Saturday, August 31, 2013

Europeans of An Other Colour: Why the Goans are Portuguese

On 13 May, 2013, the Goan Ethernet was aflame with outrage at statements made by Sir Andrew Green, chairperson of Migration Watch, and carried in the Daily Star and the Daily Mail. The Daily Star reported, “An Indian national from Goa can obtain Portuguese citizenship if their parents were Portuguese citizens prior to 1961,” and quoted Green as saying, “They can then move straight to the UK with their family. On arrival they can avail themselves, immediately, of all the benefits available to UK citizens.” The Daily Mail seems to have been spurred on by Green’s statement, going on to claim that “[a] number of Indian nationals from the former Portuguese territory of Goa are thought to have taken advantage of the loophole. Indians living in Goa can claim they have Portuguese heritage and so claim Portuguese citizenship. They can then move directly to Britain - without ever having to visit Portugal - and bring a family without meeting any qualification test.”
Given the manner in which the matter regarding Goan access to Portuguese citizenship has been reported in the British press, as academics studying Goa and the Goan community, we believe that there is a need to redress such misrepresentations and firmly call out, not only the wilful amnesia about Britain’s imperial past, but also the Anglo-centric interpretation of colonialism, the post-colonial, and de-colonised world order that motivates such representations. In so doing, our aim is to address not merely a need for Goans and others of former Portuguese India to assert the legitimacy of their actions, but to also enable a view of the global order from a position that is more respectful of the formerly colonised.

Addressing the aforementioned inherently Anglo-centric bias of the colonial and post-colonial context requires commencing with a review of the Western European encounter with South Asia. This engagement traces back to the late 15th century with the Portuguese “discovery” of the sea-route to the fabled Indies. It resulted in the establishment of what came to be known as Estado da Índia Portuguesa, or the Portuguese State in India, which was centred in Goa in 1510. The boundaries of Portuguese India, which extended to other enclaves beyond Goa were firmly fixed only in the 18th century in the face of contestation with, not just local, but other European powers as well. As a result of this early entry into South Asia, by the time the British departed from the subcontinent upon handing over power to two nation-states - India and Pakistan - the Portuguese State in India would outlast their English counterparts and have existed for approximately 450 years. This Portuguese state was markedly different from the one that the British had created in the course of their time in the subcontinent. Most significant, for the misrepresentations that we seek to correct, was the fact that through the length of its presence in the subcontinent, the Portuguese state attempted to recognise natives as citizens, or bearers of rights equal to those of persons from the metropole. As a consequence, Goa was represented by non-white parliamentary representatives from 1834 when the declaration of the constitutional monarchy in Portugal created the space for a national parliament. These rights were extended universally in 1910 with the commencement of the First Portuguese Republic, only to be eclipsed somewhat during the course of the dictatorial Estado Novo, or New State, headed by Dr. António Oliveira Salazar. Nonetheless, the rhetoric of equality was firmly established and constantly referred to by Portuguese Indians, whether living in Goa, or as migrants to British India or, indeed, British East Africa where many Goans lived and worked, as bearers of Portuguese citizenship. Within this colonial framework, even if only in legal theory, racial and cultural difference was in fact surmountable.

This situation was certainly different from that existent in British India, or in any other part of the British Empire for that matter, where the only status enjoyed by the natives was as that of subjects of the British crown. As a result, one could argue that it was the failure of the British state to extend the much coveted status of imperial citizen to the comprador British Indian elites that caused members of that echelon to then set up their claim for independence from the Crown. The nationalist claims that these elites initiated rested on the creation of a national culture that accepted the racial and other differences that the British colonial system enforced. This situation ensured that extant differences were perpetuated rather than challenged.

The Portuguese State in India came to a definitive close with the actions of the Indian state in 1961, when the Indian armed forces invaded the Portuguese territory of Goa. While an anti-colonial movement was afoot in the region, the eventual decolonisation of Goa cannot be said to have resulted primarily from the anti-imperialist movements of its own soil due to the military intervention of the Indian state and its subsequent denial of the right of self-determination to the Goan populace. Additionally, in an imperialist act that was echoed in the newly independent nation’s actions in Kashmir and the north-east of the country, the formerly British India unilaterally integrated the territory of Goa into itself. If India was able to get away with this, it was because the developing post-colonial order was awash in racist and ethnocentric perspectives engendered to a large degree by British colonial practices. These were predicated on the assumption that territorial contiguity and the presence of the Hindu religion across the geographic expanse, though not exclusively or without diversity, gave India ample right to take over marginal territories such as Goa and Kashmir.

The significant fact that the Goan people were legally Portuguese citizens was given short shrift and eclipsed by an act of the Indian parliament that bestowed on them Indian citizenship. Hindered by an effectively xenophobic understanding of Indian-ness, and its relationship with the countries that surround it, in contrast to many other legal regimes, the Indian state does not permit its citizens to hold multiple nationalities. Therein, unlike British Indian subjects, in being made a part of the Indian state, Goans and other Portuguese Indians lost their Portuguese citizenship, and the ability to be both South Asian and European, only to have Indian citizenship thrust upon them, and be fixed as solely Indian.

It was only subsequent to the normalization of relations between India and Portugal that a number of former citizens of the Portuguese State of India were able to reclaim their Portuguese citizenship. It is precisely because of the unfounded allegations of the Daily Mail that it should be stressed that these Portuguese Indians are not petitioning for new citizenship, nor exploiting a loophole. What they are doing is reclaiming a legitimate right that was lost owing to the actions of the Indian state. There is no need for them to prove their Portuguese character as the Daily Mail suggests, for their parents, if not they themselves, were Portuguese, and 450 years of Goa being a part of Portugal has made those Goans as Portuguese as any other person in continental Europe who holds Portuguese citizenship. The Daily Mail’s claim is profoundly offensive since it is based on the racist assumption that only Caucasians can be Portuguese and European. This assumption is of course buttressed by the fact that the colonial practices of states like Britain considered only whites to be properly British or European.

The British nation’s historical record when it comes to matters of who is deemed British enough is a controversial one. Note that in the 1960s and 70s, the aftermath of decolonisation in East Africa and Africanisation policies, emergent from impoverishment due to colonisation, saw the vilification and expulsion of Asians who were then denied entry to the United Kingdom despite being holders of UK passports as colonial subjects. In 1972, when 50,000 Asians were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, the very notion of the Commonwealth was proven to be one in name only because, by 1968, the right of colonial-era UK passport holders to enter Britain had been withdrawn in response to an increase in economically induced out-migration from Kenya in 1967. It is important to stress here that not only were Asians – Goans included – in East African countries because the British administration of those colonies had recruited them, but also that their labour had benefitted the Empire. Goans were given British subjecthood to serve the colonial administration in many cases. In so much as Goans were nominally British, their UK passports served more as travel documents than a guarantee of citizenship rights, as became painfully evident in the post-colonial period. While Goans and other colonised groups had been British “enough” to serve the regime, it became apparent that was no longer the case once their usefulness had been outlived. This was a profound abdication of national  and legal responsibility, not least for the racialised political climate induced by years of British colonial rule in Africa. In fact, the colonial legacy continues to reveal itself as is the case with the revelation this year of the destruction of records relating to violent and deadly atrocities committed against Kenya’s Mau Maus who rebelled against British rule.     

For all the problems that Portuguese colonialism produced, and the racism that accompanied it, what must be underscored is that it is also differentiated by the legal rhetoric that recognised, and continues to recognise, the multiple groups outside of Portugal as equally Portuguese. Thus, the Portuguese Indians who recover their Portuguese citizenship and then migrate, not merely to Britain but across the world, trace a path similar to other Portuguese nationals who are currently in flight from a Portugal laid low by the European crisis. Portuguese legal history and flows of migration are often ignored by the largely Anglo-centric understanding of the world. The recognition of the Lusitanian milieu allows for a reconstruction of European-ness outside of the racist frameworks that currently delimit it.  It permits a corrective to the manner in which the post-colonial world was constructed along racist lines, restricting the ability of persons to freely move internationally. While white privilege has ensured an ease of travel for some, the accompanying racism leads to the outcries as evidenced in the reports by the Daily Star and Daily Mail, as well as the ritual humiliations of non-white travellers at embassies, consulates, and immigration check-points globally. In challenging this racism that underlies the statement attributed to Sir Andrew Green, there is also an option opened up for Europe wherein the racism that undergirds the European project can be challenged, and in re-understanding the flows of capital and populations that have contributed to European hegemony today, the current crisis can be utilised as a way to reimagine the European Union’s association with the world outside itself and as the product of its own history.

(Co-authored with R.Benedito Ferrão and first published at Kafila on 31 Aug 2013.)

(I would also like to recognize the efforts of The Goan Voice in drawing our attention to the reportage of Green's statements.)

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