Sustainable Mining can only be done by Local Communities

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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)

Racism: Theory and Practice

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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)

When Malaysia Looks like India and Vice Versa

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Malaysia’s Bersih movement was in the news recently. The Bersih movement is a movement for free and fair elections.  It has raised questions of how electoral rolls come to be drawn, and how constituencies come to be delimited in ways that ensure that the ruling party’s vote banks are appropriately configured within each constituency so as to give the ruling party a lead. This is so familiar to us in Goa where such constituency delimitation has been reorganised to facilitate the ruling party.


The similarities don’t stop there. The Bersih movement was said to be an urban movement, which could well have been the case, however Bersih activists have demystified the process of elections and governance in Malaysia to the extent that even ordinary people from the rural areas have participated in the annual Bersih rally. The Government had been playing the racial card of divide and rule throughout, which is so familiar to Goa. The Government asserted that the Malays are the original people and whoever else has migrated, no matter how long ago such as the Chinese and Indians, are the ones who are fuelling the Bersih movement.


This all too familiar strategy plays out on the basis of religion and caste in India. The people are sought to be polarised so that they cannot unite and organise. We know what happened during the Baina evictions. People were polarised as sex workers, Fakirs, migrant trawler workers, fisher people, local people from Vasco so that they may not organize against port privatisation and the multi lane highways to Verna meant to benefit a high level of trade from the Marmugao port to the Verna industrial estate.


Another familiar strategy was the raids conducted on the Bersih office on the eve of the rally of 19th November, ostensibly looking for incriminating material Bersih’s use of foreign funds to challenge the parliamentary sovereignty of Malaysia. As a matter of fact, the Bersih leader Mandeep Singh was arrested on charges of sedition, just the day before the rally. The offence of sedition forms a part of the same Penal Code that is a legacy of the British in India as well, except that Malaysia has moved to modify the Code to include more sub provisions within ‘sedition’.  This again was reminiscent of India, where human rights defenders are being harassed and the ‘foreign funding’ flag is being waved to mislead.


As if this was not bad enough, the Malaysian Police applied the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, 2012, (SOSMA) against Bersih leader Maria Chin Abdullah, and arrested her from the Bersih office on the eve of the Rally. The SOSMA law is something akin to India’s National Security Act and does not require the arresting authorities to produce the accused before the Court in 24 hours as is otherwise necessary under the law. This is similar to the draconian laws that are enacted in India in the name of curbing terrorism and ensuring security; while the same are invoked against marginalised sections of society who resist oppression, and human rights defenders. Abdullah upon being arrested was kept in solitary confinement with a plank for a bed, two light bulbs switched on the whole night and no immediate access to lawyers or even immediate information as to where she was finally whisked away to. It was said that, as is possible in SOSMA, she would be detained for 28 days without production before the Magistrate.


But this is where the plus side begins. With global solidarity, it was possible to apply the necessary pressure on the Malaysian Government which finally resulted in her release. As we brace up for elections in Goa, where there is intense dissatisfaction with a Government that rode to power on an anti-incumbency wave, there is every chance that political dissenters and activists exposing harsh realities will be tormented. It is important to be aware of possibilities of global, regional and national solidarity and human rights standards that countries are committed to by their Constitutions and by the International Treaties that they have signed and ratified.


The Malaysian Government reneged on its promises by enacting a law replacing the Internal Security Act, which it promised to repeal with a law called the Peaceful Assembly Act which has all the trappings of a law meant to curb political dissent.  For instance, the law does not allow street rallies, which are defined as rallies started from specified meeting places and then marching in support of a cause!  And then a couple of months ago, Malaysia enacted a National Security Act, which the Malaysian Government was also threatening to invoke against Bersih leaders as they were organising towards the rally. It is therefore important to watch out for possible legislation or policies that are getting enacted/adopted under some benign covers such as curbing black money.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 1 December, 2016)


Goa: A Poster State for BRICS

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When BRICS leaders will converge in Goa mid-October, it is believed that they will be discussing industrialisation, counter-terrorism, tourism, banking, bio-technology, cooperation… And typical to summits such as these, broadening of roads and ‘connectivity’ have preceded.

Naturally, people are asking what are these summits for, who are the broad roads for and who is the connectivity for? The irony of this cannot be lost, given that Goa is a poster host for such summits and also a poster state of the very kind of BRICS-perpetrated development, and, yet, is also a case in evidence that this development model is not working. It would be important therefore for the BRICS leaders to take a peep into how this ‘development’ is panning out in the host state.

The nature of industrialisation that the BRICS leaders are talking about has however also pushed a lot of people towards migration because the industries that were set up did not match or harness the skills of the people in Goa who most needed the jobs. Even as this industrialisation displaced people from the only livelihoods they knew and had. For instance, around 4050 hectares of land under de facto tribal occupation in the central belt of Sancoale, Loutolim, and Cansaulim, was forcibly acquired for an industrial estate in which the community found little space.  The other side of this coin is the in-migration of poor non Goans, who votebank politics has bred illwill against while distracting from the colonisation by the big corporates from within and without.

Tourism development has also been the cover for casinos, golf courses, and the like. These make Goa the playground of the Indian and foreign rich at the cost of water resources, lengthening of women’s work days, and hikes in land and food prices, among other things.  The kind of support, for instance, that the corporate Leading Hotels has enjoyed from the State to set up a golf course at Goa’s Northern tip of Tiracol, in the face of stiff opposition from local people is unparallelled.

Land for homes and livelihoods goes beyond the reach of even the average Goan. Staple food is taken away from the plates of Goans. The proposed IT Parks and biotechnology Parks have been decoded to show that they are nothing but real estate scams that seek to sneak in townships and gated communities where the rule of law is specially dismantled in the guise of ‘development’.

As for the proposed BRICS New Development Bank, who will be the beneficiaries of such a Bank? Will it again be wealth-begets-wealth with the kind of acceptable collaterals that only the super-rich and the big transnational corporates possess? Will it be for only those kinds of activities and on that kind of scale that simple local people and their cooperatives do not and cannot engage in?  In other words, old wine in a new bottle?

Counter-terrorism laws? Behind each time the National Security Act or the TADA was invoked or threatened to be invoked in Goa, there is a story of economic and political dissent that the ruling party wanted to quell by hook or by crook.

And broad roads? They have meant displacement from the livelihoods of people who occupied the land that the roads took over. Huge trees have been cut. Thus they have meant inroads into Goa to make it beyond recognition, environmentally and politically.

Connectivity? It is about doctors roped in by the ruling party to connect their dots by addressing a press conference about the safety of mobile towers, no prizes for guessing which company, in the run up to BRICS to ensure connectivity for the Official BRICS delegates in South Goa. One such oncologist was known to be a super-Dean of the Goa Medical College as far back as 2001, and never brought this up then. That says it all!

As for REAL cooperation, it seems more about cooperation between or with big corporates. Smart cities, model villages are being founded on the backs of marginalised communities.  The recently announced MOU of Environment Ministers to cooperate, to conserve ponds rivers and ponds seems more like greenwashing the extractive mining policies and mega environmentally destructive projects actively facilitated by these Governments. While necessary, it is akin to planting trees, while sanctioning tree-slaughter of entire groves.

Why not cooperation to address trafficking of women? Or to ensure that local labour is gainfully employed and not rendered vulnerable by the kind of trade agreements the countries’ leaders sign, waiving off even minimum labour guarantees? Even Goa’s approximately 35% organised labour force has reason to be concerned.

Ever so many questions, as the Summit nears, straight out of people’s mouths, or mediated through civil society groups, a couple of whom have constituted themselves into a People’s Forum on BRICS. If BRICS was formed as a counter to a certain power hegemony that sought to exclude certain countries, shouldn’t it challenge that kind of hegemony even within?

Goa is a poster case for the BRICS summit for foregrounding the pangs of the present development model. It poses a challenge to interrogate democracy, justice and development, from the yardsticks of equity, people’s participation, decent wages and dignity for all. Goa wants development that is people-centric and is rooted in a creative engagement with its land and its resources. Goa wants peace. And so do BRICS countries and peoples the world over.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 6 October, 2016)

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

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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)

Goa’s Civil Code Shows That Uniformity Does Not Always Mean Equality

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For probably the umpteenth time, there are whispers in the air that a uniform civil code (UCC) is in the offing. Occasionally, Goa’s UCC is brought up during these discussions.


But even as the UCC is being touted as the panacea for the violations of women’s rights, nobody asks what really is the UCC in Goa. What is meant when the civil code is said to be ‘uniform’? Why was it retained in Goa? And how is it working for different sections of women?


An examination of Goa’s tryst with the UCC reveals much. It shows, for example that ‘uniformity’ can take different shapes. It provides a stark reminder that uniformity is not per se a rights-loaded word. It can also mean uniformity in discrimination in that you can have discriminatory provisions applicable across all religions – uniformly. It calls attention to the fact that imposition of uniformity amongst unequals can create inequality, and that the existence of plural systems, both formal and non-formal, is actually ideal for the diverse constituents who need to strategise with the limited knowledge and within the limited power they have. Above all, it reveals nationalist agendas can shape the trajectory of UCC to the detriment of human rights.


Alert: Different shades of uniformity

Thus, it would be useful to see here how the so-called UCC pans out differently for different communities in Goa. We must not forget the procedures for registration of marriage are different for Catholics as compared to the procedures applicable to non-Catholics. Even if civil registration of marriage has been compulsory for Goans, what is actually considered marriage, customarily and socially across all religious communities, is the religious ceremony and reception. The paper registration before government authorities is seen as a formality to be complied with, for legal purposes.


For this to effectively happen, people, and particularly women, are not even familiar that two signatures with a minimum gap of fifteen days are generally entailed, one for declaration of intent which is applicable for everybody and the other for confirmation, which is signable before the Church for Catholics and the civil registrar for non-Catholics. The second signature can end up being not appended because of lack of knowledge about it. However, with the Catholics, the law allows the tie up of the state with the Church. This means that after the first signature is appended before the Registrar of Marriages, the very solemnisation of marriage in the Church and signing of the Church Marriage Registration Book there and sending of the extract of the Church register to the civil registrar, has come to be considered the second signature required for the confirmation of marriage. So the socially acceptable religious practice is accounted for in the law, when it comes to Catholics. That is the up side of the law recognising the popular relevance and significance of religious marriage.


In a situation where universality of marriage is seen as a norm and women are not cultured into acquainting themselves with the procedures of registration of marriage, and may be led into the same, they can be deceived into believing they are married, when they actually are not because they have not appended the second signature, and a marriage is not ordinarily recognised if there is no civil registration of marriage.


But on the other hand, the legal acknowledgement of socially accepted religious forms of marriage, if not qualified, has consequences by way of differing procedures and grounds for annulment of marriage, or for divorce. A marriage solemnised in the church has had the option of being annulled in the Church, for specific reasons, such as non-consummation of marriage. Once a marriage is annulled by the Tribunal of the Church, the said annulment is then confirmed by the high court mechanically, only at best ensuring that there was no bias in the decision making in respect of any of the parties to the case. On the other hand, if the matrimonial petition were to be filed in the civil court, non-consummation of marriage is not a ground for either annulment or separation or divorce, for any community.


The way the word ‘uniform civil code’ is bandied around, it presents a chimera of uniformity being equated with equality. Laws can be uniformly applicable to all in respecting women’s rights, and they can also be uniformly applicable to all communities in disregarding women’s rights. In other words, they can also be uniform in discrimination. That is also a lesson to draw from Goa’s Family Laws.


There are many uniformly applicable provisions, as, for instance, that the right to will for a married man or woman is limited to half of his/her share in the properties, and the will has to have the consent of both the spouses. Which means that at least on paper a couple cannot will away all their properties to their male offspring because of a preference for sons. This is a positive provision that is present in the uniformly applicable provisions (though it is quite another thing that there are ways of circumventing this provision).


Then there is the unique concept of matrimonial property rights, which is not found in the personal laws of the rest of India. In the rest of India, there is no formal concept of matrimonial property and hence the property ends up being in the names of males and therefore the property of the male only, which he can mortgage, or sell, as he pleases. In Goa, if nothing is spelt out at the time of marriage, the default system is the regime of communion of assets, which means that upon marriage, couples will hold whatever assets they have each or jointly acquired or inherited before or after marriage as co-owners of property. Couples do have an option of contracting themselves out of this default system of communion of assets at the time of marriage, by entering into a pre-nuptial contract where they decide whether the properties before marriage will be held separately and those after marriage will form the communion or if properties, whether acquired before or after the marriage, will all be held separately.


However, irrespective of which system of holding the matrimonial properties the couple opts for, the right to administration of the properties of the couple, without exclusion of the exclusive properties of the wife, is the prerogative of the husband. Thus the law makes the ‘control’ button available to the husband. This provision is uniformly applicable to all communities. Is this the uniformity to aspire for where one gender is privileged to control across all communities?


Also, uniformly applicable is the visualisation of the concept of property. The women that can avail of the matrimonial property provisions are those whose marital families have owned property. This means that for a woman whose husband does not have ownership rights in property, dividing matrimonial property at the time of divorce can mean she gets half of nothing. So, for instance, if a woman divorces and her husband is an agricultural tenant or is tenant in the marital house, she has no right to 50 per cent of the tenurial interests.


 It presents a chimera of nationalism guaranteeing equality. But the very nature of the nationalism is such that it seeks to retain privilege for the dominant sections – be it Indian nationalism or Goan nationalism. Hence a UCC driven by such nationalism, cannot guarantee equality. Therefore introduction of any provisions in the law which will challenge that badge of existing male and privileged identity will not be acceptable to these dominant sections either in India or in Goa.


Goan and Indian nationalism – two sides of the same coin

The manner in which voices have spoken post 1961, highlights the attempt to retain privilege for the dominant Goan communities, which includes dominant caste Goan males. Therefore maintaining the portions of the family law from the Portuguese Civil Code and resisting any efforts to change that law, arises from that perspective. There is consequently a hesitation to change any of its provisions, even if any of the existing uniform provisions be denying of equality to women, or to any section of society.


Goan nationalism as it has emerged and the Indian nationalism as it has been and continues to be, both seem to be the two sides of the same coin of Brahminism, characterised by the desire of the dominant sections of society to protect their privileges and not disturb the status quo.


 The UCC is thus seen as a badge of Goan identity as against the identity of ‘Indian’. The ‘Goans’ (meaning the dominant class/caste Goans) on the one hand have been wanting to distinguish themselves from the Portuguese, and from the mestiços (mixed race of Portuguese and Goan parents), and on the other hand also want to distinguish themselves from the rest of India, while maintaining all the distinctions that they have already made between themselves. It suited the Goan to distinguish himself from the non-Goan (the rich ‘Indian’) and the migrant by whom he felt overwhelmed either because of larger power potential or numbers. Be it in the field of law, music, song and dance, cuisine, games, language, art, architecture…..the story is the same. In and through all these fields of life, there is a desire to consolidate the existing power equations. This has been further strengthened by the economic driver of tourism, which has taken the form of neo-colonialism, and where it was essential to stereotype the image of an exotic Goan with a different image of a hybrid between Indian and Iberian culture.


Therefore, even if people would secretly admit that there are provisions which are crying for change and for an introduction of a rights perspective, they are wary of the law being touched, lest it dissipates in the bargain. An USP of Goa, that makes Goans a cut above the rest of India, such as the Family Laws of Goa cannot be lost. So nobody wants to let go of this badge of ‘honour’. Thus the predominant mood is that one should not try to change the law, even to the extent of changing the unjust equality-violating provisions. This can be a foreboder of how nationalist sentiments for ‘uniformity’, that is, retaining privilege, can trump rights of substantive equality, guaranteed by the Constitution of India.


(First published in, dt: 8 August, 2015)

Can Upper Castes fight Brahmanism?

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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)

AAP: Clear and Present Danger?

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Jason Keith Fernandes

With the elections to the state legislature in the not so distant future the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Goa has begun its campaigning in earnest. As is well known, AAP has been projecting itself as a credible choice on the basis of its promise to deliver good, i.e. corruption free, governance. The question, however, is whether the AAP should be judged merely by its rhetoric, or should it be examined against a broader canvas?

Recent history demonstrates that electoral decisions determined solely by the theme of corruption have ensured that we have moved from the frying pan into the fire largely because we have failed to examine the politics that these electoral options practice. Take the example of the Modi government now wreaking havoc across India. Modi was elected into power because so many people, rightly fed up with the Congress, decided that the man was a good administrator and deserved a right to govern the country. Closer home in Goa, fatigue of the never-ending corruption scandals presided over by the Congress enabled the BJP to come to power.

We now realize that in addition to merely continuing the corrupt practices of the Congress, the BJP is also committed to a kind of fascist agenda that is difficult to undo even after they have been removed from power. This is a kind of moral corruption that is difficult to undo largely because, as I will go on to show, Hindu nationalism itself is never challenged. As such, when evaluating AAP in Goa it is imperative that their proximity to the agents and logics of Hindu nationalism must be strictly evaluated.

An evaluation of the AAP along this axis must begin with a statement by Dr. Dattaram Desai, the AAP candidate for North Goa in the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2014. At that time, Desai indicated in a local newspaper along the lines that he saw no problem with the RSS and that it was just another nationalist organization. When Desai was confronted on this matter at a public meeting conducted by the AAP he denied that he was a part of the RSS, and denounced the RSS as a communal organization. However, it seemed that he did so largely because he had been hounded into that position after being asked a series of leading questions. Desai had been asked at that meeting to issue a public statement to the effect that he did not approve of the RSS, something he agreed to, but one that, to the best of my knowledge, was not issued. Desai continues to be a leading member of AAP in Goa, and in light of his past comments, this fact should be a cause for concern.

At the above mentioned meeting Dr. Oscar Rebello, also a prominent member of the AAP in Goa, sought to clarify issues regarding the links between the RSS and AAP. Using characteristically simplistic logic, Rebello pointed out that he had friends in the RSS, but that did not necessarily make him a member of the RSS. Rebello’s logic may be simplistic, but it is often winning in its presentation. Of course one cannot, especially in a small place like Goa, deny people entry into a party because they were once members of the BJP. Perhaps they may have, as is suggested in the case of Desai, realized that the BJP will not deliver.  But the problem with the RSS, and more importantly Hindu nationalism, lies in the logics that we internalize owing to a lifetime of being immersed in it. If these logics are not actively challenged we too become part of the Hindutva machine.

In this context, the decision of the AAP in Goa to name its outreach program the Goa Jodo campaign is quite disturbing. Why privilege Hindi in a state with no lack of local languages? Because a non-Hindi Goan-ness is suspect? How is this position different from that of most Hindu nationalists and the implicit understanding that it is primarily Hindi and Hindu culture that defines Indian nationalism? One should bear in mind that Hindi nationalism, as one can surmise from the old slogan “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan” has never been far away from Hindu nationalism. This desire to run with the Hindi-wallas can also be seen  in the video of Desai’s response discussed earlier, where it appears that Rebello refers to Desai as Dr. Desaiji. Now one is entirely at liberty to add honorifics to people’s name. The problem emerges when one realizes that the ji has become popular in Goa with the rise of Hindu nationalism in the past couple of years. The question emerges therefore, can we rely on such a group to assert the rights of Goans which necessarily runs against Hindi and Hindu nationalism, such as the demand of Special Status, and assert our right to be different within India?

But it is not merely the local AAP that has disturbing connections with the RSS or is blasé about Hindu nationalism. Pamela D’Mello writing for an on-line magazine pointed to the disturbing relationship of Dinesh Waghela to Hindu rightist outfits. Waghela was charged with setting up AAP in Goa, and at that point just like Desai went on record, to suggest that he did not see what was wrong with people from the RSS joining the party.

What also needs to be pointed out is that AAP’s insistence on its promised good-governance as a central reason for being a choice in the upcoming elections partakes in the Hindu Right’s pushing of strong administrators, whether Modi or our very own Parrikar. This is not to suggest that good governance is not an important issue. It is. However, we need to recognize that a limited understanding of corruption, and governance emerges from the very upper-caste and middle-class reasonings that have generated the Hindutva upsurge in the country. It is this kind of unthinking of, and challenge to Hindutva logics that is critical and necessary if AAP in Goa should emerge as a safer option than it currently seems to be.

Most disturbing of all, however, are the actions of the party supremo, Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal has had no problem in the past drawing such Hindu spiritual leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev into his movement. Right from the get go therefore, Kejriwal has violated secularism by mingling the Hindu religion with his politics. More recently, despite the livelihood and environmental violations involved in setting up the venue for the World Culture Festival on the banks of the river Yamuna, and in contravention of his own position on corruption, Kejriwal saw it fit to attend the event, and kowtow before Ravi Shankar.  As distasteful as this may be to some, it is not necessarily out of character for unprincipled political leaders who need to engage in populist measures if they are to stay in power. It is, therefore, precisely because AAP Goa will have to play by established rules of the game once it is in power, that we need to evaluate them stringently before they get into power. In light of this, AAP Goa’s connections to soft Hindu nationalism present a clear and present danger.

First published in the O Heraldo dated 29 April 2016

Lux in tenebris: Paulo Varela Gomes

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Jason Keith Fernandes

525289Paulo Varela Gomes succumbed to cancer on Saturday, the 30th of April 2016. He was familiar to many Goans both because he headed the Delegation of the Fundação Oriente in Goa for two terms, 1996-1998 and 2007-2009, and for his book on Goan churches.

It was in the first capacity that I met with Gomes. Prior to this meeting I had been warned against him. He was racist and offensive, I had been told. Also that he was just another one of these supercilious Portuguese, mocking Goa and Goans from their metropolitan position. I have no idea what pushed me to meet with the man despite these warnings, but I did, and I have not once regretted that decision.

Gomes was in fact–to be fair to the person who warned me against him–pessimistic, foul mouthed, dismissive, and from time to time a tad racist. But there was a logic to his madness. The prickly exterior was armor, but breach that spiky defence and one realized that Gomes’ barbs were the provocations of a profoundly sensitive and giving man with a wicked sense of humour. A man who relentlessly asked questions, and never accepted the given until it bore up to the critique he subjected it to. When caught, he would laughingly confess to his prejudices, and it was this intellectual honesty and the ability to confront oneself that has left a lasting impact on me.

As our association matured Gomes grew to become an intellectual father. Lucky enough to live in the same neighbourhood as he did in Goa, I found myself able to go over to his home, engage in conversations that went on for hours, and borrow books from his library. Gomes’ library was an intellectual wonderland because he was a widely read man. Despite his learning and the difference in our ages, ours was not an unequal relationship. Gomes suffered my irreverence, and indeed encouraged it with his own. It was thanks to these conversations that I was able to sharpen my perspectives, not just on Goa, but also on Portugal, a country that has come to be my second home. Gomes was among the first to point me towards developing a deeper understanding of the Bijapuri Sultanate and make sense of Goan history in that context. As luck will have it, the idea of an Islamicate Goa has now gained more appreciation, and for this alone, Gomes has left a lasting legacy on the way Goa can and should be studied. Gomes was also the one who pointed to the complex history of the Padroado and the manner in which by the time it was wound up it was Goan priests who were the stoutest defenders of this right of the Portuguese state. It was also Gomes who problematised, to my delight, the term Indo-Portuguese. Asking several piercing questions of this category that is so taken for granted he revealed so many problems with the term, not least being the fact that it can be crafted only in the context of the peculiar racist politics of the British Empire.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Gomes’s wide reading, his ability to go against the grain, ask unorthodox questions, and come up with a new, more meaningful vision, is what was possibly his last academic publication; Whitewash, Red Stone: A History of Church Architecture in Goa (2011). In this book Gomes broke with the hitherto established ways of looking at ecclesiastical architecture in Goa. His argument was bold, and there can never really be any going back to earlier ways of looking at architecture in Goa. His study demonstrated how the position that Goan elites chose in the conflict between of Padroado and Propoganda Fide had a distinct influence on the architecture of our churches. It is the conflict between these that led to the emergence of specifically Goan architecture. Gomes’s argument was that churches in Goa were not Portuguese buildings, nor were they mere copies of European buildings. They were in fact entirely Goan. These buildings participated in a European vocabulary of building construction, but the way these various elements and plans were assembled was entirely Goan. Churches in Goa were Goan buildings, constructions of a native elite who were making a statement about the uniqueness of their culture and their place in the world. It was for this reason that the Goan builders of these churches continued to hold on to a Baroque architectural style even in nineteenth century when the days of Baroque were long over and other styles were appearing in British India. Whitewash, Red Stone is a critical work that would allow Goan ecclesiastical architecture to be appreciated more profoundly and deserves a wider audience than the one it currently enjoys.

In making this argument, Gomes went beyond, and challenged, two orthodoxies. The first was the one that seeks to delegitimize the uniqueness of Goan Catholicism, and the second that sees Goans merely as blind copy-cats of the Portuguese. In a nuanced argument, Gomes acknowledged that Goans were South Asian alright, but pointed out that they were South Asians who participated and innovated within European frames and hence they were also European. It takes not only a profound understanding of the field to make such an argument, it also requires that one have a profound respect for the people one is studying. As an architectural historian, and as one with deep friendships with Goans, Gomes had both in abundance. In his passing, therefore, there are many in Goa who will feel as devastated as they did at the death of the late Pedro Adão, Portuguese Consul in Goa between 2005 and 2006. There are few like them, persons who are willing to step out of their comfort zones, make themselves vulnerable, and engage meaningfully with the local. For this reason their memories will indubitably be long cherished.

When I moved to Portugal I imagined that Gomes and I would be able to pick up where he had left off, the same rambling, but always stimulating conversations. Unfortunately, however, the distance between our residences, and the distractions of my frequent travel between Lisbon and Goa ensured that this was not to be.  Our meetings were too few and far between, and our interactions limited mostly to virtual correspondence. Further, the possibilities for physical encounters became impossible after his tumour made conversation difficult. And yet, it is a testament to the loyalty, and the grace, of the man that he was known to respond to every communication that one sent to him, almost until the very end. My own experience was that our correspondences became more intense and poignant and will remain a cherished part of my virtual archive.

As much as one mourns the passing of Paulo Varela Gomes the fact is that there can be no crushing sorrow simply because every cherished memory brings to mind not just his courage, but also his irreverence, and this brings a smile even amongst the tears. Gomes’s life was a lesson in picking up challenges and besting them. How else does one explain the élan with which he took up writing fiction in the last phase of his life? Of course, to those who knew him there was little surprise. For someone who was a natural teacher, and taught through lively debate, there was absolutely no doubt that the man was a natural raconteur.

Paulo Varela Gomes, my friend, father, philosopher, and guide. Our world is diminished by your absence, but it would have been so much lesser without you.

(First published in the O Heraldo on 13 May 2016)