Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning from Egypt II :Picking out the greys from the black and white

Last week, when attempting to draw lessons for Goa from the Egyptian revolution, this column pointed out that the problems with Goa’s socio-political activism lay in the compromises effected by the elite leadership of these movements. Presented as an example, were the appeals by the Convenor of PINC to not vote for the panel proposed by Babush Monserrate. What was also stressed however, was that the attempt was not to demonise the elite/middle class leadership. On the contrary, the attempt was merely to raise a cautionary voice, so that we can benefit from the sensitivity they bring, but also know when to move on.

Another opportunity to follow this train of thought was presented in a recent essay penned by the Convenor of PINC, Dr. Oscar Rebello, no doubt in personal capacity, in the Herald under the title, ‘Meeting up with G.H.A.N.T.I.’ The essay highlights the manner in which this particular social segment of Goa has much to offer socio-political change but also the limitations of its imagination.

Dr. Rebello wrote movingly of the manner in which the ghanti is ostracized and blamed for situations that are in fact the product of Goa’s internal problems. There is much to learn from this argument that, to his credit, Dr. Rebello has unceasingly articulated at every possible moment in his public role. However, we should spare a thought to an uncomfortable fact. Being a member of Goa’s cosmopolitan classes, the fears of cultural difference that the migrant (of whichever economic hue) wave brings to Goa is less of a threat to De. Rebello, than to the Goan whose social universe is largely rooted in the structures of ‘traditional’ life. This ‘traditional’ life may perhaps be a bigoted existence that deserves to change, and this migrant the best option for it. Indeed, the threat of the ghanti is very often raised by another segment of the leadership of Goan social-political movements. Small time village bosses, made significant through the fruits of working overseas, the ghanti is a symbol of the local changes that threatens to void their years of hard labour. While not sympathising with their attempts at rabble rousing, we need to recognize that the process of change is not easy for persons without the substantial cultural capital that Dr. Rebello is lucky to have. The question before us, persons like Dr. Rebello (and self?) is how do we intervene in the process to make it easier and understandable?

Dr. Rebello’s essay could perhaps be one part of his personal efforts, and in doing so, he opens the door for a discussion that may otherwise have not commenced. There would be no discussion however, if we only agreed with what he had to say. Disagreement with his position, or indeed that of any other, does not imply that he is wrong, and the response to his positions correct. Such clear options are only theoretically available to us. However, the responses could point to the problems inherent in the suggestions made.

Before disagreeing with aspects of Dr. Rebello’s argument however, we need to point out the other spaces where we agree with him. Dr. Rebello is spot on when he says that ‘The youth in the slums unlike their parents are rebelling for being treated like toys without dignity.’ The migrant will remain a threat to the Goan order only as long as they are in a position where they are forced to operate as a vote bank. Aiding their access to better conditions of labour, educational and employment options for their children works to the interest of the niz Goencar. For the children of these migrants, Goa, and its diverse cultures, are the only home they know, and culture they are intimate with.

The first of my problems with Dr. Rebello’s formulations stems for this understanding above, that of a Goan culture that while it can be contained with the box called Goa, is in fact plural and diverse. If Dr. Rebello has often asked us to not target the ghanti, he is also typically elite in his urging us toward ‘unity’. This unity that Dr. Rebello urges us toward however, seems to be not so much unity as uniformity. Unity lies in deciding to stick together while recognizing our differences and agreeing to respect these. Uniformity on the other hand rests on the rejection of difference. Take for example the manner in which in the course of the GBA’s mobilisations, those persons who sought to raise the issue of Romi Konkani were told to shush up. The GBA leadership at the time told them in no uncertain terms that the Roman script issue was not to be part of the GBA’s agenda. As the fantastic turn out at the rally demanding Government aid to English medium schools indicates, the hegemony of Devanagari Konkani is a singular part of the problems impacting Goa and Goans, regardless of caste or religion, or indeed ghantiness or otherwise. Discussing our problems with Konkani, or anything else, requires that we recognize our differences and stop trying to suffocate these out of existence.

Perhaps these ideas stem from the larger group that Dr. Rebello associates with, ersons whose names figure in PINC, and were part of the GBA leadership at the time. These figures seek to create a Goan nationalism, a single Goan national community. Such nationalists are incapable to tolerating internal difference. To these nationalists I ask, why do you not want to recognize that there are different groups in Goa? Groups who may respond to the term Goan, but do not necessarily see themselves as part of the same community. Or are only grudgingly together? Creating a national community of Goans, will not resolve Goa’s problems. Addressing the larger demands of these groups, building a community that recognizes each others differences probably will.

The second disagreement with Dr. Rebello is the suggestion that it is private profits that are responsible for Goa’s ills. This is only a part of the problem. Undoubtedly some groups, like the real estate lobby, and the politicians that harvest this greed make private profit. However, both these groups are able to exploit a larger need of the Goan peoples which is the need for capital to transition to the new economy. The tragedy is that the money they make does not seem to be resulting in the collective and social institutions that can support them in this transition but the further breaking up of collective infrastructure. This may sound like a quibble, but it is imperative that we recognize that genuine need fuels much of the silence and support for the politicians who enable the privateering that is destroying Goa. If we can recognize this need, we may in fact open up more doors for understanding the nature of the challenge that Goa faces.

To conclude let me reiterate once more. The elite groups of Goa have something to contribute to socio-political change in our society, however their thinking stems from their sometimes narrow agendas and is the result of their social location. We need to work with them when we can, and disagree vehemently when their positions block equitable social change rather than support it. It is not a case of black or white, but selecting from our choice of greys.

(First published in the Gomantak Times 23 March 2011)

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