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.

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.

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.

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)