Thursday, November 26, 2015

Policing in the time of Terror and Loot

It has been some months since Panjim was converted into a city of one-way streets. In other parts of the world such changes to street flow are accompanied by a change in urban design. In Panjim, however, the traffic police saw it fit to place ugly barricades as a way to tutor the populace as to which part of the streets were now off-limits.

For a while these barricades were manned by police. However, it has been a while since these new one-ways have seen police presence. As a result, the one-way system is often disrespected with impunity. At night this violation assumes scary dimensions, as people infringe the one-way rule at dizzying speeds.

This nocturnal overturning of the order only gets worse along the riverside streets. Here, tourists who have come to visit the casinos, drive through the wrong side of the streets causing grave threats to life and limb. They may be doing so because they are clueless and the city fathers have not seen it fit to place sufficient signage. In addition, the police are marked by their absence. Effective policing would have ensured that whether at night or day time, offenders are politely, but firmly, corrected and set on their track. Where the drivers are repeat offenders, a uniformly enforced system of fines would do much to ensure that traffic in the city is disciplined and not marked by the free for all that defines traffic in our state.

All in all, the police are markedly absent when it comes to enforcing a discipline that would benefit us all and make daily living easier and simpler.

On the flip side, the police were very much present when it came to enforcing a sham state of order over the initial days of the IFFI. The police went out of their way to arrest those protesting the arbitrary functioning of the Central Government. A few days ago the state administration was at pains to harass the Council for Social Justice and Peace which was co-hosting the alternate film festival organised by the students of the FTII. At the local level, operating under the cover of a selectively applied Sec. 144, the state administration disrupted the protest against the lackadaisical attitude towards the mysterious death of Fr. Bismarque Dias. Persons who gathered on 21 November to demand justice for Fr. Bismarque were unceremoniously placed under arrest and dragged away to various police stations.

Citizens who were wearing black and white, colours suggested for the protest, were selectively plucked out from crowds of people. These other people were allowed to violate the imposition of Sec. 144. Scarier still, one man was dragged off from the ferry boat. This action is scary because it demonstrates the state administration’s cavalier violation of basic principles of law and order maintenance; one does not arrest someone unless they are proving to be a threat or public nuisance. Worse still were the words of the Inspector who dragged this man off to jail; “Justice dita tuka f**ya” (I’ll give you justice, you f***er). Never mind the crude language that a state functionary has used against a citizen. What is shocking is the disregard for justice, and processes of justice displayed by that police functionary. While the case of Cipriano Fernandes who died while in police custody is still fresh in mind, it should be pointed out that the assault of detainees or those arrested by the Goa police is not an uncommon occurrence.

Juxtaposing the scenario of a lack of daily policing with that of extraordinary measures taken when the image-obsessed Government is hosting an international event should demonstrate just how misplaced their priorities are. This argument is not about policing priorities alone. Rather, it questions whether we know what the role of the State is in the first place.

Judging by the lack of policing or any form of rigourous attention to the kind of pressures that the casinos are placing on the urban infrastructure of Panjim and the safety of the people within, one can safely assume that the administration sees public resources and infrastructure as a milch cow to be exploited as long as it is giving. The state presides over the private loot of public resources and the police forces are on hand to terrorize the population; especially when they protest at the violation of the responsibilities that flow from the contractual relationship between citizens and state.

We, in India, live in a time where the State presumes that it exists for its own sake. The State demands our allegiance even as it systematically dismantles the rule of law and complicates the ability to lead an uncomplicated life. State organs are pressed to the service of its favoured elites, to support the populist circus that the regime understands to be good governance, and to smash the principled opposition to this perversion. But the citizens' relationship with the State is not a one-way street. The State is the result of a contract among citizens to ensure that life can be pleasant and fulfilling for all. The police should necessarily be facilitators of daily life. The police forces, like organs of the state exist merely to achieve that end. When these ends are not met, and the sole function of the police is to operate as the strong arm of a brute State then the State loses legitimate reason for existence.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 27 Nov 2015)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fr. Bismarque Dias: martyr of our times

Given the contentious nature of the issues Fr. Bismarqe Dias was fighting for it is no surprise that malicious rumours are being spread about him, that the cause of his death dismissed as accidental, and worse even born of his own negligence. One has to merely look at the backgrounds of the persons spreading these rumours to know that the inspiration lies either in the Hindutva groups, or those who seek more ’development’ in Goa.  That these rumours emerge from these two camps is, once again, no surprise. Ever since Modi has seized the reins of power it is increasingly evident that Hindutva mobilizes all manner of people to push an agenda that will disempower the very people who form the rank and file of the Hindu nationalist movement. Hindutva under Modi is geared solely to the benefit of the corporate princes who have bankrolled Modi’s rise to power.

But we would be no better than the rumour mongers if we only flung muck, albeit well-deserved, at these persons. Rather, we need to address the crux of the issue, rather than engage in non-issues. The issue therefore is: does it matter if Fr. Bismarque was killed or died accidentally? I would argue that it does not. The manner of his death itself makes no difference to the fact that Fr. Bismarque is now a martyr and a symbol for right-thinking Goans everywhere.

What makes Fr. Bismarque a martyr is not the fact that he may have been killed, but the fact that he died in the field, with his boots on. His death has left us with the sense that his was a life snuffed out, whether accidentally or by design, well before his time had come; that he left us when his promise was as yet unfulfilled. 

Fr. Bismarque is a martyr because his departure has animated us even further. His death may have deprived us of a charismatic leader, but in the upheaval that has followed his passing has demonstrated that there are many who are willing to carry his cross. This churning has also demonstrated that these followers are not entirely lacking in the persons willing to lead them forward.

Indeed, like many martyrs, Fr. Bismarque’s passing has made us aware of the larger problems with the system that we need to fix if Goa,  Bismarque’s beloved, is not completely laid to waste. Take, for example, the facts shared by the leaders of the movement for justice for Fr. Bismarque. A complete forensic evaluation cannot be completed in Goa because the state does not have an equipped laboratory. In what must surely be a bad joke, the state of Goa has an empty building with some amount of equipment recently arrived. Nor has there been an appointment of skilled staff to effectively make use of this equipment As Caroline Colaço, one of the lawyers following the case lamented that a state ought to have had this infrastructure in place, especially in the scenario where crime rates are increasing. To ensure that these rates are kept down it is imperative that justice is quickly served. Unfortunately, not only does policing seem to be lax in our state, but we lack the essential systems necessary to maintain basic law and order.

The biblical lesson that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” highlights that the human body is a poor vehicle for the spirit it bears. There is often much that we would like to do, but are unable to undertake because of the limitations of our physical frames. When trapped within his physical frame Fr. Bismarque was able to undertake a variety of activism spread across the face of Goa. And yet, even he would have acknowledged that his actions were not enough. Goa, which was once a simpler place, is no longer innocent, and the forces that threaten us are overwhelming.  The fact that Fr. Bismarque’s death is being used not only to address the issues that he addressed in life, but to take on issues that he did not have the physical capacity to do is testament to the power of his death. This is the mark of a martyr, where death does not simply mean an end, but the seed for work in the future.

There is another manner in which Fr. Bismarque has achieved martyrdom.  Before it was imbued with religious meaning, the word martyr was used to identify one who has given witness. As we all know, Fr. Bismarque’s relationship with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Goa was somewhat troubled. Various restrictions were placed on him such that people have often come to the belief that he was not a priest anymore.  This is, however, not true. The teaching of the Catholic Church, however, is that once consecrated, one is a priest for life until actively laicised by papal decree. This was not the case with Fr. Bismarque. On the contrary, through his daily actions, where he poured out his time and energy for others, Fr. Bismarque gave witness to his faith, both as a Christian and as a priest. In his dying while actively involved in what he clearly saw as his mission, he has died a martyr. If his death is established to have been caused by murder his passing will only bring us more grief, it will deepen our commitment to see justice done; it will not, however, take away from the fact that he died a martyr.

Thank you for your music Fr. Bismarque.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 13 Nov 2015)

Not Going, Merely Coming

Sometime in the morning of 25 October, I received an SMS from a friend. The SMS contained the word ‘traitor’, followed by a link to an article in that day’s Times of India titled ‘Goan with the wind’. The article, authored by Lisa Monteiro and Andrew Pereira, offered figures and comments on the phenomenon of scores of persons from the former Portuguese State in India (Goans, for the sake of brevity) ‘migrating’ after claiming Portuguese passports. The article itself made no suggestion of traitorous behaviour on the part of these persons, leading to the conclusion that it was not the facts that were problematic but their interpretation. Such an interpretation requires that we supplement our analysis with additional information.

There is a suggestion that the migration of Goans holding a Portuguese passport is a unidirectional movement outside of Goa. This is not necessarily true. Goans have been migrating for centuries, whether to East Africa, to other parts of Asia or, more recently, to the Persian Gulf and Europe. Most of these migrations have been marked by a return of these Goans’ earnings to erect the beautiful homes that are today mistakenly marketed as ‘Portuguese’. This is to say that Goan migrations have not traditionally been unidirectional. Rather, they have been marked by a back and forth between the two territories. If contemporary migrations with the Portuguese passport seem to have changed something—and, in fact, it is still too early to judge whether this is the case—then, we need to inquire as to the circumstances that might have led to this change.

What is often overlooked is that the legal landscape that impinges on Goan migration has changed substantially. Yes, Goans have awoken to the fact that they can obtain a Portuguese passport and benefit from the status of the European Union, but the other fact that is rarely commented on is that Indian law has deprived them of their traditional rights. The rush to acquire a Portuguese passport may be a new, decade old, phenomenon; however, at least since the first quarter of the nineteenth century, all Goans were formally recognised as Portuguese citizens. Predating this date, too, varying sections of the Goan population were recognised as Portuguese citizens. For example, from the mid-1800s, those paying property taxes were able to vote in the elections to determine who would represent Goa in the Portuguese Parliament. When the Indian army marched into Portuguese India in 1961, the ability to assert this right was lost, and India unilaterally imposed not only its own citizenship on these Portuguese citizens but also the restriction that they could have only one nationality. This is an odd action for a state that claims to be a liberator. Logically, a liberator only adds to existing rights; it does not take them away.

Further, the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) regime is not really an option for persons who wish to have a continuing relationship with their country. We are often misinformed when told that the OCI card allows for ‘multiple entry, multipurpose life-long visa to India, granting… exemption from reporting to the police for any length of stay in India’, and that the only restrictions are voting in elections and the purchase of agricultural land. Recent events have highlighted that this is, in fact, not the case. Regardless of OCI status, persons engaged in research in India need a research visa. Further, one needs a business visa to work in India as an OCI. And finally, there is the social life of the law—the manner in which rules are actually implemented. Take the case of Christine Mehta, who, despite possessing a valid research visa, was recently deported from the country, or the case closer home of Saturnino Rodrigues, who in February 2014 claimed that he was prevented by the state administration from carrying out mutation of a property sold to him by an OCI.

Thus, if Goan migration seems to be turning into a one-way exit, it is because of the oppressive legal regime that the Indian state insists on. Goans are not obtaining Portuguese passports; they are merely reclaiming the Portuguese citizenship that they have always enjoyed. This is not a situation that most Indians would appreciate, because the British Raj never allowed for natives to enjoy British citizenship. Natives were always subjects, never citizens. A legal regime honest about history would undoubtedly allow for a more dynamic movement of Goans between Goa and other places. Indeed, the ongoing movement for Special Status for Goa should take cognizance of this fact and demand dual citizenship for Goans as an integral part of the Special Status demand.

Subsequent to pointing to the way the legal landscape has changed and impacted Goan migration, it is also necessary to point out the changed social landscape. The TOI article suggested that Goan migration was pushed by ‘rising unemployment and an uncertain economy’. This is only part of the equation. Left unsaid is the increasing intolerance in the country, initiated well before the current rise of the BJP, which has made Goans, and especially Catholics, scramble for alternatives, where they will not be made to feel like minorities. Indeed, the fact that the TOI article found it necessary to provide data regarding the religious make-up of those reclaiming their Portuguese citizenship and forced to give up their Indian citizenship speaks to the vitiated manner in which the matter is being debated.

Nevertheless, what most encounters with those migrating indicate is that the choice to migrate with a Portuguese passport is, in fact, economic. The problem, however, lies not in a lack of employment but in a lack of decent employment. The fact is that in India, and this includes Goa, the salaries for blue collar jobs do not allow for middle class lifestyles and options. While Goans migrating to Europe may be forced to work in sweatshops and live in slums today, the existence of a welfare state in the West, no matter how much under threat, will ensure that their children will have options that they could never imagine in Goa and India.

To conclude, the Goan migration via a Portuguese passport should not be seen as evidence of a traitorous relationship with India. On the contrary, Goans are merely asserting a pre-existing birthright first obtained by their ancestors. Further, if Goans are renouncing Indian citizenship, it is under the duress of the Indian state that refuses to recognise Goa’s peculiar legal history. A number of South Asian languages proscribe ‘going’—a word that indicates no return—preferring instead, as in Konkani, yetam (coming). Given a more accepting socio-legal regime, when migrating abroad Goans would very well be saying ‘I’m coming [back]’, rather than ‘going’.
(A version of this post was first published in the Times of India on 3 Nov 2015.
The Director for NRI Affairs, Govt. of Goa, responded to this article in the Times of India on
13 Nov 2015.)

Seeing Goa, Seeing Lisbon

“Quem viu Goa, excusa de ver Lisboa!”  (Who has see Goa need not see Lisbon) goes a saying that may have emerged and gained popularity in the late sixteenth century Goa, when the island-city of Goa, what we today call Old Goa, was at the height of its power. This must have been saying a lot, since at about the same time Lisbon was a pretty impressive European city itself. The latter city presided over a truly global trade thanks to the European discovery of America and grew in size as well as impressive monuments.

Goa and Lisbon are today denizens of two rather different worlds and one would think that the old saying would not hold good. And indeed it doesn’t for I would argue that he who has seen one or the other, must see the other. As so many others before me have remarked, to arrive in either Lisbon or in Goa from the other place is to embark on a journey of déjà vu, a sense that one has been here before.

My first proper encounter with Lisbon was when I entered the city
through the railway station of Santa Apolónia. Enthusiastic that I should not miss a thing, and believing that walking is the best way to see things, I decided to walk. Blessed decision, since it gave me my first sense of this déjà vu.  Perhaps a little more than a kilometre away from the station I walked into an area called Campo das Cebolas (field of onions). It must have been a field a long long time ago, since today there is no space for any agricultural activity close to one of Lisbon’s many touristic centres, the Praça do Comércio. 

What struck me about the Campo was the fact that behind the square that gave its name to the place was a huge governmental building dressed in the yellow that we in Goa today associate with the Police Headquarters and the Institute Menezes Braganza in Panjim. All at once, it was like I had been transported from Lisbon back to Goa, standing in a place where one could look at the Police Headquarters from across what is today called Azad Maidan in front of it. Don’t get me wrong, it is not quite the same view, the building and the square in Lisbon are on a much grander scale, but there is no doubt that both spaces speak a similar language.
Over time that initial sensation has kept repeating itself. This sensation is perhaps never as strong when I view the south bank of the river Tagus from a location in Lisbon. The view on the other side is of various Goan scenario’s stitched together; the view of Betim and Reis Magos from Panjim, the view of Vasco from Dona Paula. 
For a long time I thought that perhaps these imaginations of seeing Goa through a Portuguese landscape was just the product of some kind of (post?)colonial nostalgia. I was fortunately relieved of this guilty sensation when traveling from Lisbon to Coimbra with another Goan academic, who doesn’t really share many of my perspectives. Pulling out, again from Santa Apolónia, she remarked with delight at the landscape she saw; “But isn’t this exactly like in Goa?” I grinned at her in acknowledgement. There were portions of the river bank with its vegetation, and the fields that followed subsequently that did give one the feeling that one was in riverine Goa, with its bandh, backwaters, and paddy fields baking in the summer. One does get the feeling that perhaps a person with an eye trained to recognise different kinds of vegetation will not see quite the same vision that these two Goan academics did. But until the day in which we develop these skills, one suspects we must continue to see visions of the mother land when far away from home. This must not be a particularly bad thing.

If there is one thing in which Goa (in this case understood to be Panjim, the former Nova Goa) differs from Lisbon, then perhaps it is the relation of the two sides of the river bank to each other. In Lisbon, it is the north bank of the river Tagus that hosts the city; and the south bank, today home to a variety of dormitory towns, tends to be disparaged by Lisbon snobs. In Goa it seems it is the other way around.  Panjim is located on the south bank, and even though Ponjecars suffer from an incurable superciliousness, it is a fact that beyond some amount of threatened urban architecture, Panjim has not much to offer. Indeed, if denizens of the city want entertainment, they must perforce travel to the northern bank of the river Mandovi.
Who has seen Goa, need not see Lisbon went the old saying. However, with the passage of centuries, it would perhaps be more appropriate for those in Goa to rephrase it: Who has seen Goa, must indeed see Lisboa! One hopes that those in Lisbon will return the honour.

(A version of this post was first published in The Goan on 25 Oct 2015)