Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Standing on the shoulders of giants: A chapter from ‘The Training Manual for Younger Activists’

I attended a couple of days ago, a meeting by a group of young activists, who like many of their compatriots were concerned about the state of Goa. The idea was, as with others, to save Goa from the fate that it seems determinedly headed toward. One of the highlights of this meeting were the sage words from one of these young activists; Goa was headed towards becoming another Bombay. It was going to become the base for big capital, and as with the old Bombay, the social groups who earlier constituted the space, would be forced to move out. This person was speaking in the context of the Bombay Goans and the East Indians, but he might as well have added the Parsis and other sundry groups that constituted the old Bombay. The new Bombay is a space for the national and international money bags, even as the city is awash with labouring groups from all over the subcontinent.

Despite the obvious enthusiasm to address the problem, and the willingness to form a group to address the problem, I came away from the meeting with a deep depression. The depression had something to do perhaps with the fact that these enthusiasts were ‘young activists’. The young is not a reference to their age. There were some older persons in the group. The young is a reference to their experience as activists. This was clearly, the first time that these folks were attempting to come out into the public sphere and assert their stake in the governance of the land. And yet, merely because we are young as activists, there is no need for us to reinvent the wheel, as I perceived was the case, and the problem, at that meeting.

The Goan public sphere is no stranger to activism. Right from the seventies Goa has seen persons emerge from out of the blue to take a stand in the way the state ought to be governed in the larger interests of its people and its environment. Some of these activists have gone down the political party route and are thus lost, in some measure, to the larger public cause. However, a good number of them have continued to remain in the popular space, outside of party politics and continue to raise their voices against the injustices in our land. One of these activists points out how in the seventies, when the first environmental protests were being raised in Goa, the Chief Minister of the time scoffed at them. ‘What environmentalists are you speaking about’, he is reported to have asked; ‘you can count them on the fingers of your hand’. What may have been true in the seventies, does not hold true today. Those seven voices today have grown into a voluble chorus, graced by a number of committed souls and fine minds with keen analysis.

In such a context then, younger activists have no reason to reinvent the wheel and contemplate how or where they ought to begin their fight to save Goa. Our first attempt ought to be to engage with these older activists. These activists represent a range of political positions and preferred and tested strategies allowing us to gain in this process of engagement, a political education and a choice as to our preferred route of engagement. This engagement would also allow us to plug into existing networks and causes, building on the foundations that have already been laid. Why start from scratch when there is already such a wealth of effort and energy at our disposal?

Goa is young as a democratic political society, and the qalb (the upheaval) that we witness today are signs of a population coming of age politically. We must remember that the Portuguese era was not so much a time of suppression by the Portuguese regime, as much as a time of suppression of the common man by local elites who collaborated with the Portuguese state. This domination has continued since ‘Liberation’, making some mockery of that term. What was missing was the presence of larger popular democratic institutions and the current tension in our society allows us the opportunity to create these. If this politically poised population is to mature therefore, what it requires is an investment in some kind of institutionalization. It is this institutionalization that still seems somewhat lacking in our state. This allows for younger activists to continue thrashing wildly while they seek to address the rot in the state.

Institutionalization does not however mean forming registered bodies or groups. It does not even mean taking the positions of all the existing and older activists as gospel truth. Institutionalization should mean merely the creation of a framework for a consultative process. A process through which we can gather, discuss, agree and disagree, and in the process sharpen our analysis and then be able to strengthen each other’s causes. If we can stand on the shoulders of giants, it should be possible for us to see beyond the dark that threatens our present and look into a promising distant future.

(First published in the Gomantak Times, 2 June 2010)

No comments: