Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Putting Attacks in Perspective

The larger socio-political environment allows for assaults on activists

How does one respond to the brutal assault on Aires Rodrigues and Prajal Sakhardande? Like most of you, I too am terribly shaken and agitated by the mere fact of the enormity of the attack. Like many of you, for me too, Goa is really my shell in the face of the dance of death that plays out daily in the rest of India. It turns out though, that this dance of death not only stalks our threshold, it has entered into our very sanctum. Now that we recognize this fact though, perhaps things will change; and indeed they must. Things can’t go on like this any more, and indeed, this one incident should necessarily mark the high point of the tolerance of Goan society. No more!

What does not need to be emphasized about this assault is that it was the attack of cowards. Not only were those who executed the attack masked, but these masked bandits were in effect the mask for the puppet-master who chose not to reveal himself. Is it too much to ask for that you come out in the open and deal a few blows, if that is all you are capable off?

This act of violence must necessarily be seen as the act of not just a coward but by forces that are now well and truly at their wits end. The violent response is the response of those who have no other response to offer. This is therefore to be interpreted by the Goan upheaval as a sign of the coming victory. The end must surely be near and all it requires is one, long and hard concerted push.

But rhetoric aside, the attack of Aires and Prajal should be seen in context. The context is one where those who have been speaking out against the injustices perpetrated in the guise of development, have been systematically targeted and harassed by the forces of the politico-economic elite. We should think back a few months, when Manohar Parrikar had the audacity to brand Seby Rodrigues a Naxalite. Parrikar got away with his criminally irresponsible statements and no action was prosecuted against him. In more recent times activists from Benaulim have been targeted by the police. Some were summoned to the police station to be threatened, for others the police went to their work place to defame them there, and on other occasions activists were stopped in Cortalim under the guise of looking for terrorists. A couple of days before the attack on Aires and Prajal, anti-mining activists in Quepem were subjected to verbal and then physical abuse, and then, peacefully protesting activists were arrested and hauled off to jail. The rioters representing the mining group on the other hand received no censure from the police. On the contrary, police officers are reported to have remarked to Cheryl Fernandes, that they would teach her and her aged mother a lesson they would not forget.

It is this socio-political context that provides the backdrop to the murderous attack on Aires and Prajal. It is a context where the various activists in Goa have been branded trouble-makers by the politico-economic elite and have been offered little sympathy from the State. When the Prudent Media organized a debate around the theme, ‘Are Goans becoming Eco-conscious or Negative’, the negativity they were referring to was the negativity imputed to Goans by the politico-economic elite. At the debate itself, Nilesh Salkar and Nitin Kunkolienkar were the lone voices crying negativity. The politicos there cunningly changed their tune, but their opinion stands firm; the average Goan – who Digambar Kamat allegedly works for, has become negative.

Take this as an illustration of the entrenched view of the political establishment. At a public function in Margao this past Sunday, Mauvin Godinho chose to educate the Goans present there on why they should not be negative. We need development he said. ‘Ofcourse bad development like the SEZs should not be there’, he assured us, ‘but other development?’ Politeness prevented me from asking him what other development he and his class were planning on bringing into Goa. I refrained, afraid as I was of embarrassing him into silence. The Chief Minister sat stoically next to Godinho and chose not to comment on these statements. If Digambar Kamat felt so strongly that the Goan was not negative, a gentle indication of difference of opinion would have made the point. This was not to be however.

The point therefore is that Aires and Prajal were attacked not just because of the decision of one coward, but because the entire politico-economic elite of this State has collaborated to create an environment where it is perfect acceptable to hit the activist. There is clearly a certain breakdown of law and order in this state, since the powers that ought to be committed to upholding democratic norms are themselves flouting it. What is one to do then?

Adv. Jatin Naik in a televised report called for the resignation of Digambar Kamat, because of the breakdown of law and order in the State. This may be a good idea, since what Kamat is doing is merely providing lip-service to the angry cries of Goans that resound through this state. There is really no action that is forthcoming from him as he merely hides behind the veil of the law and pleads inability. This resignation should however be a reason for Manohar Parrikar to step into the seat of power. This will only spell doom for the movement in Goa. Would President’s rule serve the purpose? Perhaps it would? Perhaps it would allow us to make our stance extremely clear. That we have had enough of this system of politics and we demand that power be effectively delegated to the grass-roots. Our MLAs are so addicted to power (and the money it brings) that they refuse to give it up. On the contrary they mock our intelligence when they tell us that they were elected for 5 years because they were credited by the people with the intelligence to decide what was best for the people. Yes, President’s rule while we rearticulate the locations of power in our state may in fact be a good idea.

In the meanwhile though, the attack against Aires and Prajal should not be used as a reason to give untrammeled powers to the police. What we need is an inquiry and a revelation of the person who actually paid for the attack. This is what will bring justice to this particular situation. It’s the big fish we are after, not the small fry. In the meanwhile, I would use this column to appeal to every Goan to join in the protests that will be organized over the next two days. Join in, or organize one in your own neighbourhood. Act NOW, or forever hold your peace.

(Published in the Gomantak Times 15 October 2008)

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