Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Of Rapes, Murder and Drugs and the ‘Real Goa’

A week or so ago, in the face of the storm that sought to blow the Scarlett Keeling incident totally out of proportion and paint Goa as a sleazy drug den, Maria Aurora Couto pointed out on NDTV’s ‘We the People’ debate that the Goa where this event transpired, was not “her Goa”. Around the same time, Rajdeep Sardesai pointed out in his essay in the Hindustan Times that “The Goa of a tiny strip of beach between Candolim and Anjuna is constantly in the media gaze and makes front page headlines. The vast majority of Goans who live outside this world are rarely documented because their lives seem much too unexciting to be explored.” This Goa, ‘our Goa’ as they would like to represent it to us, and have the media focus on is a Goa of “deep social conservatism, of folk religiosity in its village temples and churches, of simplicity of lifestyle within rural communities, of a premium on education and of immense pride in its plural, multi-cultural heritage”.

Point well made you guys, since there is a need to strike back at the deliberately created image of Goa as a destination of sun, surf, sex and sand. And yet, there is much to be feared as well, in this move to shift focus away from the perverted gaze of the tourist and Indian media industry. When we claim that the real Goa lies in her villages, and not on the beach belt, what we are also doing is denying any claim to authenticity of the Goans who actually live and work in the beach belt. Participants to the sub-culture that has emerged in the beach-belt, these are Goans too, and thus the sub-culture on the beach belt, is genuinely Goan culture as well. To say this however, is not to say that we must turn a blind eye to the illegal trade in drugs that has filled the scene there, merely because a few Goans make a living (killing?) out of it. On the contrary, it is quite clear that there is a need for regulation in this area. The point I seek to make however, is that the argument regarding the ‘real Goa’ that seeks to deny the existence of the sub-culture of the beach belt is located in a definite class and caste location. A position which if not monitored consciously could see us unconsciously laying the ground for a rightist takeover of the Goan space.

When Sardesai says that Goa is a place of ‘deep social conservatism’, is he justifying this setup as idyllic? Dare we contemplate that for a good many Goans, who were and are at the wrong end of the stick, this ‘conservatism’ leads not to gentility but the suffocation of social and economic opportunity? A good many Goans who buy this argument of the ‘real Goa’ hark back to the days when Anjuna was a quite little village, when everything and everybody went to sleep by 8 in the evening, when decent norms were observed. But whose Goa and Anjuna was this, whose order was it that was maintained in villages such as Anjuna? The answer is best provided in the words of a landlord from Anjuna, who proclaimed with certitude, “this would not have happened if we were still in Anjuna”. And for sure it would not have happened, since all the little fisherfolk and peasants of the village would have been firmly under you thumb my friend! Tourism, for all its evils (and there are some) also provided a way out of enforced and oftentimes suffocating codes, it provided a way out of the lifestyles that were simple not necessarily out of choice, but because of the poverty of the Goan village (that it was nothing compared to the worst case of poverty in India is not an argument does not draw from the experience of poverty).

Already following the moral hoo-ha in the course of the Keeling incident there have been efforts to suggest the imposition of an end to rave-parties, a firm stop to the nigh-life post 11 in the evening. And of course, because such events are not in keeping with ‘Goan’ culture, it finds legitimacy, no bother that it is going to impact on the livelihoods of local Goans, who may not necessarily be engaged in drug or sex trade. The morality argument in effect serves two rightist interests. It allows Goa’s upper class and upper caste to gain the respect of India, based on middle-class values of respectability and the appeal to caste brotherhood, and it serves the interests of the underground drug trade. Create an environment where drug consumption is totally banned, and what you have, as is the case now, is a space wide open, for the police to cooperate with the drug lords.

What was remarkable about the NDTV debate was the total absence of the lower caste and class Goan. Think closely and you will realise how their image of Goa almost never has space in the official representation of Goa. The only lower class person on the NDTV debate was Fiona MacKeown, and we saw just how exactly her status was used in the debate- and elsewhere- against her. A telling example maybe?

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 26 March 2008)


Carolina said...

Hey this is a well-written article! a real eye-opener for people so obsessed with the Goa portrayed by the media! Good going Jason!

LCO said...

Mr Fernandes, I was far to imagine that you are a blogger with such an interesting blog!! Well, how many Goas there are? I think I found a different one every day! But you really must learn portuguese, to see ANOTHER vision of Goa, this time by a portuguese from Coimbra!

here's the adress:


Luis Cabral

Unknown said...

Brilliant Article, and very essential to mentality of the common Goan!! This is incredibly well written and vastly interesting.

Goans are increasingly ignored! Few actually listen when we talk about our culture, but we continue to celebrate and celebrate we must.