Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On why Goa needs no SEZ

I’d like to address the issue of whether Goa needs Special Economic Zones (SEZ). For those who have not yet heard the news, there are a good number of SEZ planned for Goa. As of now we know for a fact that the Goa State has leased over 900 acres of land to four companies who have been approved as developers of SEZ. Let us concern ourselves with the extent of land as of now, even though there are other as important issues as well. For example that this amount of land, is even more than what the Central Board of Approval for SEZ had approved, and that much of the acquisition of land precedes even the approval of the SEZ.

What is the logic of the SEZ formula? The logic simply put is that India- and by that implication Goa- is a developing country and needs to catch up with the industrialized and developed west. Since it does not have the resources to invest in infrastructure all over the country, it provides a special area for a few industries, which then operate as the push factor, pulling up the surrounding regions along with them. India even before Independence has been imagined as this vast country, full of starving illiterate farmers, a country with little or no basic infrastructure. This is a serious national self-image problem, and one that has been internalized by its leaders and policy-makers. This allows then for the country to create such schemes that are designed to bring pieces of the West into India, to operate by their own laws, so that we can then emulate these islands of prosperity and be pushed into development. That this idea is wholly disrespectful of the intelligence and desires of the people we shall leave be for the moment. What I would like to draw attention to are the facts of Goa. Goa has a decent infrastructure and a rather high standard of living, even though there are pockets within it that need more attention. Goa in no way measures up to the image of a starving, infrastructure-less land. Quite clearly the economic and policy remedy for Goa is not the SEZ but something that is tailored to the local conditions.

The SEZ policy also rests on another logic; that the citizens are stupid and illiterate, have no idea of modernity and need the wisdom of some enlightened bureaucrat to help them get out of poverty and into modernity. Now quite clearly Goa does not fall into this category at all. If anything, Goa has the most vibrant civil society and political sphere in the country, where every issue is subjected to the minutest public analysis. Goa has had a system of Panchayat Raj (however restricted it may have been) since before the Constitution of India was in force. This has laid the foundation for the noisy and contested Gram Sabhas which though we may dislike them, are indicators of a conscious citizenry. In such is the case, why then do we need to have these Special Zones set up which disrespect entirely the demands of the Indian constitution that the local self Governments have a larger say in the administration of the country? The SEZ legislation envisages a single window clearance system for industries within these zones. What this translates to is a bureaucratic office over-eager to please and willing to disregard every law and regulation that has been set in place. The SEZ are also exempt for local taxes and fees. Take a look at the wealthy Panchayat of Sancoale. The source of its income is the industrial estate located on the hill above it. In the case of Sancoale, the Panchayat can take up matters of concern and also benefit economically from the location of industries within its jurisdiction. All of this because it has control over the land on which the estate is located. In the case of villages whose land will be annexed for the SEZ however, they can kiss any dreams of wealth from rightfully owed taxes goodbye. All they can hope for is the possibility of jobs that may or may not come to them.

And this is another issue that we need to address. The SEZ does not cater to existing local problems of unemployment or lack of industry. It caters to the interests of big capital and profit-making. As such, it is not going to be a carefully tailored solution to local crises, but create huge amount of jobs, that will require labour from outside the State. Goa and Goans are not closing the doors of their State, but surely we need to realize that what the SEZ policy is doing is merely displacing problems from one part of the country to another. This smacks of another type of internal colonialism, one of the country, by the country, for the interests of global capital.

No sir, Goa does not require the SEZ. While it requires more industry and employment opportunities t the method of achieving this must be one that respects not just the Goan citizen, but also the local dynamics of the problem. We already have a thriving tourist industry how do we internally regulate it to make it yield more to Goans so that they have a desirable job option within the State? How can we improve the local transport system so that we can have people move frequently within the State, creating not only jobs in transportation, but job options within the State? How can we invest in infrastructure that will improve quality of life for the local, and also have the local service this infrastructure? The solution to all of these lies not in the ill-conceived idea of the SEZ, but in a developmental policy that is genuinely dialogical and respectful of the local and one that can emerge out of the Panchayati Raj system which is perfectly suited to this objective.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 17 Jan 2007)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Travelling Bangalore... I'm in shock.

Ever the do-gooder I chanced upon a colleague who lives at the absolute other end of town and thought I'd be cute and give her a travel tip. "Do you know that there is a Volvo bus that leaves from Chandra Layout and goes right up to Indiranagar?" I beamed!

Uma, for that is her name, brought me right down to earth..."Yes" she smiles "but its very expensive..from Richmond Road to HAL it would cost me 25 rupees".

25 rupees! Now thats a lot of money, if she travelled on this bus everyday to work the poor woman would loose a good chunk of her salary.

My colleague Priya and I have been raving about the Volvo buses in Bangalore for a while now,
on how neat and efficient they are, how bright and beautiful, and how wonderful it would be if the entire fleet of public transport buses in Bangalore were Volva. Apparently however, this is not going to be very possible, since if we converted the entire fleet to Volvo's we would only have the rich and upper middle class travelling in these buses!

This entire episode has only confirmed a fear that I have had about the possibilities of a public transport system for India's urban spaces. One, there is no interest in such a system since hte rich and the upper middle class, and the middle class in busy imitation need to assert their difference from the rest of the population. Two, where efforts are made at public transportation, it will operate in a manner as to exclude the poor and the working class from its operation, reserving the swanky additions for the middle class. And so it will go on, India's pernicious caste system, taking new forms every day. While I was a student in Bangalore, you had the Pushpak buses which promised, thanks to a higher fare, that you did not have to stand with the stinky and smelly folk, and could travel in relative comfort. From the Pushpak to the Volvo not much has changed at all...

There have already been fears expressed that Bangalore's proposed Metro will be way to expensive for the working class who do not earn the fancy salaries that the techies do...but then perhaps thats what the Metro is intended for...the working class sods...let them find their own way!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Middle Class Activism: Spadework for Paradise?

Thankfully for Goa, the pogrom in Sanvordem resulted in a whole lot of soul searching as citizen groups around the state inquired why exactly the events transpired and what was it that we could do to make sure it never happens again. One of the issues that emerged and received some amount of support was that this was a good opportunity to make sure that we went on a demolition drive of all ‘illegal’ shrines across the state.

This suggestion and the manner it was attempted to be brought into action is indicative of a common malaise in our vibrant democracy; the danger of middle class activism. The example cited is perhaps not the most appropriate since it forces us to get into a debate on secularism and the space of religion in the public space, but we should perhaps risk that so as to ground this discussion in an immediate and personal context.

What makes this suggestion so typical of middle class activism is that it reflects so clearly the position of some of the liberal middle class’s opposition to religion in the public sphere. A position that is not shared by a good amount of the population. A population that sees religion as being appropriately celebrated in the communal space. A population that possibly sees these shrines not as markers of their religion alone, but as concessions to realms that we cannot see but nonetheless have an impact on us. These sensibilities do not find space in the law as is currently contained in the law books, but nonetheless is tolerated in practice because of the support that it contains. Nonetheless if one chooses to implement this letter of the law, the shrines go, since they are, according to the letter of the law, illegal.

And yet, why did we choose to focus only on illegal religious structures? Why not on the many illegal structures that are growing rapidly all over Goa? The class bias is pretty much obvious, the more humble of Goan folk erect religious structures as they relate to their land and community, while the Gulf (and otherwise) rich Goan (and recent immigrant) erect buildings that will allow to indulge themselves in the consumerist paradise that awaits those who can pay. This is where we need to focus on the manner in which the law is implemented to make our world a better place. All too often, middle class activism uses the law as a tool to push its interest without creating a space for other groups to articulate their opinion.

There can be no other description of this process than the tyranny of the middle class. The tyranny was visible in Delhi when the Supreme Court legislated, without concern for the men who made a livelihood through autorickshaws and taxis, the need to switch from diesel to CNG. The fact that Delhi is visibly less polluted is not reason enough to condone the act. What we have to be more mindful of is the destruction that pursuing solely the middle class interest caused for those few months. Men who barely got a few hours sleep as they waited in line for barely available CNG. Or men who had to cease work (and the growling of their stomachs) to re-equip themselves with new technology. The upper middle classes barely felt the pinch, the industries that supplied them their transport, were poised to make the switch, or they used petrol anyways!

In Goa we saw this sort of middle class activism when the gaddos in Panjim were shifted from various parts of the city into defined zones. In doing so we refused to recognise that the gaddo operates best as the corner store, rather than just another shop in a long line of shops. The reason for their banishment was their scattered presence violated the upper middle class’s vision of what the picture perfect city should look like. It also violated their right to use the sidewalks. What is surprising is that this group of people rarely walk the streets; they move from point to point using their own private vehicles.

Panjim is currently attempting to drill into its residents a system of waste management. If this measure adopts as its guiding principle the fact that it is being implemented to ensure a decent working environment for the municipality workers, then we ensure it does not degenerate into middle class activism. What we have to keep in mind, especially in a socially stratified society like ours, is that the end cannot ever justify the means. To be an effective democracy we need to ensure that the means are as laudable as the ends. To ignore this fact would be to lay the framework for a repressive system of laws that soon enough could be used against us, just as we use it against those whose point of view we do not deem important.

(published earlier in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

Land and Goa: The politics of Exclusion

There is much that can and needs to be said with regard to the cry of “Goa for Goans”. I had earlier expressed the view that we should be wary of dismissing this cry as one made by common folk, on the instigation of a disgruntled elite, and manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. I would like to reiterate this point. The cry to privilege the local in Goa is not, in this day and age, a uniquely Goan experience. On the contrary this cry seems to resound in many parts of the globe, be it Europe in the xenophobic cries of Haider of Austria and Le Pen of France, in the ‘tribal’ wars of Africa, or even the Kannada movement in the metropolis of Bangalore.

If it is not just a phenomenon of Goa, then there must be something to this cry and it would be best if we addressed ourselves to it now, rather than later. Perhaps we would be better placed to understand what is happening in Goa if we looked at the situation in Bangalore. A few months ago, as Goa was peacefully commemorating Christ’s Last Supper, Bangalore was mourning the loss of one of its greatest film-stars, Dr. Raj Kumar. However while Bangalore mourned there was a deathly silence through the city, as it waited in bated breath for violence to break out. And break out it did when persons who gathered to pay respects to the actor broke out into violent rioting. In the process a good amount of property was damaged and a few policemen lost their lives.

The violence was not entirely unexpected. Raj Kumar had been used by the Karnataka/Bangalore for Kannadigas for a long time, as various groups claimed the city of Bangalore as the exclusive space for Kannadigas and Kannada. The English press has had a field day displaying this as some sort of a bizarre claim and entirely without cause. However, this is not entirely true. These demands for Kannada have emerged out of a number of reasons. Primary among them is the manner in which the English speaking corporate world has sought to refashion Bangalore into its exclusive playground, and the impact of big money that has recently been pouring into Bangalore. What this has resulted in is a feeling of powerlessness among Kannadigas in Bangalore, a sense of frustration at the inability to gain access to the kinds of consumption engaged in by the members of this corporate world. And furthermore a slowly building rage at constantly being portrayed as dull, stupid, lacking initiative and good for nothing.

From my point of view I see this as similar to what is happening to and in Goa. Goa is being converted slowly but surely, not into a place where people live and try to make ends meet, but a huge property market for people from all over the world. A good number of these people can enjoy ridiculously comfortable lives while living in Goa, or use it only as a holiday home. This is not to say that they are not entitled to comfortable lives or their holiday homes. However when all of this adds up, it only results in a situation where the local (be it ethnic Goan or hard working outsider) feels deprived and frustrated at their lot. Finally one has the social relations between this propertied class and the local. How often have you heard Goans being called lazy, lacking initiative and good for nothing? Or perhaps you have heard the more positive side of this trio, happy-go-lucky, laid back and jovial. Which ever way you look at it, they both stem from a definite way of looking at the Goan. Not to mention that this propertied class looks on the locals not as neighbours and members of the community one belongs to, but more as a source of domestic employment.

What Goa and Bangalore have in common is that they are places where the forces of globalization are having a field day, where there is nothing that cannot be bought. A good amount of this is happening in both places through the cooperation of local brokers- be they politicians, local businesspersons or compradors. What is resulting is a good amount of frustration and powerlessness with the situation that one does not seem to be able to change, and seeing an old world, which was predictable and known slip by. This is not to say that globalization is bad and must be done away with. On the contrary, globalization seems here to stay, the question is how do we deal with this growing rage? For surely if we do not address it, it will consume us all. The Raj Kumar riots in Bangalore have shown us as much.

The solution is not simple, nor one for me to suggest, but one for us to collectively (and it is obvious that we don’t seem to be operating as a collective) arrive at. It would help if we moved in this direction rather than dismissing these signals as manipulations of stupid common folk by wily politicians, or the hypocrisy of a society that has made its money through migration. Once again it should be stressed, the issue is not about Goans and non-Goans, the issue is about the politics of exclusion and deprivation.

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

On why incorporating Karwar into Goa is not a good idea

“Imagine a situation where Goa has 13 talukas, hydroelectric and nuclear power projects, two major ports and an added coastline. This is not wishful thinking or an academic debate, but a social movement in operation for nearly 15 years.” This extract is from a report that appeared in the Herald a few days ago. A report informing us of the existence of a movement in Karnataka’s Karwar district which seeks to merge with Goa. The reasons they give are that they do not wish to exist as a part of Karnataka, since the Karnataka government has ignored the development of Karwar. Also, they argue that around 60% of the people of Karwar speak Konkani, and it is only natural that they should be part of a Konkani speaking State. Finally, there are religious links between the people of Karwar and Goa, with family deities on both sides of the current border.

The tenor of the report seemed to suggest that this movement was something that we should be glad for and welcome with open arms, since it would create a larger Goa with more economic opportunity and secondly it would buttress the claim of Konkani within Goa. However, I am not so sure that for these reasons we should automatically support this claim. On the contrary it is exactly this sort of a promise that we should be wary of since there is more than meets the eye in this case.

The mere support for Konkani does not translate into the support for what the Language Agitation and the struggle against merger with Maharashtra was all about. Both movements sought to protect a Goan identity and local concerns that were only superficially connected with the names we have given to these movements. What was the issue of merger with Maharashtra all about? On the one hand the Catholics very rightly did not want to get swamped in a Hindu Maharashtra, the Saraswats did not want to loose dominant status in a Maratha Maharashtra, and the Goan bahujan samaj wanted to escape Brahmin domination by creating an option in a Maratha Maharashtra. Similar the support for and against Konkani was on similar lines, the Catholics wished to secure their identity, and the pro-Marathi lobby by and large identified the Konkani movement with their greatest fear, Brahmin dominance in Goa.

Perhaps the Bahujan samaj in Goa were the most far-sighted of us all who saw in the pro-Konkani movement, the contours of a design to ensure Brahmanical and Hindutva dominance. The Catholics woke up a little late in the day and realized that in supporting Konkani without securing the protection of the script that guarantees their uniqueness, they laid the foundations for their own demise from cultural and political life.

To put things in context now, let us recollect that it was in Karwar, in 1939 that a decision was taken to recognize Devnagari as the natural – and hence only- script for Konkani. A reading of Indian history will point us toward the fact the recognition of Devanagari as the natural Indian script was the tool used by Hindu right wing groups to cast India as essentially Hindu. This recognition refuses to recognize the multiple strands that have played their part in constituting India, and delegitimizes them. Similar to the manner in which Romi, the only script that supports a living and vibrant Konkani, is currently being delegitimized. That the mention of family deities comes up when there is talk of incorporating Karwar into Goa should instantly alert us to the fact that the argument is also playing to a Hindutva lobby which would seek to create a Goa on the basis of religious markers.

We need to develop a politically savvy understanding of what exactly is afoot here. The mere reference to Konkani and a greater Goa does not work to the advantage of Goa, Konkani or the communities that speak Konkani or live in Goa. Let us once again refer to modern Indian history to understand that what appears to be progressive may in fact not be so. Rightist forces have always managed to secure their agenda by riding piggy back on overtly secular and progressive agendas. Until the 80’s the women’s movement protesting obscenity found support from the BJP, until the Fire episode when it realized that what the BJP was supporting was the suppression of female sexuality in the name of Indian values. Similarly the women’s movement did not realize that the BJP’s support for a Uniform Civil Code was not their pro-women stance, but an anti-Muslim stance.

Currently as the protagonists of the Romi script seek to secure allies, there seems to be opposition to recognize the claim of Marathi as an official language in Goa. We need to figure out where this demand for Marathi is coming from. It is the demand of a minority that fears domination. A fear similar to what the protagonists of Romi experience. They seek recognition of Marathi in its Goan form, and as a Goan language, as an alternative to the brahmanical hegemony that will persecute both Catholics and the Bahujan samaj. The threat of Maharashtra is now dead. A new threat has emerged now, the threat of a brahmanical Hindutva, and it seeks to use Konkani and the idea of a larger Goa to get its way. We need to realize this. The addition of Karwar to Goa is not in Goa or Konkani’s larger interests. On the contrary, acknowledging Marathi as a Goan language may do more to further the interests of Goans in Goa. But more about this some other time…

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

Get Your Facts Straight: These are Hate Crimes, Not Communal Violence

In a time when pitched battles are being fought to create a single Konkani language for a single Konkani people, it would not be out of place to focus our attention on Mangalore. An area occupied by a good amount of Konkani speaking people, Goans, or at least some Goans, share a very strange relationship with the Konkani speakers of Mangalore. It’s a relationship that is imbued with some amount of fascination and some amount of dread. In passing one could hazard a guess, that this fascination and dread emerges probably because they represent the Other to us, what we are not, or have not become, and should not. But the dynamics of this relationship is not the focus of this essay at all it is the happenings in Mangalore that should be of greater interest to us.

Mangalore is at most times a sleepy little town. Despite the huge amount of industry and building that has overtaken it in the past few years it just can’t seem to get rid of that sleepy town image. Perhaps it’s all that humidity which simply weighs down their spirit! It is because Mangalore is otherwise such a sleepy and peaceful place that the horrific events over the past few weeks have come to most as a surprise. A surprise, even though a good number of civil society activists in Bangalore have been warning us for sometime now that Mangalore was tethering on the brink of large scale communal violence.

To begin with, we need to find another word to describe the kind of violence that we see erupting with alarming frequency all over the country and often at the most unlikely places. The phrase ‘Communal violence’ is too rooted in a past which suggested that there was some sort of mutual animosity between members of communities that were seen as naturally constituted by religion. The ‘communal violence’ that we see today is nothing of that sort. (Whether the communal violence of the past was in fact constituted in this manner is another question that we should perhaps leave for historians to answer). The ‘communal violence’ we see today are unprovoked attacks by violent and hate-filled members of Hindu rightist organizations against any one who does not toe their arbitrarily drawn lines. You could be Muslim, Dalit, Christian or woman. Refuse to abide by their arbitrary diktat and heaven help you. Heaven alone can help, since the police and state administration often refuse to.

What was the provocation in Mangalore? As per the saffron ruffians (and given that they aim to kill, this word is too mild for them) they object to the slaughter of cows. It is time we called halt to the manner in which an entire nation is being held hostage to the whims of a few. A good proportion of this country eats meat, and they eat beef with relish. And, they have a right to. There can be no arguments on that front. To call for a ban on cow slaughter is similar to asking that there be a ban on idol worship in India since it is, textually atleast, an obnoxious practice to the Christian and Muslim citizens of this country. Put this way the illogical nature of the call to ban cow slaughter becomes obvious does it not?

There have been a number of calls by organizations from around Karnataka to write to the President and Prime Minister to take notice of the situation. And this is necessary, urgent and important. What is troubling though is that in keeping with the understanding of the episode in Mangalore as ‘communal violence’, the episode has been constructed as violence by Hindu rightists against the Muslim community. This is only a partial view of the situation. It is violence by Hindu rightists alright, but not solely against the Muslim community alone, even though they have borne the brunt of this round of attacks. There have been, in the recent past, attacks on Catholic restaurants that serve beef. Attacks on churches as well. Let us get it straight then; this is not violence that stems from mutual animosity. This violence is unprovoked violence, hate crimes against those that are different. The Muslims are just the first and favourite target, the rest will follow, surely but steadily.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

--Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

Thinking about the IFFI

I wish they’d shut up about ‘Film culture’. They’ve gone on enough about it, and its about time we put an end to that nonsense. Fact is the term probably emerged in the flurry of reactions following the announcement of Goa as a venue for the International Film Festival of India. At that point of time, there were arguments made by other claimants for the venue, notably the Bengalis who argued that Goa was hardly the place to locate a film festival, since it did not have a ‘film culture’ as they enjoyed in Bengal. On a lighter note, you can expect the Bongs to make such a statement, they can’t get over themselves! But more seriously, there was probably good reason to make such a statement, there is an entire culture that does revolve around films, viewing them, discussing them, contemplating the many messages that a film projects out toward the viewer, the making of film etc. However, take a look at the rolls of the film festival since it migrated to Goa and one will realize how the Goan has been quick to realize that there is a lot to gather from the film festival. The presence of the local Goan in the festival has visibly increased since the first year the film festival was hosted in Goa.

The snoot would still argue that the local has not yet developed the ability to contemplate films at an esoteric or philosophical level. That all they are heading for are slapstick and light cinema. This however is no crime; to each his own, and if light cinema and laughs are your cup of tea, then you have a right to it. And yet, if these laughs come from a world entirely different from your own, surely you have gained an insight into humour and context of an alien environment? There is learning in that, and learning piled on learning, leads eventually to that cosmopolitan society which probably hosts that as yet elusive ‘film culture’.

There can be no doubt that the location of the film festival in Goa can benefit the local population, simply because we will have access to the world, literally in our own backyard. But this does not mean we need to ignore the nonsense that goes on in the name of the film festival. Why in heaven’s name do we have to screen regular Bollywood hits on beaches around Goa? I would like to argue that these screening represent the manner in which a certain lumpen mass is being actively created by the Government. If the argument of the Government is that the ‘masses’ are not interested in serious film, the counter would be, don’t show serious film. But show light cinema from different parts of the world and expose us to concerns and contexts different from our own! Would it not be possible to similarly work out a system where theatre halls around the state show movies from the festival so that we don’t necessarily need to travel to Panjim to see the films? In such basic moves would we be laying the ground work for a knowledge society in Goa. It is honestly tragic that all talk about knowledge society always revolves around the incorporation of computer technology into institutions. This understanding of a knowledge society is delusional since it is actively disprivileges forms of knowledge that cannot be translated into computer technology and also those segments of society that cannot have access to computers and the internet. A great example would be the building of the IT park in Dona Paula, where in the name of IT and knowledge society, a good number of the residents of Taligao have had their fields, grazing lands and crematorium snatched away. Is there any talk of compensation or livelihood provision for these people? One has not heard a whisper of it so far. Forget a film culture, in time these people are going to be scrambling just to have two square meals a day.

There has been a good amount of local opposition to the continued hosting of the Film festival in Goa. Given that the State is not listening to the rightful demands of the citizens at all, it is only natural that they would want to use the IFFI as a way of getting the attention of the State. Unfortunately the State persists in its appalling behaviour, cutting out the local from meaningful participation in the festival and instead pushing them further into ignorance in the name of the festival. It continues to treat the IFFI as a personal fiefdom, another cow whose udders are milked for personal benefit. In the end, why is it always that the local is the one who looses out? Why must we be forced to oppose an event that can only add depth to our lives? There are no answers unfortunately, only more questions and more angst.

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: The case of Anti-socials in Islam

A few weeks ago I had opportunity to come across a report in one of our local dailies whose headline read “Anti-socials have no place in Islam: Muslim body”. What followed the headline though was deeply disturbing because it established just how strong the popular impression regarding Muslims is. It is so strong that members of the Muslim community themselves are beginning to believe it.

Indian nationalism and popular culture has been built on the privileging of a certain manner and way of life. By and large it is an upper caste Hindu norm and there is a general agreement that Hinduism is what suffuses Indian culture. Like other nationalisms, there is also a deliberate creation of the internal enemy and this role is assigned primarily to the Indian Muslim. He is credited with being anti-national and a Pakistan-lover, the community is by and large uneducated and as such contributes to India’s population explosion and prove to be problems for the maintenance of law and order. All of this despite the fact that other communities can also be said to participate equally in these markers of the bad citizen.

All of these markers though were addressed by the All Goa Muslim Jamats Association in a recent representation. It promised to weed out anti-social elements from within the Muslim community. It recognized that the community was largely illiterate and needed to focus on education and obtaining higher end jobs. Now a good amount of this may be true. It may be true that there are persons among the various Muslim communities in Goa who engage in criminal activity. There may be a high rate of illiteracy among some Muslim groups in Goa. And what pray exactly, is an anti-social activity? What is disturbing is the fact that a Muslim organization itself can engage in sweeping statements of this manner. These statements came out in the wake of the recent bomb blasts in Bombay. It becomes obvious then that given the persecution that the Muslim community is subjected to at the slightest instance, this is a forced admission of guilt. After all one presumes that when you confess you are allowed to set things right yourself, instead of allowing unruly elements to knock you up, destroy your property and violate your family while doling out popular justice. Take an innocent man to the torture chamber and he will confess to almost any crime! Unfortunately, in trying to secure a place in the nation, what the All Goa Muslim Jamats Association has done, is to internalize and validate the popular impression of the Muslim.

The problem does not end there however. What we have to realize is that if there are truly anti-social elements, it is the right wing Hindu groups of this country, which display absolutist tendencies, going so far as to represent themselves as the true voice of the Hindus. In trying to placate these groups, what the Jamats Association has done it to only mimic a dubious model. Look at the representation that the Association reportedly made “Calling itself the supreme body representing around two lakh Muslimsin Goa”. On what basis does one become the supreme body to represent two lakh individuals? Is there a democratic process involved?

Further they repeat the same error that the Hindu right has been making, they associate the law of Islam (or religion) with the law of the State. "Any Muslim (who is) into illegal activities is not a Muslim. We will condemn such a Muslim". We have to recognize that the law of the State changes the definition of crime from time to time, the law of religion we would like to believe is unchanging, above and beyond the law of the State. Islamic law has famously been credited with taking sympathetic views of persons accused of crime, looking to the reason for the crime rather than simply applying a rule once the facts are proved. In addition, traditions in Islam have allowed a space for law outside of the State, recognizing the coercive powers of the State as well as its unpredictable and biased nature. The Association’s statement flies in the face of these traditions. Finally even though the Association is ostensibly making statements for the common good, the statements are still terribly absolutist; “we will condemn such a Muslim”? A Muslim into illegal activities is not a Muslim? What gives anyone the right to decide who is, or is not a Muslim, Hindu or a Catholic? These are statements of absolutist tendencies within society and can have no justification. That the Jamats Association is using this language is unfortunate, but it has for an excuse the fact that it is only internalizing the logic it is having to fight; the logic of the Hindu Right and the logic of the Indian nation state.

The solution to the situation we are facing today does not lie in responding to the challenges of the Right. To do so will only drag us into a situation where the terms of the debate are determined by them and please note that they are really in no mood to debate. They have judged already. There is definitely a need to go about some of the work that the Association has outlined. However, it needs to be done because we feel that it is important for ourselves, not because this is what we feel is required of us. As the recent arrests following the Bombay bomb blasts have shown, the Law and the State will suspect you even if you are an educated and ‘respectable’ Muslim. Let us not fool ourselves and ignore the fact that there is a disaffectation among Muslims in India. And there is reason to be. They have been marginalized within the nation. We need to address the cause for this disaffectation rather than accept the allegations made against the Muslim community and underline the lies that the Right has been spreading for a long time now.

(published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

Driving Goa toward an Urban Dream

Not so long ago a description of Panjim made it sound romantically like the Forbidden City in Beijing. An ‘official’ city with a daytime population that came in from the surrounding areas to work and left the city at sunset, leaving a strangely empty city. And it was so true, this is a part of the charm of Panjim, and of the other Goan towns, Goans live in villages and commute for work to the towns, enjoying in that sense the best of both worlds. This state of affairs will not last long though. Reports indicate that in time to come, if not already, 50% of Goa’s population will live in her towns, creating urban management problems that we have not yet had to deal with, and it is about time we started thinking about them.

If you were to drive into Panjim, or from Panjim outward anytime after ten in the evening you will see a good amount of people, very obviously labourers or workmen, crossing the Mandovi bridge on foot, or walking toward villages just outside of Panjim. Perhaps the scenario is similar in other towns in Goa. The reason for these late night jaunts is not particularly a desire to save money or to take in the soft night air. These people are actually walking home from their work, since there is no public transport available at these hours. There is no ferry across the Mandovi, there are no buses that would be able to ferry people to their destinations in the outlying villages.

Now this is not a problem for the labourers who come into Goa from ‘outside’, but a problem that faces us gentle ‘Goan’ folk as well. The elderly and the poor who cannot afford private vehicles and cannot commute on holidays, or past the hours that the public transport system operates. The lack of a public transport system that is popularly perceived to be constant, dependable, time-efficient and effective is one of the primary reasons why Goan roads and out urban centres have gotten clogged with traffic. The result, traffic jams and snarls, rise in noise and air pollution and the destruction of the charm of our urban (and rural) areas to make way for ever more larger roads.

Perhaps the most visible symbol of this destruction was the controversy surrounding the widening of the Campal road. The widening has not solved any problems, not because a job of widening was not properly done (it wasn’t), but essentially because a suggestion of contemporary urban studies was proved right. Build a bigger road, and the immediate problem of congestion is solved until new vehicles emerge to fill that space up. If we are to not flatten our cities into huge roads the only solution therefore is to prevent people from having private transport and encourage them to use public transport.

One of the delights of the modern European city and cities around the world that follow that aesthetic is the fact that much of the core areas of the city have been pedestrianised. Areas that are not have an effective public transport service, making reliance on one’s own transport pointless and expensive. The hurried response to this argument that most Indians make is that public transport is associated with the lower classes, and there is no way that the recently well to do and middle class are going to give up their status symbols. Now this is true, but it is also a good reason to revamp the manner in which we look at public transport. Why should public transport be cramped, inelegant and time consuming? Cities where public transport is actually widely used in fact provide reasonably plush travelling experiences. The result for the city is of an urban paradise where the streets are shaded, where public life spills out of buildings onto the street. In short, a relaxed and peaceful urban environment, a throwback to the nostalgic days of old, with all contemporary benefits.

The Goan urban centre is still small, and there is no good reason for us to have to necessarily cramp them with private vehicles. There is also no good reason for us to leave our villages for the benefits of the towns. The benefits can be made available if only we develop an effective mode of public transport, that allows us to get to any part of our small state in a reasonably short time, comfortable manner, and any time of the day, or night. Regular bus routes around the town, and not only central areas; connections between urban centres and urban centres and villages, if only we worked on this, then perhaps much of the charm of Goa would be retained, rather than sacrificed in the name of development. All too often a negative equation is posed between development and the environment and heritage, an equation that is entirely false an unnecessary. There is no need to sacrifice one for the other. On the contrary, working to achieve both transports us directly to that goal of most economic and developmental activity; Quality of life. A priority for developing public transportation systems is not necessarily a priority for the marginal sections of society. True it benefits them the most, but while doing so, it also lays the groundwork for a richer quality of life for all of society. Think of it as the bangaranchem Goem of our dreams realised in reality. Who’s catching the next bus with me then?

(earlier published in Gomantak Times, 2006)

Land And Goa: Understanding the Goan Elite

The call for a halt of Goan properties to outsiders is not an elite suggestion. It is an indication of the disempowerment felt by the average Goan as the processes of Globalisation take over the State. True there are actors involved who articulate the call for a ban on sale to outsiders who are understood to be elite. This labeling is however a mistake, for it is a label that they hardly deserve. We need to make a distinction between the members of the great Goan middle class grown through being expatriate labour, the Non-resident Goan and the proper Goan elite.

Goa’s middle class with its trappings of Westernization are often mistaken to be an elite class. No doubt this posturing is aided by the upper caste claims of a good number of them. An imagined ritual status with new found wealth work together to allow them to pose as an elite. The sad truth however, is that they are a middle class, a petty bourgeoisie. Right from the opening up of the Goan economy to that of the British Raj; to the opportunities opened up by the Gulf boom, this class was able to, though toil, sweat and tears able to put together small fortunes that allowed them to build larger and grander houses, mimicking the styles of the village landed elite, allowing sons (and sometimes daughters) to obtain professional degrees. You could mistake them to be scions of aristocrats, members of blooded Portuguese speaking Goan elite; sad truth however, is that most of us are not, this elite having either emigrated, joined the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie or graduated to the ranks of the international rich.

Understanding this middleclassness is important to understanding the nature of the call to end the sale of Goan properties to outsiders. Until fairly recently, the economy of Goan families has been fueled by repatriated funds. The emigrant Goan slogs to better the status of her/ his family back in Goa- often at great personal cost. Unless able to make the transition to the Americas, Europe or Australia; they know that eventually they must head back to Goa. The nature of their work and local populations does not allow them to integrate into the place they work either.

This work outside of their home territory has been put in to gain a larger say in the workings of Goa’s socio-politico-economic space. If this position is going to be challenged by new entrants to the society, then it is only natural that action will be take to challenge the perceived threat.

This movement one can sympathise with. What one cannot sympathise with are the machinations of the foreigner of Goan origin and similarly placed Non-resident Goans. A good portion of India’s current and future problems can be traced to the imaginations of the Foreigner of Indian origin and the NRI. Located in the West, missing their homeland, and as yet unable to have a say in the political institutions of their adopted homes in the West, they seek to mould India through the assets they have, financial resources and the symbolic capital they have acquired by having made it (in however mediocre a manner) in the West. The rise of Hindutva in India is a perfect example; its success possible thanks to the funding of the NRIs are who would like to see India remain or become the India of their dreams. The problem is that these dreams are born from a vague recollection of what the homeland may have been like and their frustrations of their life in the West.

It is for this reason that the intervention of the NRI and the NRG is suspect. This is because they have no real understanding of the way society has changed since they left, nor do they represent the aspirations of the people they have left behind. Their agenda lies most properly in creating a cosmetically beautiful Goa, not a Goa that can sustain its people. Unfortunately, owing to their symbolic and financial capital, they manage to push forward their agendas. Often at counter-point to what the residents actually desire.

The demand for an end to sale of Goan properties to outsiders may possibly be fueled by the NRG bent on trying to preserve the Goa of their dreams (I use this term deliberately, given that it is apparently one of the most popular titles for books on Goa). While this move ought to be resisted as we claim Goa for those who live in it –irrespective of their ethnic origin- it should not be at the cost of the newly emergent middle class trying to stake its (rightful) claim in the governance of their home. Our politics ought to be one that is sensitive to the demands of both these groups and work to privilege the demands and dreams of people who know only one home and have no other option- in any part of the world. Only such a shift in our politics would allow us to see Goa as a land sensitive to the real needs of its people, rather than becoming solely a playground for the international rich and famous.

(earlier published in the Gomantak Times, 2006)

Goan Land for Outsiders: What is the issue really?

Thank heavens for Goa’s vibrant public sphere where every issue is examined and debated animatedly. True, we sometimes wish that they would all go away, that our lives were less subject to the bizarre opinions of a few, but then this is what democracy is all about isn’t it? The debating, the elevation of the mundane and the everyday into the political; so that one is not victim to the conspiracies of coteries when the public sphere falls silent. Some weeks ago a friend wrote “Of late there has been in the media in Goa a disturbing xenophobic tone to 'reportage' and comment about issues related to migration into Goa and land ownership”. The friend went on to point out that while there was a hue and cry about the ‘rape of the motherland’, there was almost no engagement with the manner in which the state of Goa is annexing huge swathes of communidade land. Further, this concern for the motherland and the onslaught of migration tickled a misguided and undefined nationalism at the local level, one that can be exploited by political opportunists and social elites. There is much in both arguments that one hears all the time, and I would like to respond more directly to the arguments raised above. Is there no engagement with the manner in which comunidade lands are annexed by the Government of Goa for dubious and indefensible programs of industrialization? By and large this is true. Most of us sit by while these prime lands are portioned off to the private sector at prices that one cannot buy onions at. However, there is a small group which is concerned with this matter and is seeking to point out a few facts about the relationship that the State of Goa is permitted to have with comunidade lands. The Association for the Components of Comunidades has for sometime now, via the courts, been trying to draw attention to the fact that the general legal presumption about common lands in India does not hold true for Goa. The comunidade lands are properties of the comunidade and cannot be considered state lands and removed from the comunidade. The actions of the state government with respect to the comunidade lands are in fact annexations that the state perpetuates quite illegally. The pity though is that it seems that they are a highly marginalized voice no one seems inclined to listen to. That they are not heard however is in part a result of their own restricted strategy of taking up the issue only via the courts and their narrow definition of who can have a say in the comunidade system. But that is another matter. What about this statement of a misguided and undefined nationalism. In the face of Goan nationalism the argument is often raised that Goan who have made their fortune through world wide migration have no moral right to close their doors on migration into their state. Global dominance, the argument goes on, is today possible only when we are open to the world and foreigners who bring in capital, knowledge, technology and the ilk. This argument holds some truths, but it fails to perhaps understand what is really going on. The anti-migration, anti-outsider argument in Goa is not about closing Goa’s doors on the world. It is a cry for help. It is an indication to the system at large that while there is a lot of money being made in Goa, a lot of people who have lived all their lives and generations in Goa, are feeling left out. We may have a democratic process in place, but their voices cannot be heard over the dollar and rupee powered voices of the new-Goans. The Goans who migrated were invariably migrant labourers, they did not form dominant elites in their adopted homes. The one space the marginalized among the Goans could rely on seems to be slipping out of their grasp. This is a serious issue and one that needs to be engaged with without dismissing it as outdated and misplaced nationalism. Finally what is this about this ‘nationalism’ being emotions that can be exploited by political opportunists and social elites? Social discontent is too often written off as the result of manipulations by wily politicians. This only justifies another elite’s interests in emptying the public sphere of engagement with politics. Its merely a sophisticated way of saying that the common wo/man is too dumb to realize what is happening. A process of disempowerment is on in Goa. A process fueled both by ethic Goan and global and national bourgeoisie; and resisted at the same time by ethic Goan and migrants to Goa. We need to read beyond the rhetoric to what the people are really saying and address the very real concerns of feeling disenfranchised in the only land they can call their own.

(earlier published in the Gomantak Times in 2006)