Thursday, September 24, 2009

Of Casinos and Tourism: And the poverty of the State, systems and imagination

Living across the waters these days, the rumbles within Goa are heard only as faint whispers and mumbles that nevertheless lead to a strange disquiet within one’s constitution. The recent protests of the casino employees and the re-emergence of the casino question in Goa being one such disquiet inducing whisper.

My first contribution to the casino debate would be to indicate in no uncertain terms that one cannot make the argument that while open to others, Goans (youth or otherwise) should not be allowed into casinos, since this will ruin the values, morals of Goans, as well as destroy the families for reason of the money lost to gambling. To make the distinction that both, some of the anti-casino protestors, as well as the government is making, is to make a paternalist argument. It suggests that the State be put in a position to act as a parent to citizens who are seen as akin to clueless children. This sort of demand from the State is dangerous since this is exactly the kind of demand that allows for a State to pile one such demand upon another, and eventually turn into an authoritarian State. Such a demand sets a dangerous precedent, for once you have given the State to decide what is good and bad, regardless of your personal opinion, what stops the State from subsequently colluding with extremist groups and clamping down on other freedoms of choice? In fact such actions seem to be the hallmark of the Kamat government, who has consistently used the argument of bowing to public pressure, to then clamp down on the exercise of other fundamental rights of expression.

This argument should not be construed as an argument in favour of casino tourism however. It is merely a plea that we realise that if we are serious about living in a democracy respectful of the rights of individuals, we be consistent in our demands both of ourselves, and of the State.

The casino issue allows us to have a look into the entire issue of the development of Goa. While doing so, I’d prefer to understand development in the manner in which Amartya Sen does. The wise old man refers to development as freedom in the sense that development must be seen as the creation of possibilities for the individual to realize oneself. Development is more than projects and employment opportunities, these being only means to a larger end of human fulfillment.

Tourism has been pushed as a major tool for development in Goa. And to an extent, it has helped in the project of emancipation of some segments of Goan society. Until the advent of the tourism industry, large portions of the coastal population were caught in abject poverty and servitude. The tourist boom changed that, to the distaste of most of the upper class persons of the coastal belt. For a first step this was good enough, but how has the tourism industry proceeded beyond that?

By and large any innovation that seems to be happening within the industry seems to be the result of the work of a few talented ‘outsiders’. From the Goan end of the spectrum, there is only the meaningless repetition of a formula that is increasingly pleasing nobody. We have wonderful towns (including in the hinterland, having recently visited Quepem and come away a convert!) and yet what are the cultural events on offer in these locations? Practically nothing! The attempt by the State in this regard seems practically zero. It never fails to amuse me that the depth of our Chief Minister’s suggestions for culture, invariably involves nationalism and patriotism (no doubt his RSS background talking!). On the other hand, culture has come to mean the same old boring commercialization of existing traditions.

What the State has been doing however is to milk the existing natural infrastructure for every drop it has left. Nothing goes back into replenishing the system. Take for example the palm-lined trees that are perhaps Goa’s tourist calling card. With every passing year, and the demise of the communidades, these trees grow, old, wither and die, and there is no effort to replant these trees. One would imagine that safeguarding the aesthetic appeal of the State would be one of the Dept. of Tourism’s priorities. On the other hand investment has meant giving away common property for development to corporate houses, under the pretext of moving to high-quality tourism. High-quality tourism will come however from an input of higher culture into tourism, and none of this is happening.

None of this is surprising because forging new directions falls outside of the majoritarian principles of contemporary politics.

But what does any of this have to do with the fix that the employees in the casinos are facing. My argument is that an investment of the State into the development as freedom would have prevented the employees from having only casinos and the filth that passes off as Goan tourism as an employment option. Cultural revival that would regenerate tourism would come primarily from an investment in larger processes and institutions of dialogue. A system of vibrant public reading rooms for example, offering every kind of media – print, audio and audio-visual - linked to the information highway that is the internet, would have allowed Goans even in the most rural village to gain access to valuable cultural capital. This would have allowed Goan youth to transcend being merely IT coolies, or busboys, into in fact contemplating innovation. This system in place, they wouldn’t be screaming their lungs out that the casinos are the only option they have. Having such an infrastructure, blowing up family cash in the consumption bubbles on the beach belt (why restrict our shock only to casinos?) would not be the attraction that they currently are. There would be different ways to be cool.

In conclusion, what I would like to say is that, we are at this pass, because for a number of years now, rather than build systems, we have been dismantling them to make our pickings easier. Along with all the other systems, the intellectual has also been effectively dismantled to create the lumpen proletariat that will do the bidding of the masters (do you honestly think that the casino employees protested on their own volition?) Why else is the entire debate about casinos revolving around this bizarre notion of Goan-ness? We don’t want Goan values to be corrupted, so don’t let Goans into casinos. We want Goans to be employed so we will ensure that there are casinos. How do we seek to resolve this pickle? “The CM’s main concern has been restricting Goan youth from entering casinos and we have suggested that a mechanism be worked wherein Goan youth may be restricted from entering casinos based on an income criteria.”

Truly this state seems to be turning into the Mad Hatter’s Tea party. I’ll have my tea cold, black and bitter please.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 16 Sept 2009)

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