Bhima Koregaon and Lessons for Goan History

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



Deliver us from Nationalism?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Cow and Nation: A Brief History

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The Modi government clearly wants to keep the heat on, regarding the issue of beef. In the wake of a number of lynchings of mainly Muslims and Dalits by gaurakshaks on the issue of cow slaughter, a normal government would have at least claimed concern and talked about taking action. But this government chose to pass a national directive against cow slaughter instead. In other words, let the violence continue. It was followed by some virulent hate-speech in Goa, demanding death to beef-eaters, which has met with the expected lack of response from the Goa government; we can expect worse to come.



What is Rootless Cosmopolitanism?

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There was a charge made recently by BJP’s Swapan Dasgupta that the protest by people determinedly raising their voices under the banner of ‘Not in My Name’, against targeted lynching of Muslims was an extravagant display of rootless cosmopolitanism. The responses have been “we are not rootless cosmopolitans”. We are often quick to jump into defensive mode in this fashion, and then try to prove how we are more rooted than Baba Ramdev or Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Yogi Adityanath.  In other words, we try to show how we are superior to these in being rooted. But we might need to ask whether rootless cosmopolitanism is necessarily the bad thing it is suggested to be. Does its problem depend on what lens one is looking at things from?



Is Camões Goan?

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camoensSome months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion on Goan literature in Portuguese. Central to that discussion was the question of defining a canon of Goan literature in Portuguese. For example, where would the history of such a literature begin from? Who could be considered Goan for the purposes of constructing such a history? In the course of these discussions, a question was half-jocularly posed: could Camões be considered Goan?