Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Upper-caste Catholics and the dream of the Hindu Right

In the flush following the Festival of Ideas, the moderator of an egroup of research scholars on Goa was inspired to cry out “Why don’t we dedicate the group to Abbé Faria and D.D. Kosambi, we could then have one for each community!” Responding to this idea, a friend blinked his eyes and inquired; “Two communities?” He paused, scratched his head and asked again “Two communities? How two communities? Aren’t they both Saraswat?” This had not been my own response; my own had been to fume and remark on the manner in which the Goan Muslim had once more been written out of the equation. My friend’s response though scored higher on two counts, not only did he manage to humourously ridicule this suggestion (as it should have been) but the man had also hit the nail on the head and unlocked in an instant the key to understanding the emergence of communal tensions in our fair (?) land.

Its been going on for sometime, but since the past few years one hears a number of Catholic Brahmins stand up to proclaim their Saraswat status. To be proud that they were (are?) Brahmin we can argue is as old as the sun, but to see themselves as Saraswat is a relatively new phenomenon. It is this fact, and the fact that Chardos can claim to have a Maratha heritage that will ensure that there will be no major confrontation between the two major religious groups in Goa. This does not translate to the fact that there will be communal harmony however. It is clear, especially in light of the recent clamour that there be a ban on cow slaughter in Goa, that the Hindu right will persist in stirring up trouble. However there may be a management of the tension through the alliance that is brought about through the identification of the Catholic upper-caste groups with their Hindu upper-caste brethren. It may not be openly acknowledged, but these two upper caste groups have time and again collaborated to ensure that the status-quo is maintained, the easiest example being the manner in which the Konkani agitation was managed. Upper caste Catholic and Saraswat combine to create the (Konkani) terms for their dominance. And since it was upper caste interests and alliances that were focused on, it is no surprise that where Konkani was concerned, the lower caste Catholic was sold out and deliberately left with no real linguistic option. The implications for communal strife through Catholic upper-caste identification with Hindu upper-castes is more in evidence in Mangalore. Most Mangalorean Catholics are so eager to pass themselves off as upper-caste, that they have in recent years produced Brahmin identities for themselves, and sharpened their weddings with Brahmanical rituals. The result is that whenever there is communal strife in the area, they are able to persuade themselves that it is a Muslim problem and lie low; play the Christian cheek as it were. That this strategy does not work for long can be seen by the fact that not too long ago was the attack on a group of Catholic religious, where one of them literally had his teeth pushed in. Quite clearly then, the assertion of an upper-caste identity by non-Hindu groups works only to ensure a management of communal tension, as these groups work hand-in-hand to keep the lower castes in check, until they realize that the communal situation has blown up in their collective faces!

Goa may not see Catholic-Hindu riots but it has and will continue to see unprovoked attacks on Muslims, because the upper-caste Catholic, who is in control of Church and community has internalized Hindu nationalist logic about the Muslim. As such, rather than realizing that they stand to gain should they identify with a minority group that is being punished for not being Hindu upper-caste, they join in the persecution of the Muslim. Another reason for the persecution is the Goan Catholics’ own insecurity about their status and future in the state. It is a fact of history that rather than stand together against a common bully, the weak fight among themselves. The anti-Muslim feeling in Goa should really be put down to this, the weak fighting the weak, one set of dominant groups stoking the fire and the other playing ostrich trying to blend in. It didn’t help the assimilated Jews in Europe, why would it help us?
(In commemoration of the communal violence perpetrated in Curchorem-Sanvordem 2006)
Published in the Gomantak Times 5th March 2008


Anonymous said...

This entire article is based on the false premise that Catholicism contains castes. Roman Catholicism has ipso facto no caste and therefore those who are inclined to think they are Catholic Brahmins defile the Church's good name and parasitically contaminate it.
Dr Cornel DaCosta, London, UK.

Anonymous said...

could you please explain us what were/are the common interests that allow for alliances between these two GSB sub-castes?

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Dear M,

Let me begin by indicating that responding to anonymous messages is fairly annoying. First becuase I cannot really respond to you, unless I know you are checking the blog regularly, and secondly because not knowing who you are, I am unable to figure out what exactly your question means and what motivates it.

Having said that, I am going to attempt a very rushed and quick response to your question.

What were/are the comon interests that allow for alliances between these two GSB sub-castes?

I do not admit that these are GSB sub-castes. One is GSB (those of the Hindus), the other is not. It is a caste of Brahmins who are Catholic and would like to see themselves as GSB. It is this that allows the Catholic brahmins to see themselves as having a similar agenda to the GSB.

The attempt is to mould themselves in a manner where they can pass off as Catholic GSB, and so they accept the GSB as the cultural norm. Thus they accept, the position that Konkani is best spoken if it is Sanskritised, if it is written in Devanagari not Roman, and that the official version is the Antruzi (which is seen as representing the real thing).

What allows them to have common interests is also the fact that they are both dominant castes, and as such have a vested interest in seeing that their control of the situation (even if it be backroom control) does not get challenged.

Finally, I would like to point out, that I am not talking about only the brahmins among the Catholics - but about upper caste Catholics in general.

dr who said...

I think that Brahmins should provide a lead. That lead should be that our religions and caste should not prevent us from living together harmoniously and freely. Brahmins should aim to mobilise people of all caste and religions for the greater good of all who live in India.

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

But why only the Brahmins Rui? Surely others can also provide this lead? We make a mistake when we presume Brahmins are at the top of the pile. The presumption of their being at the top of the pile exists largely in the Brahmanical imagination!

And for the record, i normally try to refer to Brahmanised, not to Brahmins alone. I'm not particularly into brahmin bashing! :-D

Anonymous said...

What a load of unmitigated hooey. To paraphrase Pauli, this is "not even rubbish." Jason K Fernandes obviously thinks he has filed away a magnum opus of an insight into the caste and religious politics of Goa.