Monday, January 8, 2007

Land And Goa: Understanding the Goan Elite

The call for a halt of Goan properties to outsiders is not an elite suggestion. It is an indication of the disempowerment felt by the average Goan as the processes of Globalisation take over the State. True there are actors involved who articulate the call for a ban on sale to outsiders who are understood to be elite. This labeling is however a mistake, for it is a label that they hardly deserve. We need to make a distinction between the members of the great Goan middle class grown through being expatriate labour, the Non-resident Goan and the proper Goan elite.

Goa’s middle class with its trappings of Westernization are often mistaken to be an elite class. No doubt this posturing is aided by the upper caste claims of a good number of them. An imagined ritual status with new found wealth work together to allow them to pose as an elite. The sad truth however, is that they are a middle class, a petty bourgeoisie. Right from the opening up of the Goan economy to that of the British Raj; to the opportunities opened up by the Gulf boom, this class was able to, though toil, sweat and tears able to put together small fortunes that allowed them to build larger and grander houses, mimicking the styles of the village landed elite, allowing sons (and sometimes daughters) to obtain professional degrees. You could mistake them to be scions of aristocrats, members of blooded Portuguese speaking Goan elite; sad truth however, is that most of us are not, this elite having either emigrated, joined the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie or graduated to the ranks of the international rich.

Understanding this middleclassness is important to understanding the nature of the call to end the sale of Goan properties to outsiders. Until fairly recently, the economy of Goan families has been fueled by repatriated funds. The emigrant Goan slogs to better the status of her/ his family back in Goa- often at great personal cost. Unless able to make the transition to the Americas, Europe or Australia; they know that eventually they must head back to Goa. The nature of their work and local populations does not allow them to integrate into the place they work either.

This work outside of their home territory has been put in to gain a larger say in the workings of Goa’s socio-politico-economic space. If this position is going to be challenged by new entrants to the society, then it is only natural that action will be take to challenge the perceived threat.

This movement one can sympathise with. What one cannot sympathise with are the machinations of the foreigner of Goan origin and similarly placed Non-resident Goans. A good portion of India’s current and future problems can be traced to the imaginations of the Foreigner of Indian origin and the NRI. Located in the West, missing their homeland, and as yet unable to have a say in the political institutions of their adopted homes in the West, they seek to mould India through the assets they have, financial resources and the symbolic capital they have acquired by having made it (in however mediocre a manner) in the West. The rise of Hindutva in India is a perfect example; its success possible thanks to the funding of the NRIs are who would like to see India remain or become the India of their dreams. The problem is that these dreams are born from a vague recollection of what the homeland may have been like and their frustrations of their life in the West.

It is for this reason that the intervention of the NRI and the NRG is suspect. This is because they have no real understanding of the way society has changed since they left, nor do they represent the aspirations of the people they have left behind. Their agenda lies most properly in creating a cosmetically beautiful Goa, not a Goa that can sustain its people. Unfortunately, owing to their symbolic and financial capital, they manage to push forward their agendas. Often at counter-point to what the residents actually desire.

The demand for an end to sale of Goan properties to outsiders may possibly be fueled by the NRG bent on trying to preserve the Goa of their dreams (I use this term deliberately, given that it is apparently one of the most popular titles for books on Goa). While this move ought to be resisted as we claim Goa for those who live in it –irrespective of their ethnic origin- it should not be at the cost of the newly emergent middle class trying to stake its (rightful) claim in the governance of their home. Our politics ought to be one that is sensitive to the demands of both these groups and work to privilege the demands and dreams of people who know only one home and have no other option- in any part of the world. Only such a shift in our politics would allow us to see Goa as a land sensitive to the real needs of its people, rather than becoming solely a playground for the international rich and famous.

(earlier published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

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