Sunday, February 28, 2016

Let’s Talk About Rights!

Growing up in the 1980s in Goa from time to time I would hear the more vociferous men in my family swear: “These bloody Indians!” Attending school where a steady diet of Indian nationalism was a part of the curriculum, we youngsters would be horrified. Surely, these figures of parental authority couldn’t speak like they did? Besides, weren’t we Indian? It was at this early age that I realised that to be Goan is not the same as being Indian. And it was possible for Goan history to read Indian nationalism differently. I have spent the rest of my life trying to figure the differences out.

A politicised Goan, such as myself, looks on this season, where allegations of being anti-national are being flung like confetti, with some cynicism. Not unlike Muslims in India, Goans, and especially Goan Catholics, have been used to be seen as de-nationalised, if not anti-national, for a while now. This critical evaluation has only heightened since some years when it came to be understood that many Goans have been “giving up” Indian nationality for Portuguese citizenship.

A common misunderstanding of the situation in Goa is that this devolution of the Indian passport has to do with pride in their Portuguese connection, and an application for citizenship. Appreciating the nuances of the situation requires disabusing a number of misunderstandings.

To begin with, it is not merely Goans who are giving up their Indian citizenship, but persons from the larger Portuguese state of India or Estado da Índia (EI), which in 1961 included the territories of Goa, Daman, Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. These persons are able to acquire Portuguese citizenship not because of any continental ancestry, but because of a legal history that differs significantly from that of British India. Where residents of British India were merely subjects of the British Crown and never citizens, native Christian residents of Portuguese India were almost from the very beginning of the presence of the EI in the early 1500s, seen as equal subjects of the crown. With the inauguration of the Portuguese constitutional monarchy in the mid-1800s, citizenship of all subjects was formally recognised, and subsequently deepened when the Portuguese Republic was declared in 1910. As citizens of Portugal a restricted electorate of persons from Goa were able to elect persons to represent their interest in the Portuguese Parliament in Lisbon. This marked a significant distinction from the situation in British India where natives had no Parliamentary presence, and even Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian in the British parliament, was elected by Britishers to represent an English constituency.

Indeed, so dramatically different was the situation in British India from that which obtained in Portuguese India that Goans were often able to assert themselves against the British. Take, for example, this anecdote from the city of Bangalore in the year 1940. In his memoirs, From Goa to Patagonia: Memoirs spanning times and spaces (2006: 146), Alfredo de Mello recounts his altercation with a Revered Xavier who had recently joined the staff of the famous Bishop Cotton’s school:
“One evening, while the Cotton's Cadets were drilling in the field with their 1914 vintage rifles and polished bots, Rev. Xavier and I were watching them and he remarked; ‘How come you are not marching with them?’, and I replied: ‘I am a foreigner, Sir, belonging to a neutral country’, and Rev. Xavier, in a tone that dripped with contempt, retorted: ‘Why don't you become a British subject? Don't you know that we are the salt of the earth?’

Trying to control my nerves and smarting under such a presumption, I said, ‘I am a Portuguese citizen, Sir, and not a subject like yourself. Furthermore …[e]very dog has its day. Portugal had its glorious quarter of an hour in History, as a world power, in the sixteenth century, and yours is about to end’.”

The situation where former citizens of the EI can continue to claim Portuguese citizenship is the result of the unorthodox manner in which Goa was integrated into India. Portugal was governed by an authoritarian regime from the mid-1930s until 1975 that refused to countenance the idea of Goa’s independence or integration into India, until India did so by force in 1961. When India annexed these territories in 1961 it failed to recognise that the residents were in fact Portuguese citizens and unilaterally extended Indian citizenship to them. Indian control over the territories that constituted the EI was not recognised by Portugal until the regime fell in 1975. At this point, the Portugal recognised the ancient constitutional rights of the residents of the now lost territories. Thus, when residents of the former EI renounce their Indian passport, they are not applying for Portuguese citizenship; merely asserting their pre-existing right to Portuguese citizenship. 

The recovery of this right lay somewhat dormant from 1975 until recently. It was with Portugal joining the European Union that a Portuguese passport gained a completely new significance. If there are so many persons queuing up to assert their right to a Portuguese passport, it thus has less to do with Portuguese nationalism, though this cannot be discounted in some cases, and more to do with making an economic choice.

The assertion of this right by citizens of the former EI has upset nationalists both in Portugal and in India. Some Portuguese nationalists desire that this right be curtailed or withdrawn entirely. Portuguese citizenship, they argue, should be given only to those who speak the Portuguese language, know something of Portuguese history, and have a love for Portugal. Like most nationalistic assertions often tend to be, these too are offensive. Citizenship is not a gift given for good behaviour, it is a fundamental right, and such rights are sacrosanct. They cannot be withdrawn on the basis of some petty excuse. Further, one could argue that the retention of the right to Portuguese citizenship is a part of post-colonial justice.

Most Indian nationalists are similarly unable to recognise the fact that the actions under discussion are the result of a law and a right. This should give some idea of how the operation of Indian nationalism has dulled Indian appreciation for law and rights. Indian nationalism crafts the recovery of this right as a treacherous betrayal of the motherland refusing to recognise that given the absence of a legally existing state of India before 1947, residents of Portuguese India in fact had Portugal as a legal motherland. As is often the case, Indian nationalism also comes with its communal twist. Even though the persons renouncing Indian citizenship belong to the various faiths that constituted the Portuguese empire, it is largely Catholics who are charged as anti-national for giving up Indian citizenship.

To the question what do citizens of the former EI think of nationalism, the response would be why should they think of nationalism? They are thinking of their economic futures, and asserting their rights, and this is far more important than any nationalism.

(A version of the post was first published in the Indian Express  on 28 Feb 2016)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Goan problems with the Portuguese Left

On the 16th of February Susana Sardo, the Portuguese ethnomusicologist from the University of Aveiro, presented a paper focussed on Goan and Mando music at the symposium organised by the Ketevan World Sacred Music Festival in collaboration with the Goa University. 

A 20 minute documentary, titled Sons de Goa (Sounds of Goa) formed part of the presentation. The film was produced by Rui Pedro Pereira de Oliveira based on portions of Sardo’s doctoral thesis, as well as video footage that Sardo had gathered over the years.

Almost at the very start (3 mins, 33 seconds), the documentary makes an extraordinary claim, that passes quickly, but whose implications pervade the film and Sardo’s understanding of cultural politics in Goa. Sardo suggests that Portuguese domination over India was marked by a kind of double colonization, of economy and faith. I did a double-take when I heard this characterization. Sardo’s position was in fact not very different from that of the proponents of Hindutva, who argue for Gharwapsi or reconversion. Contemporary consensus, at least since the 1940s is that European colonization was unacceptable, and formal decolonization critical to freedom of colonized persons. By the same logic, if the conversion of groups of natives to Christianity is to be seen as spiritual colonization, then surely the calls spiritual decolonization is also in order?

This is not the only problem with Sardo’s characterization of practices of the early Portuguese state in India. Sardo makes it out that conversion to Christianity was entirely the result of force. As a result, there is no space to consider the possibility that perhaps locals welcomed the arrival of Christianity. There is substantial scholarship to suggest that this was in fact the case, both with Islam as well as Christianity, and not entirely the result of force, another favourite Hindutva claim.

It needs to be emphasized that Sardo is not the only scholar who makes such problematic assertions. Indeed, the problem is common among left-leaning Portuguese academics. Opposed to the excesses of the Estado Novo, the Portuguese authoritarian state that held sway from the 1930 until 1974, a number of these academics go out of their way to invert the assertions of this regime. Added to this, given their liberal location, the only role that the Catholic Church seems capable of playing is one of force. In their eyes, partly because of the role of some members of the Portuguese clergy during the Estado Novo, but also because of the anti-clerical tendencies of Southern European intellectuals since the 1800s, the Catholic church is seen as the original authoritarian agency and hence always and forever the villain of the piece.

As a result, a good amount of scholarship emerging from left-leaning Portuguese about Goa is held hostage to Portuguese domestic politics as scholars seek to battle the political Right in Portugal, and attempt to exorcise the ghost of the authoritarian regime. While one can recognize, even sympathise with the need for such battles, these cannot be at the cost of real lives in Goa or the territories that comprised the former Estado da India. In a case where Goan Catholics are painted as clones of the colonizers, the works of scholars such as Sardo effectively justifies, though this may not be her intention, the violence of the Hindutva.

Responding to situations such as these, in his book, Refiguring Goa (2013), the US based scholar Raghu Trichur suggests that there is a need for “serious theoretical and methodological  interventions within Goan historiography” (p. 30). I would respond that the key to such theoretical and methodological interventions lies in recognizing that the natives of early modern Goa were not merely driftwood being swept along in the current. Rather, as demonstrated by the work of Ângela Barreto Xavier, they were individuals and members of groups that made active choices within the circumstances at their disposal. More importantly, it is critical that the Portuguese are not allowed to hog the historical limelight. They and their contemporary descendants need to make space for other players as well.

To avoid misunderstanding it needs to be reaffirmed that this problematization of the Portuguese Left does not mean that the readings emerging from the Portuguese Right are to be embraced. If the Portuguese Left tends to deny agency to the native, and sees them largely as victims, then the Portuguese Right often swings to the other unwelcome extreme of seeing the Portuguese Indian as an image of the Portuguese original. Neither positions do justice to the history of the peoples of Goa, and the larger Estado da India. The need to call out the problems of the Left emerges primarily because not too many now take the arguments of the Right seriously. On the other hand, the Left, whether in Portugal or elsewhere, claims to speak for the cause of the colonized, and are recognized as such. As should be clear from the arguments above, this is a problematic claim since not only are members of the Portuguese Left in fact addressing their own issues, but in doing so they compound the problem by refusing to recognize the agency of the formerly colonized, and thrust us straight into the tridents of  Hindutva. 

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo 19 Feb 2016)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Lady and the Diplomat

There is an old and still popular joke about the difference between a lady and a diplomat, of which only the reference to the diplomat is still acceptable. The joke goes that when a diplomat says “yes,” s/he means “perhaps.” When a diplomat says “perhaps,” s/he means “no.” And when a diplomat says “no,” s/he is no diplomat!

The joke can be used, somewhat unfairly to some diplomats, to suggest that diplomats are not always the suave agents we have grown accustomed to in films. Rather, they are dull, bureaucrats who are trapped with rules that allow them little leeway to act meaningfully. It is a rare diplomat who is able to cut through the red tape, act with aplomb, break out of elite circuits and reach out to the common person. Pedro Cabral Adão (1969-2006), who was the Consul of Portugal in Goa for about a year, was one such diplomat. Goa is something of a taxing and tense posting for Portuguese diplomats, thanks to the often irrational protests they have to deal with. They tend, therefore, to restrict the amount they socialise within Goan society, preferring the safe and narrow path. Adão, however, reached out to a community larger than the small cluster of Portuguese speaking elites in the territory. His most significant outreach was to the artist community in Goa. A group that is largely, but not exclusively, composed of bahujan Hindus, this was not the first, nor perhaps obvious, choice for a Portuguese diplomat. And yet, this is exactly where contact needed to be made, among the common person of Goa, who have no first-hand experience of Portugal, nor of the Portuguese, and whose images of the country and people may be otherwise provided by the rabid hate-speech of some segments of the Goan population. The scenario was promising, and one looked forward to interesting times in Goa art until his life was tragically cut short in November 2006.

It is a testament to the power of his outreach that his name continues to be recollected in Goa, notably through the intervention of a lady, the artist Yolanda de Souza Kammermeier in the form of the biannual Dr. Pedro Cabral Adão Promising Artist Award. In her own words “Dr. Adão was a huge supporter of art and artists in Goa and in his short span of life in Goa had an exhibition of paintings at the consulate of Goan artists and collected works from them in his personal capacity. He showered Goan art and artists with a kind of respect and love not experienced by the art community here before from a diplomat, Goan, Indian, or otherwise.”

While Souza Kammermeier had been marking the diplomat’s passing every year, it was from 2013 that she instituted the promising artist award. Taking inspiration from Adão’s action, the competition is held every other year to support fresh graduates who otherwise find it hard to find to make an entry into the world of art.

The format of the competition is fairly simple. Every other year, young artists are encouraged to present a sample body of work for evaluation. The jury of the competition usually comprises an artist, an art critic, a gallerist, and a collector. Marked individually, the competition throws up a winner, as well as a ‘People’s choice award” and the award for the “Most Commendable Entry”. In the first edition of the award, 2013- 2014 the Dr. Pedro Cabral Adão award was won by Rohit Bhosale, while this year the privilege was Deepak Shirodkar’s. 

Souza Kammermeier’s initiative should first be applauded for the generosity of spirit that it displays, both in recognising the genuine interest that Adão took in Goa, as well as the outreach to younger artists. What is, however, more interesting is the manner in which she has made this award work. Not necessarily in possession of a large fund to award every year, Souza Kammermeier makes an intelligent use of the resources at her disposal. In possession of a gallery space, she offers the space free of cost for the winner to hold a solo exhibition the following year. Added to this, she is able to summon her resources to offer an opening night and promote the event among the regulars at the gallery space. This is a very clever use of existing, but scarce, resources to encourage fledgling artists who may otherwise not have access to such an opportunity. Indeed, this intervention is very much in the spirit of Adão who often spent his own income to fuel his cultural interventions in the state. In addition to the support that is offered, the award also ensures that the award winner has a deadline to work towards. Given that self-discipline is a critical component of persons who do not work within an office environment, the promise of a solo show ensures that the year after the award is spent in a focused and productive manner.

The joke about the lady and the diplomat ends with a line suggesting that if a lady says no, she means perhaps, and if she says yes, then she is no lady. In Yoland de Souza Kammermeier’s case, what makes her a lady is precisely the fact that in organising this biannual award and making productive use of scare resources, she has said yes to generosity.

(A version of this post was first published on The Goan Everyday on 14 Feb 2016)