The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 12, 2003

Carving a Goan identity in the postcolonial period
Ervell E. Menezes

by Arun Sinha. Bibliophile South Asia in association with 
Promilla & Co. Rs 495

BOOKS on Goa are being churned out at regular intervals these days with varying degrees of success, depending on their approach. Some just scratch the surface of the subject while others dwell on the writer’s fetishes. Still others try to cover all aspects. Arun Sinha ‘s Goa Indica : A Critical Portrait of Postcolonial Goa, belongs to the last category and for that reason it is likely to invite censure but being a non-Goan he is more objective. His extensive research shows in his findings and though his comments are at times categorical he also leaves something to the readers’ imagination and perception. It is an honest search for the truth though some may aver that there are indeed different versions of it.

Goa itself is not an easy subject to handle, for the Goan himself is complex creature, an amalgam of multiple forces and strains. The Portuguese conquest and rule for over 400 years cannot be wished away. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru may have said, "There can be unity in diversity and Goans will be as much Indian as Marathas and Bengalis, despite the impact of the Portuguese on their culture". What Nehru did not specify was the time frame needed for Goans to turn truly Indian. Sinha goes into the genesis of the great Christian - Hindu divide that has been the single most significant factor in retarding Goa’s progress.

The impact of Christianity is there for all to see. "For almost four hundred years since he conquered Goa the Portuguese king acted like half-emperor, half-Pope. Not just the privilege of clerical appointments, the king even appropriated to himself the right to examine all the Papal Bulls, allowing their enforcement in his conquered lands only if he found nothing detrimental to Portugual’s interest in them," says Sinha quite forcefully. And it merits such vehemence.


Speaking about Goan identity he brings out the dichotomy. "Christians clung to their Indo-Portuguese identity. Hindus talked of pan-Indian identity. There was no group or organisation championing the native ethnic Goan identity," he points out. If the Portuguese Inquisition targeted the Hindus in no uncertain and near-inhuman terms, the Bandodkar Government’s backlash in land reforms demolishing the existing feudal structure was understandable but not the utter neglect of Communidade lands which adversely affected agriculture. "Bandodkar ought to have brought in his government to fill the institutional vacuum caused by the removal of Communidades and landowners for the responsibility of maintaining irrigation works. Or provided them with sufficient finance to carry out the traditional responsibility," says Sinha and quite rightly so.

He also traces the events that took place between the two communities, Hindu and Christian, be it the opinion poll, the Konkani language stir or the Konkan railway route realignment agitation and he doesn’t mince words in hitting out at the Church which has invariably politicised issues. He also brings out the irony of the Konkani agitation which had to eventually surrender to the practicality of English. Or was their bluff called? Then there was the Church’s role in the Carnival floats. But what Sinha could have done was update the role of religion and balance it with Hindutva and the BJP agenda of setting up little temples everywhere like the Portuguese set up crosses. After all, aren’t all religions the same — possessive and even expansionist?

Sinha goes in detail into the common Civil Code and highlights its uniqueness and also compares it with the Hindu and Muslim codes but it doesn’t provide very readable material though one must admit it is academically sound. The ethnic fencing is candidly brought out, as is the Goan hostility to the outsider or baile. It is like the Germans not wanting to do menial work in Germany and still objecting to increasing Turkish presence. He has a hilarious anecdote to relate about this attitude to the outsider: How at a BJP meeting, at which Manohar Parrikar, now the chief minister, was present, and UP businessman D. P. Tiwari was snubbed by a BJP man saying: "You came here to do business, now you want to rule us?"

The decline in agriculture coincided with the advent of world tourism (thanks to the hippies), which completely transformed the face of Goa. But it also had its negative aspects. The dropout rate in schools was as high as 70 per cent. This is a factor that must be immediately addressed. The Goans are very choosy about accepting jobs. Corruption also figures in his book.

All this is candidly tackled as are a plethora of issues that graphically bring out the plight of Goans and also provoke thought. Why has Goa not really progressed after its liberation? Is the Goan psyche to blame? Why is there rampant corruption or unscrupulous politicians? How do we overcome these handicaps?

One thing is inevitable: The Goan must accept the outsider because he needs him. So he must learn to live with him, or else do the work that he does. Second, his work ethic has to change, he must compete with the outsider. Thirdly, he must learn to live in harmony with the other communities. It is high time he tried to bury his age-old differences with members of other communities. The Goans’ strength lies in unity that will thwart the vote-bank-conscious politicians. There must be no differences between Hindus and Christians. It may sound too ideological but in this respect grey areas are better than black and white. May be Sinha should have mooted some such formula in his summing up. Otherwise, all said and done, it’s a good eye-opener.