D.D. Kosambi Fellowship

Premise: I have been awarded the D.D. Kosambi Research Fellowship by the Directorate of Art and Culture, Government of Goa for the year 2016-2018. Under this fellowship, I will be researching the genealogies of Maratha and Marathi identities in 20th century Portuguese Goa.

The assertion and presence of Marathi in Goa has always been looked at with certain degree of suspicion. The popularity of Marathi in Goa was the basis on which Goa’s merger with Maharashtra was argued in sixties. The debate was laid to rest following a referendum, popularly known as the ‘Opinion Poll’, wherein majority of the Goans voted to remain as an independent union territory instead of merging with Maharashtra. Goa’s affinity towards Marathi was further seen in the official language movement where Konkani (written in Devnagari script) was instituted as the official language of Goa and Marathi was approved for official purpose.

Goa’s relationship with Marathi is deeply linked to the peculiar networks of caste and colonialism that marked the early 20th century Goa. Several Goan Hindu communities were engaging with Maratha history and/or Marathi language to make space for themselves in the upward mobility race. There were several lower caste communities that adopted a Maratha past and identity. This adoption was as an assertion of a certain caste consciousness. Marathi had a strong presence in the vernacular print as well, alongwith the Romi Konkani, in Goa and Bombay. From the late 19th century till 1961, there were around 82 Marathi periodicals that were started either in Goa or by Goans in British and Independent India. Another major factor that fostered the popularity of Marathi and Maratha history in Goa was Marathi theatre. Goa was part of the larger circuit in which Marathi theatre that was produced in British India was being performed. But more importantly, Goa has had a long standing tradition of Marathi theatre that was at its peak for the major period of the 20th century. These plays were staged in the temple premises itself since the majority of the temples in Goa extend into performing spaces. The themes were predominantly mythological or based on the life and times of the Maratha king Shivaji Bhosale. Marathi also was, and still is, the language of spirituality and worship among the Goan Hindu communities.

‘Region’ exists as a notional construct and not merely as a geographical terrain contained within arbitrary boundaries. Thus, if regions too exist as ‘imagined communities‘, it is imperative to reiterate Partha Chatterjee’s emphasis to define the locus of these imaginations. Goa is site whose histories not only can offer fresh perspectives on colonial empires in South Asia, but also highlight the imperial manner in which post-colonial nations operate at the impulses of its ruling and elite class. This project is driven by the pursuit to locate these genealogies in general, and those that claimed Goa as an extension of Maharashtra in particular.

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.

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. 

Dayanand Bandodkar, Ambedkar and Nehru

Bandodkar’s politics show the potential of Dr. Ambedkar’s vision, but also the limits of the Nehruvian model of governance.

In his essay titled ‘A Warning to Untouchables’, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar appeals to the depressed classes to strive for two goals. The first one being the pursuit of education and spread of knowledge, for he believed that the power of the dominant castes rested upon the lies consistently propagated among the uneducated masses. Challenging the dominance of the privileged classes requires countering these lies which could only happen with education. Secondly, he asserts that the depressed classes must strive for power. Ambedkar says that “[w]hat makes one interest dominant over another is power [and] that being so, power is needed to destroy power”.

The rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party under the leadership of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh from the mid 1990s is considered a success story of Ambedkar’s aforementioned appeals. But Parag Parobo’s recently published book, India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015), could help us imagine Goa’s first Chief Minister, Dayanand Bandodkar, as a bahujan leader whose politics resonated with Ambedkar’s political scheme mentioned above, much before Kanshi Ram and Mayawati.

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In the first three state elections (1963, 1967, and 1972), the Indian National Congress (INC) suffered most humiliating defeats in Goa while Bandodkar and his Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party single-handedly emerged as the most powerful political force. The reason for this, as cited by Parobo, was the INC’s dependence on reproducing feudal and caste hierarchies within the INC’s organizational structure. During the first Goa assembly elections in 1963, the INC gave candidature mostly to upper caste landlords and “freedom fighters”, leaving no space for the representation of subordinated castes. Bandodkar, on the other hand, placed an emphasis on giving tickets to the individuals belonging to the bahujan samaj, two significant examples being Kashinath Shetgaonkar, a loin-cloth-wearing farmer and Vijay Kamulkar, a tea-stall-owner, both from Pernem. Shetgaonkar and Kamulkar won their respective seats while defeating feudal doyens Raghunathrao Deshprabhu and Vaikunthrao Dempo. Deshprabhu and Dempo’s loss reflects the grit of the masses to reject the INC’s attempt to reproduce upper caste dominance within electoral democracy.

Bandodkar’s caste background not only informed his political strategy but also his vision. Parobo astutely elaborates on this aspect by analyzing Bandodkar’s educational policies for Goa vis-à-vis Jawaharlal Nehru’s educational policies for India. Nehru is uncritically considered as the architect of Modern India by a large majority of the Indian population. Nehru’s narrative of development was launched through investments in heavy industries and mega-projects and dams, which Nehru referred to as the ‘temples of Modern India’. However, as Parobo points out, Nehru’s development rhetoric emphasized higher education by downplaying the value of basic education in the country. At a time when a vast portion of the country’s population did not have access to basic education, Nehru made precious resources available to higher education in the process  starving primary and secondary schools of funds.

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Available for online order on Amazon

Parobo articulates it precisely when he writes that “at a time when investments in higher education were a priority being driven by [the] Nehruvian vision of India, Goa’s story was being scripted very differently”. Within one month of taking charge of the government, Bandodkar announced the setting up of 200 primary schools for the academic year 1964-65. The major thrust of his educational policy was to eradicate inequality by universalizing primary education and to make education accessible to everyone in Goan society by setting up educational institutions in villages, especially for those who belonged to lower ranks in the caste hierarchy. Under Bandodkar’s tenure, the number of primary schools increased from 274 to 492 in 1964-65 and further increased to 900 in 1967. According to Parobo, Bandodkar did not merely limit himself to opening up schools but also created conditions that would make Bahujan access to education possible. For example, Bandodkar’s land reforms liberated the low caste mundkars from feudal compulsions and responsibilities, thus easing their way towards acquiring education. The results of these concentrated efforts were seen in the census of 1971, wherein in the New Conquests, a region which had received relatively less attention in terms of education before 1961, the literacy rate increased from 18 to 51 percent.

Bandodkar seized political power which, according to Ambedkar, was the master key for the lower caste emancipation. Through his political strategies and reforms, Bandodkar was able to achieve two things. Firstly, Bandodkar disrupted the elite Goan establishment, both Hindu and Catholic, which was reaping benefits available to them through their support of the Portuguese colonial state. Secondly, he strategically rejected the INC’s hierarchical politics as well as the Nehruvian vision of development that catered to safeguarding the interests of the elites. Instead, he scripted a development narrative that prioritized the liberation of the lower caste communities. Thus, even though Bandodkar may not have engaged directly with Ambedkar’s political thought, he was able to demonstrate the potential of Ambedkar’s vision of subaltern emancipation. He did this by seizing political power and exposing the limits of the Nehruvian model of governance. This goes to show that a critical questioning of Nehruvian idea of ‘modern’ nation and coupling an inclusive version of Bandodkar’s strategy with Ambedkar’s political thoughts could help us to imagine possibilities of emancipating the subaltern in contemporary times.

When the Bahujans Speak

Porobo’s book on Bandodkar offers fresh perspectives on Goa by narrating a history that refuses to conform to the dominant narratives.

The discourse on Goa’s history oscillates between two dominant narratives, one is that of Goa Dourada –a reminiscence about a Goa that is European; and the second —Goa Indica– which is a nationalist reversal of Goa Dourada, at times propagated by orientalist scholars. Both are often pitted against each other, ultimately trying to erase the existence of the other narrative. However, both these narratives emerge from elite rungs of Goan society and hence fail to represent the complex nature of Goa’s diverse social ethos. The inadequacy of these narratives lies in the very nature of their historiography which tends to ignore or silence the marginalized communities of the land. Till recently, no scholarly attempts of writing ‘history from below’ were made in the context of Goa and the recently published book India’s First Democratic Revolution – Dayanand Bandodkar and the rise of the Bahujan in Goa (2015) by Parag Parobo is a step towards bringing marginalized  narratives of history to the fore. Parag Parobo is a professor of History at the Goa University.

High resolution Image of bookThe book chronicles the rise of Hindu Bahujan samaj in post-colonial Goa under the leadership of Dayanand Bandodkar. Moving away from the trend of solely attributing the Portuguese colonial state for the ‘making and unmaking’ of Goa, Parobo argues that Goa was a product of Portuguese as well British colonialism. Similarly, post-colonial Goa isn’t a self-standing entity but, he says, one needs to place Goa in wider context of the subcontinent while assessing its regional complexities. Adopting a non-conformist approach to the Portuguese colonialism, the book also debunks the trend to attribute Goa’s post-colonial advancements to the Portuguese colonialism, which fell considerably short of effectively reviving an economy that was stagnating economy since the nineteenth century.

The book begins by giving a detailed accounts of formation and consolidation of caste identities in Goa. The case of Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs) is of particular importance here to understand their dominance in contemporary civic sphere. The book argues that the Brahmin status of Saraswats is actually a seventeenth century construct, following the intervention of the Benares based Vedic scholar Gaga Bhatta. Porobo also critically analyses the myth of Parashuram as narrated in the Sahayadrikhand from the nineteenth-century, rebutting the antiquity of the claims therein. Thus, Porobo challenges a dominant view that asserts the GSBs as the original settlers of Goa, based on a nineteenth-century rendition of the Sahayadrikhand.

Simultaneously, Parobo also offers insight into the reorganisation of lower caste communities around the Maratha identity as a path to seek upward mobility. Further, the book analyses the colonial state in its local and micro contexts, unearthing the elitist nature of Portuguese colonialism. Parobo argues that the colonial state, and its collaboration with Saraswat Brahmins, actually accelerated the Brahminisation of Goa in terms of establishing control on land, temple, administration, and history.

In post-colonial Goa, Parobo provides a detailed account of Bandodkar’s politics and how his lower caste affiliation complimented with his capitalist background marked a possibility of emancipation for the Bahujan samaj in Goa. Parobo provides insightful analysis of the merger issue for which Bandodkar has been criticised by a certain fraction of Goan society even today. Parobo argues that, though the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party’s (MGP) chief agenda was to merge Goa with Maharashtra, Bandodkar wasn’t keen on the merger. He says Bandodkar’s personal political interest may have taken precedence over the party ideology. Even though the rest of the MGP wasn’t satisfied with the opinion poll verdict, Bandodkar was first to accept it. The opinion poll did not dent Bandodkar’s image but on the contrary, strengthened it. MGP’s vote base and seats increased in the elections that followed the merger. Parobo further analyses Bandodkar’s regime through his far reaching land reforms, educational policies and healthcare initiatives that proved to be emancipatory to the Bahujan samaj.

The book seeks to project Goa onto India to demonstrate how the marginalized, equipped with political power, can change the course of their progress and create newer possibilities for themselves. Nehru’s vision for India was a result of his upper caste elite background which worked only to the benefits of Indian elites while the marginalized struggled to find a place for themselves within that vision. Bandodkar, with his lower caste capitalist background, set a model of governance that prioritized liberating the Bahujans from bonds of feudal and social oppression. The limit of Nehruvian idea of development and liberating nature of Bandodkar’s governance is evident from Parabo’s astute analysis of their respective education policies.

The book departs from the traditional narratives of Goa Dourada and Goa Indica and reterritorializes Goan history from the perspective of the lower castes. However, its scope is limited to the Hindu Bahujans and the narrative of the subaltern Catholic is largely absent in this work. Also, the book does not provide an analysis of the progress of Bahujans post the Bandodkar regime, which was systematically hurdled by the resurgence of brahminical dominance in Goan civic sphere. The denial of official language status to Marathi or the recent amendments to the tenancy act are telling examples. Nevertheless, the book offers some great insights into Goa’s history and is a must read for individuals interested in understanding Goa as well for those engaged in articulating newer possibilities of subaltern politics in contemporary Indian context.

(The book is published by Orient BlackSwan under their “New Perspectives in South Asian History” series. The book is available for online purchase on Amazon)

Say yes to reservations

Caste based reservation is meant to ensure fair representation to all caste communities in civic sphere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(First published in The Goan Everyday dated 15th September 2015)

Privilege, Equality and Caste

You cannot help but to upset people when you write about Caste. The reactions to my post on Rajdeep are really interesting and just a reminder that we need to constantly engage ourselves into this debate instead of not talk about it at all calling caste a passé, because it isn’t. This post was initially intended to address the twitter conversation I had with Nilay but now after having received more and diverse opinions on my post, will address some others too. The conversation between me and Nilay started after him tweeting this.

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To which I replied as above. I also asked him if his understanding of privileges was this shallow, I am not interested in carrying this dialogue any further and would rest my case. At this point, the debate suddenly turned into a You vs Me battle which I didn’t see coming. Did he get better education? I don’t know which school/college he went to so no comments there. Can I not buy land in Goa? Of course yes I can but from whom? Who is the majority land owning community in Goa? Temples (and hence Mahajans (Guardians) of temples, who coincidentally happen to GSBs). Are you denied entry to temple? It’s my choice that I’ve almost stopped visiting temples unless I’m with some friends or guests. But I’m allowed entry till a certain point where I can put in money into donor box, pray and leave. Entry to sanctum sanctorum is still denied to castes other than GSBs. But the point isn’t what privileges I’m allowed. Opinions about a big problem like caste cannot be held on such binary of “Me vs You” debates. Nilay further tweeted following tweets


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To be very frank, I was not at all offended by the “People like you” reference in his tweet but it’s interesting that a debate which gets consolidated to level of “You vs Me” from nowhere suddenly elevates to level of “People like you”. Also, people like him and many other have made me conscious about my caste too so that’s levelled. Also, nor do I (stress on I) need an acknowledgment of the injustice that has been done by upper caste towards other caste communities neither am I playing my caste sympathy card. I don’t think I have personal gains from it, apart from getting myself more engaged with debates of caste, class and identity. Also, one is entitled to their impulsive beliefs which were incepted into them. For ex. someone believing in ghosts is also impulsive and incepted by an external agency.

In the due course of the discussion that followed, Sagar mentioned something about “equal footing”, and I think this is where the crux of debate lies. Equality, at least in India, is deceptive. It reminds me of a quote from Swadesh Deepak’s seminal play Court Martial which says, “All are equal before law, but some are more equal than others.” We are equal by law, not by beliefs. And this is a behaviour common across caste and religious communities and not specific to any.

Caste, Privilege and Equality is a vicious cycle. The caste system in India privileged certain communities. Thus they could get themselves educated, acquire knowledge, seek and generate employment opportunities and hence their future generations could also live in a better condition. Equality as a necessary idea came much later into our societal understanding and that concept still struggles to find a space here. What did thousand years of oppression did to the communities who were at the receiving end of it? First and foremost, it injured their morale and self-confidence. My grandfather would recount that if a Bhaadkar (landlord) would walk by, no one was allowed to make an eye contact with him. They would have to remain in whatever position with their eyes fixed to ground. An eye contact with the upper caste landlord would signify breaking of the caste code. And many of these people were labourers in the landlord’s farm so they could not afford to upset him as that would mean no employment for rest of the life. This incident speaks volumes about the humiliation that these people went through. It affected their world view, capability to dream big or even afford to dream in first place. This sense of low self-esteem has passed on through generations. In real sense, we cannot speak of equal footing or merit unless we address this historical oppression of backward communities which hasn’t only affected social and economic emancipation of them but also emancipation of their individual self.

Hence when people cringe about reservations in educational institutes and jobs and instead lobby for merit and equality, I find it extremely problematic because our history doesn’t justify that cringing. “Your ancestors may have discriminated against my ancestors but you haven’t discriminated against me so I shouldn’t be holding that against you” is a flawed argument. Perhaps, in the process of discrimination, your ancestors have hampered my ancestor’s ability to overcome discrimination which might still be continuing in my family. Who knows?

 

PS: I’d pause all the caste debate here for a while due to mounting load of pending submissions that I’ve to do as its end of the semester. We can take the dialogue further on tweets, facebook, email or in comments section here but I will try to reply only when I’m relived of the submission load. My post on Rajdeep’s tweet is here.

Rajdeep, your caste is showing!

When I moved to Delhi from Pune, one thing I was relieved of was not having to answer condescending Punekars asking me my last name. It’s a “not so subtle” way of asking “What’s your caste?” and the tone of the conversation that would follow was largely dependent on whether I was a Brahmin or not. While I was aware of caste discrimination since my days in Goa, I became aware of caste atrocities and how it plays a major role (more than one can think of) in one’s life when I moved to Pune. Social segregation, ghettoization of dalit communities etc. were starkly visible in a Pune where the Brahmins have had a stronghold in shaping it as a city. My relief from being asked Pune’s typical conversation starter “What’s your last name?” didn’t last long until last week when I went to Goa Sadan for the annual “Goa Festival”. This time it was a Goan (a GSB) asking me the same question and all I could do is laugh and tell him what my last name is.

The reason for this post is the latest controversy that Rajdeep Sardesai has stirred by tweeting about his “Sarswat” pride after fellow GSBians, Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu were inducted into Modi’s cabinet.

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Well I had already called it a sick behaviour from Rajdeep’s side by tweeting that “There’s nothing great in taking pride in people inducted into power who already hail from privileged classes”. While I thought the controversy ended there, Rajdeep has now written a column in HT justifying the tweet thereby paving way for a fresh controversy. And in course of responding to that, GSB sentiments of a fellow twitter user, Nilay Bhandare (@kharobangdo) seems to have been hurt or disturbed. This post is to address the concerns after having read reactions by both and probably address larger problem of caste with particular reference to Goa.

Let’s look at Rajdeep first (Nilay deserves another post) because if not anything else, the article is a bit hilarious too at some level.

“GSB” refers to the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, a tiny, but highly progressive community of fish-eating Brahmins that I belong to which nestles along the Konkan coast, across Maharashtra, Goa, through to parts of Karnataka.

A “Highly progressive community” that decides how they would talk to a person depending on his or her skin tone and last name. A highly progressive community that controls temple ownership in Goa and denies entry into sanctum sanctorum for other communities. A highly progressive community that asserts their own dialect as an official language onto rest of the state. This list of highly progressive attributes can go on but let’s stop here.

Rajdeep further mentions that

In his valuable book Saraswats, Chandrakant Keni traces the history of the Saraswat community, of the migration from Kashmir, of how they faced oppression from the conquering Portuguese, how they zealously held onto their family traditions and village deities, and placed a premium on education as a path to upward mobility.

While I have not read the book by Chandrakant Keni, I will refrain from making remarks on his arguments about Sarswats but only thing here is that I have problem with is GSBs placing a premium on education as a path to upward mobility. When you are the only community having access to education and knowledge systems and thus denying the right to education to rest of the communities, aren’t you the only one who’s going to ride on the path of upward mobility? It’s like running the race alone or with fellow racers who are handicapped by social structure which you’ve ensured remains intact for centuries and then claiming victory?

The next para would put any standup comedian to shame which read like

Despite the small numbers, the Saraswat community has contributed enormously to the country: In cricket, led by the big two Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, Saraswats have scored more than a hundred Test hundreds; in cinema and the arts, we have the splendid Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, Guru Dutt and the latest Hindi film dream girl, Deepika Padukone; in education, the Pais of Manipal have led the way; and in business and finance, the likes of Nandan Nilekani and KV Kamath have been pioneers.

Of course there is no doubt about Tendulkar and Gavaskar’s legacy but when their hundreds translates into “Saraswats” scoring more than a hundred test hundreds, it does look ugly for reasons more than one. Also we need to think what societal setup that “allows” Sachin Tendulkar to score hundreds while Vinod Kambli’s career gets a halt and gets the tag of “characterless”. It looks like Rajdeep has no understanding of the privileges that upper caste communities in India have always enjoyed. He strengthens this belief further by saying

Casteism is when a caste identity is used to promote hatred and separateness towards the other, when it creates social barriers based on occupation, marriage or inter-dining.

Alas! Paisaa aaya par class consciousness nahi gaya! If it was only that simple. This is the urban elite understanding of “casteism” and Rajdeep seems like a frontrunner of such bullshit that gets disguised as liberalism. Casteism is what happened in Khairlanji and rising cases of atrocities against Dalits. It’s also ridiculing of the Ambedkar followers on 6th December and discussing how these “Jai Bheem” people need to be shown their place who crowd and litter the city of Bombay, which is otherwise clean and devoid of any crowds. It’s also Brahmin students cancelling their admissions from Aurangabad University when it was being renamed as Babasaheb Ambedkar University. It’s also asking someone their last name. It’s also advertising in a local Marathi Daily that It’s a celebratory moment for “Bamons” of Goa because after Parrikar, a Kamat has been made the CM. Reminding anyone of their deprivation by invoking a pride in one’s own caste or directly ridiculing the other, is casteism.

Will just share an incident that happened with my cousin few years back. She studies in an elite school in Margao and scores well enough to come first in the class. A fellow GSB classmate of hers comes second. On the day of results, the mother of this GSB girl asked my cousin, “Your last name is Naik, right? How do you then come first in class?” As if coming first in class (and hence being intelligent and worthy of acquiring knowledge) was a trait peculiar to GSBs. Perhaps Rajdeep never got asked this question. Perhaps he wasn’t denied access to education (and hence empowerment) because of his caste.

One can be ignorant about his or her privilege, it’s only by agency of caste one learns to be proud arrogant about it.