Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Picketing the Revolution: 'Their' Revolution, Our Democracy and a Fascist Imagination

Portugal’s Carnation Revolution was a significant moment in global history because it marked the simultaneous liberation of both colonizers and colonized from dictatorial power. With the fall of the Salazarist regime, the Portuguese people were able to move into a system of democratic governance. At the same time the African colonies of Portugal saw a halt to the Portuguese colonial wars and were born into independent sovereign existence. For India the fall of the Salazarist regime saw Portugal recognize India’s claims over Goa. There is very little to protest therefore, at least from an Indian nationalist and standard anti-colonialist point of view.

It was for these reasons that the presence of a screaming mob from the Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti outside the Instituto Camoes in Panjim was something of a mystery to those attending the celebrations on the twenty-fourth.

To unravel this mystery we need to refer to the news report by the Navhind Times dated the twenty-fifth of April. The report indicates that earlier in the day a bunch of ‘freedom fighters’ led by Naguesh Karmali had approached the Vice-Chancellor of the Goa University demanding to know why the University was involved in the celebrations. These freedom fighters argued that “celebration of the national events of Portugal in Goa [are] an insult to the sentiments of freedom fighters as well as people…who fought for the Liberation of Goa from colonial rule”. To suggest why even the commemoration of an anti-colonial moment in Portugal’s history could nevertheless be odious to the Goan people, Karmali indicated that “those persons, who were active part of Portuguese dictatorship under Salazar regime, became integral part of democratic governance in that country after 1974 by sidelining the Communist, whose role in the Portuguese Revolution was undisputed”.

Karmali has never been known for logic, and this time his logic is just plain bizarre! It is clear that all he is trying to do is demonize Portugal and the Portuguese people. In the eyes of Karmali, the eyes through which he would like all Goans to see history and Portugal, the Portuguese are irredeemable. They are, forever evil, and we should sever all ties with Portugal. Karmali would be least concerned with the Portuguese however, if it were not for people in Goa who wish to continue having links with the Portuguese. It is these people that irk him the most, and it is really the links of these people with Portugal that he would like sever. “[V]arious activities previously held in Goa and linked to the erstwhile Portuguese rule as well as culture of that country, have a certain community as their focus, and are aimed toward creating a divide in Goan society”.

It sounds as if Karmali is suggesting, though admittedly not openly saying so, that it is the Goan Catholics that harbour a fondness for the Portuguese. Thankfully, we know this suggestion to be factually incorrect. A good number of the students at the Instituto bear such surnames as Tari, Chari, Khaunte, Bhobhe, Kamat, Pai, Vernekar, Amonkar, Naik. The students at the Instituto increasingly come from a variety of social and religious backgrounds making Karmali’s statements meaningless. As such we should study Karmali’s statements not for the community he means, but for the community he seeks to create, and the company he keeps.

Interestingly at the demonstration on the evening of the twenty-fourth, Karmali himself was not present. This seems to correspond to a larger pattern emerging in India, where the violent positions are by and large taken by lower-caste groups belong to such outfits as the Bajrang Dal, Shri Ram Sene, Hindu Janajagruthi Samithi, while the BJP, largely composed of upper-castes and the anglicized, toes the moderate line and makes soft, polite noises of disapproval. Nevertheless we should see both groups as acting in concert, playing that age-old game of ‘Good Cop – Bad Cop’. When the BJP is seen as the only group that can control these louts, it makes sense to the average citizen, to elect the BJP so that these elements are kept in place.

The demonstration outside the Instituto should be seen not as a peaceful demonstration but an active attempt to intimidate, both Goan citizens of India, as well as the Portuguese institutions in Goa. Cultural aspects apart, the systematic picketing and threatening of Portuguese related cultural events in Goa, should and must be seen as an attempt to hound the Portuguese institutions out of Goa.

If this is the intention, what possibly motivates this action?

On the cultural front, we do not have to fear that the Goan Catholic culture will die if we loose a link with Portugal. Large portions of the Goan Catholic have also had a robust relationship with British-India and the English-language cultures. These cultures, as well as the Konkani cultures of the Goan Catholic are throbbing with life; destruction of a Portuguese link would be a setback, but it will not destroy them.

The attempt of Karmali and gang is culturally much more serious than hitting out at the Goan Catholic. It attempts to create a collective forgetting of the Goan past. This forgetting will impact not just Catholics, but Hindus and Muslims as well, and their relations with each other. A good portion of the Goan past, its relation with the subcontinent, and the world, a full four hundred and fifty years of it, including commentaries on the past before this, is documented in Portuguese. Block the renewed cultural relations with Portugal and the Portuguese language and you will ensure the death of that heritage, and memory of those histories in Goa. Once that history is effectively unavailable, you open the doors for the rewriting of Goan history, to fill it with the poppycock that the Hindu Right excels at.

We already have a good amount of popular commentary, spinning myths and tales about the Goan past, passing off as history. The roots of this scenario could, I believe, be traced to the drought that hit Goa subsequent to Liberation and until diplomatic relations between Portugal and India were resumed after the April Revolution. During this time, access to Portugal was limited to a select few alone. When facts are unavailable, fantasy floods in. With the resuming of relations, access to Portuguese culture has become much more democratic, and it is this liberation from restrictions that bothers the Rightist groups in Goa. The more people can access information independently, the less they need mediators. It is this democracy that the Karmali and gang fear desperately, and it our imagination of the past, and our options for the future that they seek to control.

It’s funny, but celebrating their revolution, seems to have helped us flush out the fascists in our midst. 25 de Abril Sempre! (April 25 Forever).

(Published in the Gomantak Times 28 April 2009)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Revolution and Counter-revolution: Racist imaginations, citizenship and Colonialisms

The 3rd of April 2009, saw a commemoration of Aquino de Bragança at The International Centre, Goa. Aquino de Bragança was born in Goa, and in the heady days of the anti-colonial struggles was drawn into the cause of African liberation, and came to be advisor to Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique.

While Aquino de Bragança is a figure who must be explored in his own right, I would like to reflect on the words of Fitz De Souza who spoke at the event. Fitz De Souza, also of Goan origin, has been lawyer and politician. Former deputy Speaker of the Kenyan parliament, he was one of those involved in the efforts to draw up a constitutional framework for Kenyan independence. Prior to Kenyan independence, in the course of the anti-colonial resistance in Kenya, he was also provided legal defense to those accused by the colonial administration of participation in the Mau Mau rebellion. Fitz De Souza, then is no ordinary man, and like Aquino de Bragança, played a crucial role in the unfolding of the post-colonial world that we now inhabit.

Rather than play the usual game of mumbling pleasantries, Fitz decided to stick his neck out and castigate the Goan community worldwide, pointing out how they did not play as significant a role in the anti-colonial struggle as they could have. This is true, people of Goan origin, very much like the rest of their ilk in the subcontinent, saw themselves as occupying a definite rung in the racist hierarchy of the 19th - 20th century. Not quite white, they nevertheless bought into the propaganda of the ‘Mission Civilisatrice’, believing that since they were Aryan, they would eventually get white status. They believed in any case that they were more than a few rungs higher than the ‘animal-like’ Africans.

It was in his subsequent statement though that I differed with Fitz. He went on to suggest that the British in their ‘complete racism’ planted the idea in the head of the Goans that ‘the Goans were not Indians, but Portuguese, that they were not crooks and thieves (like the Indian Bania) but honest and reliable souls’, on whose clerical shoulders, the Empire was in fact built.

My disagreement stems from the counter-suggestion Fitz offers; that the Goan is in fact ‘Indian’ and that this whole image of their being Portuguese is a racist fantasy that we ought not to buy. I would like to suggest that unfortunately, it is Fitz who in denying the Portuguese-ness of the Goan is buying into a racist imagination. This imagination is racist because it presumes that people occupying a definite territorial area are necessarily one people; and that because they come from the sub-continent of brown people, they cannot really be European. This imagination suggests that merely because the Goan shares the same colour as the people across the political boundary of the former Portuguese-India, they are the same people.

It is a testament to the power of racist imaginations that even a lawyer like Fitz could fall into its easy embrace. The Goan was Portuguese not because the English drummed this charming fantasy into their heads, but because by the LAW of Portugal they were Portuguese citizens. They were citizens who could also vote for their representatives to the Portuguese Parliament. That there may have been a practical failure to wholly realize this legal vision is not denied. However the mere fact of articulation in law is fact significant enough to trigger the imaginations of people. The British-Indian (which for all practical purposes Fitz is) will find it difficult to understand this position, because the British-Indian was always a subject of their Empire. It was their frustration at not being recognized as (white) Citizen of the Empire that eventually led to the Indian freedom struggle.

In a world filled with various ideas, ideologies and desires, it is Law that by and large performs the crucial role of determining what constitutes reality and what fantasy. The Portuguese Indian had been living for centuries within the embrace of a legal regime that gave them significant rights to participate in the Empire. It was by Law then, that they were Portuguese. It was the reality of this legality therefore, that allowed any subsequent suggestion by the British, or indeed, Salazar’s Estado Novo, to be that much more believable. Like Portuguese-ness, Indian-ness too, is an imaginary construction, made ‘real’ primarily through Law. The tenativity of this identity made obvious by that fact that the Pakistani and the Bangladeshi who until recently were ‘Indian’ are today viciously not considered so.

The Portuguese practice, where the Goan was Portuguese, has in fact the potential of upsetting the racist notions that continue to govern our world. Thanks to the operation of law, I can without batting an eyelid, unproblematically indicate that I am Portuguese. I don’t have to be white-skinned, nor do I need to have a drop of continental blood in my veins. By my being Portuguese my mere physical existence upsets racial categories. When like Aquino de Bragança, we can then also include the black-skinned African into this legal category; that is when we exploit the anti-racist potential of this legality to the maximum.

This week, Portugal will celebrate the 35th Anniversary of its revolt against the Estado Novo inaugurated by Salazar. One of the paradoxes of history, is that at the overturning of a

‘fascist’ dictatorship in fact resulted in the overturning of a liberative discourse vis-à-vis citizenship. The standard line of any 'politically’ Portuguese today is that ‘the past is the past, let us move forward to building new relationships’. Thus anything associated with the Estado Novo is seen as necessarily regressive. Look closely and you will see

them wince when the Goan expresses oneness with Portugal. This is a past that they would like to forget. However, this discomfort is not merely a discomfort with the Estado Novo. The discarding of colonial discourse today allows the Portuguese, once regarded as imperfectly European and not quite white, to now became actively European, and wholly white. The abandoning of Tio António Oliveira’s legal regime of citizenship – admittedly reinforced to support the dream and persistence of Empire – has carried the Portuguese into the racist regimes of continental Europe, where whiteness and distinction from the formerly colonized is at the heart of political and cultural identity. The Revolution it turns out may also well have been a counter-revolution!

The claim for a Portuguese identity should not necessarily embarrass us, since we must claim it as a deliberate act of overturning the racist stereotypes that we surreptitiously nurse at our breasts. If however we claim it, as did (and continue to do) the Goan elite, merely to mark cultural superciliousness, then and only then are we guilty of buying into a racist realm of imagination. On the anniversary of the Revolution, that we in Goa unfortunately missed, it would perhaps be worthwhile to contemplate the mixed bag that Portuguese colonialism has given us, and use these contradictions of this colonialism to make the world a better place.

(Published in the Gomantak Times April 22nd 2009)

(This essay has been profoundly influenced by the works of Dr.Boaventura de Sousa Santos. For these works and the inspiration, many thanks.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bhaji on the Beach: A Malcontents’ opinion regarding a Protest Party on the beach.

There is to be a public protest party on the 19th of April 2009 from 5 pm onwards. The party will be held on Vainguinim Beach, a beach that the invite to this party indicates is a “public beach that the Cidade has been treating as it's own private property.” The email invitation, that must have reached a good number of inboxes by the time you read this column, goes on further to state “You're invited! Come help us reclaim the beach. Bring your friends, family, relatives, dogs, what have you...”

At first glance this invitation struck me as a wonderful example of civil disobedience, the vanguard movement for the as yet elusive Goan revolution. The event seems to have all the elements for classic civil disobedience. You have identified an enemy of the public, who allegedly stands in the way of the Commonwealth, and you mobilize the public to mount a challenge to this enemy. The action is a provocation to this public enemy, and it mobilizes the as yet silent majority to come out and take a stand in favour of the Commonwealth.

I have to confess that a few weeks ago, I myself would have suggested such an action, and I would have attended this party at Vainguinim beach. Today however, I find myself poised differently for reasons that I will now elaborate.

To begin with, I am extremely uncomfortable with the manner in which Fomento (the company that owns both Hotel Cidade de Goa and a number of mines) has been singled out as Public Enemy Number 1. I do not wish to suggest that Fomento is a lamb bathed in milk; pure and without blemish. I have no doubt that they are guilty of at the very least making it difficult for people to access this public beach, that in the course of mining they have engaged in illegalities and cut corners to make their profits. However, my question to myself and to those willing to listen is; are they the only violators of the law in Goa? Clearly not. On the contrary, they are in august company. They rub shoulders alongside the rest of the industrial houses, and political dynasties, in Goa which rule the State as if it were their fiefdom. The casual takeover of public lands through backroom deals, the illegalities in mining, the exemptions and exceptions, the list of their crimes against the commonwealth could go on. If this is so, why then, has Fomento suddenly become public whipping boy? It is this singling out of a single family and company that bothers me deeply. A few weeks ago, I had questioned the motives of demonizing Babush Monserrate and suggested that demonizing Monserrate allows us to ignore the actions of the rest. I fear that in demonizing Fomento, some similar process is at hand. I must hasten to add that I do not accuse the organizers of this party of being partisan. I am merely suggesting that we are unwitting accomplices to larger processes we have not as yet figured out.

Speaking at a Public meeting against the Ordinance amending the Land Acquisition Act, I had suggested that we ought to focus on the larger processes through which the Law in Goa is being subverted. To do so would move our focus away from the individual violators we are focusing on, the manifestations of the problem, and train our sights on the root of the problem. The party at Vainguinim I fear focuses on the manifestation, and not on the root of the problem. Thus we will go to the party, we will satisfy ourselves that we have challenged the rot in the system, when in fact we will have only targeted a single player. The system itself will continue to flourish.

If not Cidade de Goa and Fomento, who should we target? In my opinion, target the real entity behind the mess in Goa, the seat of Government. When the GBA led the first public cries against the Regional Plan, the voices were loud and clear, give us transparent and accountable governance through an effective and empowered Panchayat system. This clear and simple demand was not however responded to. On the contrary we were presented the sham of a Regional Plan process, which incidentally culminates today. It is through the demand for transparent and accountable Local self Governance that every protest movement in Goa today, right from mining to anti-mega housing, is united. Despite this clarity however, we are yet to see a concerted and focused protest against the Government. Reclaiming a public beach is good, challenging illegalities is good and I totally endorse the scheme of such a public takeover. If only the location were different though. If only we saw this enthusiasm of takeover outside the Legislative Assembly and Secretariat. Not a single weekend party, outside the property of a single player, but a committed siege of the State’s primary offices until we actually put in place the legal and administrative system that we want. If the party on Vainguinim beach were the first step towards the radicalization of the populace, especially the middle class populace that seems to be the target of this action, I would despite my reservations applaud this initiative. However, having seen opportunities to challenge the State’s blatant illegalities and irregularities being squandered, I believe that this party is a cop-out. It will not continue onward to make the necessary challenge to the State.

The protest against Cidade de Goa is supposed to be a protest against the manner in which the public right of way to the beach has been blocked by the hotel. Who is this public though? Is it the residents of Machado’s Cove, location of what is playfully (but somewhat aptly) called the Snob Hill Mansions? Or is it the people of Taleigao, for who the beach was not a space for leisure but also a space for livelihood generation? Is this party an attempt to reclaim the beach for livelihood or for leisure? While I see nothing wrong with reclaiming a public space for leisure, I would like to see a few more examples of civil disobedience where it is the livelihoods of people that will be the clear winner of the protest.

Having elaborated my problems with the proposed picnic on the 19th of April, I would like to conclude by indicating that I do not wish it ill. Any action that mobilizes the public (and especially the middle class constituent of the public) to radical action is welcome. I do hope however, that this party will not be the first and last of such radical actions. I hope it continues, across locations in Goa, more often than not making a stand for the livelihoods of people. I have in mind a few locations where we could stand for the livelihoods of people, and would be more than happy to work with the organizers of this protest. I’ll be waiting for your call. Until then, Bom Trabalho e Bom Sucesso.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 15 April 2009)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cycling to Camelot: The Buddhist route to a safer and greener Goa

Hurray for Anibel Ferus-Comelo, hurray for Luis Dias, and hurray for Ulrike Rodrigues! Together these three musketeers have created a group called Goa Cycles! On its website Goa Cycles! describes itself as “an independent, citizen-run organization that advocates for cyclists and cycling in Goa”, whose goal is “to increase awareness, safety, and enjoyment of transportation, recreational and travel cycling in Goa”. I don’t know if there have been other cycling groups in Goa’s recent past, but if not, then it’s about time we had such a group.

Having heard about Goa Cycles! I checked them out online, and found an essay about the group written by Ulrike Rodrigues. The essay (available online at the group’s website) could just as well operate as a manifesto for a political group, since it covers an impressive range of social issues. It questions the gender and class biases of our society and suggests that cycling could in fact be a way to not only challenge them, but also get ourselves a reality check on the real Goa. This real Goa she talks of is not just of the pretty green fields that spreads out as one cycles through the Goan villages, nor of the smell of paddy cultivation, nor of the smell of coconut plantations. She also points to the efforts of Manoj Joshi whose multi-day Goa bike expeditions show “first-hand how Colva’s touristed beaches, Balli’s paddy fields, Cavrem’s ore mines, Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary’s biodiversity and the Mandovi River struggle with issues”. Ulrike quotes Joshi pointing out how the “expedition shows beaches, nature, and water falls but it also shows how Goa is being deforested; how the greed of the few is displacing families, and the rape of the nature.”

One of my all time favourite stories is that of the encounter between the Buddha and Angulimala. Angulimala bounding toward the Buddha insisted that the monk stop walking away. The Buddha calmly turned around, looked at Angulimala and told him that he (the Buddha had stopped walking) it was Angulimala who was running. Modern life tends to be like Angulimala’s experience. We are so intent on dashing from point A to point B in our little automobile capsules that we fail to realize the beauty of the world around us. Consequently we see the world as blur, an impressionist background to our frenzied traveling. As a result we loose out on the beauty, but also loose track of how this frenzied travel is itself helping destroying the landscape and in the process our quality of life.

Rodrigues essay is high on gender-sensitivity and she describes in some detail her frustrations as she tried to locate a suitable ‘ladies’ cycle. Reading her adventures in this respect, I recollected my own experience with the wonderful initiative that started in the French city of Lyon, but has now been embraced by Paris as well. Vélo'v is an initiative that allows residents of the city to hire bikes at nominal rates from locations all around the city (the idea being to have bike parking stations not more than 300 metres from each other). The rental is cheap, and with these parking stations located so close to each other, is extremely convenient to use. When I first encountered the system in Paris, I was a bit skeptical. I don’t like these large bikes that I have to jump over to sit on. What about the handle-bars? The height of the seat? Delightfully it turned out, almost everything on the Velo-cycle, can be adjusted, the height of the seat and the handle-bars as well! In addition, there are no men’s cycles or ladies’ cycles. There is just one standard type, which both women and men can use, and this cycle does not have the bar which defines the men’s cycle. What a wonderful example of gender-sensitive engineering and planning! I myself have been contemplating to get myself a cycle and if so, would rather go in for the gender non-discriminating model, which for some strange reason we call the ‘ladies’ cycle!

I had thought that riding a cycle in Paris would be a charming experience. My expectations were not entirely realized. Parisian drivers can be just as rude and aggressive as the very best in India. On more than one occasion as I pedaled through the city, I thanked God and the city administration for the bicycle lanes that made space for the slower paced traffic. Many a time, the cycle –lane shares space with sidewalks, making me realize that the cyclist is the natural ally of the pedestrian. They both have something to fear from the faster and heavier traffic around them and it would be interesting to see if Goa Cycles! is able to work out an alliance of some sort between these two groups in Goa. In fact, a vocal cyclist’s group would also allow us to make the move toward more humane public transportations systems. While the Goan towns are largely flat, they also include hills, like the rest of the Goan landscape. Cycling up these slopes in the heat of the summer is not exactly easy. San Francisco, that Mecca for the alternative lifestyle, is a city located across hills. They resolved the bikers’ problem by including a bike stand in front of the bus! So in case you don’t want to cycle up a hill, all you have to do is wait for the bus to arrive, load your bike onto the stand, enter the bus, get off where you have to, and then pedal away all over again! If there is no stand, the bus is designed in a manner to allow for you to, without any inconvenience to yourself or fellow-travelers, carry the cycle into the bus. This system operates not just for the buses in San Francisco, but for the transportation system around the San Francisco Bay area. It is possible therefore, for you to cycle from your house to the train station, wheel your bike into the train, get off somewhere in the city, and continue to use your cycle! In combining these two systems, one can easily traverse a distance of 128 kilometers with your cycle, and not have to rely on a private petrol-powered vehicle!

A politically alive and active cycling group could be just the solution to address some of Goa’s civilizational problems. Making cycling options more convenient would address issues of class, gender, make for healthier persons, a healthier environment, taking us one more Buddha-like step toward realizing that wonderful Camelot all of us dream off.

I don’t know about you, but I for one am signing up as a member of Goa Cycles! Join me.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 8th April 2009)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thinking About Babush – III: Moving the ‘Devil’ from out of the shadows, into the Light of the Faith

The express intention of the Thinking About Babush series was to move away from the position that demonizes Babush Monserrate. The intention was not to essay an uncritical celebration of the legislator from Taleigão, but to present a hypothesis that would allow us to better understand the dynamics at work in the constituency. To demonize Mr. Monserrate goes beyond doing him a disservice; it prevents us from recognizing the socio-economic and political conditions and constituencies that he manages to represent.

In the first part of the series I suggested that the eyes that demonize Monserrate were in part, also eyes of the elite that refused to see the political motivations of those they alleged were either bribed, or were blindly voting for him. The second essay suggested that in addition to lavish gifts to his constituents, Monserrate also presented them with a vision. This vision was one of the City where the hierarchies of the village would be dissolved, and all would be able to participate in a genuinely modern existence. In this column, I would like to suggest that in many ways Monserrate is trapped within his modus operandi, both for reasons of his own personal location in society, as well as the kind of society he lives in. However, I would suggest that for these reasons, he is also a possible repository of hope for the future.

As I suggested in the first part of this series, Goan society can be very punishing, if you don’t fit the rules it lays down. Despite his nominal position among the landlords of Taleigão, the vicious whispered rumours about his ancestry give Monserrate a just and understandable reason to want to destroy the social hierarchies of the village. As discussed in the last column, one way to destroy these hierarchies is through the fashioning of the village into the city. What I am suggesting therefore, is that the dream that Monserrate peddles could be more than an evil plan he has for lining his nest at the expense of the people of Taleigão. He could actually be emotionally invested in it, believing that it would provide deliverance as much as the others who believe in this dream.

India’s encounter with modernity is peculiar. Rather than being understood to be the values of equality and respect, reasoned acceptance as opposed to acceptance by diktat, modernity has been understood primarily as the acquisition of technology, the material benefits that come with it, and the associated aesthetic styles. The intellectual foundations of modernity have been rejected in favour of the purely material. In focusing primarily on the material, it is possible to spin the web of meritocracy and argue that if one does not gain the material benefits of modernity, it is because one has not worked hard enough for it. Thus only the upper-castes and classes benefit from modernity, while the rest slave under it. Even worse, the myth of meritocracy, destroys tendencies toward solidarity and allows the creation of a (slum)dog eat dog world, where it is each one for oneself. To gain respect in this faux modern world, one has to garner as much wealth as one possibly can. In the process, one must necessarily cut personal ties to climb the ladder of achievement. Solidarity must now lie with those who are already in the big game, not with those one is leaving behind. In India, this automatically has caste implications. The caste implications are at their most stark when we expect Dalit leaders (e.g. the vicious criticism against Mayawati) to somehow be Colossi of morality, while other leaders who feather their nests are somehow exempt from this harsh social judgment.

It is in this context that I would like to see Monserrate. In addition to the social agenda he may have, he is also as hostage to the skewed understanding of modernity as the rest of us. Thus in his race for respect, feathering his own nest is but a natural outcome. While this is under no circumstances excusable, the question we should ask is why we reserve such scorn for the acquisitions of Monserrate (or indeed the similar figure of Churchill Alemão), even as we excuse the sins of others in the political establishment. Why for example are we more accepting of the tactics of the Rane establishment, in particular the father? It has always been rumoured that it was he that initiated the land scams with Mr. Ray when the latter was Chief Town Planner. Is it his ‘noble’ birth and cultivated charm that allows us to look the other way, not investigate these rumours? Perhaps. It is therefore, in the social exclusions and hypocrisy practiced by our society that the only route open to Monserrate is to continue to line his own nest, and open up his own path for a radically different social order.

It is this and other reasons then that are at the basis of our demonizing of Babush Monserrate. We fear the social reality whose coming he represents. We would prefer to keep him and the classes he represents entirely out of our perfumed consciousness.

In addition to this though, there is another, possibly communal angle to the whole game. I don’t believe that it is entirely by accident that Monserrate (like Alemão) is demonized, is Catholic, and effectively occupies the lower-caste position in our society. This has been a pattern of our society, where among the Catholics, only the upper-caste is feted and the rest of them are expected to just follow suit. Thus when J. B Gonsalves had a chance at being Chief Minister, the glitterati on Panjim scoffed, ‘the baker wants to be Chief Minister!’ In recent times the communalization of our society has taken a more serious turn. As unchallenged Rei de Taleigão, the demonization and destruction of this man, theoretically opens up the way for the unchallenged romp of the BJP into the village.

There are therefore multiple reasons for us to suspiciously view the demonization of Babush Monserrate. And yet, none of this should be taken to endorse the manner in which he funds his agenda. In the final sum, his modus operandi is going to give us only skin-deep modernity and a resulting social, political, economic and ecological mess. With so much power in his hands, undoubted access to cultivated minds (as his urban projects show, he definitely has talented architects working with him) Monserrate’s failure to engineer a more egalitarian and sensitive politics cannot be condoned. Our opposition to Monserrate’s modus operandi (real estate funded social change) must therefore continue. It must however, be a principled opposition. Principled opposition is not a notional, do nothing, and think much opposition. Firm and unyielding when no quarter can be given, it is also cognizant of the benefits he may possibly bring. It is necessarily marked by action. In the long run, such an unyielding but principled opposition will force him to necessarily adopt, even if in slow and reluctant measures, a more sustainable route toward the agenda that we support. A neighbour of mine prays for the conversion of Babush just like Sta. Monica did for the conversion of her son, the future Doctor of the Church St. Augustine. In many ways, I join her in her prayers. I do so because I believe that such a conversion is possible; Monserrate does in fact have what it takes to be the Augustine of our age. Until such conversion however, this principled opposition (the physical evidence of our prayers) in favour of the village refounded must continue.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 3rd April 2009)

(I would like to thank Paulo Varela Gomes, Fernando Dias and Luis Dias for their support in going through the original version of this series and suggesting detailed changes. Also, to Albertina Almeida and Frederick Noronha for their opinion on the positions I take in this series. Last but not least, to Derek Almeida, editor Gomantak Times, for running this series on consecutive days.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thinking About Babush II: The dream that won Babush the election

Persist to think of Babush Monserrate as the embodiment of evil, and it will be impossible to understand the reasons for his victory in the recently concluded Panchayat elections. If one is to provide a counter to him, then one has to come up with another, more plausible explanation for the victory. Demonizing him serves no purpose other than to blindly hate him and provide a bonding among the various groups opposed to him for their own varied reasons. In the previous part of this series, I had suggested that the key to Monserrate’s victory was not the fear that he allegedly instills in the people of Taleigão, but because he is congress with them for reasons of a dream that he offers them. One cannot capture votes merely by handing out gifts. One has to also capture the imaginations of the people one is gifting. Monserrate seems to have done exactly this. He offers the people of Taleigão, a dream. He offers them the dream, and the promise (even if it is a false promise) of modernity.

This modernity is has a definite physical location, and that location is the city. More particularly, it is the city of Bombay. As the Delegate of Fundacao Oriente, Paulo Varela Gomes, has convincingly demonstrated on a number of occasions, Bombay has, at least since the mid 19th century, been the goal for the Goan, and especially for the Goan dalit-bahujan. It was the city that promised them employment, the city where their culture blossomed and found mature expression, it was the location where they were able to escape the vice-like grip of their village and feudal elite, and if not wholly escape it, contest these elites on a somewhat equal footing. The city, with its broad avenues and high-rise buildings, offers not just the chic aesthetics of modernity (and we have to recognize that Monserrate has oodles of oomph [style] as evidenced from the public works carried out under his stamp) but also the promise of liberation through the destruction of the landscape and hierarchies of the village and the introduction of the anonymity of the urban environment.

What dream do we, his opposition, the forces that cry 'Save Goa' have to offer instead? By and large, we offer the people of Taleigão, and Goa, the dream of the village. We do not point to them the way forward, but look back with fondness to the aesthetics and relationships of the village. What we offer them is a return to the status-quo. But as is clear from the voices of the people in Taleigão, the people don't want a status quo, they want change, and they will grab at change any which way they get it.

The village is not necessarily the ideal place we imagine it to be. To the vast majority of people it is a place marked by the absence of facilities and most importantly glitz. In addition, it is a place that is intimidating for any one who is Queer. It is a suffocating location for the wife who refuses to be raped by her drunken husband and returns single and pregnant to her parents' home, the homosexual son or daughter, the unemployed person who refuses to have employment if it means his daily humiliation, a member of the former ‘servant castes’ who chafe at the attitude of the former dominant castes. I have written much about the need for a revolution in Goa. Silly me, I didn’t recognize the revolution when I saw it. Babush Monserrate and his ilk represent the revolution and they have with them the masses of the people. Unfortunately however, Monserrate does not represent the revolution which I imbue with the positive notions of establishing a commonwealth. His agenda represents what I have earlier termed a fitna, an upheaval without the necessary renewal of society. Which is why, the task before the opposition to Monserrate and his ilk is not merely the presentation of the dream of the village, but the dream of the village radically renewed.

Thankfully however, the opposition to the politico-business lobby is not all composed of the elites interested in a return to the status-quo. Some of us are opposed to this desertification through concrete, and hold up the model of a village because we are animated by the knowledge that the concrete industrial city that has become the model for Goa promises only a temporary relief from oppression. It breaks the bonds of village hierarchies, but simultaneously creates oppressions of other sorts. It destroys ecological independence. In a few years time, there will be no fields in Taleigão capable of producing food. The hills covered with constructions will no longer soak up rainwater; the village wells will run dry or turn saline. Others will be fed by raw sewage rather than fresh water. The rich will be able to up and leave; what of the poor? Where will they get water from? Will they be able to purchase food at exorbitant prices? Monserrate’s strategy may destroy the spatial and social relationships of the village, but it is not producing sustainable employment. Lastly, the concrete city destroys intimate bonds of the village to create the anonymous spaces and relationships of the city that encourage crime. How many of the faces in São Paulo – Taleigão’s market area- do we recognize anymore? The liberation of the city that Monserrate offers therefore, is in fact a mirage. It promises a liberation that it cannot in fact deliver. At some level, I doubt that Monserrate even realizes the damage he is doing. As I will elaborate in the last segment of this series, it is possible that he too, as a member of the society he leads, shares in the misplaced assumption that the trappings of modernity (the roads, high-rises and conspicuous consumption) alone, rather than a commitment to the social values of modernity, will ensure deliverance from the curse of our caste-bound society. It is therefore quite possible, that Monserrate actually believes that his vision will bring deliverance and liberation.

It is for this reason that I have been arguing for long that we need a revolution, an inquilab in Goa. We don’t require a return to the village of old, or the creation of the concrete industrial city, but a radical re-founding of our communities. We need to present to the citizenry of Goa, which now clings piteously to the promises of the false prophets of our age, concrete and material evidence of what this new commonwealth will look like. It calls for a change in the way in which we do and imagine politics and associations. It calls for a demonstration of the possibilities of eco and community friendly business ventures. At present the elite groups who lead the opposition both in Taleigão and in Goa seem rather reluctant to commit themselves to this radical refounding. It is not that they don’t have the imagination, but that they refuse to entertain any scheme that will radically change the status-quo. They too are committed to a fitna, a mere superficial management of society.

It is this vacuum then, which Monserrate has filled, and will continue to fill until such time as we are ready to talk equality. Until such time as we are ready to establish a radically equal society in Goa (the biblical New Jerusalem, Sant Tukaram’s Pandharpur, St. Augustine’s City of God), the city of Monserrate, will be the paradise towards which the citizenry of Taleigão and Goa will determinedly walk toward. And I can’t say that I don’t understand their decision.

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 2 April 2009)

(This column is dedicated to Dr. Paulo Varela Gomes. I would like to recollect with thanks the delightful hours spent in conversation with him, and for pointing out to me just how significant Bombay is in the Goan imagination. For all of this Professor, thank you.)