Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wheat from Chaff: The Catholic Bigot, the Hindu Right and Goan Citizenship

‘Ghar ki murgi dal barabar’ (the gravy of the home-bred chicken tastes like lentil soup) and ‘the grass is greener on the other side of the fence’ in addition to the obvious, also seem to capture perfectly a widespread social tendency. Very often we are so bothered with what is going-on on the other side of the fence that we forget to adequately focus on issues that crop up within our ‘own’ backyard. Oftentimes it may seem that I am so caught up with decrying the histrionics of the Hindu Right, both in Goa and elsewhere, that I forget to focus adequately on the Catholic bigot (CB). There was however, no way I could ignore this bigot given a number of emails I have recently been subject to, which seem determined to painfully flesh out every nuance that the CB holds.

Despite the fact that I often time focus on caste and class location as a way of identifying social tendencies, I would like to identify the CB not with caste or class – though these definitely play a role – but with a mindset. Perhaps belonging to the Catholic club allows one to forget one’s social location and think like the bigots, given that these bigots ruled the Goan roost for a long, long time. Thinking like them, who knows we might persuade them and ourselves that we are like them?

At the risk of committing a grave historiographical error, let us locate the origins of the Catholic bigot in the circles of Goa’s colonial Catholic elite. These ladies and gentlemen used Portuguese as a way of distinguishing themselves, not just from the lower orders among the Catholics (who spoke Concanim) but from the ‘Hindus’ as well. The Portuguese language was, as is the case with certain varieties of Konknni, their caste marker. With the rise of Indian nationalism across the border with British-India however, they persuaded themselves to think better of their caste brethren in the Hindu fold. Nevertheless the fact that they were not Catholic or linked to the Portuguese colonial power structure in the same social network ensured that they always thought of their upper-caste cousins across the religious divide as the poorer, less civilized cousin. Indeed, a good amount of the Hindutva animosity that the Goan Catholic has to deal with today is linked to this cultural superciliousness. We should not forget however that the non-elite Goan too suffered from this superciliousness, at the hands of these CBs. Given that these elite groups effectively represented themselves as the paragons of Goan Catholic culture, they wound up giving all Catholics a bad name. A case of pretty houses, but such bad manners!!! This cultural superciliousness however, is one of the significant burdens that a number of Goan Catholics unwittingly carry, even though their own personal histories are not twined with those of those who originated it.

These CBs for the most part loved Tio António Oliveira Salazar. The days he presided over Portugal (and this included Goa) are indeed the glory years in CB imagination. Those were the days, we are told, when ‘we’ had genuine law and order in Goa. Order equaled the oppression of the ‘lower’ social orders and ensured a situation where everyone knew their ‘place’. This is not to say that the CBs were the only one who loved Tio António, but let us leave the colonial Goan Hindu elites alone for now. The problem with social oppression however, is that you are oppressed yourself, even while you oppress other people. Add to this our noxious caste hierarchy and you wind up with an elaborate ladder of social oppression that rests critically on constant humiliation. Thus, it is possible to find a good number of CBs from outside of the absolute top of the social ladder, merely because it was so much fun to spit on someone lower than you and pretend like you were one of those at the top. Nothing, it appears, salves a wound better than the spit you hurl at others.

Another feature of the CB is their self-love of their social backgrounds; their ‘Good’ and ‘old’ families. Their self-understanding is of being cultured, which however is in fact the mere ad nauseum repetition of social traditions of the past, and the display of inherited furniture (and other heirlooms) that keep diminishing with every passing generation. So concerned are they with keeping up appearances, an integral part of a social system based on scorn for the inferior, that innovation is by and large discouraged by the CB. And hence, they continue to churn out provincial Doctors, Engineers and Lawyers, most of who are marked by their singular inability to innovate or engage with new ideas or arguments, wedded as there are to their own blinded and devastatingly outdated ideas.

Given their love for Uncle António Oliveira’s Estado Novo the Indian annexation of Goa was a devastating blow for the CB. Their entire vapid social order of privilege and oppression came crumbling down in an instant. Their anger against the Indian State and post-colonial Goa then is not the anger at the illegality of Indian action, or the Indian State’s bias towards National Hinduism, but the anger that the unjust system that generated their privilege, was shut down. They do not, indeed cannot, recognize that the Indian State’s otherwise illegal and unethical action was in fact ‘Liberation’ to a new social and economic order for thousands of Goans otherwise chaffing under domestic feudal rule.

It is for this reason that the objections that so many of them – both overseas and within Goa – raise to the sabre-rattling of the Hindu Right are so pathetically funny. A particular gentleman sitting in the far reaches of the East comes to mind. A regular Dom Quixote he tilts against every imagined Indian aggression, seeing Nehruvian conspiracy in every little thing. The poor man fails to realize that through his inane babbling he does greater harm to the cause of minorities (and this includes Hindu minorities) faced with the growing might of National Hinduism. Indeed, when the ancients pronounced that it is better to have a clever enemy than a stupid friend, they probably had this Goan Quixote in mind! The problem of the CB with Hindutva (or National Hinduism) is at the end of the day cosmetic. They have a problem with the cultural manifestations of Hindutva, for example the ban on beef, or the restrictions or ban on the consumption of alcohol; but not with the power relationships that Hindutva proposes; namely control of the lower social orders and their service to the dominant castes of India. Little wonder then, that the CB’s of the capital city have often re-elected a representative whose promises often sound like those of the Estado Novo.

There is a genuine problem that most non-dominant caste Indians face in the coming decade. Within Goa this threat manifests itself as the delegitimization of all that is seen as Catholic. There is also a problem that the nature of Goa’s integration into the Indian Union continues to pose for the Goan. Because of the manner in which India is defined as Hindu, being Catholic is a favoured identity choice for many Goans who are not offered many options, or indeed ignored, by the Indian State. However the real danger that they (we?) face, is that given the dominance of the CB in the sphere of cultural representation, in articulating our valid dissent, we may unwittingly choose the route of the Catholic Bigot. This would be a tragedy, because what we would be doing would be to only engage in useless polemics (a favourite pastime of the colonial Goan elite), and lend our muscle power to the definitely anti-democratic social imaginations of the CB.

May God save the Catholic…and grant you a good year!

(A version of this post was first published in the Gomantak Times on 5 Jan 2011)


Hartman de Souza said...

Nice! I like this because it needed to be said...

Twenty years ago a close friend told me that when humanists start coming together, all the religions of the world will join forces to finish them off...

That still holds true I think...

You come close to showing us glimpses of this Goan Catholic elite(who incidentally, largely supported the Fascist cause) and what it meant for the landless of that time; hint at possibilities of realpolitik; but only, alas, give us a tiny, almost miserly morsel...

Sandra Lobo said...

Dear Jason,

Once again I have to congratulate you, this time for this article. Generally that is the picture of a part, or even a good part of this elite, though there was another relevant part that was anti-Salazarist, active or quietly, and that though even professionally dependent of colonial rule had the courage not to compromise with it. I do think that their elitism was vaster than their occasional political thought, and that is why irrelevantly of their political positions they still now tend to be unaware of a human world that surpasses their social location.

Santosh Helekar said...

Catholic bigots are harmless folk. They do not have any political following. So they are best ridiculed for laughs. The Hindu right, on the other hand, has a significant political following. While the extreme elements among them have no chance of coming back to power, it is important to not let them have a reason to claim that religious minorities have an anti-national agenda. From this standpoint overblown rhetoric even from otherwise sane people is a problem. That is why when a charge is made it is important to have sound facts to back it.



TC said...

I do not know what you are writing... but a bigot is a bigot.... why use
the Catholic religion to distinguish that bigot???. rubbish

Eric Pinto said...

For starters, would you care to distinguish yourself from a few million 'chaps' in Toronto, so we then know the one who 'dose not know.' Jason was quite explicit, very lucid, and very right.

Every place in the world, the upper classes seek to protect what they achieved. In Goa, it takes on the unwelcome veneer of religion, through no fault of ours'. This culture that is now not politically correct was the only one our earlier generations knew. I still love the furniture, the same stuff now only widely sought and available in pale replicas of the real thing.

I thank and praise Jason for this succint and thoughtful eye opener on what is a very human dilemma for a group of human beings who history overtook.


Anonymous said...

Strange article not all pro Goans are elite. I am a sudra fighting for the Goan cause. Stop writing such imaginery things. Our land Goa is in big trouble.

Dan Driscoll said...

Of course there are CB's everywhere, but Messers Keith & Aloysious do well to point out that this Region may have had double or triple dose of the CB
viruses, mainly (if not wholly) the consequence of European colonial influence formed by a combination of 'absolutist' assumptions (Portuguese
Monarchism + Romanist Triumphalism), boiled down to a heady concentrate in Salazar Fascism.

Recently I discovered the work of Imelda Dias, whose life story is told in two slender volumes now in Panjim bookshops---HOW LONG IS FOREVER, and TO LOVE AND LIVE AGAIN. It strikes me that anyone wishing to get the true flavor of what the CD culture meant in Goan family life (with CD hopefully
now in recession, regionally)
might take time to read her story.

The earnest belief that one's traditionally conditioned value system must be right, and has to be passed on, has been 'gotten honestly' through teaching
methodology now recognized as obsolete and even harmful.

Let's not get into the blame game; Imelda Dias's Papa was, and is a good and well-meaning person, as she herself would be the first to assert. His authoritarianism was the natural consequence of received values and upbringing.

It will now be up to our collective ability to adjust educational criteria, if there is to be a break in that crippling chain. And clergy (Church Hierarchy) cannot 'leave it to the school system'; something has to change in 'catechism class'!

Goemkar said...

Not sure which Bamon rubbed Jason Keith Fernandes on the wrong side for him to paint all Goan Catholics with his dirty muck calling them bigots! Catholics in India are already a persecuted lot in India today be it Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh or any other state for him to brand the Goan Catholics as Catholic Bigots.

These Jason's are the modern day Pharisees!

Sarita Gomes said...

So with people like like Jason Keith Fernandes baying for the blood of 'Catholic Bigots'who needs communal terrorists to finish the job?

Goan Catholics in Goa today are a shrinking minority. Jason can get around and finish the job he has set out by crucifying the remaining.

Perhaps he wants to come out with his own CD to do what he has set about?

A. Dessai said...

Jason needs to get away from his bogeys and obsession with his own caste origin and look beyond. If educated and well-off individuals like him remain obsessed with their own ghosts of caste then they begin to spew venom and violence towards all like he is doing twards Goans Catholics whose contributions to Goa, India and the world has been immense.

Xhinkonn brut!

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Thank you Mr. Dessai....though I am curious as to what you think my own caste location is?