Bahujan leaders, not Bahujan faces

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The student union elections at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi recently concluded with the Left Unity Panel, a political alliance between Student Federation of India and All India Student’s Association, winning all the four posts on the student panel. The student politics at the JNU campus has always been a closely watched affair and following the national attention that JNU had garnered after controversial slogans raising events in February this year. In this election, both left and right wing parties on the JNU campus jostled to capture the field after the highly acrimonious and divisive scenes following the state’s crackdown on JNU in response to the aforementioned events in February.

While these two factions battled for their dominance on the JNU campus, the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Student Association (BAPSA) emerged as the show stealer, despite not being able to win any of the central panel posts. BAPSA was the single largest party to be voted in the JNU student union polls. BAPSA gave a clarion call for the unity of the oppressed, ensuring that Dalits, Bahujans, Adivasis, Muslim students came together to consolidate a formidable opposition not only to the Hindutva forces on the campus, but also to the leftist political outfits that otherwise claim to be in solidarity with the struggles of the oppressed.

BAPSA positioned itself as a political force of the minoritised sections of the students, with opposition to caste as a fundamental basis on which its politics was founded. The rise of BAPSA in JNU is in tune with the various caste based movements emerging from different parts of India, such as the resistance of the Dalit communities in Gujarat under the leadership of Jignesh Mewani, or the nationwide movement that was spurred after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad. These political uprisings are indicative of a pattern wherein Dalit-Bahujan and minoritised communities are altering not only the narrative of the Indian politics, but its grammar too.

One manner in which BAPSA has been able to do this is to launch a vocal critique of the Indian leftist political outfitswhich, for decades, have been positioning themselves as the vanguards of secular and liberal politics in India. However, these left political outfits are very much plagued by the caste hierarchy with upper castes holding (onto) key political positions. Moreover, the anti-reservation stance of these leftist groups during the implementation of the Mandal commission report or even their unfounded critique of Ambedkar and Ambedkarism is also indicative of their outlook towards caste politics. The newer Dalit bahujan political outfits, such as the BAPSA, have been consistently highlighting the inherent casteism within the left parties, arguing that they are no different from their right wing counterparts.

In this context, the takeaways from BAPSA’s politics offer some interesting insights to rethink bahujan politics in Goa. The bahujan communities within Hindu and Catholic communities, have played a crucial role in shaping Goa’s political scenario. All parties field bahujan candidates to ensure maximum success. However, this representation of Bahujans within the political outfits in Goa has often, if not always, been reduced into mere tokenistic representation.A look at the recent political outfits that are gearing up for the upcoming assembly elections in Goa would tell you that though all these parties are promising assured representation of bahujan and minoritised communities, their supreme leaders are predominantly upper caste individuals. Most of the parties have their bahujan faces in cadre that does the groundwork but when it comes to assuming leadership positions, it has always been dominated by the upper caste leaders of these parties.

big_wagh_parrikarThe implications of such usurping of positions of power by upper caste leaders are many. Firstly, while most of the parties will claim that they represent interests of all communities, the interests of the upper caste communities get preference by the virtue of them being led by the upper caste members themselves. Secondly, it renders the bahujan leadership within the party ineffective; the bahujan leaders lack the power to counter the assertion of upper caste interests because they understandably try not to rock the boat so as to maintain whatever position of influence they have within the party. Thus, the bahujan leaders are rendered as baits to garner bahujan support while the upper caste power structure does not allow them to safeguard political interests of the bahujan communities.

BAPSA’s act of distancing itself from the left parties on JNU campus is precisely to overcome such usurping of power. BAPSA has no qualms about clearly indicating whose interests they are representing and remain committed to foregrounding the struggles of the oppressed communities. Similarly, Goan bahujan politics needs to be reinvented to distance itself from the political outfits that operate not in the bahujan interest, but to serve upper caste interests disguised as those representing a cross section section of the Goan society. Instead, a bahujan alliance that brings together both, the Hindu and Catholic bahujan communities in agreement of sharing power can go long way in changing the fate of bahujan communities in Goa. Otherwise the upper caste leaders will continue to remain in positions of power, not only through the support of aforementioned bahujan faces but also at the cost of bahujan communities’ access to social and political empowerment.

This article was first published in The Goan on 22nd Sept 2016. 

Unburdening the language from motherhood

The debate over Goa’s language issue continues because the conflict is far from being resolved. The passing of the much controversial Official Language Act (OLA) in 1987 did anything but resolve it. In my previous columns, I have argued that the passing of the OLA was an act to impose Hindu Saraswat hegemony onto the Goan people, particularly the Hindu and the Catholic bahujan communities. In a book published in 2004, bahujan activist Ramnath Naik termed Nagari Konkani as ‘Bamani’, indicating the caste location from which the Nagari Konkani assertion emerged and is sustained till today. BJP MLA Vishnu Surya Wagh, in his op-ed article in a Marathi daily few weeks ago, also made a similar assertion, attracting sharp reactions from the Nagari Konkani camp.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 1.32.23 PMEvery time the legitimacy of Nagari Konkani as an all encompassing cultural marker for Goans is challenged by Romi Konkani and Marathi supporters in Goa, its proponents religiously argue against it. Instead, they assert that Konkani as the sole Goan language since it is widely spoken in Goa. They would put forth the idea of Goa as the ‘mother’land and Konkani being the ‘mother’tongue of all Goans. By Konkani, they of course mean Nagri Konkani.  What distinctly marks the responses of the Nagari Konkani proponents is the manner in which they cover their defense with seeming emotional overtones, when in fact they are solidly reasoned out to assert their cultural supremacy. To nuance these conversations, one needs to undo a lot of generalized assumption about Goan history and language politics.

It is crucial to remember that there’s nothing natural about the languages we speak, contrary to what is often believed. We pick up languages that are being spoken in our environment. If speaking ‘a’ specific language was as natural as having a biological mother, we would have been hardcoded into speaking only the language that our mother would speak, irrespective of the social context that one would be born in. In a multilingual environment such as South Asia, one is bound to know more than one language with equal ease and proficiency. Further, this patriarchal fixation with defining languages as ‘mother tongue’ needs to be critically scrutinized. Characterizing language with the chaste figure of a mother, as something which needs to be protected is a pattern often observed in proto-nationalist movements. Such political movements not only restrict the role of woman as a passive symbol of political discourses which are largely driven by men, but their underlying masculine nature often tends along the lines of fascism.

deleuzeguattari1French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari, in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987), argue that “there is no mother tongue [but] only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity”. This is to imply that the project to naturalize languages (and script) as ‘mother tongue’ is essentially an attempt in fixing the language of the most dominant social group as the sole vehicle for cultural identity for those under subjugation. So, when Naik or Wagh refer to Nagari Konkani as Bamani, they are not merely hinting at the specific caste location of ‘official’ Konkani but also targeting the resultant fixing of the Hindu Saraswats in Goa as the ideal bearers of Goan identity, by the virtue of their dialect of Konkani being the official language binding onto the entire state.

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Bharat was a bilingual weekly (Marathi and Portuguese) published from Portuguese Goa. In early 1920s, it also started a supplement in Romi Konkani. Govind Pundalik Hegde Desai, also known as Bharatkar Hegde Desai, was the editor of Bharat.

It also needs to be emphasized that contrary to the claims of existence of one single Konkani since antiquity, history indicates otherwise. As Jason Keith Fernandes has argued there could have been several proto-Marathi and proto-Kannada dialects in use prior to the arrival of Portuguese. These dialects must have been largely confined to speech and associated with various caste communities. One must also remember that the access to knowledge was a privilege available only to the upper castes. Thus, even if there existed any tradition of writing in proto-Konkani prior to the arrival of Portuguese, it wasn’t a democratic tradition to begin with. A transition of a dialect to language is marked by its dissemination and popularization through networks of circulation. In Goa too, as argued by Fernandes and recently by Wagh, it was the work done by Catholic missionaries in codifying and disseminating Konkani through the Church that enabled the emergence of Konkani as a language. It is imperative to note that this version of Konkani predominantly used the Roman script. Rochelle Pinto’s Between Empires (2008), an inquiry of print and politics in nineteenth century Goa, also hints at the glaring absence of Nagari Konkani in the networks of print circulation while Romi Konkani, Marathi and Portuguese were thriving in Goa as well as in colonial Bombay. Thus, this false assumption that Nagari Konkani as a language was always present in Goa – even before the arrival of the Portuguese – has no basis in history.

Languages do not operate solely on impulses of emotions or identity, especially for communities which are displaced to the margins.  Rather, people adopt languages that will provide them opportunities and social mobility. Multi-lingual practices are important to facilitate social mobility in a caste and class setting that would diligently deny this mobility. Marathi, Romi Konkani and Portuguese have historically played that role for various Goan communities and therefore are very much the languages of the peoples of Goa.

Tiatr and the Goan Public Sphere

The emergence and evolution of the Goan public sphere has received very sparse attention, despite its potential to nuance the larger debate over public sphere, owing to the multicultural stratifications that are observed in the Goan polity. The Goan public sphere was being conceptualized not only from Goa but from colonial Bombay too. These attempts started consolidating towards the end of nineteenth century and early twentieth century owing to the resurgence of print. But print was not the only medium through which these publics were being consolidated. Often, studies on public sphere base their analysis on the emergence of print culture. As Janelle Reinelt has argued, in her article Rethinking Public Sphere for the Global Age (2011), studies on public sphere focused mainly on print cultures run the risk of eliding the presence of multiple channels of communication that employ aurality and visuality.

Nancy Fraser, in her essay ‘Rethinking Public Sphere’ (1990), has put forth the idea of a subaltern counterpublic. Subaltern counterpublics are parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses, ie the discourse that challenge the dominant discourses, which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs. Subaltern counterpublics have a dual character. On the one hand, they function as spaces of withdrawal and regroupment; on the other hand, they also function as bases for agitational activities directed toward wider publics. It is precisely in the relationship between these two functions that their emancipatory potential resides. This dialectic enables subaltern counterpublics partially to intervene the unjust participatory privileges enjoyed by members of dominant social groups in stratified societies.

Tiatr has been a mode to disseminate counterdiscourse, that challenge the dominant discourses originating from mainstream public spheres populated largely by socially dominant groups. Thus, tiatr has been influential in consolidating a subaltern counterpublic. In colonial Bombay, tiatr was a mode of contesting the shaming of the bahujan Goan Catholic communities by the Goan Catholic elites. The attempt was to build a positive identity through tiatr. In post-colonial Goa, the major function that tiatr has played is to create discourse asserting the differences of the Goan Catholic communities as a Catholic populace in a polity that is majorly dominated and governed by Hindus. Let me elaborate.

Francis de Tuem’s kantar in his tiatr Reporter (2015) begins with eulogizing Mother Teresa for her charity work and ends with a critique of ‘Ghar Wapsi’. Tuem’s kantar was in response to the statements made by Mohan Bhagwat in June 2015 where Bhagwat had said that Mother Teresa’s work was motivated by a desire to convert Indians to Christianity. This statement by Bhagwat was made around the same time that  ‘Ghar Wapsi’, a series of religious conversion activities were being carried by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in various part of India. The prime objective of ‘Ghar Wapsi’ was to convert Dalits and Muslim Dalits into Hinduism and had become a topic for emotionally charged public debate. Tuem begins his kantar elaborating the work that Mother Teresa has done for the orphans, refuting charges of ulterior motive laid on her by them.  To the RSS and VHP, who sought to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism, Tuem asks, ‘we are Kunbi Catholics! Will you convert us to Bamon Hindus? The Bamons do not allow lower caste Hindus to enter their temples, will you allow us [the Catholics] in your temples?’ He ends the kantar on a note that says ‘my forefather might have been converted by Portuguese but I have become a Catholic by my own choice. I guarantee that all Catholics in Goa will die but as Catholics’.

This is a very crucial counter that Tuem poses to the narrative of ‘Ghar Wapasi’. It emanates from the daily shaming of the Goan Catholic communities as ‘living under a colonial hangover’ or as ‘anti-nationals’ by those who claim affinity to Hindu nationalist rhetoric. The presence of Catholics in Goa is always seen through the frame of religious conversions that were carried out in late 16th and 17th century. What needs to be highlighted here is that the conversions are predominantly believed to be ‘forced’ onto the natives by the Portuguese missionaries. However, there is enough evidence to contest such rhetoric by exploring other possible reasons that initiated the native residents to convert to Catholicism. Tuem’s kantar not only reclaims agency from a lower caste Catholic identity, but also refutes the narrative that essentially renders Catholic communities as disenfranchised population in Goa.

These counterdiscourses that make their way into the public imagination through tiatr operate at a scale where they have the potential to make or break governments and mobilise mass support to influence policy decisions. Tiatr does not merely act a mediator between the state and the public but also as a ombudsman. Thus, there have been attempts to stifle the tiatr artists for their sharp and incisive critique on the state. Reinelt argues that counterpublics change the face of the socio-political representation of the nation and its citizens and therefore create new sites for democratic struggle. Tiatr exemplifies creation of such ‘sites’ for a consistent struggle, and perhaps embodies the promise of a true democracy.

The Myth of ‘Unity in Diversity’

This campaign emphasizes unity among all Indians by employing a rhetorical strategy that erodes the contradictions in imagining India as a singular nation.

The phrase ‘Unity in Diversity’ is periodically invoked to express the spirit of post-colonial Indian nationalism. What this phrase seeks to assert is that irrespective of varied religions, ethnicities, linguistic affiliations and other such differences, India and Indians stand united. Following Ernest Renan’s argument that ‘unity [in the context of nations] is always brutally established’, the Indian narrative of ‘Unity in Diversity’ too needs to be critically scrutinized. In post-colonial India, several policies and programs have been formulated that seek to emotionally invoke the idea of ‘Unity in Diversity’ among people in India. In the wake of recent events that have sparked off debates over ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ in India, I was reminded of the national integration campaign Miley Sur Mera Tumhara, produced in 1986, that still evokes a feeling of a unified Indian nation.

Mile Sur Mera Tumhara was a campaign produced by the Council for Public Service Commission, an undertaking of Government of India, and promoted by Doordarshan, the state-owned television at that time. This video is intended to represent the true Indian spirit: the diversity in Indian languages, costumes, regions, religions, ethnicities, and celebrities. It starts with a slow Hindustani classical rendering by vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, then picks up speed and moves across many languages, cultures, and musical variations, fading at the end into a harmony with the final notes of India’s national anthem. All the participants sing Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, Toh Sur Bane Humara, meaning, if my tune synchronizes with yours, then the tune becomes ours, making it indistinguishable.

The Indian nation, in its post-colonial avatar, was confronted with the immediacy to address the linguistic differences across different regions in India. A Committee for Emotional Integration with a mandate to ‘‘study the role of education in strengthening and promoting the processes of emotional integration in national life”. This committee was responsible to introduce Hindi in school curriculum so that it becomes a common medium of communication binding the whole country together. This imposition of Hindi has received severe criticism as it imposed North Indian norms onto the rest of the regions, inorder to discipline them into nation-subjects. This song too starts with a Hindi couplet first, thus establishing that the ‘Mera’, or the first person privilege within the Indian polity is for the Hindi speaking community while ‘Tumhara’, or the ‘othered’ ones are communities with regional languages. What must be noted is how the Hindi language here is elevated to an all-encompassing representational category, embodying the ‘Indian’ nation, while other languages are reduced to categories that merely represent India’s regional ethos.

What is interesting to note here is how two regions, Goa and the states in the North East of India have been shown in this campaign video. While all other regions are represented through individuals singing the Mile Sur… couplet in their respective languages, the sections where Goa and the North Eastern states feature only have background music and no words. For the North Eastern region, the camera pans over a group of people holding each other by their waist. The video provides no other markers apart from their racial features and costumes to suggest that this group represents the North Eastern states of India. Similarly, for Goa, one can see people waving their hands and a family descending down the stairs of an old house with Indo-Portuguese architecture. The scene closes with noted Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda in the frame sketching a boat, fishermen, and coconut trees. There is something peculiar about this muting of voices from Goa and the North Eastern regions of India. It shows the discomfort that the narrative of Indian nationalism encountered to integrate these regions, with their own distinct histories, into its fold.

This campaign overtly emphasizes unity among all Indians by employing a rhetorical strategy that erodes the contradictions and cultural diversity inherent in the idea of a singular India as imagined by the Indian political dispensation. The trap in Mile Sur… is that it seeks to essentialise all differences within the Indian polity through languages and its regions. But it is a well known fact that regionalism and mutli-lingualism are not the only premises of difference that mark the social realities in India. The differences of caste, religion, color, race, ethnicities or even sovereignties often transcend the narrow and artificial regional-linguistic boundaries, and in fact, often challenge the very idea of India as a single unified nation. The campaign can be said to assert the Indian state’s version of imagining India as a post-colonial nation and does not necessarily reflect its lived realities. Just two years before Mile Sur… was released in 1986, India witnessed the state sponsored anti-Sikh riots, in response to Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguard. The polarization within the Indian polity has increased thereon, after the implementation of Mandal commission and the infamous Babri Masjid demolition in early nineties to the recent killings in Dadri and the overall political atmosphere in India that celebrates the masculine Hindutva rhetoric. The crisis, thus, as reflected in Mile Sur… is that of the ever increasing gap between Indian state’s projection of itself as a unified nation and its social realities that indicates otherwise.

Sairat and the banality of violence

What makes ‘Sairat’ realistic is the forthright manner in which it highlights the routine violence of caste and patriarchy.

Have we ever bothered to think why the tragedies of Delta Meghwals and Rohith Vemulas fail to enter the mainstream public imagination? What discourse constructs our world of realities where the inhuman tragedies that continue to perpetrate the horrors of caste and gender violence fail to even attract sympathy, let alone bringing those involved in committing these heinous crimes to punishment? Rather, the mainstream public sphere is characterized by a consistent invisibilizing and negation of the violence that emanates from caste and patriarchal structures. Nagraj Manjule’s latest film, Sairat, is a cinematic intervention against such constructions of reality and compels us to look beyond what meets the eye.

Those who have seen Manjule’s debut film Fandry would remember the iconic climax where the protagonist Jabya flings a stone with full vigor towards the camera, as if it were aimed at the audience. Sairat is perhaps a reminder that the stone that Jabya threw at us in Fandry is not sufficient to demolish the structures of caste and patriarchy. Sairat highlights that fact that incidents of caste and gender atrocities are recurring events and a reality that one often chooses to ignore, consciously or otherwise.

Archi- Sairat’s female protagonist- is a daughter of the local MLA and her access to the pleasures of affluence are made abundantly visible through her powerfully crafted character. Archi’s character transgresses the norm of the submissive, shy ‘heroines’ in mainstream Indian films. Manjule, while circumventing these clichés, gives a great deal of agency to Archi’s character and boldly marks her desires. Manjule also highlights that the bravado that Archi exhibits is not accessible to other female characters in the film. Archi’s ability to transgress into a strong female character is enabled by a patriarchal structure of power that she inhibits as a daughter of the local MLA belonging to the dominant caste. In a scene where Archi drives a tractor and stops at the male protagonist Parshya’s house, Parshya’s mother looks at Archi and says, “You drive tractor like a man”. Upon looking at Archi, Parshya’s mother’s face is marked by an expression that is simultaneously in awe of Archi for driving a tractor and aware of the realities that confine her or her daughter within the boundaries of their lower caste female subjecthood. This moment reminded me of the gruesome events that took place in Khairlanji a decade ago where four members of the Bhotmange family belonging to a Dalit caste were murdered by the members of politically dominant Kunbi caste. The women of the family, Surekha and Priyanka, were paraded naked in public and later hacked to death by mutilating their bodies. One of the many things that had attracted the ire of the Kunbis was the fact that Priyanka dared to ride a bicycle to school while her mother Surekha had fought for retaining the ownership of her own piece of land. It is the same unholy collusion of patriarchy and caste that ‘allows’ Archi to ride a Royal Enfield while simultaneously  making Priyanka Bhotmange a victim of caste violence in Khairlanji for riding a bicycle. Manjule’s brilliance lies in how routinely he highlights this difference just by the subtle expression on the mother’s face, bereft of any melodrama that one has come to associate with mainstream Indian cinema.

In a scene towards the second half of the film, Manjule crafts another such moment that succinctly captures the core of the film. Archi’s father has to surrender his candidature to Sonal Tai, a female colleague in his party. This surrender on the father’s part, as we are made to understand, is a result of the ‘shame’ that Archi has brought to him and his family by eloping with a boy from lower caste. Earlier in an opening sequence, the father is shown criticizing the opposition contestant suggesting that since the opposition leaders cannot ‘control’ the ladies of their own family they are unfit to rule the constituency. One can not help but notice the blow his male ego has received from two women with aspirations, his daughter Archi, and Sonal Tai. The shot closes with a decisive look on the father’s face that is linked with the climax of the film that, like in Fandry, leaves the viewer shaken and speechless.

The daily violence of caste and patriarchy is often invisiblised in the mainstream public discourse, including films. Manjule’s films, inspired by the Ambedkarite discourse, forcefully draw attention to these routine acts of violence in a layered manner compelling the audience to take note of the same. Underneath Sairat’s narrative as an epic love story lie the banal realities of violence of both caste and patriarchy. Sairat, and Fandry are reminders that we need to open ourselves to these lived realities of the society that we inhibit, whose denial otherwise validates our comfort zones.

This was first published in The Goan on 9 May 2016. 

Cantaram as political dissent

Earlier this month, Goa Government’s Department of Information and Publicity held a ‘Konkani Kantaram Utsav’, a cantaram singing competition in which the participants were asked to sing about the achievements of the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This competition attracted a lot of criticism, noticeably from the tiatr community, questioning the government’s intentions behind organizing such a competition. Cantaram competitions are usually held without any pre-decided themes and certainly not with a rule that prohibits participants from criticizing the government. On the contrary, one of the several requirements of a cantar and cantorist is that of political sharpness. Cantoristsranging from Conception-Nelson-Anthony (famously known as the Trio kings) and William de Curtorim in the past, to the current sensation Francis de Tuem, have been famous for their radical political positions.Cantaram carry a huge affective magnitude for the Goan Catholic communities and it has played a key role in influencing public opinion at various historical junctures in post-colonial Goa.  The concerned department, in its official press release, stated that “[s]ong and drama is one of the medium used to propagating various policies, programmes and the schemes of the Government [sic]”. While using traditional cultural practices to propagate government schemes is not unheard of, there is more to the said cantaram competition than meets the eye.

11754510_905717512811034_6447163134040975280_oCantaram are an indispensable part of the tiatr, a theatre form that is popular largely among the bahujan Catholic communities in Goa. Audio CDs of cantars have brisk sales across Goa and is one of the most consumed form of Konkani music. In digital space too, acantar shared on YouTube would have an average of 25,000-30,000hits, a popularity that no other Goan cultural form enjoys. But the potency of cantar form lies in how, over the years, it has become a medium of formulating a discourse about the Catholic communities in Goa, wherein they retain their own agency.Cantaram, beyond its appeal as a form of entertainment, are employed to narrate and remember Goa’s history from the perspective of bahujan Goan Catholics. For instance, it would be helpful to look at two Goan political leaders, Dr. Jack Sequeira and Dayanand Bandodkar and their respective portrayal in cantaramand popular history. The popular narrative of Goan history escalates Bandodkar as a leader of masses while Sequeira’s role in Goan politics is inadequately discussed. But in cantaram, one finds an inversion of this narrative where Sequeira is celebrated for his definitive role during the Opinion Poll in 1967 while Bandodkar is subjected to sharp criticism for wanting to merge Goa with Maharashtra.

Such popular commentary on the state of Goa, emerging from a marginalized community poses a significant discursive threat to the regimes in power. Almost a year ago, the current BJP led government was exploring possibilities of setting up a censor board on tiatrs. However, the popularity that tiatrenjoys in Goa is far too powerful for the censors. Following a backlash over this move, the BJP government had to retract its decision. Having burnt their fingers once, this time the BJP led government saw it fit to organize a cantaram competition, with a clause that no adverse remarks could be made on the government, effectively imposing the censorship.

While the BJP draws its support largely from its anti-minority rhetoric in rest of the India, such stance hasn’t proven to be a success in Goa. In fact, any political outfit in Goa cannot afford to neglect the bahujan Catholic voters that until recently, could make or break governments. This is not to reduce the bahujan Catholic communities in Goa merely to a vote bank but to point to their acute political awareness, which marks them distinctly from the rest of the Goan population. The manner in which the Indian state has been rendering the Goan Catholic communities as dispossessed citizens, for example, by the denial of official recognition to Romi Konkani or the recent uproar over state grants to English medium primary school, makes them confront the state machinery in a manner which often proves to be litmus tests of Indian democracy in Goa. Cantaram and tiatr are central to the production and distribution of the discourse that makes this political awareness among the bahujan Catholic communities possible. By organizing the Cantaram Utsav, the BJP government precisely wanted to seek control of that discourse.

However, the tiatr community almost boycotted this event as a mark of protest. A collective that identifies itself as “Musical Warriors” gave a clarion call to Tiatrist and cantorists to gather outside the competition venue for a parallel cantar singing competition. This competition aimed at bringing forth the truth about the last four years of BJP governance and their anti-people policies and schemes. Singers Francis de Tuem, Lawry Travasso, Marcus Vaz among others, gathered outside the competition venue and singing critiques of the BJP-led Goa government in a sharply satirical cantar titled ‘Acche Din Aane Waale Hai’. This performative protest was sheer brilliance on the part of these singers to indicate that they will not compromise their political position for state patronage. While one fears that cantaramwould lose its radical potential owing to attempts of appropriation by the state such as the said Kantaram Utsav, the tiatr community, through this protest kept alive the tradition of political dissent.

Opinion Poll: Choice or Compromise?

We need a nuanced historical analysis to understand the preconditions and after-effects of the Opinion poll.

A series of events are being planned to commemorate the historic Opinion Poll whose  50th anniversary was marked last week on 16th January. Second to the territory’s merger into the Indian Union, the Opinion Poll is perhaps one of the most significant events in the history of post-colonial Goa. The Opinion Poll was a referendum held to decide whether to retain the Union territory status of Goa or merge it with the neighboring state of Maharashtra. The majority of Goans voted against the merger and thus Goa retained its status as a Union territory, putting an end to any possibility of the merger with Maharashtra.

Current tellings of the history of the Opinion Poll are centered around two prominent figures, Dayanand Bandodkar, the then chief minister, and Dr. Jack de Sequeira, the leader of opposition. While on the one hand it was Bandodkar’s Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) that rooted for the merger with Maharashtra in post-colonial Goa, on the other it was Dr. Sequeira and the United Goans Democratic Party (UGDP) who mobilized the anti-merger sentiments successfully. But such a reductive understanding of a complex historical moment ensures that the grey areas that marked Goa’s history and the reasons which prompted as well as averted the possibilities of merger are obscured. Recent historical analysis, such as that contained in Parag Parobo’s book India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015), hint  that Bandodkar was not keen on merger after he tasted political success. Also, the initial demand for merger dates back to late 40s, much before Bandodkar came onto the political scene. Hence to nuance our understanding of the Opinion Poll, we need to shift away from the sources that only emphasize Bandodkar and Sequeira, and write a history from below.

I was recently recounted an anecdote of a volunteer conducting the proceedings of Opinion Poll in Curtorim. After the polling ended in the evening, the said volunteer visited a nearby cafe where he overheard a conversation between two Catholic gentlemen. One of them reportedly proclaimed that “if Goa gets merged with Maharashtra, I will not stay in Goa anymore. I will move to Bombay”.

It might seem ironic that, in order to escape the threatened merger with Maharashtra, he wanted to escape to a city that was now claimed to be an integral part of Maharashtra. The city of Bombay had become the capital of the newly formed state of Maharashtra in 1960. However, if we assume that it was not so much the merger with Maharashtra that the gentlemen wanted to escape, but the possibility of further marginalization in a Hindu dominated polity his claim begins to make more sense. For him, the cosmopolitan big city would have perhaps offered hope to escape Hindu dominance. But since the late ’60s, spurred by the logic of linguistic nationalism that organized Maharasthra as a Marathi state cosmopolitan Bombay was also transforming to become the migrant hating ‘Mumbai’ claimed by the far right Hindu outfit Shiv Sena.

This situation illustrates how marginalized groups are compelled to compromise in order to negotiate their existence with a larger dominant community. Such compromises often come in the guise of political choices wherein, despite making a choice, the marginalized is destined to suffer. The Opinion Poll was one such compromise disguised as a ‘choice’. Whether to merge with Maharashtra or to remain as a Union territory were restricting choices. The Indian union never offered Goan citizens the possibilities of self determination. Instead, it obliged them to negotiate their political future within the narrow frames of Indian nationalism. This nationalism, which in hindsight has revealed itself as, in fact, Hindu nationalism has steadily led to the disenfranchisement of Goan Catholics as legitimate subjects of the republic. The recent berating of Catholics as lacking in Indianness due to their leadership of the demand for grants to English medium schools is evidence of such disenfranchisement

If the Goan Catholics wanted to escape Hindutva by voting against the merger, the Hindu bahujans wanted to escape Brahminical dominance by opting for the merger. In retrospect we realize that just as evading merger wasn’t a remedy to escape Hindu majoritarianism, merging with Maharashtra wasn’t a solution to escape the Brahminical dominance. To escape either of these evils, one must challenge the dominant discourse of Indian nationalism which is inherently infused with Brahminical Hindu notions.

It is only in hindsight that one can feel relieved that Goa did not merge with Maharashtra and was saved from being party to the hyper-masculine Maratha nationalism. However, Goa is far from escaping the ills of Hindu majoritarianism and has seen several native forms of Hindu majoritarianism breeding in the state. One can cite the movement for the official recognition of Konkani wherein the cultural legitimacy of Romi Konkani and the Catholic communities which utilized this script were systematically marginalized as lacking in Indianness as an instance of Hindu majoritarianism at work.

The Opinion Poll could be seen as a mixed blessing; a choice for freedom and independence that was structured upon narrow linguistic nationalism – thus restricting the very freedom and independence that it promised. While we celebrate Opinion poll as a triumph, we should also be aware that it restricted the lives of many Goans.

A response to ‘Archbishopancha Sermao’

An ideal commitment towards sustaining plurality would be to broaden the definition of ‘Indian’ness.

The Catholic communities in Goa have been at the receiving end of a vicious hate campaign spearheaded by the Bhartiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM). BBSM’s vocal activist Naguesh Karmali recently made a statement saying that the ‘Church is worse than the Portuguese’, while Uday Bhembre urged the ‘75% majority population of Goa to rise up against the domination of 25% minority’. Reflecting on this hate campaign against the Catholic communities, Archbishop of Goa, at the annual Christmas civic reception held at his palace, remarked that newer forms of intolerance can be seen in the state today which are polarizing the majority against the minorities. In response to this speech by the Archbishop, the resident editor of Marathi Daily Lokmat, Raju Nayak, wrote a special editorial titled ‘Archbishopancha Sermao’ (Archbishop’s Sermon dt. 30th Dec. 2015) which claimed to analyze the Archbishop’s speech as well as the Church’s role in the crafting of Goa’s secular fabric.

Nayak’s first complaint was over the Archbishop choosing to address the gathering in English. Nayak writes that there was no need for the Archbishop to speak in English as, except for the Governor Mridula Sinha, the rest of the guests at the reception were Goans. Thus, Nayak feels that the Archbishop could have spoken in an Indian language or Konkani [sic] as it would validate the ‘Indian’ness of the Church in Goa. Nayak is implying that English isn’t Indian, a position that largely stems from the Hindu majoritarian discourse that accepts only upper-caste Hindu cultural forms as Indian, and regards the rest as foreign. Such parochialism slyly suggests that the Church (and hence Goan Catholics) are lesser Indians for not abiding by the expectations set by the Hindu majoritarian discourse.

Nayak claims that the Goan Catholics have been abandoning Konkani from their households. He alleges that the Archdiocese and the Diocesan Society were never in favor of imparting education in Konkani. They were instead compelled to convert their schools to Konkani medium as a result of the uncompromising position taken by the then Education minister Shashikala Kakodkar on giving grants only to primary schools with vernacular languages as the Medium of Instruction; and adds that schools run by Diocesan society and Archdiocese have killed Konkani education [sic]. But Nayak must remember that the Goan Catholic communities were jn the forefront of the people’s struggle during the official language movement. That were it not for the support of the Catholic clergy, right from the 1960s, the very idea of Konkani education would have been a dream. Despite all of this, the demand of the Catholics for granting of official status to Romi Konkani has not yet been realised. If the Hindu Brahminical leadership within the Konkani camp hasn’t been receptive to this demand of Goan Catholics, why should the Catholics now feel any commitment towards shouldering the burden of ‘safeguarding’ an Antruzi and Nagari-scripted Konkani that is in fact foreign to them? Rather, the existent pro-Nagri Konkani groups should be left on their own to safeguard the language which they concocted up for their own benefit.

Nayak further exposes his communal biases by arguing that the queues to avail Portuguese citizenship would compel anyone to conclude that English education is not only inadequate to create ideal citizens, but is also responsible for the sin [sic] of creating a generation of selfish and narrow minded individuals who have no sense of belonging towards the [Indian] nation. By Nayak’s logic, all English-learning Indian citizens will be regarded as anti-nationals. Why single out the Goan Catholics? Nayak further adds that the Goan Catholics are ‘disrespecting the core values that define Goa and are turning their back on the Indian nation’. According to a recent report published in Indiatimes.com (dt 28th Dec 2015), 65% of individuals who availed Portuguese citizenship were Catholics while 25% were Muslims and 10% were Hindus. These statistics show that though the majority of those opting for Portuguese citizenship are Goan Catholics, a significant number of Muslisms and Hindus too are availing the Portuguese citizenship. Moreover, the queues to obtain Portuguese citizenship are not Church-sponsored initiatives as Nayak seems to suggest, but are surely a product of the dominant Hindu nationalist discourse. If members of a particular community are surrendering their Indian citizenship at an average rate of 6 persons per day, accusing the entire community of turning their back towards the nation is not going to resolve the situation. Instead, one must also assess the implications of Hindu nationalism which treats non-Hindus as misfits within the Indian nation.

In essence, Nayak’s article suggests that to fashion oneself as Indian, one must abide by the diktats set by the Hindu majoritarian discourse. Such positions are not very different from the hardline Hindutva professed by far right groups such as RSS and VHP. Such a stance not only subjects the minorities under constant validation set by the majoritarian standards, it also denies the minorities the agency to make their own life choices. Nayak also expresses his concern over religious organisations posing a threat to Goa’s plural character. But by espousing the lines of soft Hindutva, Nayak seems to contradict with his concerns for plurality. Instead of berating Goan Catholics as unpatriotic, perhaps we need to broaden the definition of ‘Indian’ness to encompass cultures that are not necessarily Hindu.

Marathi and the Hindu Bahujans

Marathi is as much a carrier of Goan ethos as Konkani (both Romi and Nagari) and Portuguese.

The presence of Marathi in Goa is looked upon with suspicion by some for its links with the demand for Goa’s merger with Maharashtra from the period between 1961 until the Opinion Poll of 1967. In writing off Marathi as a Maharashtrian import, people often ignore the centuries-long historical presence of Marathi in Goa, as well as its current usage in the public sphere. Gauging by this usage, one can safely say that Marathi is as much a carrier ofthe Goan ethos as Konkani (both Romi and Nagari) and Portuguese.

The demand for Marathi as official language was largely made by the Hindu Bahujan Samaj of Goa initially, many of whom also identify with a Maratha identity. The Bahujan Samaj is a conglomeration of lower caste groups in Goa that was comprised of Kshatriya Maratha Samaj (Fisher communities), Gomantak Maratha Samaj (temple servants), Naik Bhandaris or Kshatriya Naik Marathas (toddy tappers), Kshatriya Komarpant Maratha (service caste) and Gaud Maratha (tribals). Following the rise of Maratha power in 17th century and Maratha invasions in Goa, Maratha identity had become a cultural resource through which lower castes imagined a modern identity, as Parag Parobo articulates in his book India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015). This reorganization of Hindu bahujan samaj in Goa around Maratha identity was aimed to contest brahminical hierarchy and social dominance.

The potency of the Maratha symbol for the bahujan samaj was further deepened in the course of the merger-language debates that dominated public discourse from the 1960s until their culmination in 1987. Recognizing that the pro-Konkani forces were in fact directed by Saraswat interests, the bahujan Hindus realized that the imposition of Nagari Konkani was a tool towards instituting Brahmin hegemony in Goa. It was for this reason that they chose to side with Marathi as their preferred language of expression. The political establishment in Goa was well aware of the emotional currency that Marathi carried for Hindu masses in Goa. Hence, there was a provision made to grant ‘equal status’ to Marathi in the Official Language Act of 1987 (OLA) and subsequently it was notified that Marathi would also be used in official purposes of the state government.

The suspicion of Marathi, especially among the Catholic communities in Goa, isn’t surprising. The merger with the Indian union in 1961 implied the arrival of Indian nationalist discourse in Goan public sphere which meant a preferential bias towards Hindus while Catholics would be rendered as second class citizens. The animosity of Catholic communities towards Marathi is precisely because of this reason and the Marathi camp in Goa did not make any attempts to address this problem. Instead the Marathi supporters further validated the apprehension that Goan Catholics harbored towards them by fashioning their demands of merger with Maharashtra and official recognition for Marathi with Hindutva symbolism.

But much has changed since the passing of Official Language Act, 1987. The Official Language Act did not give any recognition to Romi Konkani despite the fact that the mass support in favour of Konkani emerged from those who desired the recognition for Romi Konkani. If the demand for Marathi was seen as a bow towards a Hindu majoritarianism in Goa, instituting Nagari Konkani as the sole official language proved that suspicion right. One of the recurring argument made by the Nagari leaders against Romi Konkani was that the Roman script is ‘western’ and not ‘Indian’, and hence unfit for any official recognition. Secondly, they argued that the adoption of Nagari Konkani will help bring the Goan Catholics into Indian mainstream. What these two arguments not so subtly implied is that the Catholics in Goa would have to adopt the modes of life set by upper caste Hindus while rejecting the peculiar history that the Goan Catholics were part of. It is about time that Goan masses realize the brahminical agenda operating in the name of Nagari Konkani. The recent debate over the Medium of Instruction (MoI) issue is a direct result of this agenda and the failure of subsequent governments to amend the Official Language Act in order to make it more inclusive by giving equal status to Romi Konkani and Marathi.

The current Marathi leadership, however, is not positioned against countering the brahminical agenda operating via the Nagari Konkani camp nor do they seem to be interested in addressing the issues of caste tied with the assertion of Marathi in Goa. To make matters worse, the leadership within the Marathi camp is assumed by upper caste individuals who have suspicious links with right wing groups such as the RSS and VHP. What they will end up doing is to push down a brahminical Hindutva agenda on Hindu Bahujans. Also, the current Marathi movement, especially the one led by Marathi Rajyabhasha Prasthapan Samiti, is geared to oppose the alleged onslaught of English in Goa. Such a stance will curtail the possibilities of upward mobility to Hindu bahujans in a world that is dominated by English. An ideal assertion for Marathi in Goa would be one that recognizes the bahujan position of Marathi as well as that which employs Marathi as a gateway to learn English and access a world view beyond regional parochialism of Goa or India.

Destabilising the ‘Idea of India’

Following the abominable lynching of Muhammad Akhlaq in Dadri, the beef bans, and the overall rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP’s rise to power in India, many are worried about the perceived threat to the ‘Idea of India’. The ‘India as a Hindu Rashtra’ rhetoric propagated by RSS is at loggerheads with the Nehruvian idea of secular, liberal and modern India. These are disturbing, but nonetheless interesting, times where these two imaginations of India, both originating from elite upper caste positions, are fighting for their supremacy. However, it is important to note that both these imaginations have failed to cater to the assertions of marginalized and subaltern communities in India.

A deeper probing into history would tell us that this Secular vs Communal, attributed to Congress and BJP respectively, is a false binary that the marginalized communities are forced to choose from. Both these political parties have operated largely to serve and safeguard elite interests in this country. While both the Congress and BJP have often tried to project a liberal image, their history tells otherwise. To believe that one of them is secular than the other would mean to live in a fool’s paradise. In such scenario, one can conclude that if we are to think of a political discourse focused around emancipating the marginalized communities, neither Congress nor BJP can be our best bet. The reason for this, as noted by the late historian Prof. MSS Pandian in an essay he wrote in the year 2000, is that both these groups populated by the modernizing elite cutting across the ideological divide of communal and secular, have a deep-rooted feeling against the Indian democracy.

TheGoanDestabilisingIdeaofIndia

Pandian provides examples of how the modernizing elites have repeatedly exhibited their contempt towards values of democracy. According to Pandian, the implementation of Mandal commission report by the United Front Government in 1990 that extended reservations in government jobs and educational institutes to non-creamy layer OBCs along with SC and ST communities, was a moment of deepening of democracy in India. While the so called secularist Congress government did not implement the recommendations of Mandal report for a decade, the opposition to the implementation originated from the modernizing elites of India across party lines. This is indicative of the fact that the then political establishment in India was united across false divisions to oppose a democratic decision. If one were to look within Goa, the denial of official language status to Roman Konkani and opposition to the state grants for English medium primary schools would be fitting examples to explain the contempt harbored by elites towards values of democracy.

Pandian further illustrates the anti-democratic urge of elites by drawing the reader’s attention to the attitude of the elites towards politicians who have come to occupy positions of power through the support of the rural lower caste voters. He specifically talks about how Lalu Prasad Yadav was parodied in mainstream press for being a village bumpkin unfit for the serious business of politics. Even after the recent victory of Grand Alliance in Bihar against BJP, Lalu’s ‘village joker’ image is constantly brought back into the mainstream discourse to perpetuate Lalu’s incapability to be a serious politician.

Soon after Laxmikant Parsekar succeeded Manohar Parrikar as the Chief Minister of Goa, a photo parodying Parsekar was being circulated on WhatsApp. The photo showed Parsekar’s face morphed on a monkey’s body while Manohar Parrikar’s face was morphed onto a man’s body that held a rope around Parsekar’s neck. Some of the seasoned BJP members shared this photo with utmost glee, exposing their discomfort to accept a non-Brahmin leader as the Chief Minister of Goa. In such situation, it was not surprising when recently asked to list achievement of his government on the account of completing one year as the Chief Minister, Parsekar responded by saying that people have stopped parodying him on social media.

The aforementioned articulations by Pandian show that the the idea of India perpetuated by its modernizing elites does not provide enough space for contesting power based on the existing disparities of caste, region, language and religion. Instead, it homogenizes the struggles of the subaltern on the lines of secular versus communal, forcing them to choose the so called lesser evil. In contemporary times where the Hindu right is establishing control over institutions of power in India, the Nehruvian idea of secular liberal India as a necessity to combat the Hindu right is also getting affirmed. However, it needs to be pointed out that the Nehruvian polity was no less compatible with a certain form of Hindu right and hence needs to be destabilized.

To rethink subaltern politics, in the wake of such situation, would first require us to avoid falling into the traps of these so called lesser evils and false binaries of communal vs secular. The recourse would be, as suggested by Pandian, to foreground a political strategy that is based on the perennial contestation of different forms of power by acknowledging and addressing difference as the fundamental reality of the social. Alternatively put, instead of relegating the differences of caste, religion, region, language etc. into one’s private domain as ‘taught’ to us by the modernizing elite, we must use these very differences as arsenals for contesting power.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 24 November, 2015)