‘Ghar ki murgi dal barabar’ (the gravy of the home-bred chicken tastes like lentil soup) and ‘the grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ in addition to the obvious, also seem to capture perfectly a widespread social tendency. Very often we are so bothered with what is going-on on the other side of the fence that we forget to adequately focus on issues that crop up within our ‘own’ backyard. Oftentimes it may seem that I am so caught up with decrying the histrionics of the Hindu Right, both in Goa and elsewhere, that I forget to focus adequately on the Catholic bigot (CB). There was however, no way I could ignore this bigot given a number of emails I have recently been subject to, which seem determined to painfully flesh out every nuance that the CB holds.
Despite the fact that I often time focus on caste and class location as a way of identifying social tendencies, I would like to identify the CB not with caste or class – though these definitely play a role – but with a mindset. Perhaps belonging to the Catholic club allows one to forget one’s social location and think like the bigots, given that these bigots ruled the Goan roost for a long, long time. Thinking like them, who knows we might persuade them and ourselves that we are like them?
At the risk of committing a grave historiographical error, let us locate the origins of the Catholic bigot in the circles of Goa’s colonial Catholic elite. These ladies and gentlemen used Portuguese as a way of distinguishing themselves, not just from the lower orders among the Catholics (who spoke Concanim) but from the ‘Hindus’ as well. The Portuguese language was, as is the case with certain varieties of Konknni, their caste marker. With the rise of Indian nationalism across the border with British-India however, they persuaded themselves to think better of their caste brethren in the Hindu fold. Nevertheless the fact that they were not Catholic or linked to the Portuguese colonial power structure in the same social network ensured that they always thought of their upper-caste cousins across the religious divide as the poorer, less civilized cousin. Indeed, a good amount of the Hindutva animosity that the Goan Catholic has to deal with today is linked to this cultural superciliousness. We should not forget however that the non-elite Goan too suffered from this superciliousness, at the hands of these CBs. Given that these elite groups effectively represented themselves as the paragons of Goan Catholic culture, they wound up giving all Catholics a bad name. A case of pretty houses, but such bad manners!!! This cultural superciliousness however, is one of the significant burdens that a number of Goan Catholics unwittingly carry, even though their own personal histories are not twined with those of those who originated it.
These CBs for the most part loved Tio António Oliveira Salazar. The days he presided over Portugal (and this included Goa) are indeed the glory years in CB imagination. Those were the days, we are told, when ‘we’ had genuine law and order in Goa. Order equaled the oppression of the ‘lower’ social orders and ensured a situation where everyone knew their ‘place’. This is not to say that the CBs were the only one who loved Tio António, but let us leave the colonial Goan Hindu elites alone for now. The problem with social oppression however, is that you are oppressed yourself, even while you oppress other people. Add to this our noxious caste hierarchy and you wind up with an elaborate ladder of social oppression that rests critically on constant humiliation. Thus, it is possible to find a good number of CBs from outside of the absolute top of the social ladder, merely because it was so much fun to spit on someone lower than you and pretend like you were one of those at the top. Nothing, it appears, salves a wound better than the spit you hurl at others.
Another feature of the CB is their self-love of their social backgrounds; their ‘Good’ and ‘old’ families. Their self-understanding is of being cultured, which however is in fact the mere ad nauseum repetition of social traditions of the past, and the display of inherited furniture (and other heirlooms) that keep diminishing with every passing generation. So concerned are they with keeping up appearances, an integral part of a social system based on scorn for the inferior, that innovation is by and large discouraged by the CB. And hence, they continue to churn out provincial Doctors, Engineers and Lawyers, most of who are marked by their singular inability to innovate or engage with new ideas or arguments, wedded as there are to their own blinded and devastatingly outdated ideas.
Given their love for Uncle António Oliveira’s Estado Novo the Indian annexation of Goa was a devastating blow for the CB. Their entire vapid social order of privilege and oppression came crumbling down in an instant. Their anger against the Indian State and post-colonial Goa then is not the anger at the illegality of Indian action, or the Indian State’s bias towards National Hinduism, but the anger that the unjust system that generated their privilege, was shut down. They do not, indeed cannot, recognize that the Indian State’s otherwise illegal and unethical action was in fact ‘Liberation’ to a new social and economic order for thousands of Goans otherwise chaffing under domestic feudal rule.
It is for this reason that the objections that so many of them – both overseas and within Goa – raise to the sabre-rattling of the Hindu Right are so pathetically funny. A particular gentleman sitting in the far reaches of the East comes to mind. A regular Dom Quixote he tilts against every imagined Indian aggression, seeing Nehruvian conspiracy in every little thing. The poor man fails to realize that through his inane babbling he does greater harm to the cause of minorities (and this includes Hindu minorities) faced with the growing might of National Hinduism. Indeed, when the ancients pronounced that it is better to have a clever enemy than a stupid friend, they probably had this Goan Quixote in mind! The problem of the CB with Hindutva (or National Hinduism) is at the end of the day cosmetic. They have a problem with the cultural manifestations of Hindutva, for example the ban on beef, or the restrictions or ban on the consumption of alcohol; but not with the power relationships that Hindutva proposes; namely control of the lower social orders and their service to the dominant castes of India. Little wonder then, that the CB’s of the capital city have often re-elected a representative whose promises often sound like those of the Estado Novo.
There is a genuine problem that most non-dominant caste Indians face in the coming decade. Within Goa this threat manifests itself as the delegitimization of all that is seen as Catholic. There is also a problem that the nature of Goa’s integration into the Indian Union continues to pose for the Goan. Because of the manner in which India is defined as Hindu, being Catholic is a favoured identity choice for many Goans who are not offered many options, or indeed ignored, by the Indian State. However the real danger that they (we?) face, is that given the dominance of the CB in the sphere of cultural representation, in articulating our valid dissent, we may unwittingly choose the route of the Catholic Bigot. This would be a tragedy, because what we would be doing would be to only engage in useless polemics (a favourite pastime of the colonial Goan elite), and lend our muscle power to the definitely anti-democratic social imaginations of the CB.
May God save the Catholic…and grant you a good year!
(A version of this post was first published in the Gomantak Times on 5 Jan 2011)