Blacklisted: Racism and the Injustice of Popular Violence



On 31st October, the local media was saturated with news of a group of Nigerian nationals who, it was claimed, had removed the corpse of their murdered compatriot from the hearse carrying it, thereafter placing the body on the road, effectively blocking traffic on NH 17 in protest. Policepersons intervening in the protest were said to have been assaulted and, to complicate matters, the Nigerians were subsequently set upon by a mob and viciously beaten up, such that two Nigerians suffered life-threatening injuries. The statements made by some of the Nigerians, that the protest was spurred by their fear that the police were not investigating the murder seriously nor paying heed to allegations that two prominent Goan politicians were involved in the drug trade of which the murder was a possible fall-out, were largely ignored.


Public reaction was astounding. Instead of being horrified at the mob lynching of the protesting Nigerians, most persons tended to respond with the simplistic question, what else were the locals supposed to do? This question implies that the Nigerians deserve what they got, not only because they were causing a nuisance, but primarily because of their alleged involvement in the drug trade in Goa. It is precisely this sort of rhetoric that demonstrates the double-standards at work in our society and as especially evidenced in this particular case. The assault on the Nigerians as well as the subsequent reportage, not to mention comments on social media, reek of a barely concealed, when not blatant, racism.


Incidents of mob lynching are often presented as spontaneous eruptions of anger against an ineffective government, but are in fact almost never so. Usually the manifestation of a shared local sentiment against a weaker opponent, they tend to happen only when it is convenient and ‘safe’ to take the law into one’s own hands. Why should a blockage of the highway lead to murderous assaults by people armed with lathis and iron rods? If this lynching was really a response to the government’s inaction against the drug mafia, as some claim, why have we never seen such attacks on the police or the politicians who have been frequently accused of protecting or patronising the trade? The answer is that most participants in the lynching are aware that attacking the police or politicians would have very serious legal and extra-legal implications. Lynching is never directed at the powerful but at the powerless. This ugly phenomenon is often directed at the innocent, as in the case at Arambol a few months ago, when a person mistaken for a thief was tied to a pole and then beaten almost to death – again by ‘locals’ – before he was rescued by the police. Media images showed a bound and bloody semi-naked figure whom bystanders were laughing at and taking pictures of on their cell phones. Social sanction for lynching is deeply troubling, and it cannot just be blamed on an unresponsive government.


Next is the issue of the ‘common sense’ that seems to prevail in Goa: that Nigerians are drug peddlers. It should be obvious that the entire population of Nigerians who visit or are resident in Goa cannot be peddling drugs. Such an assumption gains credibility only when supported by a racist logic that tars an entire community based on the actions of a few. Substantial examples of racism can be found in media reports and editorials, while the viciousness of social media is almost beyond description. Nigerians have been described as “hefty”, “boisterous”, “Uncivilized, uneducated pirates”, and one commentator proclaims, “we can’t forget what they did to us during Idi Amin times”. As the latter quotes demonstrate, the identities of distinct nationalities – Ugandans, Nigerians, and others – have been conflated while venting frustration. The only common feature between these nationalities is that they are all African and black. Even Goan diasporic history – the 1972 expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Amin – is roped in as reason for retribution. Further, there is the almost classic racist fear of the savagery of African men. One particularly telling comment on Facebook describes them as “massive Afzal Khan brand African giants,” intertwining the fear of the Muslim along with that of the African.


This is not surprising given our caste culture, which can surely teach racism a thing or two about violent discrimination on the basis of birth. Our society nurtures a biased belief in hierarchy and discrimination, all of which is also tied to skin colour, so that it is very normal for black people to be treated worse than whites. In an interview many years ago, an African living in Mumbai pointed out that while apartheid in South Africa was the law, in India it is human nature. This results in the khapri, or African, being relegated to the bottom of the caste ladder, lower than the lowest – not least because of Goans recalling their times in Africa as colonial collaborators, but also due to the legacy of slavery in Portuguese Goa, both of which have given Goans unacknowledged African bloodlines. Ganging up on Africans, whether physically or politically, brings Goans ‘together’ against the lowly outsider, creating a fake and racist unity. How convenient this racism is can be seen from the immediate attempts to cash in by MLAs like Rohan Khaunte and Vijai Sardessai, with their open defence of the lynching and avowed support to defend those responsible.


The calls for “rounding up” and deporting Nigerians are disturbingly reminiscent of the pogroms carried out against the Roma and Jews in Europe, and against other ethnic minority groups across the world. It is all the more ironic given the contemporary and routine racial profiling of South Asians, Goans included, who travel to or live in other countries. While many citizens see profiling as a logical response of the State, the fact is that such assertions of tough administration invariably come after an incident such as this; they are merely spectacles and knee-jerk responses, not evidence of good governance. In fact, the inherent jingoism conceals the rot in the system that has produced the problem in the first place. If some Nigerians are involved in drug peddling, can they have been doing it without local assistance? Indeed, the incident that commenced in Parra and concluded in Porvorim is an example of how institutions of governance have been systematically dismantled over time to serve the personal agendas of the locally powerful. Some foreigners may have benefited from the space that opened up, but the truth is, as so amply demonstrated on 31st October, that eventually they are as much the victims as locals. Tragically, these victims set upon one another while the kingpins laugh all the way to the bank.


In the face of this popular support for mob violence, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s assertion that it cannot do for citizens to take the law into their own hands is well placed, and one hopes that his statement that his government may prosecute those responsible for the life-threatening attacks on the Nigerians will be realised. Lynchings become precedents for more violence and, to reiterate, they invariably mete out unjust punishments.


(First published in The Navhind Times on 6 Novemver, 2013


Is Coalition a Euphemism for Collective Big Bucks?


The election results and the announcement of the Goa cabinet brings to mind the  Government in Timor Leste, for it bears a striking resemblance  to the way politics of Government formation in Goa is developing.


About a year and a half ago, I was quite surprised when I landed in Timor Leste, and found that a fellow Goan, Dr. Longuinhos Rabindranatha Tagore Domingues de Castro Monteiro, who was the head of Police had actually become a Minister in the Government.  Wasn’t it just the other day that a friend from Timor Leste had told me that he was head of the police?

He had indeed become a Minister as he was picked by the elected Prime Minister XananaGusmao to be in his Ministry and had to switch from being the CommandanteGeral de PoliciaNacional de Timor Leste to being Ministro de Interior, that is, the Home Minister. As if that was not strange enough, I was also told that this Prime Minister Gusmao had himself stepped down and made RuiAraujo, a member of the Opposition, from the Fretilin Party (the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor), the Prime Minister, and inducted some others from the Opposition as Ministers. Earlier in 2007, the same XananaGusmao had become Prime Minister after forming a coalition that ran against his former party Fretilin.

An Opposition member being made the Prime Minister by the existing Prime Minister? I have never known anyone giving up power or privilege – at least not so easily. Even if Gusmao explained his choice of RuiAraujo from the Opposition stating that there was no one else in his own government who had the right “theoretical, technical and professional preparation” to replace him. Gusmao created a new Investment Ministry and retained himself in the Ministry. Rings bells?

What was this all about? Why did Gusmao hand over power? Gusmao was after all said to be a guerilla leader who had fought for the freedom of East Timor from the 24-year occupation by Indonesia. For that matter, so was Monteiro.  There was surely something that begged probing.

Questioning people around, one was given to understand that people felt cheated. The contracts, and the corruption associated with the contracts by the Government, were the order of the day.  There were the fuel station contracts, they said. Fuel stations are State-owned, yes, BUT operated by a private company.  The contracts go in substantial measure to the Gusmao family’s businesses. They said Prime Minister Gusmao’s daughter was the biggest business woman in Timor Leste and between her and the relatives of Gusmao, they controlled the oil and gas industry in the Timor Sea, the sandalwood and the marble trade, TV cable and other key businesses in Timor Leste, such as real estate. They also said that the Gusmaofamily were the biggest beneficiaries of the various deals struck. With the Opposition neutered in this fashion, there was nobody anymore as an effective Opposition, to question the Government about the deals they were striking left, right and centre. Former Prime Minister Alkatiri on the other hand had been given the Presidentship of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Oecusse. Like Goa, Oecusse is known as a tourist place. Goa also is not without its share of placating those who have not got the Ministerships in governance, with other key posts that hold the keys of finance, WHILE at the same time placating big corporate houses.


It is by now largely acknowledged even within institutional circles, that even as Timor Leste has billions of dollars’ worth gas production, half the country’s population of 1.2 million is mired in poverty. The country’s politics is fraught with issues like land grabbing and contract level mega style corruption, all of which impoverishes the local people and effectively disenfranchises them. With Portuguese, Indonesian, and also local laws at play when it comes to land rights and tenurial systems, the corporate houses ride merrily through this confusion to acquire huge chunks of land of the already small 14,784 square metre area. Such conflicts over land are also evident in Goa. SEZ’s and big corporate houses walk through while common people negotiate labyrinthine lanes for tracing land transfers and effecting mutation records.

Within the folds of East Timor’s politics, the issue of medium of instruction also lurks. The wrestling, seemingly between indigenous languages such as Tetum and the colonial languages such as Portuguese and Bahasa and English adds in no small measure to the construction of ‘national’ identity and to who gets privileged in such a construction. As a matter of fact, behind the wall of freedom from colonial occupation, there lies a complex identity politics in this part island nation state, and a world of histories that do not quite accept the ‘national’ narrative.  It again rings a familiar bell with Goa where the privileged expect a sustenance of culture and language by the ‘other’ (that is, the lower caste or class), while their privilege provides them the access to English language education, which has been one of their keys to further access and consolidate power.

But on the other hand, despite the statedly differing ideologies, everyone in the coalition Government is believed to be complicit in the distortions of history and appropriation of resources, for reasons that clearly stare everybody in the face. The government is even believed to have introduced restrictive media laws primarily so that its ability to use the petroleum fund for their personal gains is not restricted. The Petroleum Fund is a sovereign wealth fund where the East Timor Government is supposed to deposit the surplus wealth produced by East Timor petroleum and gas income. The Petroleum Fund is a sovereign wealth fund where the East Timor Government is supposed to deposit the surplus wealth produced by East Timor petroleum and gas income.

Come 2017, it is as if Goa is getting to Timor Leste. What with the government having been formed the way it has and an opposition MLA already resigning from the party which was elected as the single largest Party in the Goa Assembly, and others on the way.Is ‘unity’ or ‘coalition’ a euphemism for collectively sharing the spoils of a dictatorship of investments? For securing funds that are tied aid?

(A version of this article was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 23 March, 2017. Illustrations by Angela Ferrao.)

The Bahujan in Fiction


Once in a way, there comes along a work of art which holds a mirror to reality, and not the obvious reality that is on our minds and in the media, but the most ignored corners of our society and culture. The recently published The Salt of the Earth: Stories from Rustic Goa by Jayanti Naik appears to be one such. Intending to challenge the prevailing image of Goa, as declared by the author in her Foreword, this anthology released by Goa 1556 and Golden Heart Emporium contains short stories published originally in Nagri Konkani and translated into English for this collection by Augusto Pinto.

As many in Goa would know, Jayanti Naik is a folklorist, Konkani scholar (with a PhD on the language from Goa University), and prolific writer of short stories. In my experience, short stories are a challenging form of creative writing, requiring a tautness in the telling of a story, right from the introduction of a cast of characters and the plot, to its development and dénouement, all in the space of a few turnings of the page. It requires great control, greater than in novels, over the plot, the pace, the descriptions, the dialogue, everything. It’s not easy.

Naik uses the form quite well. Besides having a rooted feel, her stories are both easy to read and gripping. As the anthology’s title would imply, most of them are about people from Goa’s bahujan communities and set in Goan villages. They could be said to fall into two broad categories. One is about the ending of tradition, seen in the demise of rituals—like the shigmo tradition in Naman: The Invocations, and the Basvo tradition of leading a sacred bull from house to house in Basvo: The Nandi Bull— or that of a lifestyle, as with the tribal lifestyle in The Victory, and the brahmanical lifestyle in The Fulfillment of a Desire. Most of these stories are notably sympathetic to tradition, with many protagonists being elderly and respected leaders of traditional practices, and with almost no mention of the oppression that was often part of traditional life.

The other category is about women, and the often-painful compromises between tradition and rebellion made by, or forced upon, today’s women. Biyantul sees a woman forced by her family to give up the man she loves, because of his poverty. Uma and the Human Sacrifice sees another, despite being educated and a feminist, agreeing to an arranged marriage with a widower who is a suspected wife-murderer. The Curse of Vozryo sees an old husband whose much younger second wife has eloped with another man, remembering and regretting how he had ill-treated her. Ramaa is a strange story of a young woman rebelling against her family to marry an old (and impotent) and much-respected Konkani scholar just to support him in his life’s work in developing the language, but unable to give up her desire to be a mother; she has a child outside marriage but does not survive its birth. But if tradition is not seen as woman-friendly, the contemporary world is suspect as well. An Account of Her Life is a startling story of a much-respected professor and feminist, beloved of her bahujan students, being exposed after death as a serial sexual predator whose behaviour was condoned by her victims because of the numerous benefits they received from her mentorship.

The stories are realistic and moving, with more greys than black and white. And, given Naik’s folklorist background, it is not surprising that they are also peppered with fascinating details of bahujan traditions, ideas, and practices, including food, religious rituals, deities, and so on.

However, fiction can both challenge myths and prejudices as well as reinforce them, and unfortunately some of these stories do the latter. Although all are apparently pro-bahujan, the conservative approach to traditional culture, seeing it as both ancient and righteous, is in fact very brahmanical. In her Foreword, Naik not only reiterates this idea of tradition as primordial and full of brotherhood, she also sees pre-Portuguese Goa as ‘Indian in culture’. This is not just ahistorical, it supports the brahmanical and nationalist myth of a glorious pre-colonial India, in a time when neither India nor Goa existed. The fact that traditions are not always great should be obvious from our many casteist and anti-bahujan ones; nor are they unchanging or always old, as pointed out by Eric Hobsbawm long ago (The Invention of Tradition, 1983) and Parag Parobo (India’s First Democratic Revolution…, 2015) in the context of Goa. It is an approach that does not convince, for it does injustice to bahujan struggles to transform the world, whether in the past or today. In fact, Naik’s most searing stories are not those on tradition and folklore, but the few about academics and litterateurs, a brahmanical world increasingly challenged by bahujans, a world that she knows personally right down to its ugly underbelly.

On the whole, the collection is a treat. It does, as it promises to, challenge the image of Goa, especially in the eyes of Indians, as a westernised party paradise.

And the translation by Augusto Pinto is very smooth, retaining many Konkani words and also language structure, which gives a distinct and authentic flavour to the dialogues. Pinto has also written an interesting Afterward, The Bahujan Writes Back, in which he mentions that Naik is beginning to write in ‘non-standard’ Konkani for her recent stories, i.e. closer to actual bahujan speech. This is good news. Freedom from the Nagri Konkani of the upper castes, or the Baman Bhas as the bahujan writer Ramnath Naik has called it, will only result in a better representation of Goa’s bahujans.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 9 March, 2017)

When Jallikattu Raises the Dhirio Issues



It is another hot January day in Madras. I have alighted at the Chennai Bus Stand and am heading for the Indian Association of Women’s Studies Conference at the Madras University, near the Marina Beach. There are others headed there as well. There are many, many people present there; quite a number wearing black T-shirts or shirts. Some are carrying placards, others beating drums. First I see a lot of young students, then I see young and old, men, women, they seem to be from different communities. They are all walking towards Marina beach. “We need Jallikattu”, “We want Jallikattu” is written on the placards and also on banners along the way.


As reported in the press there has been an ordinance allowing Jallikattu by exempting it from applicability of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and as such I wondered why they were still agitating. They say they are talking of a permanent solution. At first, in my technocratic lawyerly understanding, I look at it myopically and think that there is something amiss, because the Constitution has no way to ensure permanence except with the calling of an Assembly session and passing the legislation at the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. So why did the people not wait until the summoning of the Legislative Assembly, considering that the Assembly session had anyway been called on 23rd January?


As the drama unfolds, I begin to get a sense of their understandings of permanent solutions. The issue really is far beyond Jallikattu. It seems that Jallikattu has been the point of convergence. The point of convergence for those who feel that Tamil culture is neglected; those who oppose the subsuming of Tamil culture under a homogeneous Indian culture; those who are upset by the disregard for farmers’ concerns; those who have borne the brunt of demonetization; those who have been rearing the bulls for Jallikattu; and those whose livelihoods are at stake anyways. Jallikattu or no Jallikattu, for the Thevar community which like the Patels in Gujarat feel neglected, for those in the city who are threatened by the impending water scarcity, for those who want the Tamilian bull species to thrive, for those who resist controversial state projects that often reinforce hybridization programs of dubious value, for those who see an imposition in aerated drinks of multinationals. Despite the fact that Jallikattu may in some ways be reinforcing machismo, despite the fact that Jallikattu is stated to be a dominant caste traditional practice wherein it is considered a sign of valour to win a bride by successfully hugging the hump of the bull. Despite the fact that the large mobilization of women for the Jallikattu is suspect, considering that women otherwise are not easily permitted to participate in demonstrations and protests.


The people at the Marina are not the ones who are associating Jallikattu with centuries old temple culture, they are talking of Tamil culture. They are also asserting their freedom to express, come what may.


Someone at the demonstration quips, “At Jallikattu or in a boxing match, sometimes there are unintended adverse consequences, just as in a motor vehicle accident. So because there is an accident, will you say ‘don’t use motor vehicles’?”

They also resonate in the context of Goa, where the difference  that is Goa is marginalized, where there has been selective targeting of bull fights, selective targeting of Muslim businessmen when it comes to beef, selective non-implementation of the Constitution, when it comes to reservations, selective stripping of powers of statutory bodies such as the Goa State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, selective  mining loot, selective recognition of what demonetization has meant. There is a convergence emerging, albeit a different sort in Goa.


It dawns on me that permanent solution means recognizing the federal character of India enshrined in the Constitution. It means recognizing the diversity of cultures – that it is not about one nation, one language. It means recognizing the sustainability of the locally bred animals. It means recognizing that people suffer by acts of the Centre such as demonetization and planning policies that drive the farmers to the margins. It means no selective targeting of certain cultural symbols and projecting of the same as barbaric. Permanent solution in the people’s understanding is not limited to technocratic ‘legal’ solutions, it means addressing the power structures in which decisions are made, and the way the issues are represented be it in the legislature, by the Executive, and before the judiciary.


No doubt this permanent solution idea is fraught with ambiguities on gender and on how Tamil culture comes to be defined. No doubt the permanent solution concept is fraught with shades of Tamil nationalism. As much as Goan nationalism breeds its own disparities.


(First published in Goa Today, February 2017)

A Striking Chief Justice



India has had 44 Judges as Chief Justices of the Supreme Court including the current one. But not all leave the kind of impression that the recently deceased Chief Justice Altamas Kabir did. During his stint as the Chief Justice for barely a year, and prior to that as Justice of the Supreme Court for about seven-and-a-half years, Justice Altamas Kabir did blaze a trail in terms of understandings of justice and crusading for peace.


Not for him the flaunting of Justiceship on the collar, gown and sleeve. Not for him the stiff neck that characterizes many Justices. This Chief Justice was a simple down-to-earth jovial person, who yet was firm beneath his gentleness. I had occasion to meet him on the verge of his elevation as Chief Justice and was struck by this simplicity and also responsiveness. He was prolific with disposing cases with practical judgements that clearly elucidated the rationale: instead of saying the homo sapiens veered from the vertical to the horizontal position to simply say a man fell down.


Justice Altamas Kabir’s minority status perhaps gave him the position from which he could understand the conditions of marginalized sections of society. Justice Kabir reemphasized in the famous IR Coelho case judgement delivered in early 2007 (popularly called the Ninth Schedule case) where he held forth on the basic structure of the Constitution and maintained that the Court has preserved its inherent powers to make such orders as may be necessary in the interests of justice as the guardian of the Constitution. “Justice transcends all barriers and neither rules of procedure nor technicalities can stand in its way, particularly if implementation would result in injustice”, he said and emphasized that “It is necessary to cut across technical tapes”.


Being the incumbent of the post of Chief Justice when the Nirbhaya case and the protests about it were raging, Justice Kabir, on an occasion a few days after this incident, while inaugurating a Fast Track Court in Delhi, expressed his anguish that he could not be part of the protest given the position he was holding. He was however clear that in the process, one cannot get so carried away that we handle the matter with a knee-jerk response where the solution is worse than the problem.  As a matter of fact, he cautioned against vigilantism. He was speaking in the backdrop of strident demands of castration, death penalty, ‘shoot them’ attitudes that were renting the air in those days.


It was perhaps in this spirit that when having to give his considered opinion on reducing the age of a juvenile when it comes to rape murder cases, he did not appreciate the rationale for this and reminded the world that the objective of the Juvenile Justice Act was restorative and not retributive justice. The Juvenile Justice Act, one may recall is meant to ensure that there is justice for a child in need of care and protection as well as a child in conflict with the law so that the child is rehabilitated and does not grow into a destitute or a criminal.


The NEET (National Eligibility Entrance Test) case was the last of the cases on which he delivered judgement before his retirement in 2013. The case had the effect of pushing back the proposal for the single all India entrance test for admission to professional medical and dental colleges all over India. It is hugely significant in the context of Goa. It resonated for Goa which has had just an iota of IAS officers precisely for reasons of language and script, when Justice Kabir opined that apart from the right to freedom of religion, is the right of citizens to a distinct language script culture of their own to conserve the same. Difference in language, culture or script has often given those invested in dominant languages, cultures or scripts an edge over students from minority languages, cultures or scripts, in a situation where the standard of the exam is determined by the practices and standards of the dominant.


“There can be no controversy that the standard of education all over the country is not the same. Each State has its own systems, pattern of education, including the medium of instruction. It cannot also be disputed that children in metropolitan areas enjoy greater privileges than their counterparts in midst of the rural areas, as far as education is concerned, and the decision of the Central Government to support a single entrance exam would be perpetuate such divide in the name of giving credit to merit”, Justice Kabir opined.  Justice Kabir further remarked in the judgement that in a single window competition, the disparity in the educational standards in different parts of the country cannot ensure a level playing field, thereby highlighting the dangers of a single entrance test.


Justice Kabir empathized with marginalized sections of society and is fondly remembered by adivasi groups in Jharkhand where he held the post of Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court. His invitation to representatives of marginalized sections of society, including Dalits and adivasis, to attend his oath-taking ceremony as Chief Justice is well remembered.  And so are his efforts to get Supreme Court Judges to engage with their concerns, including the time he got a team of Supreme Court Judges to meet a delegation of sex workers at the National Legal Services Authority, in order to enable them to understand what it means to be in those shoes.


It is not as if Justice Kabir did not have his share of allegations of various kinds, and the jury is out on the truth or otherwise of those allegations. But that cannot take away from certain sterling qualities of Justice Altamas Kabir emphasized above, that people in positions of power could do well to emulate.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 23 February, 2017)

Ser ou não ser Gawda



“O Senhor dá-me licença?”, perguntei ao entrar no gabinete do Talathi[1] de Curtorim, a minha aldeia.


“Sim, entre”, respondeu o Talathi, levantando os olhos dos papéis que tinha à sua frente.


Entrei no gabinete e, percebendo que havia outras pessoas à espera, pousei os meus documentos na secretária e sentei-me sem dizer uma palavra.


Tinha ido ao Panchayat[2] da aldeia para pedir um relatório ao Talathi, o primeiro passo para conseguir um Scheduled Caste Certificate.[3]


Queria candidatar-me ao departamento de Sociologia da Universidade de Goa e o número de vagas era limitado. Alguns dias antes, tinha ido visitar uma amiga que vive por trás da minha casa. Ao ouvir-me falar sobre o curso com tanto entusiasmo, a mãe dela perguntou-me por que razão eu não pedia um certificado de casta para assim aumentar as minhas hipóteses. A primeira coisa que me ocorreu foi: “Como é que ela sabe que a minha família pertence à comunidade Gawda? Isto só pode querer dizer que todo o bairro sabe”.


Enquanto eu digeria esta informação, a mãe da minha amiga disse-me que uma outra pessoa da vizinhança conseguira entrar no ensino superior com a ajuda de um certificado de casta. Mais um choque! Eu não sabia que essa família também pertencia à comunidade Gawda. Voltei para casa e perguntei à minha mãe se isso era verdade. Ela disse que sim e que essa mesma vizinha a aconselhara a não pedir um certificado de casta, uma vez que seríamos discriminados, de múltiplas formas, para o resto da vida. Estranhamente, contudo, ela própria tomara a iniciativa de pedir um certificado de casta para o seu filho.


Mas eu não queria um certificado de casta apenas para conseguir um lugar na universidade.

“Sim, diga?”, perguntou o Talathi enquanto pegava nos meus documentos. Sem me deixar responder, folheou-os e continuou: “O que é que a menina faz? Trabalha?”.


“Sim, trabalho como assistente de investigação para o Centre for Global Health Histories”, respondi.


Depois de um breve silêncio, perguntou-me: “Onde mora, ao certo?”.


“Perto da capela, ao lado da escola”, respondi.


“Humm… Dias… Não creio que haja tribais [Scheduled Tribes][4] nessa zona, ou há? E com este apelido?”


Esta pergunta deixou-me sem resposta. Estava com algum receio, pois pouco sabia sobre a presença de tribais na minha zona. Mas lembrei-me do que a minha mãe e a minha tia tinham dito e respondi com firmeza: “Sim, existem tribais nessa área”.


“Tem a certeza? Quantas casas de tribais existem lá?”, perguntou-me.

“Sim, tenho a certeza. Há umas três ou quatro casas”, respondi-lhe.


Fui ficando cada vez mais nervosa, pois não sabia quase nada sobre as famílias tribais da minha localidade. Nunca me interessara muito por saber essas coisas. Fiz os primeiros anos de escola na St. Joseph High School, em Shiroda, no taluka[5] de Ponda. Estudei nessa escola até ao terceiro ano, altura em que a nossa família se mudou para Curtorim, a cerca de trinta quilómetros de distância.


Tinha mais ou menos oito anos quando nos mudámos. A vida era muito diferente em Curtorim. Era grande o entusiasmo com os novos amigos, a nova escola, os novos vizinhos e todas aquelas novas caras. Quando me matriculei na escola de Curtorim, precisei de um período de adaptação não só para me familiarizar com os outros alunos e professores, mas também para fazer novos amigos. Mais tarde, quando passei para o ensino secundário, percebi que não éramos conhecidos apenas pelos nossos nomes e notas, mas também pela nossa casta. Eu conhecia bastante mal a questão da casta. Foi a primeira vez que reparei na sua importância. A minha turma tinha alunos de diversas castas. Havia um grupo de alunos que era conhecido por “atrasado” [backward], mas sempre achei que eles eram ricos e queria fazer parte da sua comunidade. O outro grupo de alunos não era “atrasado” e, segundo a minha percepção, era, em alguns aspectos, mais “culto” e “desenvolvido”. Ocorreu-me, naturalmente, uma questão: a que grupo pertenço eu? Eu achava que fazia parte do grupo de alunos cultos e desenvolvidos.


Mais tarde, à medida que fui avançando nos estudos, comecei a ter uma ideia mais clara sobre dois tipos de comunidades – Shudras e Gawdas. Certa vez, numa conversa entre amigos, os meus colegas quiseram saber a minha casta. Respondi-lhes que era Shudra. Tinha chegado a essa conclusão ao comparar a forma como vivíamos com o que observava na escola. Na verdade, venho de uma família que pertence à comunidade Gawda, mas a minha mãe é Shudra. Em casa, nunca se falava de Gawdas ou Shudras. No entanto, fazia-se sempre comparações com os Brâmanes, pelo que tinha a perfeita noção de que não era Brâmane. Nessa tarde, acabei por perguntar à minha mãe qual era a nossa casta. Ela ficou boquiaberta. Porque queres saber a nossa casta? Quem te perguntou? Não deves acreditar nessas coisas… Falou sem parar. Mas, por fim, disse-me que pertencíamos à comunidade Gawda. Fê-lo apenas porque a minha prima mais nova começou a rir e disse: “Ami ani khuinchi ami gawdi” (Nós também somos Gawda). Fiquei sem saber o que dizer aos meus amigos. Pensei em dizer-lhes a verdade mas acabei por desistir porque me senti desconfortável com a ideia.


A questão da casta só voltou a ser assunto de conversa entre os meus amigos quando chegou ao nosso grupo um rapaz que pertencia à mesma comunidade que eu. Estávamos todos a conversar informalmente quando o tema das castas veio à baila. Fiquei em silêncio e este novo amigo disse: “Hanv baba gawdi” (Eu sou Gawda). Foi então que anunciei, atabalhoadamente, que também era Gawda. Os meus amigos não tiveram qualquer reacção. Notei, contudo, que embora tivesse revelado que era Gawda, o meu novo amigo fizera-o em voz baixa. Percebi que se sentia tão pouco à vontade em revelar a sua casta como eu.


“Quem é o seu Panch?”,[6] continuou o Talathi.


“O Sr. Cardozo”, respondi.


“Ele conhece-a?”

“Sim”, respondi prontamente.


“Conhece o Sr. e a Sra. Fernandes? Eles conhecem-na? A Sra. Fernandes foi a sua ex-Panch, não foi?”. Bombardeou-me com perguntas.


“Sim, conheço-os. E eles também me conhecem. Moramos no mesmo bairro”, respondi.


Em tempos, o Sr. Fernandes tinha aconselhado a minha mãe a pedir um certificado de Scheduled Tribe. Tinha, portanto, alguma esperança de que ele pudesse confirmar que éramos Gawda. O Talathi decidiu telefonar a algumas pessoas para investigar a identidade da nossa família.


“Ninguém atende”, disse o Talathi depois de algumas tentativas. Fiquei um pouco desanimada. Foi então que entrou na sala uma senhora com o seu filho. Percebi, pela maneira como falava concani, que era Brâmane. Lembrei-me que quando a minha família paterna nos vinha visitar, a minha tia, que passou a maior parte da sua vida em Bombaim, costumava dizer: “Não usem a palavra tiyani (termo coloquial para o pronome eles, que permite identificar prontamente um Gawda); nós dizemos tenni (palavra mais sofisticada para “eles”)”. Dizia-nos também “Gawdi te Gawdi uttole kennach sudorpana” (“Vocês sempre serão Gawdi e nunca hão-de subir na vida”). Percebo agora o que eles devem ter sentido naquela altura. A minha prima mais nova contou-me uma vez um episódio que me incomodou muito. Ela ofereceu uma camisa verde a um amigo e ele respondeu-lhe: “Só o vosso tipo de gente é que usa essas cores, nós não”. Tive em tempos uma proposta de casamento de uma família de Brâmanes cristãos e a primeira reacção da minha mãe foi: “Avoi…Bamon…Chamti te!” (Ó, os Brâmanes são sempre forretas). Mas depois também me disse que não levantaria quaisquer objecções se eu quisesse aceitar.


“O seu Panch também não atende. A quem devo pedir informações sobre si?”


“Entre”, disse o Talathi para alguém.


Voltei-me e vi o primo de uma amiga que vivia perto de nossa casa. Estava a entrar com um formulário na mão. Fiquei com receio de que ele visse os meus documentos e fosse contar a toda a gente. Para meu alívio, saiu pouco depois.


Estava no gabinete do Talathi há já meia hora e começava a achar que ele não ia dar-me a carta de aprovação, uma vez que não havia provas de que eu pertencesse a uma comunidade tribal.

“Quando os pais têm um certificado, é tudo muito mais fácil”, disse o Talathi, quebrando o silêncio.


“Os meus pais tiveram vergonha de pedir um por causa da discriminação. Mas a minha prima tem. Se quiser, posso trazer o certificado dela”, disse.


Sei que os meus pais devem ter tido boas razões para não pedirem um certificado ST. Talvez tenham querido poupar os seus filhos ao estigma de serem identificados como Gawdi. Por isso, não os censuro. De facto, lembro-me de a minha mãe me ter dito que teve de enfrentar o seu pai para poder casar com o meu, só porque ela era Shudra e o meu pai era Gawdi. Quem devo culpar por termos sido excluídos da comunidade dos primeiros habitantes de Goa? Julgava que era algo de que nos devíamos orgulhar; se é assim, por que razão devemos escondê-lo? Aprendi a admirar as danças e canções Gawda à medida que fui lendo coisas sobre o assunto. Mas não tenho um conhecimento profundo sobre a comunidade. Se tivesse, as coisas teriam sido diferentes.

“Bom dia”, ouvi uma voz conhecida dizer, enquanto estava perdida nos meus pensamentos. Voltei-me e vi que era um amigo do meu pai, acompanhado de um vizinho.


“Eu conheço-os. Ele é amigo do meu pai e o outro senhor é meu vizinho. Pode perguntar-lhes sobre mim”, apressei-me a dizer ao Talathi.


Este vizinho também pertencia à Scheduled Tribe. Mas eu não queria que ele soubesse que estava a pedir um certificado ST, porque sabia que ele ia contar a toda a gente. A minha mãe tinha-me dito que fora este vizinho quem aconselhara os meus pais a não pedirem um certificado ST. Mas eu já não queria saber. Só queria terminar o que tinha ido fazer e sair dali o mais rapidamente possível. O Talathi não mostrou qualquer interesse em perguntar-lhes fosse o que fosse a meu respeito. Estava ocupado com um telefonema. Estava a tornar-se insuportável continuar sentada naquele gabinete.


Antes de ir ao Panchayat, tivera já de pedir um Samaj Certificate e entregá-lo, com muitos outros documentos, ao Mamlatdar.[7] Não foi muito complicado. Depois disso, tive de ir pedir um relatório ao Talathi. Nunca imaginei que fosse tão difícil convencê-lo. Nem sequer disse ao meu irmão o que andava a fazer. Quando ele me perguntou para que servia toda aquela documentação, a minha mãe disse-lhe que era para pedir a renovação da carteira de emprego. Fiquei em silêncio. Não sei porquê. Quando o meu pai quis saber por que razão eu queria um certificado de casta, a minha mãe disse-lhe, fazendo fé nas minhas palavras, que era para o exame do NET (National Eligibility Test).[8] De qualquer modo, ambos me apoiaram incondicionalmente.


“Vá tirar uma fotocópia disto e volte cá”, disse-me o Talathi enquanto me entregava o formulário de aprovação.


“Há alguma casa de fotocópias aqui perto?”, perguntei com entusiasmo.


“A menina é mesmo de Curtorim?”; o Talathi parecia, uma vez mais, intrigado.

“Sim”, respondi.


“A menina mora aqui, estudou aqui e não sabe onde é a casa de fotocópias?”


“Só conheço as do mercado. Não conheço nenhuma aqui. Talvez seja uma loja nova”, respondi. E saí rapidamente do gabinete.


Fiz a fotocópia do formulário de aprovação numa loja ao lado do Panchayat e voltei ao Talathi.

“Preencha”, disse-me ele. “Mas espero não vir a ter nenhum problema, está bem?”, acrescentou.

“Não, de maneira nenhuma”, garanti-lhe. E, passado pouco mais de uma hora, saí do seu gabinete.

O último passo para conseguir o certificado de ST era entregar este formulário de aprovação no gabinete do Mamlatdar. Tudo correu sem problemas. Tive de entregar o certificado no Tribal Welfare Office e, por fim, consegui o meu certificado de ST.


Terminado o processo, ainda me interrogo se estarei realmente preparada para anunciar ao mundo que sou uma Gawdi.


Falo abertamente sobre a minha identidade tribal apenas com pessoas que sinto que me compreendem. Tive um momento de hesitação quando escrevi num formulário de entrevista que pertencia à comunidade tribal, ponderando se deveria realmente fazê-lo. Havia naquele local algumas pessoas que me conheciam e, naquela altura, tinha alguma vergonha da minha identidade ST. Mas ganhei coragem e escrevi a verdade. Às vezes, falo abertamente sobre a minha identidade tribal; noutras ocasiões, apetece-me escondê-la. Parece-me, por vezes, que coloco a máscara de Gawdi quando vejo a possibilidade de retirar daí algum beneficio, removendo-a quando regresso ao mundo real. Ao fazê-lo, sinto que estou a perpetuar a discriminação… Concordo que as pessoas não devem ser discriminadas com base na tribo, na casta ou na religião. Mas, por outro lado, talvez eu também discrimine os outros. Lembro-me de ter recusado propostas de casamento só porque os rapazes eram de famílias cristãs de casta alta. Também já reparei que as pessoas da minha aldeia e da minha família ainda chamam “certificado de casta” ao “certificado de tribo”. Eu própria usei as duas palavras, ao longo deste texto, como se fossem equivalentes. Concluo que as pessoas não sabem a diferença entre casta e tribo. Usam muitas vezes palavras como Casta-che (de casta) mas nunca Triba-che (de tribo). Não tenho qualquer problema em usar a expressão Scheduled Tribe, mas o meu certificado diz CERTIFICADO DE CASTA. E, no final, acrescenta “pertencente à scheduled tribe Gawda”. Por conseguinte, eu também não sei que termo utilizar.


Aguardo para ver o que esta nova identidade me reserva. Nem sequer sei se os meus primos, que sempre viveram em Bombaim, têm a noção de que somos Gawdis. Se sabem, como se sentem em relação a isso? Terá alguma importância para eles? Por que razão fiquei em silêncio quando o meu irmão perguntou o que se passava? Li uma vez no jornal que a minha aldeia tem três bairros maioritariamente habitados pela comunidade Gawdi. Até hoje não sei quais são. Não sei se quero que os meus pais saibam que estou a estudar ou a escrever sobre a minha identidade tribal. Será que o faço para eliminar as diferenças de casta ou para esconder a minha casta? Não sei o que significa ser Gawdi. Por enquanto, não tenho um sentimento forte de pertença em relação à minha tribo. Tenho vivido como uma não-Gawdi mas não posso dizer que não sou Gawdi.


Estarei numa espécie de crise de identidade? Será que a minha vida vai continuar a ser a mesma, ou será que mudará para sempre? Quererei, de facto, esta identidade? Se sim, será apenas pelos benefícios que me traz? Não estarei eu a encorajar a discriminação? Os meus pais sempre me mantiveram longe das diferenças de casta/tribo. Serei capaz de enfrentar a discriminação, se alguma vez tiver de me confrontar com ela?


Agora que assumi a minha identidade tribal, penso muitas vezes na reacção de outros Gawda. Irão aceitar-me ou pensarão que sou apenas uma oportunista, alguém que adquiriu o certificado tribal apenas pelos seus benefícios? Sinceramente, não tenho resposta para isso. Não vou mentir e dizer que não usarei o meu certificado para fazer valer os meus direitos. Mas, mais importante do que isso, tenho o certificado para me ajudar a chegar a uma conclusão sobre a minha identidade. Como posso escrever nos formulários, ou noutro local qualquer, que pertenço a uma categoria geral quando sei que isso não é verdade? Além disso, se eu escrever que pertenço à comunidade Gawda, terei de prová-lo. Não ficarei, por conseguinte, de consciência tranquila se não tiver um certificado, mas se o tiver é a sociedade que não me deixa em paz. Na verdade, temo que a minha própria comunidade possa questionar as razões que me levam a querer adoptar uma identidade Gawda, uma vez que nunca sofri qualquer tipo de discriminação e sou assolada por todos estes receios. Podem pensar que sou como aquelas pessoas que obtêm certificados falsos para lhes roubarem as suas oportunidades.


Se pensam que nunca fui vítima da discriminação de casta, tudo o que posso dizer é que não estaria aqui a escrever sobre a minha experiência se não fosse esse o caso. Na verdade, posso vir a ter de enfrentar uma dupla discriminação: primeiro, por parte dos não-Gawda, por ser Gawda; e, segundo, por parte dos Gawda, que podem pensar que eu estou a usar a minha identidade Gawda apenas para daí retirar benefícios pessoais. Se o tratamento fosse igual para todas as castas, ser-me-ia perfeitamente indiferente saber que sou Gawda. Mas como não é esse o caso, sinto que sou vítima do sistema de castas.


Agora que passei o meu exame NET, penso que há mais probabilidades de ser rotulada como uma oportunista. Vão dizer que passei o exame apenas por causa do meu certificado e não por mérito próprio. Sei que alguns dos meus amigos que pertencem à categoria geral não foram aprovados, embora tenham conseguido uma classificação mais alta do que a minha. Pergunto-me como se sentirão em relação a isto. Também devem sentir-se discriminados. Devo, portanto, sentir-me mal por eles ou feliz por ter passado o exame? De certa maneira, sinto que o facto de ter adoptado a minha identidade tribal pode criar problemas, não só a mim mas também a outros membros da comunidade tribal. Poderá haver maior oposição ao sistema de quotas.


Há momentos em que gostaria de ser conhecida apenas por Favita. Em que preferia não ter descoberto a minha identidade tribal e não ter de enfrentar esta situação. Mas este processo marcou-me. Transformou-me numa nova pessoa. Uma pessoa com um conjunto de novas questões que requerem novas respostas. Espero apenas ultrapassar esta confusão e perceber com maior clareza o que quero fazer e onde me quero posicionar. Também gostaria de saber se há outras pessoas a enfrentar crises semelhantes à minha.

Traduzido por Dr. Monica Saavedra e Manuel J. Magalhães


(This Portuguese translation was published in Boletim da Casa da Goa, September-October 2016. The original English version first appeared here)


[1] Funcionário do corpo administrativo da aldeia, encarregado de funções burocráticas.

[2] Órgão administrativo de uma dada aldeia, constituído por um grupo de cinco pessoas democraticamente eleitas.

[3] Documento que prova a pertença a uma determinada casta ou tribo, mais especificamente as que são consideradas socialmente desfavorecidas (scheduled ou “classificadas”), de acordo com a Constituição Indiana.

[4] Termo que, no caso de Goa, se refere aos indivíduos pertencentes aos grupos populacionais normalmente tidos como autóctones.

[5] Subdivisão de um distrito,[o concelho do antigo Estado da Índia Portuguesa]. Grupo de várias aldeias organizado para efeitos de administração fiscal.

[6] Um dos membros eleitos do Panchayat.

[7] Samaj Certificate – Certificado emitido por um organismo não governamental com o objetivo de garantir os direitos de uma determinada casta ou comunidade. Mamlatdar – magistrado nomeado de acordo com o artigo 20º do Indian Criminal Procedure Code de 1973. É um funcionário superior nomeado pelo governo estadual e preside ao Taluka.

[8] Teste que avalia os candidatos a lugares de ensino nas faculdades e universidades indianas, bem como a atribuição de bolsas para investigadores em início de carreira.

Reflections on Republic Day



Come Republic Day and an apparent prevailing disregard for the Constitution becomes an occasion to stock take and introspect.


Earlier this year, the Supreme Court came down heavily on tendency of re-promulgation of ordinances. The apex court reasoned that this can amount to a fraud on the constitution, when an edifice of rights is built by subverting due legislative processes. It termed it as legislative overreach.


Leave alone re-promulgation of an ordinance, even an ordinance is required to be promulgated under exceptional circumstances, as it signifies a departure from the basic constitutional order. In this also, Goa did not lag behind. The Goa Regularization of Unauthorised Construction Ordinance, was promulgated on 24th June, 2016, without any coherent reason for not waiting for the matter to be discussed in the Assembly.


A disturbing development is the accentuation of how ‘difference’ is being treated or deployed. The Constitution of India considers that to treat individuals located differently on the social and economic spectrum, the same way, would be to treat them unequally. But the ruling dispensation does exactly this: it treats differently located people the same way resulting in inequality.


People in an unequal situation cannot be treated the same way. Writing in 1894, French novelist Anatole France had sarcastically remarked, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread”. Fast forward to November 2016 and there is still a basis for articulating such sarcasm, despite a Constitution that upholds the principle of substantive equality. Prime Minister Modi announced, in the aftermath of demonetisation, that “this (meaning demonetisation) move has brought the rich and the poor on the same tangent”. He completely missed the point that the rich can negotiate tangents with their financial clout, while the poor cannot. For instance, the rich could swipe their cards at malls, while the poor were cashless, cardless and even shirtless. The small vendor has been struggling with her business, which is not something the rich businessman (such as a mall-owner) would have to endure.


Another disturbing aspect is how ‘difference’ is deployed to imply that Goa may not need the special provisions focussed on addressing the discrimination based on difference. Even recently, at a youth convention in Goa, former Chief Minister (and currently India’s Defence Minister) Manohar Parrikar blew hot and cold stating that “though the situation in Goa is different, the social condition of SC and ST people across the country is not good”. Again completely missing the point that the reservation policy mandated by the Constitution, is grossly violated by the State in Goa. And as if this was not bad enough, even the wings of Commissions statutorily set up to monitor the enforcement of rights of marginalised sections, are clipped by a mere executive order when they choose to act on their respective mandate. As has most recently been the case with the Goa State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which has been told in no uncertain terms that it has no jurisdiction to look into denial of constitutional protection in service matters, after some persons began to tap the potential of the Commission for redressing denial of reservations.


It seems that Goa’s difference has over the years been projected to its disadvantage. It was the basis, for the Parliament not extending the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, suggesting that Goa’s women are not afflicted by the problem of dowry because Goa has a uniform civil code, where sons and daughters have equal rights to parental property. As if the uniform civil code has a correlation with the incidence or lack of incidence of dowry demand and dowry related harassment. Thus they made having the uniform civil code a reasonable classification for denying Goa some of the laws enacted in the rest of India to address women’s issues. It took a lot of persuasion by the women’s movement in Goa to get the law finally extended over three decades later.


Same with the acknowledgement of the existence of child sexual abuse and other crimes. The State has always tried to shirk responsibility by denial or by making odious comparisons. Ditto with the existence of AIDS in Goa. In these cases, the myth of difference – of being peaceful and safe, was sought to be deployed to cover up the existence and consequently to deprive the local population of appropriate measures of redressal.


Why, after reneging on last time’s poll promise of special status, as reflected in its 2012 election manifesto, the BJP’s Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar now says that Goa cannot get special status as it tops on all fronts. The arguments of a different history and connected consequences for citizenship, including holding of agricultural property and voting rights, as the rationale for a special status, are quietly swept under the carpet, not even considered.


Thus we see that difference is either not recognised, or the discriminatory attitude to being differently located in or vis-à-vis power, works negatively, but positive discrimination has rarely been the privilege of those in Goa who deserve it most.


Or where the difference is recognised, Goa and its people are commodified, used and abused. Everyone in Goa, it seems, has to remain content with Goa being referred to as a mole that lends beauty to the nation. Amit Shah in his recent visit reflected the spirit in which dominant India, including the ruling establishment, looks at Goa. Different and commodified, for selfish motives of a select few.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 26 January, 2017)