Monday, January 8, 2007

Goan Land for Outsiders: What is the issue really?

Thank heavens for Goa’s vibrant public sphere where every issue is examined and debated animatedly. True, we sometimes wish that they would all go away, that our lives were less subject to the bizarre opinions of a few, but then this is what democracy is all about isn’t it? The debating, the elevation of the mundane and the everyday into the political; so that one is not victim to the conspiracies of coteries when the public sphere falls silent. Some weeks ago a friend wrote “Of late there has been in the media in Goa a disturbing xenophobic tone to 'reportage' and comment about issues related to migration into Goa and land ownership”. The friend went on to point out that while there was a hue and cry about the ‘rape of the motherland’, there was almost no engagement with the manner in which the state of Goa is annexing huge swathes of communidade land. Further, this concern for the motherland and the onslaught of migration tickled a misguided and undefined nationalism at the local level, one that can be exploited by political opportunists and social elites. There is much in both arguments that one hears all the time, and I would like to respond more directly to the arguments raised above. Is there no engagement with the manner in which comunidade lands are annexed by the Government of Goa for dubious and indefensible programs of industrialization? By and large this is true. Most of us sit by while these prime lands are portioned off to the private sector at prices that one cannot buy onions at. However, there is a small group which is concerned with this matter and is seeking to point out a few facts about the relationship that the State of Goa is permitted to have with comunidade lands. The Association for the Components of Comunidades has for sometime now, via the courts, been trying to draw attention to the fact that the general legal presumption about common lands in India does not hold true for Goa. The comunidade lands are properties of the comunidade and cannot be considered state lands and removed from the comunidade. The actions of the state government with respect to the comunidade lands are in fact annexations that the state perpetuates quite illegally. The pity though is that it seems that they are a highly marginalized voice no one seems inclined to listen to. That they are not heard however is in part a result of their own restricted strategy of taking up the issue only via the courts and their narrow definition of who can have a say in the comunidade system. But that is another matter. What about this statement of a misguided and undefined nationalism. In the face of Goan nationalism the argument is often raised that Goan who have made their fortune through world wide migration have no moral right to close their doors on migration into their state. Global dominance, the argument goes on, is today possible only when we are open to the world and foreigners who bring in capital, knowledge, technology and the ilk. This argument holds some truths, but it fails to perhaps understand what is really going on. The anti-migration, anti-outsider argument in Goa is not about closing Goa’s doors on the world. It is a cry for help. It is an indication to the system at large that while there is a lot of money being made in Goa, a lot of people who have lived all their lives and generations in Goa, are feeling left out. We may have a democratic process in place, but their voices cannot be heard over the dollar and rupee powered voices of the new-Goans. The Goans who migrated were invariably migrant labourers, they did not form dominant elites in their adopted homes. The one space the marginalized among the Goans could rely on seems to be slipping out of their grasp. This is a serious issue and one that needs to be engaged with without dismissing it as outdated and misplaced nationalism. Finally what is this about this ‘nationalism’ being emotions that can be exploited by political opportunists and social elites? Social discontent is too often written off as the result of manipulations by wily politicians. This only justifies another elite’s interests in emptying the public sphere of engagement with politics. Its merely a sophisticated way of saying that the common wo/man is too dumb to realize what is happening. A process of disempowerment is on in Goa. A process fueled both by ethic Goan and global and national bourgeoisie; and resisted at the same time by ethic Goan and migrants to Goa. We need to read beyond the rhetoric to what the people are really saying and address the very real concerns of feeling disenfranchised in the only land they can call their own.

(earlier published in the Gomantak Times in 2006)

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