Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unmasking Legality

The people’s movement needs to stress legitimacy and not legality

The two public meetings that were held, one in the T. B. Cunha Hall, and the second in the Azad Maidan, to protest the attacks on Aires Rodrigues and Prajal Sakhardande, were a scam. They were a scam, because what we saw was the hijack of the genuine frustrations and anger of the people to meet rather dubious political ends. Through these meetings a situation was created where it looked like the voices of the people were being heard, but in fact there was no real attempt to convert the voices of these angry people, into a genuine agenda for change. The event remained at the level of drama alone. A tradition, of being apolitical, that the organizers of the meeting had espoused as leaders of the GBA, was thrown to the winds. Politicians of various hues, including shockingly, Manohar Parrikar of saffron fame, came up onto the stage and used the platform to draw mileage and divert our attention from the real issues of our day.

This column will not dwell on the meetings though. It will not do so, because in the hall of mirrors that is the scene of Goan politics, this accusation of scam-ing the people can be laughed away as delusional. Instead, I would like to inaugurate with this column, a series of reflections on law and the relationship to the events that are unfolding in Goa. Reflections built on the more solid bases of definite statements and suggestions made in the public sphere.

In the course of his oration, the good Dr. Rebello suggested that as activists we should stick to only to legal courses of action. Our only courses of action should be those within the ambit of the law. Perhaps he was thinking of the actions against Aires and Prajal and speaking thus. Taking the good doctor’s advice however, would push us into a very prickly situation; and it is my recommendation that his advice be disregarded and rethought.

Dr. Oscar’s ‘legal’ suggestion, would present to us a situation where there are two options, the legal and the illegal. In a situation where the people of Goa are protesting the very operation of the law and the action of the law enforcers, pushing ourselves into this corner will kill our movement. What Dr. Oscar should have recommended is that our politics and actions be legitimate. A politics of legitimacy allows for activists actions that could be legal. However, when the law itself is perverted, a politics of legitimacy would allow for actions that may contravene the presently existing illegitimate law to create a new law that anticipates a legitimate legal framework.

If we listen to Dr. Oscar we would have to necessarily condemn the recent actions of the mining activists in Quepem who blocked the roads to the mines that are destroying their (and Goa’s) access to fresh water, creating the basis for a water crisis in Goa. People have a right to protest, but they don’t have a legal right to block roads. And yet, before protesting, these activists moved from pillar to post to draw attention to the legal irregularities around these mines; and the very real situation of destruction of livelihoods, if the mining was allowed (through a perverted understanding and manipulation) of the law. The law failed to respond. In face of this silent State complicit in human rights violations against the people, these activists took up a possibly illegal, but definitely legitimate route of protest against the mining activity.

Following the Hindu right-wing initiated and BJP supported bandh however, there are questions in the minds of a number of citizens, if we should allow for bandhs at all. ‘The forcible obstruction of my daily life is illegal’ they say, and there are voices now, calling for a ban on bandhs. The recourse to law however, by these concerned citizens is misplaced. It is misplaced, because in the nightmare that is becoming the Indian Republic, such laws that we imagine will prevent the rightist goons from obstructing our lives, will in fact be used against activists like those in Quepem, and people like us when we obstruct the illegitimate actions of the State.

In fact Manohar Parrikar, the arch sponsor of the bandh, would most definitely support our call for a ban on bandhs. He knows that when in power, it would give him greater power to suppress our voices.

The answer to our conundrum lies once more in the politics of legitimacy. Was the bandh called by the Hindu right-wing legitimate? No! The desecration of temples is obnoxious. It should not be allowed to continue. But there is a strange pattern to these desecrations here, and the BJP is clearly exulting in the continuation of these acts of vandalism. It is using these actions to create more trouble. They seem to gain more from these actions than any other group. The bandh on Monday was illegitimate, because it was used not to protest the desecrations, but to show to all of us who exactly is in power in Goa; the Hindu right wing and its goons. It was used to create a situation, where they can dictate their ridiculous agendas and make all of us toe their lines. Get in a ban on bandhs, and tomorrow these right-wing goons will still violate the law and get away with it. For example, known trouble makers in Margao were arrested a day before the bandh and let off on bail! Bail? They could have been held, as per law within the Station for another day, to ensure that they don’t create more trouble. Should the people’s movements call a bandh however, we would be shown the law that prohibits bandhs.

The protests, and future bandhs of the people’s movement in Goa are being, and will be called to draw attention of the State to the manner in which the common person in Goa is being suffocated out of existence. These are very real demands that the State, politician and the law are not addressing, and these are cries for help. The desecrations of temples are acts of cowards, who like the goons who attacked Aires, attack in the night. The acts of the politico-business class are the acts of those who know they have the backing of the law behind them, and they act in broad daylight, disemboweling our earth; raising towers that touch the sky. For those who use the law in this manner, we need to employ not only legal actions, but actions based on a politics of legitimacy. The politics of legitimacy is a politics of life, and a bandh springing from such a politics, will be fundamentally different from the bandh we saw on Monday. It would be a bandh that would not be enforced by fear and threats as was Monday’s bandh, but a bandh enforced by solidarity that people would voluntarily show.

The Goan scenario is one that is crying for change. The call for total transformation of the way the State operates is a very real demand for change. This demand, the dominant caste groups, business interests and landed interests that have infiltrated the movement are deliberately blocking. These groups seek to occupy a platform lead it away from the egalitarian paradise we wish to create, into one more cul-de-sac where they can profit from our misery. These groups use masks, of faces we trust. What we need to do is ask ourselves, what is it that these masks ask us to do?

(Published in the Gomantak Times 22nd October 2008)

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