities, adivasis and North-easterners in India too. Aren’t we used to the Goan Catholic woman being stereotyped as loose, and the Goan Catholic man as drunk, in Hindi cinema? Because caste requires public humiliation. For atithee devo bhava to work, the guests have to be savarna or white; others are not considered fit to be guests.

 

As for public lynchings, this is another old tradition of South Asia’s caste society, for caste needs public violence too. The targeting of innocents for offences committed by their family- or caste-members is yet another tradition, because this culture sees people not as individuals but only as groups, backgrounds, caste identities, or, in this case, as blacks. And in all of this, the ones targeted are always the humble and powerless. Such is the way of the coward, the bully, and of caste society.

 

But there is a theory to this behaviour too. Indian liberals are quick to condemn the ugly images, like those from the Noida mall. They might even condemn the public rapes and murders of Dalits at Khairlanji and elsewhere, the public murders of inter-caste lovers, or the recent public stripping and assault on two Dalit women for taking water from a ‘upper caste well’ in Gujarat. What rarely gets mentioned though is how this violence stems from some of the foundational ideas of this nation.

 

Dorothy M. Figueira (Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity, 2015) speaks about the racist Aryan myth of the 18th-19th centuries, which portrayed the Aryans as a superior race, far better than the Judaeo-Christians, creators of an ideal civilisation, fonts of universal truths (the Vedas), ancestors of both Europeans and savarnas, and native to India. Those involved in propagating this myth were Europeans (Enlightenment stalwarts, Romanticists, and Orientalists) (from Voltaire to Max Muller and Nietzsche), along with Brahmin reformers (like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanand Saraswati) and nationalists (like Tilak and Vivekananda). The reformers used it to create an Aryan Golden Age past which British India was supposed to return to, while the nationalists used it to justify the Brahmanical present. It was a myth that led Europe to the Nazis, and British India to Brahmanical nationalism.

 

Racism was thus a formative part of the nationalism of the Indian elites. Their unhappiness with British rule stemmed from this racist-casteist sense of superiority, when they found themselves not given a status equal to the British, while their caste position was increasingly challenged by the rising bahujan communities. Before this they were only too happy to work with the white man, not just in British India, but in Africa too. This eagerness to exploit Africa continues even today, and was on display when the Portuguese Prime Minister visited Goa recently, with Goan elites speaking excitedly about possible ‘collaboration in Africa’.

 

Collaboration over Africa between the Brahmin and the European, but not of course with the African! That would be the way championed by none other than the father of our nation. For, as he said, ‘Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir…’ (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 1, Page 410).

 

(With thanks to Arif Ayaz Parrey for his Facebook post on the Noida violence.)

 

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

Caste Atrocities in Goa: Give Us this Day… Our Land!

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By AMITA KANEKAR

Gayechi shepdi tumi doura,amkaam amchi zamin diya – such is the slogan (translated into Concani) of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladayi Samiti, formed in Gujarat after the recent atrocity where 4 Dalit men were tortured by Gau Rakshaks, for disposing of dead cattle. Atrocities on Dalits are of course not new for South Asia; indeed they are the way of life for the brahmanical societies here. But, even as India rang to this new slogan, and other inspiring news from Gujarat where a vow has been taken by Dalit communities to forswear this occupation that they have traditionally been forced to do, leading to the dumping of cattle carcasses in front of government offices, Goa has been mostly silent. There was a small protest on 15 August in support of the Gujarat struggle, but, apart from this, one would imagine that Goa has nothing to do with such atrocities.

 

But this is not true. Atrocities against Dalits (and others) are part of not just Goa’s history, but contemporary culture too. Just a few days earlier, the people of Shahu Nagar wado in Ibrampur village, Pernem, had invited lawyers and others to their village to discuss the serious caste discrimination rampant there. Ibrampur has seven wados with a total population of 1800, of which the Mahars comprise 166 persons. As is the case with most Goan villages, the wados are caste-based, with the Mahars living to this day in a separate wado, known to the village and the government as the Maharwado or Harijanwado, though the residents have decided to change the name to Shahu Nagar. And although they have lived here for generations, toiling on the land and growing many fruit trees and other crops there, the land is not in their name, except for their houses. The rest is in the control of the Communidade of the village. And this Communidade is dominated by members of the Gawas community, who consider themselves higher than the Mahars.

 

The recent grievance of the Mahars concerns the Prime Minister’s Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, under which Ibrampur is one of three villages selected to become a ‘model village’. Funds have been laid out for these villages to invest on various kinds of infrastructure. The Shahu Nagar residents had applied 2 years ago for a community hall and children’s park in their wado, individual (private) toilets and water connections, and a proper road to all houses in the wado. The Gram Panchayat apparently said that a No-Objection Certificate (NoC) was required from the Communidade, which the latter had refused to give. When the villagers approached the Communidade, they were told that the NoC would only be provided if the people of Shahu Nagar took up all their old occupations again. They had been permitted to stay on the land, the Communidade members are reported to have said, only in return for providing ‘seva’ to the village. In other words, the Mahars had to go back to beating drums at temple festivities, beating the dhol through the village at other times, clearing carcasses, delivering messages, etc, all of which they had given up years ago.

 

The people of Shahu Nagar protested that many of them were employed otherwise now. The Communidade however remained adamant. the Mahars had to do the work. Only then would the development of their wado be considered.

 

Meanwhile, the funds released under the scheme are being utilised in the other wados, where roads, gutters, taps, toilets, and wells are being built. In Shahu Nagar however, even a deep and dangerous hole which has developed in the main road remains unrepaired.

 

And this is not the only atrocity being faced by the Dalits here. They are not allowed to build new houses, extend their old ones, or even build new sheds or barns; one person was threatened when he tried. And they are, even today, not allowed to enter the village temple. There are some houses, including that of a teacher of the local school, where they are offered water in separate glasses. This school conducts a Satyanarayana puja every year (itself a questionable activity—why should a government school hold religious programme, and that of only some faiths?) in which Mahar students are not allowed to play a role. The villagers say that they have complained about all this to BJP MLA Rajendra Arlekar, who represents Pernem in the Assembly, but to no avail.

 

And Ibrampur’s story is not a unique one. Avinash Jadhav, an activist of Dalit Ekta Samiti, carried out a one-day hunger strike in Panjim on 15 August, in solidarity with the Gujarat movement and also to highlight atrocities in Goa, especially in Sattari. Jadhav described Dalits there as living ‘in custody’. They lived, he said, completely at the mercy of the bhatkars, i.e. the Rane family, with no title to the land on which they have lived and toiled for generations, without the freedom to harvest the produce from their own trees, sometimes even with barbed wire fencing put around their houses by the bhatkar’s men to prevent them ‘trespassing’ on the sprawling lands controlled by him.

 

In other words, our ‘progressive’ land of Goa is rife with caste-based atrocities, most of them directly connected to the practices and beliefs of Hinduism, as pointed out ages ago by Jyotiba Phule as well as Dr Ambedkar. And a critical element of this oppression is through control of land. Thus the slogan given by the Dalits in Gujarat, challenging the Hindu obsession with the cow and also focussing on land, is the slogan for Goa as well – Keep the cow’s tail for yourself, give us our land!

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 25 August, 2016)

Can Upper Castes fight Brahmanism?

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 By AMITA KANEKAR

fistWhile in Panjim’s Campal area the other day, I passed the Luis Francisco Gomes Garden. Now this old public park is a pleasant place, partly for its setting under shady rain trees planted around a hundred years ago, but also for its friendly design of low walls, plentiful seats, and bandstand. Campal was an elite residential locality at one time, whose residents probably were not very welcoming of ‘commoners’, but the garden design certainly was. The low broad walls are especially notable, inviting one to sit or even nap on them, or easily hop over them into the garden without bothering to locate the (many) gates.

Or rather, they used to be. Now however, the top of the walls is covered with closed-spaced sharp stone pieces, set vertically. Touch the walls at your own risk.

What kind of public attitude does this renovation betray? Only someone who belongs to the elite, with private resources for relaxation and a car to commute in, and who is infused with brahmanical ideas of treating non-elites shabbily, could have come up with such a heartless transformation of a user-friendly space—where a tired pedestrian passerby might take rest—into something that will injure you if you try. But this is the norm nowadays, with the ‘public’ in public parks referring more to funding than usage. Our new parks—with their high walls, forbidding gates, no shade, water-guzzling lawns adorned with ‘keep off the lawn’ signs, and commercial events for the spending classes—are clearly aimed at elite users who come in the evening with cars and jogging shoes. All that remains are fees and those pipe-benches which discourage seating for more than two minutes.

amitaThis unfriendliness of our public spaces may seem unimportant when compared to the big issues facing Goa today, from rampant land grab, the MoI fight, malignant casino tourism, the marginalisation of nonHindu cultures, shortage of decent jobs, and so on. But, in the event of the forthcoming elections, all these issues are linked together by a question: can parties led and dominated by upper castes really bring change to Goa? Brahmanism is at the root of why India has not been able to create a real democracy. Can we solve this with people of the same privileged, conservative and elitist background sitting at the helm? The Aam Aadmi Party and Goa Forward claim to be alternatives to the BJP and the Congress in Goa. Their leaders talk about the need for change, but can they really bring change when most of them come from the same caste and class?

Almost all the issues facing Goan bahujans today see them up against Goan elites. For example, as Raghuraman Trichur pointed out in a recent lecture, Goa is becoming the Florida of India, with wealthy Indians buying second homes or setting up businesses that cater to other wealthy outsiders, even as many locals are fast losing their first homes as well as livelihoods. But at the heart of the land-grab in the villages, and the rash of real-estate development over the plateaux, are Goan land-owners, business partners, developers and brokers, eagerly flogging every last bit of Goa to the highest bidder. What stand would any of the upper-caste-dominated parties take on this conflict, especially when so many of their leaders are connected to real estate and related businesses themselves?

Another example is the MoI issue, where parents of children in government schools are not being allowed to choose the medium of their children’s education, and where the future of bahujan Goans is being sacrificed at the altar of the baman-bhas, Nagri Konkani. All because of the desire of Goa’s bamans to proclaim an Indian language of their own, even while their own families study in private English-medium schools.  What change can we expect here, when GF’s leaders are known to be close to the Nagri Konkani lobby, while AAP’s Valmiki Naik claims to support both sides?

Corruption is always a buzzword for those speaking of change. But corruption is of many kinds. One often condemned by upper castes is freebies during elections. But seriously, is it such a problem if poor people are provided free transport to political rallies, or money/biryani before they vote? It is only the elites who believe that such gifts swing elections, who think that the poor do not have the sense to accept gifts—perhaps the only things that these politicians do for them—and still vote as they wish. To demonise these gifts is to continue the illegalising of the poor which upper caste politicians and media have always done.

But another kind of corruption rampant in Goa is the subversion of the reservation rules mandated by the Constitution of India, in which upper castes have been blithely usurping the jobs and educational seats meant for the most deprived sections of Goan society, viz. dalits, tribals, and OBCs. Will these upper-caste-led parties take up this huge corruption issue?

One thing seems certain: Bahujan Goans are not going to benefit from another upper-caste-dominated party in power. What we really need is a party that is not just led by dalit-bahujan-tribals, but which sees dalit-bahujan-tribal interests as primary. Only through this can we have a meaningful and inclusive democracy, and the potential of development reaching all.

(A version of this post was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 2 June, 2016)

Watching Question Mark and Sairat, thinking Elections

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By AMITA KANEKAR

This last week was an exciting and much-awaited one for me, beginning as it did with Francis de Tuem’s new tiatr Question Mark and ending with Nagraj Manjule’s new film Sairat. Both productions were brilliant in their own way, and both reminded me of the elections on the Goan horizon.

question markQuestion Mark is a must-watch, raising important questions about political corruption and hypocrisy in the current context of Goa. It combines this political agenda with ambitious technique, using not just the usual media of drama, song and music, but also powerpoint presentation, motion picture, and old news videos.

One of the old news videos is of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar as opposition leader, giving a fiery speech against the casinos; his government’s u-turn on this issue looks even worse when placed next to the bombast. Other questions raised were about the creation of the powerful Investment Promotion Board (IPB) apparently to fast-track questionable projects, the attacks on grants for English medium schools, the changed landuse in the Regional Plans which have allowed exploitation of forestland, the pushing through of DefExpo, and the strange death of Fr. Bismarque Dias. At one point, there is even a suggestion that that the army take on the job of dealing with corrupt politicians.

One hopes of course that the last suggestion is not serious, since the army’s record in places like Kashmir is far worse than anything we have experienced in Goa. In fact, public control over politicians is better than the rest of the ruling establishment – army, police, top bureaucrats and judiciary – who are not accountable even once in five years.

sairatAt first sight, Sairat couldn’t be more different from the political discussion of Question Mark. The film was said to be a love story, but it turned out to be THE love story of South Asia. Not surprisingly, it is a disturbing, or even harrowing, film, for South Asia is not a place that likes love. This is a place where it is easy to get rusticated, evicted, thrashed, jailed, and killed, sometimes with your family, just for being in love. The film shows how the main roadblock for love is caste, with a savarna landlord family stopping at nothing to end their daughter’s relationship with a Dalit. Even the friends and family members of the boy are not spared, being thrashed, driven out of the village, and socially boycotted, and not just by the savarnas but also their own caste folk.

Both the productions see women as central to change. In the tiatr, it is women, as activists, journalists, lawyers or ordinary villagers, who take the lead in challenging the politicians. A noted achievement in Sairat is the character of Archana, a rich upper caste girl who challenges patriarchal norms by riding a motorbike and physically taking on her father’s thugs as well as the police, to save her lover. But she does all this from her dominant caste position, and suffers when she loses this position by eloping with him.

The other common thread is the politician as problem. Sairat’s politician is the representative of not just big money, corruption and goons, as in Question Mark, but also Brahmanism, landlordism, and patriarchy. Like in Question Mark, his patronage of local sports clubs and festivals gains him votes, but none of his voters can dream of questioning him between elections.

And this is where questions about Goa’s next elections rise.

As Francis de Tuem declares, the BJP must go. But to be replaced by what? The Congress again, which laid the basis for the BJP in the first place? Or the smaller parties, who all talk of stopping the land-swallowing projects and corruption initiated by the big two, but rarely about the rampant social exclusion in Goa, be it caste discrimination in jobs, the promotion of Brahmanism via language et al, or the minoritising of non-Hindus. In fact, the anti-corruption movement looks likely to add to this exclusion unless it first opposes the way the poor are illegalised by this society and thus forced into corruption.

Perhaps, given the limited choices, what we should aim for is simply a weak government. This may sound strange, given the way the media sells the benefits of strong and stable government. But what this means is often the power to ignore criticism and overrule normal procedures, as in the creation of the all-powerful IPB, or the ignoring of Supreme Court directives against illegal mining, or the pushing through of unpopular projects backed by local elites and national/international capital. A weak government, i.e. a minority or coalition government, would serve better, with more assembly discussions and cabinet meetings, rather than dictatorial orders, and where everybody might be too concerned about their survival to do much damage.

Kanshi Ram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, had declared his opposition to stable government a long time ago (India Today, 1993); given the caste and class background of most politicians, he said, political stability and strong governments only strengthened the dominant sections of society.  This sentiment is echoed by Ambedkarite activists in Goa today; their struggles to improve the living conditions of Dalit communities in Pernem have found most politicians allied with the dominant castes to oppose change. A strong government, they say, just strengthens the status quo.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 5 May, 2016)

Say Yes to Reservations

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By KAUSTUBH NAIK

The demand for OBC status by the Patels in Gujarat has brought the issue of caste-based reservation to the fore and the otherwise not so faint anti-reservation murmurs are now being further amplified to demand total abolition of caste-based reservation in education and government jobs. Simultaneously there are several myths and false information being circulated on social media to intensify this demand, overlooking the affirmative principles of justice that reservation aims to serve. Before arriving at any impulsive conclusions, one needs to take cognizance of the socio-historical context of Indian society in order to understand the necessity of caste-based reservation.

Contrary to popular misconception, reservation is not a policy that was introduced post- 1947; it existed in various forms even during British rule. The earliest implementation of reservations were carried out by social reformers like Jyotirao Phule and Shahu Maharaj for free education to non-Brahmin students in 1891 and 1901 respectively. In 1932, the British government announced separate electorates for the Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Dalits in British India. The Dalits, i.e. depressed classes, were assigned a number of seats to be filled by election from special constituencies in which only voters belonging to the depressed classes could vote. This move was supported by many leaders among the marginalized communities, most notably by Dr. Ambedkar. M.K. Gandhi feared separate electors for Dalits since that would fracture the Hindu majority he was trying to manufacture. Hence he opposed it, and threatened to end his life in protest by resorting to an indefinite hunger strike. In an agreement that has come to be known as the Poona Pact, Ambedkar succumbed to Gandhi’s arm-twisting and agreed to have a single Hindu electorate, on the condition that Dalits would have seats reserved within it.

A major step in post-1947 India was the implementation of recommendations made by the Mandal Commission in 1989 to consider the question of reservations and quotas to redress caste discrimination. The commission eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine backwardness. According to the provisions made by Mandal commission, members of lower castes (SCs, STs and Non-creamy layer OBCs) were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities, and recommended changes to these quotas, increasing them to 50%. These recommendations were implemented in 1989 by the then Janata Party government which received harsh criticism, mostly from upper caste communities, that continues till date. One of the myth that is being circulated is that the reservation policy that was introduced after India became a republic were meant to continue only for ten years. This is not entirely true. The ten year period for reservations was only for political reservations, ie in houses of the parliament and state assemblies. The reservations in jobs and educational institutes do not have a specified time limit.

Caste identity has historically deprived the possibility of economic and social mobility to those born in the lower ranks of caste hierarchy. Traditionally, avenues of education were available to a few upper caste communities and thus they were ahead of others in upward mobility. This disproportionate access to minimum educational facilities across the country continues today, holding back students belonging to dalit bahujan background from acquiring knowledge and other skills. Those criticizing caste-based reservations, mainly the upper castes, often ignore the hurdles of social mobility that lower caste communities have to face every day. There have been instances reported wherein upper caste teachers have refused to even check notebooks of dalit students. Not to mention the discouragement and humiliation dalit-bahujan students face in educational institutions, regardless of one’s economic status. In such scenario, the argument that merit or economic backwardness should be given preference over caste is rendered irrelevant.

It is important to note that caste-based reservation is not the only form of reservation in India. There is provision for reservations for person with disabilities, wards of freedom fighters/NRIs/Army personnel, single girl child etc. In many ways, there is already provision for class-based reservation. But these forms of reservation never receive the severe criticism which caste-based reservation does. It affirms that the problem upper castes have is not with reservations as such but with being deprived of their entitlements and privileges. This is exemplified in the case of Patels. Patels are a land-owning, affluent and a dominant community in Gujarat today. They do not have the disempowered status of most of the communities in the Mandal Commission list and are fairly represented in institutions of power. Thus their demand for inclusion in the OBC is unjustified, much like the Jats of Haryana and Marathas of Maharashtra.

Inequality is at the very foundation of India’s social structure, and remains so even today. The argument by anti-reservation lobbies that abolishing reservation will bring in an equal footing for all holds no ground. In fact, it is only by ensuring reservations for the marginalized that we can aim for a society that is less exclusionary. Upper castes form a minor portion of India’s total population numerically but continue to dominate all spaces in the public and civic sphere. Caste based reservation is a way to flatten this dominance of upper castes by ensuring better representation of all communities, and hence should be unstintingly supported.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 15 September, 2015)

The English Language and Denationalisation

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By AMITA KANEKAR

Does education in the English language threaten Indian culture and nationalism, or even the Indian nation itself, as some allege?

The most recent such allegation was by Uday Bhembre, at a public meeting of the RSS-backed Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM). ‘English medium is a step of deculturisation, leading to the ultimate agenda of denationalisation,’ declared Bhembre, referring to the demand of FORCE, an organisation of parents of school-children, for government grants to English medium schools.
This however seems like hypocrisy. Why are Bhembre and the BBSM saying this only about FORCE, while ignoring all the private schools merrily functioning in English? Why haven’t they criticised the casteist language policy of the Goa government, which enforces Konkani medium only in government-aided schools, i.e. primarily for Bahujan students, both Catholic and Hindu? Everybody knows that learning in English leads to better jobs and opportunities.

The government’s position is thus blatantly pro-elite. If you are rich, you can go to private schools, study in English, and become richer. If you can’t afford private schools, you just stay poor by learning in bamon Konkani, i.e. the brahmanical and Devnagari-scripted Konkani of the Saraswats, so useless that it cannot sustain even one single newspaper. Why hasn’t the BBSM exposed this two-faced policy and demanded a complete ban of English-medium education across Goa? Or is their real grouse not about English at all, but about the need to prop up their bamon Konkani, for which the future of Bahujan students is to be sacrificed, especially Catholic students, since Hindus can at least escape via Marathi?

But modern education in the English language has come in for criticism even by persons not associated with the right-wing. Bhalchandra Nemade, Marathi writer and visiting professor at Goa University calls English a ‘killer language’ and a ‘slaughterhouse’ of students, and declares that education should only happen in the mother-tongue. But who decides one’s mother-tongue? Is ‘Puneri Marathi’ – the brahmanical official language of Maharashtra — the mother-tongue of Bahujan children even in Pune, leave aside the rest of Maharashtra?
One can ignore Nemade’s demagogy, but the nativism behind it rings a familiar bell. Noted Goan environmentalist, activist and lawyer, Norma Alvares, speaking last year at the launch of a book on António Francisco Fernandes, the late veteran of many people’s struggles in Goa, rued the fact that tribal people were giving up their traditions for modern ways, which, she said, really meant just consumerism and greed. One reason for this, according to her, was modern education, which made tribal people forget their ‘maibhas’ (mother-tongue) and turned them into city people who no longer understood how rice grew, how to pluck coconuts, and all the rest of their traditional knowledge.

This programme was attended by this writer, and also by a great many people from Goa’s aboriginal communities. Many of the older generation present, I discovered, had never been to school. It was curious to hear a highly educated person condemning modern education before such an audience, who revered António Fernandes for, among other things, fighting for the education of their children. Why warn people who hardly consume about the horror of consumerism? And why should it be the burden of tribal communities to pluck coconuts? Just because it was tradition? Isn’t there something odd here?

The answer comes from another public figure, who also sees English education as a threat to tradition, but likes it that way. Chandrabhan Prasad, Ambedkarite thinker and one of the speakers at the Dr B. R. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture Series in Goa last year, is a passionate believer in English as a tool of social emancipation in India. He also thinks it’s best to let Indian languages wither away. ‘Let all Indians speak in English by 2060. India will be a better nation.’
But wouldn’t this mean the loss of traditional knowledge systems and cultures, he was asked. Dalits, he answered, do have a lot of traditional knowledge – like the profound and exceptional knowledge of how to make detergent from donkey dung, or how to skin a dead animal with their bare hands. But ‘[w]e want to gift our talents to other castes. You require exceptional level of human patience if you have to collect human shit in your hands and not vomit. Dalits have been doing this for ages. Please take this knowledge immediately and give us an education at CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies) instead!’

The English language, he says, is important not just because it leads to better jobs, income and future, but also because it does NOT belong to the Indian tradition. Being an outsider, English is not a conduit of caste. Most other Indian languages, thanks to their long and hoary traditions, are casteist.

What Prasad says is true of bamon Konkani too; it contains several castiest formulations, proverbs, jokes and abuse, many of which are old and traditional. This Konkani even flaunts two ‘you’s nowadays, like Puneri Marathi – one to show respect and the other to show disrespect. Who needs to hear this kind of discrimination? Deculturisation or even ‘denationalisation’ may be exactly what this nation needs.

(A version of this article was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 27 August, 2015)