Wednesday, June 20, 2007

O Zé Faz Falta: Of Diaspora, Memories and Needs

Last weekend saw me in Lisbon at the Convention of the Goan Dispora organised by the Casa de Goa from the 14th to the 17th of June. It was for me, as with others present at the Convention, a wholly moving experience. The spirit of the days was perhaps best captured when at the party at the end of the Convention when the group broke into song creating the atmosphere of a family gathering. Not everyone knew all the songs that were being sung, some in Portuguese, some in English, some in Konkani, but it was nevertheless enjoyed by all. To me this was an indication of how the diaspora need not move toward a single, unbroken identity. There is no need for a single language, a common culture, a necessary history with a common geographical space. What a diaspora, and its meetings can be- and perhaps ought to be- is the opportunity for dialogue for people who share some connections and would like to build on them.

Indeed, this understanding of why a disapora meets could be the safest option for a diasporic community and gathering in the face of the problems it could possible raise. Despite the nature of the experience at the Convention, I still stand wary of the word diaspora and its politics. The word is too strongly associated with the formation of Israel and its racist and inhuman Zionist politics. One has only to realise that a large part of the growth in saffron right-wing politics in India is due to the interventions of the Indian diaspora in North America and the U.K. We should hate to see that in Goa. And yet the growth in the Goan diaspora’s interest in Goa has all the makings of this danger. Perhaps not yet saffron right-wing, but right leaning nevertheless. There is located in diaspora politics the same urges that motivated colonialism. “We, who live outside, know better and can show you the route”. And while there is no problem in learning, one has to contest the idea that it is the diaspora alone that can teach and have nothing to learn. We need to recognise that the ideas of the diaspora are often born in imagination and longing, and situations on the ground move to a different reality. One that is located in the daily lives of the people who live there.

The voice of the diaspora often pretends to be the voice of the authentic. “Just because we have left, it does not mean we are not Goan”. Indeed not. To argue so would be petty. However we have to recognise that while they may be Goan, they are not authentic. They represent a certain economic class and speak by-and- large for the interest of that class. It is not surprising that the Chief Secretary of the State highlighted the interest the Government was taking to protect the properties in Goa of the diaspora. What diaspora politics possibly represents therefore is the propertied gaining access to the ear of the Government. And while this is not necessarily undesirable, what is terrifying is that interests towards consolidation of property, away from the distributive ethic that ought to motivate our state, may be the only voice the State chooses to hear. It is this choice that the State exercises that perhaps it would do well for diaspora organisers to take cognizance of. For while the State is listening to those who would exercise a developmental role now, as it seeks to cultivate a new source of legitimacy, things may not always continue to be so hunky dory. We are aware of the power of the right, and the saffron right, to take over platforms created with good intentions. It would be a shame if a platform that seeks to redress problems in Goa goes to buttress rightist policies by a Government so inclined to listen.

It is to avoid these and other problems inherent in the nature of diaspora politics that it would be ideal to cultivate the idea of diasporic engagement as a dialogue. This idea was put best when it was suggested – recognising the continuing presence of caste and other markers in Goan communities abroad- that it is not necessary to have a single Goan organisation in an area, as long as these multiple groups can work together. There couldn’t be a better way to allow for diasporic engagement to allow for the flowering of multiple identities and diversity, an option that gets destroyed when we attempt to box ourselves according to the narrow identities of a political entity like the state of Goa.

1 comment:

Venantius said...

Good job Jason. Here are my stray thoughts — time being scarce.

About being reagarded as not authentic — inauthentic. Authencity does shift — and a lot! Owning land is one way of feeling rooted, however inauthentic it may appear. The State understands that and caters to the fear of being disposed, and in so doing — delaying accelerated alienation. Also, one has to consider that living outside of Goa and India, does not mean one is always class-centered. This is not to disrupt your position, but to point out that we are all very different and this point is strictly for the record. I for one have chosen to stay silent on political issues related to Goan and its politics beacause I cannot pretend to understand ground realitiesin Goa; and have mentioned this on a couple of occasions. Aside of that, the ones who point to class as a factor of , are very often those who can comfortably negotiate every corridor of influence, exact benign compromises, and duel as well as dwell in language.