Friday, June 26, 2015

Meeting Fathers in Foreign Lands

I remember the first time I arrived in Lisbon. I had imagined that I would find the city unfamiliar, filled with strangers. This was true to a large extent, and yet, the city endeared itself to me by offering me encounters with persons from my childhood. It was an overwhelming experience to encounter the people like Afonso de Albuquerque, Vasco da Gama, persons whose names I had first encountered as a boy. Of course these men were long dead, but their memorialised presence still lurked in the city, making the city at once familiar.

I had a similar experience when visiting the ongoing exhibition titled “Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy”, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. Dedicated to delineating the often ignored history, and material productions of the various sultanates of the Deccan, the exhibition brought me face-to face with persons whose histories are intertwined with those of the early modern Portuguese in South Asia. I jumped with particular delight at the portraits of various members of the Adil Shahi dynasty.

Just as the names of the great heroes of the Portuguese expansion are known to most Goans, so too, even the most cursory reading of Goan history will make one aware of at least one figure of Deccan history, Sultan Yusuf Adil Shah, the founder of the dynasty. Indeed, the old Secretariat of the Government of Goa, was housed in the building that was, and continues to be called the Palácio do Idalcão - the palace of Adil Shah.

Many assume that the significance of the Adil Shahis in Goa's history is concluded once the territory was conquered by the early modern Portuguese. As such, we often do not bother with this Deccan sultanate. Goa’s association with the Adil Shahis of Bijapur was more than a mere footnote, however. The Portuguese Estado da India would have substantial dealings with the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur. It was with this Sultanate that treaties were signed that allowed Ilhas, Bardez and Salcete to form the core of the territory that would in later times become known as Goa. And for the longest time the Estado lived in the shadow of the Bijapuri sultanate. As the historian David Kowal, and the late José Pereira had indicated, so strong was the influence of the Bijapuris, that the architecture of Goa began to mimic aspects of Bijapuri architecture. This influence can especially be seen in the lamp towers of the older temples in Goa, as well as in the faceted bell towers of churches across Goa.

However, it was not just in the architecture of the Old Conquests of Ilhas, Bardez and Salcete that there was a Bijapuri influence. Portions of what would come to be called the New Conquests continued to be a part of the Bijapuri Sultanate until they were integrated into the Estado da Índia. It is to the Indo-Persian administrative organisation followed by the Bijapur sultanate that we owe the identity of such identities as that of Antruz Mahal. Further, the Christian history of the New Conquests owes as much to the Bijapuri Sultanate as it may to the Portuguese state. It was under leave from the Sultan, in about 1639, that Mateus de Castro, the ambitious native cleric who chafed under the Portuguese, received permission to build churches in Bicholim, Banda, and Vengurla.

Unfortunately for us, the exhibit at The Metropolitan museum does not contain an individual and contemporary portrait of the founder of the dynasty Yusuf Adil Shah. We are forced to satisfy ourselves with a reference to this man in a group portrait depicting the entire dynasty. Another portrait that might attract Goan interest was one which depicts two persons in attendance on the Sultan Ali Adil Shah II. The audio guide to the exhibit suggests that these two persons are said to be Shivaji and his father, Shahaji Bhonsle. It should not be forgotten that Shahaji held an official rank in the Adil Shahi army, and it was from the Adil Shahi sultanate that Shivaj forged the nucleus of his kingdom.

The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum was not limited to just the Bijapuri Sultanate. It focused on the huge amount of cultural production that emerged from the various other Sultanates, including that of Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Golkonda. In doing so the exhibition suggests at the wide variety of influences that bore upon the medieval and early modern Deccan, and have come to bear on our own contemporary culture. Indeed, while browsing through the exhibit, I wondered if it would not be a good idea were an exhibition curated to look exclusively at the Bijapuri sultanate. The state of Goa is intimately linked to this sultanate and it would do us good to appreciate the intimate links that existed between the Sultanate and the Goa that was being formed. To that extent, Bijapuri history is as much Goan history, as is the history of the Portuguese state whether in South Asia or in Europe. It would also be a particularly moving homecoming were such an exhibition housed in the now vacant Palácio do Idalcão.

The discussion of Goa is often framed between two tropes: that of Goa Dourada, or Goa Indica. The first, seeks to emphasize Goa’s European, or Portuguese-ness. In response to this first form of representation, the second attempts to stress that Goa is, in fact, Indian. While there is no denying that Goa does constitute a certain form of Europe, this second form is also important. The trouble with Goa Indica, however, is that it often stresses a Sanskritic and brahmanical past for Goa. These assertions are then used to justify a return to that imagined state of affairs. The truth, as always, is perhaps somewhere in between. The areas that became Goa had a complex past with multiple influences. If these territories were influenced by the Vijayanagara polity, then the kings of Vijayanagara themselves adopted an Islamicate model of kingship calling themselves Sultans. If Bijapur was a significant centre through which Shia Islam permeated the lore of the indigenous deities of the Deccan like Yellamma and Parashurama, then the Sultans and their courts adopted Indic forms of asserting their kingship. We need more histories that assert to this complexity, and communicate this to a larger, increasingly misled, popular audience. It is towards these histories that exhibitions such as the Sultans of the Deccan could lead us.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo dated 26 June 2015)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Learning from Tiracol: Elements in the Dismantling of Goa

Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to view an illustration by the artist Angela Ferrão which is reproduced with this column. Titled, The Extraction of Goan Identity, the image was clearly inspired by the horrific acts of 16 May 2015 when the village of Tiracol was set upon by men and machinery with a view to surreptitiously destroy the orchards and pave the way for a golf course and hotel. The image depicts a landscape ravaged by the destruction of trees, of gaping holes and mounds of loose soil, and the presence of cranes and other earth-moving equipment. Indeed, one could suggest that Ferrão has also illustrated the miserable outcomes of mining in Goa. To that extent, Ferrão’s image speaks beyond the immediate scenario of Tiracol and to the larger way in which Goa is being ‘developed’, and forces us to ask fundamental questions about the future we desire for Goa.

My interest, however, was piqued by another element in the image. Squat in the centre of the foreground is an issue that Ferrão clearly identifies as central to the problem of Goan future: “Out Migration of Goans”.

I was delighted when I saw this articulation because it dovetailed with my own estimation of the problem. The out migration of Goans is one of the significant issues faced by contemporary Goa. What was particularly heartening, however, was that while the artist identifies out migration of Goans as one of the problems, she does not similarly identity migration to Goa as a problem. I think that while the migration into Goa of “outsiders” is popularly seen as a major problem threatening the survival of a Goan identity, this in-migration to Goa turns problematic primarily because of the out migration of Goans, and the denigration of extant Goan cultural practices.

Making this argument does not mean that I seek to blame Goans, as some are wont to do. Rather, I believe that rather than blame Goans, or the migrants into Goa, the root of the problem lies in the structures which cause Goans to leave, as well as those structures that make it possible for lived cultural practices of Goans to be denigrated, even as an unreal Goan-ness is celebrated to feed the profits of the tourism industry and the coffers of the Indian state.

Coincidentally, it was as I was formulating these thoughts that I came across an article by Haineube Newme titled “The root causes of racism against North Easterners”. Reading through his reflections I was struck by the similarity in his analysis of the problem. Newme suggests that the racism against persons from the North East of India does not emerge from personal racism, but, rather, is fed by an institutional racism.  “The North Eastern regions have been neglected economically and socially”, he argues. Goans and people from the North East both seem to have one thing in common, and that is a high rate of migration. So to phrase it in Newme’s words “The relevant question would be: why have so many people fled their villages or towns and come to live in the metropolitan Indian cities?” Newme could be speaking about Goa when in response to this question he asserts: “Comparably, if greater opportunities of living were being provided, North Eastern states can be better places to live than the other cities of India. One can enjoy better environment, beautiful landscape and better sanity in the North Eastern region. But, the region suffers from a dearth of employment, development and better education opportunities. The reason as to why many people have fled to various cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai etc. is nothing but to search for better educational scope or survival as they do not see any hope in home states to fulfil their needs.” Once again the pertinence of Newme’s articulation to Goa is striking.

In his insightful book Refiguring Goa, Raghu Trichur has pointed out that since integration into India, Goa’s economic ‘development’ seems to have been restricted to mercantile capitalism.  Thus, while merchant capital encourages the production of commodities, for example iron-ore, or of Goa as a tourist destination, it does not transform the relations of production that produce these commodities. The result is that the emancipation that could be a part of capitalist development is not realized, and unequal labour and social relations continue to be sustained. It is because tourism, or other employments opportunities within the state, do not provide Goans dignified labour that so many migrate. Hence there is a dual onslaught, where Goa’s landscape is capitalised, to allow external and internal capitalists to purchase Goan property, even while poorer locals have no scope to rise socially. It is precisely this that forces a systematic process of Goan sale and migration.

These observations allow us to respond to Chief Minister Parsekar’s recent defence of the golf project in Tiracol on the grounds that it will provide employment. The question that those of us who are interested in substantial development must ask is not whether it will provide employment or not, but what sort of employment it will provide. This is where the distinction, recently raised by Amita Kanekar, between two types of tourism come in. On the one hand is the small scale tourism that first emerged in Goa that allowed former tenants to change their lives and prospects. On the other hand is corporate tourism that follows the logic of mercantile capitalism.

What sets the stage for the institutional racism, and simultaneously colonialism, is the complicity of the State in Goa in this process of privileging mercantile interests over those of the citizen. Goa has been witness to emigration even prior to its integration to India. This emigration was a substantial statement of the inability of the Portuguese state to provide decent conditions to citizens in Goa, as well as an indication of its inability or unwillingness to upset its relationship with landlords and feudal chiefs who propped up the colonial regime. Subsequently, in its early period of its possession of Goa, the Indian state seemed to delight in the fact that it earned foreign exchange via the persons it was sending abroad. To this extent, it seems that the Indian state was not very different from the Portuguese state. Both these states failed to provide infrastructure which would ensure that people were not obliged to leave the state to improve their prospects.

Another observation Newme makes is to point out that “North Easterners are considered as outsiders 'polluting' the existing Indian culture.” This observation ties in with my own assertion, that the migration into Goa is assumed to be a threat primarily because of the disparaging of Goan cultural practices. It is through this dismissal of Goan culture, and especially the elements that predominate among Catholics, that this racism is institutionalised.  Take for example, the condescending manner towards tiatr and cantaram as examples, or the absolute refusal to recognise the Roman script in Konkani. From many Catholics one hears the helpless words “what is left for us here?” It is the fact of this dismissal of the locals, and their practices, that allows for a displacement of Goan culture. Were Goan cultures not faced with such official dismissal, it is unlikely that the presence of migrants would have been seen in quite the same way as it is today.

The Goan Hindu is not spared from this onslaught either. It appears that they too suffer from a feeling of not being Indian, i.e. Hindu, enough. Witness the spate of temple demolitions across Goa, where perfectly stable temples are brought crashing down so that newer temples in “Indian” style can come up. Or take the rather interesting article written on the changes in weddings among Goan Hindus by Padmavathi Prabhu in the Navhind Times in January this year. Prabhu celebrates the trend where elements of North Indian (Punjabi and Doabi) Hindu weddings are incorporated into these weddings. However, the question needs to be asked, would other customs be adopted if one were secure in one’s traditions, and not marked by a feeling of shame? It is only when one feels outside the paradigms of power, that one begins to adopt the customs of others, and those who are in power.

So why are we speaking of all of this when it is the case of Tiracol that should fall squarely within our cross hairs of our immediate concerns? Because all of this continues an argument I began in my previous column. Both these columns point to the importance of articulating a person-centred economics. There is a need for the state in Goa to articulate a developmental programme as if people matter. Should the state fail to do so, then it would only go on to support the institutional racism that we are witness to, and aid in the ongoing systematic dismantling of Goa. Tiracol is not the beginning, it is just one more step of the process, and if not addressed it will only get worse.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 12 June 2015)