Tuesday, November 29, 2016

When should we celebrate Goa?

Sixteen years ago a group of Goans under the banner World Alliance of Goan Associations proposed that August 20 be celebrated as World Goa Day. The idea was to have a single day when Goans spread across the globe could celebrate their culture and heritage. Over time this idea has gained currency and has come to be adopted by Goan associations across the globe.

The logic for choosing August 20 as a day to celebrate Goanness was based on the fact that this was the day in 1992 when the Constitution (Seventy-first Amendment) Act, 1992, was passed in the Lok Sabha with the aim of including Konkani, among other languages, into the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. The Eight schedule of the Indian constitution lists the number of languages in India that have the status of official language and are entitled to support from the state for their development.

As is well known the status of Konkani holds much emotive appeal for Goans. Konkani emerged as one of the markers of a Goan identity soon after the annexation of Goa to India. Over the years much sweat and tears, not to mention blood, were shed to ensure the official recognition of Konkani as an independent language. These efforts ensured that Konkani would be recognized as the sole official language within the territory of Goa on February 4,1987, and then as an official language of the Indian Union in 1992.  For many Goans, especially those closely associated with the Konkani language movement, 20 August, was the day when they felt that their labours had come to fruition.  For example, speaking at the Konkani Rastramanyathay Dis (Konkani National Recognition Day) organised by the Goa Konkani Akademi (GKA) in 2008, Pundalik Naik, then President of the GKA suggested that this was the day when, after presumably feeling like a second-class citizen of the country, he felt himself a full citizen of India. Naik adduced as proof of this status the fact of the Konkani language was subsequently printed on the Indian Rupee note.

This extension of official status to Konkani has not been without its problems, however. The Official Language Act (OLA) of Goa specifically recognizes only Konkani in the Devanagari script. Within Goa this has meant that it excludes recognition and support of Konkani in the Roman script. Given that the Antruzi variant of Konkani has been promoted by such bodies as the GKA, this has meant the exclusion from state patronage of other variants such as Bardezi and Saxtti. What official inclusion of Konkani has meant, therefore, is the extension of full citizenship status not to all Konkani speakers, but only some Konkani speakers. Given that the Roman script is largely used by bahujan Catholic groups in Goa the exclusion effectively translates into a casteist and sectarian exclusion of a good majority of Goans from full citizenship.

The exclusion that obtains in Goa is even more explicit at the national level where there are allegations that the OLA has been used as the basis by the Konkani Advisory Board of the Sahitya Akademi to exclude patronage to the multiple scripts (Kannada, Malayalam, Perso-Arabic) in which Konkani is also written.

The celebration of Konkani as a marker of Goanness is, therefore, not without some irony. The Konkani that is allegedly the basis of Goan identity is not the Konkani that is celebrated by the State of Goa, and India. There are also other problems with celebrating Konkani as the basis of Goanness given that many bahujan Hindus would argue that their preferred language is Marathi, and not Konkani. Despite the fact that Marati is given secondary status in the OLA, they resent this fact and demand co-equal status for Marathi. In making this argument they have a point. The OLA not only gave secondary status to Marathi, but also ignored other languages of Goa, namely Portuguese, Deccani Urdu, Gujarati and English in addition to Romi Konkani. In many ways this Act was a regressive action and offered Goans a parochial vision of themselves. It is for these reasons that I would argue that celebrating language as the basis of the Goan identity is extremely flawed and that we need to look for another date to celebrate World Goa Day.

One such possible date would be November 25, the day when in the year 1510 Afonso de Albuquerque was able to decisively win and keep the city of Goa. As a contemporary territory, Goa commences its legal history from this date, when Albuquerque captured the city of Goa. It was from this date that the city of Goa was established as a city-state, and grew from this small territory to the boundaries it currently occupies. As has already been pointed out language is a problematic basis on which to build Goan identity, and is not the link that binds Goans, given we speak multiple languages. What binds Goans together is our common legal history which is what makes us distinct from others in the subcontinent and has given us so much of our distinctive character. Indeed, the contemporary presence of Goans overseas and our cosmopolitan character is in great part the result of our inclusion into the Portuguese state, which continues to this day to give us the option of citizenship.

The city-state of Goa was not built only by the Portuguese, but with continuous Goan support. Albuquerque had made an earlier attempt in February 1510 but was subsequently expelled from the city by the forces of Bijapur to whom the city belonged.  On both occasions Albuquerque was supported by local forces, who continued to support the Portuguese state until sometime before Goa’s integration into India in 1961.

While the butt of much Indian nationalist and post-colonial savarna invective, Albuquerque laid the foundations for a political order that Goans of various class and caste backgrounds have been able to use to their own advantage.  With the introduction of Christianity, and a regime of citizenship, a political order was created that has allowed for much social mobility. While caste continues to mark Goan, and Goan Catholic society, Portuguese and Catholic intervention substantially reduced its bite and offered to marginalized castes a mobility impossible under other regimes.

Subsequent to his conquest of the city of Albuquerque also initiated a project where he had the widows of the murdered Muslim occupants of the city of Goa marry Portuguese soldiers and then provided these couples with property. Many credit the offspring of these marriages as the founder of the descendentes, a particularly powerful social group in colonial Goa. Under normal circumstances such a creation of a mixed population would have been lauded as the basis of a national identity. Unfortunately, however, because of the brahmanical biases of post-colonial historiography of Goa the history of this group has largely been blanked out of Goan history, making us poorer for it. Celebrating this group would give Goanness a truly cosmopolitan character, instead of the narrow, nativist focus that currently obtains.

A nativist celebration of Goa that limits itself to Konkani alone is of no use particularly to Goans settled abroad. With every passing generation settled abroad it becomes obvious that Goanness is not about Konkani alone, but about something much more. It is about a way of being in the world. This self fashioning is the product of a process that was set in motion on November 25 1510. Recognising this fact would allow for the resolution of a lot of inter-generational angst allowing us to remember that not all is lost if younger generations don’t speak Konkani. November 25 is a significant day because this is the day that made Goa, and thence this is the day when we should celebrate Goa.

November 25 is a significant day because this is the day that made Goa, and thence this is the day when we should celebrate Goa.

(A version of this text was first published in the O Heraldo on 29 Nov 2016)