Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Picketing the Revolution: 'Their' Revolution, Our Democracy and a Fascist Imagination

Portugal’s Carnation Revolution was a significant moment in global history because it marked the simultaneous liberation of both colonizers and colonized from dictatorial power. With the fall of the Salazarist regime, the Portuguese people were able to move into a system of democratic governance. At the same time the African colonies of Portugal saw a halt to the Portuguese colonial wars and were born into independent sovereign existence. For India the fall of the Salazarist regime saw Portugal recognize India’s claims over Goa. There is very little to protest therefore, at least from an Indian nationalist and standard anti-colonialist point of view.

It was for these reasons that the presence of a screaming mob from the Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti outside the Instituto Camoes in Panjim was something of a mystery to those attending the celebrations on the twenty-fourth.

To unravel this mystery we need to refer to the news report by the Navhind Times dated the twenty-fifth of April. The report indicates that earlier in the day a bunch of ‘freedom fighters’ led by Naguesh Karmali had approached the Vice-Chancellor of the Goa University demanding to know why the University was involved in the celebrations. These freedom fighters argued that “celebration of the national events of Portugal in Goa [are] an insult to the sentiments of freedom fighters as well as people…who fought for the Liberation of Goa from colonial rule”. To suggest why even the commemoration of an anti-colonial moment in Portugal’s history could nevertheless be odious to the Goan people, Karmali indicated that “those persons, who were active part of Portuguese dictatorship under Salazar regime, became integral part of democratic governance in that country after 1974 by sidelining the Communist, whose role in the Portuguese Revolution was undisputed”.

Karmali has never been known for logic, and this time his logic is just plain bizarre! It is clear that all he is trying to do is demonize Portugal and the Portuguese people. In the eyes of Karmali, the eyes through which he would like all Goans to see history and Portugal, the Portuguese are irredeemable. They are, forever evil, and we should sever all ties with Portugal. Karmali would be least concerned with the Portuguese however, if it were not for people in Goa who wish to continue having links with the Portuguese. It is these people that irk him the most, and it is really the links of these people with Portugal that he would like sever. “[V]arious activities previously held in Goa and linked to the erstwhile Portuguese rule as well as culture of that country, have a certain community as their focus, and are aimed toward creating a divide in Goan society”.

It sounds as if Karmali is suggesting, though admittedly not openly saying so, that it is the Goan Catholics that harbour a fondness for the Portuguese. Thankfully, we know this suggestion to be factually incorrect. A good number of the students at the Instituto bear such surnames as Tari, Chari, Khaunte, Bhobhe, Kamat, Pai, Vernekar, Amonkar, Naik. The students at the Instituto increasingly come from a variety of social and religious backgrounds making Karmali’s statements meaningless. As such we should study Karmali’s statements not for the community he means, but for the community he seeks to create, and the company he keeps.

Interestingly at the demonstration on the evening of the twenty-fourth, Karmali himself was not present. This seems to correspond to a larger pattern emerging in India, where the violent positions are by and large taken by lower-caste groups belong to such outfits as the Bajrang Dal, Shri Ram Sene, Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi, while the BJP, largely composed of upper-castes and the anglicized, toes the moderate line and makes soft, polite noises of disapproval. Nevertheless we should see both groups as acting in concert, playing that age-old game of ‘Good Cop – Bad Cop’. When the BJP is seen as the only group that can control these louts, it makes sense to the average citizen, to elect the BJP so that these elements are kept in place.

The demonstration outside the Instituto should be seen not as a peaceful demonstration but an active attempt to intimidate, both Goan citizens of India, as well as the Portuguese institutions in Goa. Cultural aspects apart, the systematic picketing and threatening of Portuguese related cultural events in Goa, should and must be seen as an attempt to hound the Portuguese institutions out of Goa.

If this is the intention, what possibly motivates this action?

On the cultural front, we do not have to fear that the Goan Catholic culture will die if we loose a link with Portugal. Large portions of the Goan Catholic have also had a robust relationship with British-India and the English-language cultures. These cultures, as well as the Konkani cultures of the Goan Catholic are throbbing with life; destruction of a Portuguese link would be a setback, but it will not destroy them.

The attempt of Karmali and gang is culturally much more serious than hitting out at the Goan Catholic. It attempts to create a collective forgetting of the Goan past. This forgetting will impact not just Catholics, but Hindus and Muslims as well, and their relations with each other. A good portion of the Goan past, its relation with the subcontinent, and the world, a full four hundred and fifty years of it, including commentaries on the past before this, is documented in Portuguese. Block the renewed cultural relations with Portugal and the Portuguese language and you will ensure the death of that heritage, and memory of those histories in Goa. Once that history is effectively unavailable, you open the doors for the rewriting of Goan history, to fill it with the poppycock that the Hindu Right excels at.

We already have a good amount of popular commentary, spinning myths and tales about the Goan past, passing off as history. The roots of this scenario could, I believe, be traced to the drought that hit Goa subsequent to Liberation and until diplomatic relations between Portugal and India were resumed after the April Revolution. During this time, access to Portugal was limited to a select few alone. When facts are unavailable, fantasy floods in. With the resuming of relations, access to Portuguese culture has become much more democratic, and it is this liberation from restrictions that bothers the Rightist groups in Goa. The more people can access information independently, the less they need mediators. It is this democracy that the Karmali and gang fear desperately, and it our imagination of the past, and our options for the future that they seek to control.

It’s funny, but celebrating their revolution, seems to have helped us flush out the fascists in our midst. 25 de Abril Sempre! (April 25 Forever).

(Published in the Gomantak Times 28 April 2009)


Valmiki said...

Dear Jason,

That was an excellent piece in today's GT.
Very well argued, as is your wont. You have
slammed the ilk of Naguesh Karmali in style.
But I wonder if these guys are corrigible...
Congrats, and keep it up!

Rgds, v

Luis Dias said...

Bravo. Very well put, Jason.

We've discussed before the attempts to rewrite history in Goa, through acts of ommission as well as commission. Both are equally odious to me.

I wish the picketers could be sat down and explained all the points you raise.



Anonymous said...

congrats, one of your better articles. clear, concise and convincing. a powerful argument hit right on the nail.

Paulo Colaço Dias said...

Jason, brilliant article!

Could not agree with you more.

Stop all benefits to freedom fighters and you will see that all these silly demonstrations will stop as well.

You see, these are not the true Goan Freedom Fighters. These are just opportunists that keep demonstrating so that they keep their pensions and their university quotas, etc. They need to show that they are fighting
against a treat. For them and for their imaginative minds, the Portuguese are going to come back! It is sad, but true.

Question is: Until when are we going to pay special benefits to Freedom Fighters in Goa? Until when???? About time we stop it all.

Best regards