The hierarchy of the Archdiocese of Goa must not know what has hit it. While used to accolades from the leadership of the Nagari Konkani movement, more recently the same leadership has been subjecting the Archdiocese to the most vicious attacks. A month ago Naguesh Karmali made the bold suggestion that the Catholic Church in Goa was suppressing Indian culture in a manner that exceeded that of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Portuguese. Uday Bhembre has directed ire against the Catholic Church on other occasions. For his part, Raju Nayak, editor of the Marathi daily Lokmat, indicated that the Archbishop’s choice to address his guests at the Christmas reception in English rather than Konkani demonstrated a certain lack of Indian-ness of the Catholic Church in Goa.
In this column I would like to examine the manner in which Sandesh Prabhudesai, another Konkani stalwart, positions the Church in his book Clear Cut: Goa behind the Glamour (2014). Clear Cut is a collection of the op-eds Prabhudesai has written over a period of years. While the writing is uneven it nevertheless demonstrates the nature of his concerns, the most constant of which is securing a Goan identity through Konkani.
Reading Prabhudesai’s musings, one gets a sense of his opinion of the Catholic Church. Take, for example, the following sentence from the article ‘Medium of Destruction’ (p. 20), written originally on 29 March 2011. Not explicitly referring to the schools managed by the Archdiocese, he says that “the Konkani medium has been ‘exploited’ purely to get salary grants for the teachers and not to impart education in proper Konkani” (p. 21). Nonetheless, he admits in another article titled ‘What does Parrikar's MoI Policy Mean?’ (originally written in 2012 ) that “only Konkani medium schools run by the Church are shifting to English medium” (p. 35). What Prabhudesai seems to be suggesting, therefore, is that the Konkani medium was “exploited” by the Archdiocese way back in 1990, and that the Archdiocese had no inherent love for Konkani, but switched to Konkani only to financially sustain its schools. Incidentally, his suggestion is not very different from that of the opinion expressed by Raju Nayak in his recent editorial, who went so far as to suggest that the Archdiocese was in fact in favour of English right from the very beginning. Indeed, if one reads Clear Cut carefully, one is struck by the similarity between Nayak’s opinion and Prabhudesai’s as regards the Archdiocese’s relationship to Konkani.
What one gets from these writings, is of the Archdiocese as a manipulative institution. The idea of a manipulative Archdiocese is further elaborated in ‘What does Parrikar’s MoI Policy Mean?’ Here Prabhudesai writes: “As expected, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar followed the suit [sic] of his predecessor Digambar Kamat and surrendered his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before the Church, to work out a ‘political’ solution to the long-pending controversy over Medium of Instruction (MoI).” The critical words to focus on here are “surrendered…before the Church”. There are a number of objectives that Prabhudesai seems to accomplish in this one phrase.
The first objective is that these words seem to suggest that the Archdiocese is an institution that can make or break governmental decisions whenever it wishes. To suggest that the Catholic Church is a major force in local politics is a common trope in Goan reportage. While it sometimes enjoys this power, this is not always the case. The fact is that the Catholic Church in Goa, just as in India, is in fact pinned, as it has been for some decades now, in the grip of Hindu majoritarian politics. All too often, as has been the case of the Archdiocese’s action in the post-colonial history of the Konkani language, the Archdiocese has gone out of its way, and in fact contrary to the wishes of many Catholics, to please the leaders of the Nagari Konkani establishment.
The second objective of the use of “surrender” seems to be Prabhudesai’s intention to shame the BJP into pursuing the anti-minority position that they are popularly identified with. Prabhudesai’s recourse to this strategy of shaming is particularly troublesome because it appears to insist that the BJP not respond pragmatically, but hold on, come hell or high water, to its ideological position. Using the metaphor of a war, tt seeks to provoke the rank and file to shame and anger so that they may prevail on their leadership.
Even more important, this phrase suggesting surrender seems to ignore the fact that the power-brokers of the Archdiocese are not acting on their own accord, but rather responding to the firm demands of hundreds, if not thousands of bahujan Catholics have indicated in no uncertain terms that they wish to have their children educated in English, not the brahmanised Nagari Konkani invented early in the twentieth century. Left to themselves, I have no doubt that the brahamnical leadership of the Archdiocese would have continued to pander to their brahmin cousins in the Nagari leadership. If Parrikar were surrendering, therefore, he would have been surrendering before the wishes of citizens represented in this case by the Archdiocese. No shame in this. Once again, this denial that the Diocesan leadership is in fact acting in line with the desires of large sections of the laity, is a line taken more recently by Nayak.
It should be observed that I am not engaging in a blanket defence of the actions of the Archdiocesan leadership. There is much evidence to suggest that all is not well in many cases of the sale of church properties. Even if made in good faith, the fact is that various groups within the Church in Goa do not see eye to eye on the issue of the sale of properties. What is interesting, however, is that Prabhudesai, in particular, does not seem to problematize this democracy deficit in operation of the Archdiocese. His single point of critique is limited to his understanding of the Konkani issue.
In a recent op-ed taking issue with Nayak’s editorial, Kaustubh Naik suggests that Nayak’s stance denies “the minorities the agency to make their own life choices”. Naik is spot on in this analysis. In portraying the Church as a manipulative and dictatorial institution, and seeking to shame Parrikar for negotiating with the Archdiocese, what Prabhudesai appears to do is to prevent Catholic groups in Goa from using the Archdiocese as one more representational body to get their legitimate rights recognized by the government. Indeed, the thought of shame gains traction only if there is the suggestion that the Church or Archdiocese has no legitimacy being an actor, or representing Goan Catholics, in Goan politics. As the recent shenanigans of the BBSM demonstrates, politics is not determined solely by the ballot. In such a circumstance, there is no harm in the Goan Catholics utilising the structures of the Archdiocese to organise and articulate their demands. In denying them this choice, Prabhudesai denies political agency, or choice, to the Catholic communities in Goa, forcing them into a field that is dominated entirely by apparently secular liberal, or soft Hindutva rhetoric and politics; a politics that Sandesh Prabhudesai seems to subscribe to.
(A version of this post was first published in the OHeraldo on 8 Jan 210)