Friday, August 5, 2011

Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism: Reflections after the Global Goans Convention

There are a good many detractors of the Global Goans Convention. These persons, both within Goa and without, mount the charge that the Conventions are a waste of the taxpayer’s money and amount to nothing more than offering the Commissioner of NRI Affairs, and his office, a fun visit to various parts of the world. This is an unfortunate and perhaps shortsighted criticism.

While there may be many shortcomings to the process as it now exists, the Convention should be seen less as an event, than as an institution. It is a ritual that allows for the articulation of the community of Goans outside of the borders of Goa. If used wisely and carefully, it can be emerge as an event that will allow for the articulation of the concerns of Goans, ranging from the economic to the political and cultural, both within and outside of Goa. Indeed, it was obvious at the recently concluded Convention in London, that there are a small number of Goans who do follow the Convention from one location to the other, and do make themselves heard to the larger Goan community. The present Convention also saw Carmen Miranda, articulating the argument against the mining industry testifying to the manner in which the Convention can allow for issues of concern to be articulated and then carried forward by engaging the interest of Goans overseas.

However this larger objection of facilitating the emergence of a larger global Goan ‘civil society’ does not seem to be the intention of the Convention at present. What most of the critics of the Convention don’t seem to realize, is that the Convention is not the result of merely the Goan State wanting to create another avenue to spend money. On the contrary, the impetus for this move comes from the larger project of the Indian State that is reaching out to ‘Persons of Indian Origin’ and ‘Overseas Indians’. The objectives of this goal are multiple, one of them being to enhance the overseas visibility of the Indian State as it behaves like other super-power States that look after persons even overseas. Just as the organization of the Convention would result in the creation of a sense of a Goan community overseas, the project of the Indian State is to enhance and build on the idea of the Indian-ness of people connected in some way to the State of India (that is Bharat).

There should be no reason why this project is necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, a challenge to the unipolar world of international politics may be a wonderful thing. However, what we do need to ensure is that this strong and hopefully super-power Indian State is a responsible and democratic one. The question now is, whether this project of the Indian State, that the Goan state is forwarding, will work to the benefit or the detriment of those we normally understand as Goans. Alternatively put, will this project of reaching out to ‘Indians’ overseas, continue along the largely Hindu majoritarian lines that has marked the internal construction of the Indian State, or will it be welcoming of the larger difference that exist among persons of ‘Indian’ origin overseas.

One of the problems with the word Goan, is that it invariably conjures the image of a Catholic in one’s mind. This is somewhat unfortunate, given that Goa comprises of more than just the Goan Catholic. While this is a diversity we need to acknowledge, and perhaps work towards actively acknowledging, there is also a tendency to place the blame for this situation on the Goan Catholics. To do so, would merely continue the tendencies of Indian nationalism, where the blame for the apparent lack of unity is almost invariably placed on the minority groups, be they of religious, caste, ethnic or other persuasion. This blame game was already apparent at the Convention in London. An artiste attending the convention from Goa, suggested to the organisers that given that the Convention was called the Goans Convention, it should include all Goans, not just those ‘from a particular community’. Point well made, but it seemed to implicitly blame the local organizers (a largely Catholic group) for not including those from other communities.

The sentiment of this artiste was probably right. There should have been members of other Goan communities in attendance. And yet, who is to ensure that this happens? The local committee alone, or the Office of the High Commissioner for NRI Affairs? While there were no members from other Goan communities, there definitely was the presence of representative of the local Hindu community, an odd presence, given that perhaps if we were looking for Hindus, it should have been the representative of the Goan Hindu community? What was in fact the reason for the non-attendance of the ‘other communities’ at the Convention? Was this absence due to a deliberate exclusion, an oversight and the failure to actively invite, or the result of a longer history where there is hardly any relationship between the Goan Catholics and other groups of Goan origin?

Regardless of the reasons for their absence, we need to recognize that groups outside the nation-state, do not necessarily create national communities. Unlinked to the project of national ‘unity’ these migrant groups outside the territory, create their own groups, reflective of their unique historical trajectories, and these can sometimes transcend national boundaries and taboos. Take for example the fact that the Goan communities abroad, as in the case of London, can also include Goans who came from the communities in Karachi. The Indian State, for the obvious reasons of history, would find it hard, if not impossible, to accord privileged status to these Goans. And yet, these Goans are as integral to the idea of a Goan community as any other Goan. The challenge before the Indian State would be, while respecting these patterns of community building, to also encourage greater interaction among the groups that it wishes to bond together.

Once more, the question is whether the Indian State is capable of this broad cosmopolitan agenda? The State of Goa seemed to demonstrate a total incapacity to understand such an agenda, when the cultural troupe that it sent to the Convention, was a group that entirely unfamiliar with cultural productions of the Goan Catholics. It seemed that once more the Indian (and Goan) State were suggesting that authentic Indian-ness and Goan-ness lay not in the traditions of these Catholic migrants, but in those who had ‘remained’ Hindu and from the hinterland of Goa.

None of this is to suggest that the Convention or the project that motivates these Conventions should be done away with. These are but small challenges on a path that can forge a global Goan ‘civil society’. There is however a need to ensure that these challenges are identified, and addressed, or else we will land up with the problems of Indian nationalism being repeated all over again, resulting in the exclusion that has characterized this nationalism so far, even as the energies of these minority groups are harnessed to the greater glory of this project.

(This post is dedicated to Jules Fausto De Sa and other Goans both from Pakistan and elsewhere who are lost, erased and ignored as a result of the limiting frames we place when understanding Goa.)

(A version of this blogpost was first published in the Gomantak Times 3 Aug 2011)

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