When Jallikattu Raises the Dhirio Issues

By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

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)

Ser ou não ser Gawda

Por FAVITA DIAS

 

“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.

Caste Atrocities in Goa: A Fight against Invisibilisation

By AMITA KANEKAR

Goa has been making headlines of late for violent crime. But while there has been criticism of the over-the-top way in which many of these crimes are reported and discussed, it is much worse when the violence is not reported at all, when it is in fact ‘invisibilised’ and thus normalised. Many Goans might not even know that a community called the Wanarmari existed before the recent newspaper reports of an attack on their settlement in Nirakal-Bethoda, Ponda. But this incident was only the latest and most overt form of violence faced by this community, one of the most marginalised in Goa. As the Goa govt danced attendance on BRICS, where Modi swanned around as the leader of the ‘largest democracy in the world’, not half an hour away is a community of Goans who have never voted, besides being denied basic education, healthcare, jobs and housing.

As the newspapers reported, on 16th October, some 30 villagers of Nirakal barged into the small Wanarmari hamlet, when the adults of the community were away at work. The intruders ripped the roofs – made of palm leaves and plastic sheets – off all the huts, and broke the timber posts of some, sending the huts crashing to the ground. Then they destroyed all the possessions inside, especially the most valuable ones, like the solar panels (the only source of night lighting in the settlement), food stocks, children’s school uniforms, stored water (carried manually from a stream one hour away), vessels, along with the vegetable and fruit trees planted near the houses.

img_20161018_155349266

One of the destroyed huts of the Vanarmare community. Photo: Amita Kanekar.

A week earlier, on 8th October, newspapers had reported that some Nirakal villagers had met the District Collector, and also the Industries Minister and local MLA, Mr. Mahadev Naik, to evict the Wanarmari from the village, calling them ‘dirty’ and ‘a nuisance’. Before that, on 2nd October, some villagers had visited the hamlet while the menfolk were away fishing, to threaten the women there that they would burn all the houses down; the women, fearing for their lives, ran into the jungle with their children. Finally, about a year ago, the press had reported that the Bethoda Panchayat had passed a resolution to evict the community from the village.

The Social Justice Action Committee – Goa had actually made a complaint to the Collector about a week ago, chronicling this growing harassment and demanding action before things got worse. However, nothing was done till after the 16th Oct. attack. The police even admitted that, thanks to BRICS, they had no manpower to spare; everything had to wait till Modi left the state. It is taken for granted that security for the PM means unprotected citizens!

But what was the reason for the attack? The victims themselves find it inexplicable. ‘Nothing has happened here between them and us. No fights, no problems, no complaints.’ They have worked off and on for their assaulters’ families over three generations now, they point out. And while it is true that the villagers sometimes take offence when a request for labour is met with refusal – saying: we allow you to stay and you refuse to work for us? – this has never lead to violence.

But the answer can perhaps be found in the changed context. The Wanarmaris, who call themselves Kathkari, belong to a larger tribal group living mostly in Maharashtra, where they are listed as a Primitive Tribal Group. In Goa, however, they do not have even ST status. Traditionally hunters, they were forced to give this up by the forest authorities some decades ago, and thus became wage labourers seeking work on farms, fields, and orchards. And, although they have lived in Nirakal for at least three generations now, it was never a continuous settled residence. ‘After we finished a season of work, we would be told to go,’ says Gopal S. Powar. ‘So we would go somewhere else. There too, we would be driven away after our work was done.’

Nomadism was thus not a choice. And, although they contributed to agricultural production in the region, they got little in return. But things changed in the last 4-5 years. Thanks to interactions with social activists, the people decided to send their children to school, and therefore to settle down. The younger children are now studying in Nirakal’s government primary school. Today the community has ration and adhaar cards. They were also provided solar lamps in order to facilitate the studies of the school-going kids. Now they have applied for voter’s cards.

Thus, they are finally getting the first of their basic rights as citizens. But could this in fact be the problem? After the Sunday attack, a large mob led by the Nirakal sarpanch had the audacity to visit the hamlet in order to remind the community – right in front of the police – that they had been warned to leave the village long ago. From where does this hatred come? There seems to be a resentment of the changing lives of the Vanarmare, a desire for them to remain as they were, i.e. nomadic, ignorant, and without any rights. Behind these sentiments is not just traditional casteism, but also the conviction that development for all is not possible; in such a situation it is easier to demonise and target a weaker group, rather than question the system.

And the same attitudes prevail elsewhere too: high-society murders lead to op-eds about Goa going to the dogs if it can’t attract and protect such elites, but sustained cruelty over generations to hard-working and sustainable-living tribals creates not a whimper of disquiet.

The Wanarmari say they are determined to secure their children’s right to a decent life. But will the administration – as much, if not more, to blame as all of us– get its act together at least now, to ensure at least basic security and development to all?

With thanks to Gopal S. Powar, Shalan T. Powar, Santosh G. Powar, Anjini D. Nikam, and other residents of the Vanarmare settlement, Nirakal-Bethora.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 20 October, 2016)

Z Axis 2016: Of Architectural Heritage and Contexts

By AMITA KANEKAR

 

‘Everything is our heritage’, was one of the memorable statements made at Z Axis 2016, the second conference on architecture organised last month by the Charles Correa Foundation (CCF) in Goa. It was said by Chinese architect Yung Ho Chang, while speaking about how he looked for inspiration to ancient China, Soviet-era China, Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, Modernist Germany, and all buildings anywhere. At a time when attempts are on to force people in Goa and India into nationalist straitjackets of what is ‘our’ culture, diet, language, history, etc, it was refreshing to hear an argument for global heritage, even if only from the limited realm of architectural practice.

 

And it is limited. Architecture may include all buildings, but the practice of architecture, or what architects (are expected to) do, touches only a small fraction of them. According to Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum, winner of this year’s Aga Khan Award and another speaker at Z Axis 2016, as many as 90% of buildings are built without architects.

 

Even so, thinking about architectural practice is useful. Because the apparently tiny 10% comprises the big projects, the public ones, the expensive ones, and almost all the problematic, wasteful, and destructive ones. We architects desperately need to look critically at what we’re doing, if not stop doing it. The annual conference begun by the CCF in 2015 is thus a very welcome event.

 

Like most such events, the two editions so far have been uneven, in content as well as diversity, with almost no women speakers in 2015, and non-upper caste and local (Goan) speakers noticeable by their absence both times.

 

The 2015 conference, on the state of the city and titled Great City… Terrible Place, still set a high standard thanks to stellar presentations by two architects: Kunlé Adeyemi and Santiago Cirugeda. Nigerian Adeyemi’s firm NLÉ (At Home) works with local communities to develop projects like the award-winning Floating School of Makoko, part of a settlement once condemned as a slum. Spanish ‘guerrilla architect’ Cirugeda went further, challenging practically everything architects normally stand for. His architectural firm, Recetas Urbanas (Urban Recipes), is famous for reclaiming public spaces for communities in Seville, with low-cost and self-build projects in which the architect plays the role of facilitator, not for design or technical issues – those are handled by the community – but to deal with the law, politics, and bureaucracy.  Architecture is obsessed with beauty, said Cirugeda, when the really important things should be people and social function.

 

It was an electrifying presentation, especially for a conservative patron-driven profession like architecture. The discomfort in the student-filled auditorium was palpable, giving the lie to the idea that students love revolutionaries.

 

There was nothing quite as exciting at the 2016 conference, Buildings as Ideas, intended as a tribute to the late Charles Correa. At the outset, Rahul Mehrotra spoke of how Correa ‘reached into history to tradition’ as the context of Indian architecture. Some of the other presentations also touched upon context, in the realm of form, materials, landscape, as well as tradition. Too many however remained with beautiful-buildings-in-beautiful-settings, with far too many of the vacation homes, art galleries, and monuments that have given architects such a bad name.

 

Architecture is really a pathetic profession, admitted Chang at one point. ‘We don’t really contribute much, when we could do much more.’ One practise that seemed to buck the trend was that of Hunnarshala Foundation in Kutch, described (in absentia) by its founder, Sandeep Virmani. Hunnarshala’s focus is community-driven projects that are sustainable and make the most of traditional knowledge. One of its aims has been to revive and modernise traditional techniques of building, and train people, often villagers, in them. Some of their students have built successful careers in building techniques and even worked abroad. It has also been trying this—i.e. applying modern science to traditional community knowledge—in water-harvesting, animal husbandry, and other areas.

 

Hunnarshala thus stood out as a different kind of architectural practice, working with non-elite communities and their need of better shelter and jobs. Its focus on tradition, however, raises questions. How does the strengthening of a village’s traditions affect its normally casteist, patriarchal, and parochial culture? Was it better for marginalised castes and women when traditions were strong, or weak?

 

Some of these concerns were illustrated in another presentation, also connected to Hunnarshala, by Bombay architect Sameep Padora. It included varied urban projects, a village temple, and a community centre for Dalit Buddhist workers in a factory, the last in collaboration with Hunnarshala. The temple was presented as an exercise in form, ignoring its role of institutionalising caste, while the community centre had a floor made of – guess what? – cowdung. This extremely fragile, rough, and smelly flooring, once traditional for the village poor, was chosen because of the tight budget, said the architect. However, he added, it connects the users to the building since they have to redo it themselves every fifteen days.

 

But would he or Hunnarshala ever offer this ‘connection’ to the users of their other projects? Then why here? Could it be because of the social location of these users as so-called ‘low’ castes? Or the fact that, in caste society, cow dung and cow urine are traditional ways of purifying space supposedly polluted by the ‘low’?

 

Some answers were to be had from South African architect Ilze Wolff, who spoke of buildings as bad ideas. Her focus was the Apartheid-era Modernist architecture of an old factory building in Capetown. Pointing out how discrimination based on race, gender and class could be ‘read’ in the architecture, in the separate spaces, differing sizes of space, and differing qualities of space, Wolff too spoke of the importance of context in architecture, but what she meant was the social context, of race and gender.

 

In South Asia, the social context is caste. Charles Correa had spoken of how all Indian architecture is connected, whether vernacular, Modernist or monumental. One important connect is this context of caste. It is visible all over the place, but especially readable in traditional building and settlement types. This is probably why elites here, architects included, feel so attached to the latter. Our heritage might be the whole world, but what we hold on to reveals our own social location.

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 10 October, 2016)

From Sateri to Navdurga, and Worshippers to Sevekaris

By AMITA KANEKAR

 

At the foot of the entrance stairway to the Navdurga temple of Marcaim, a banner waves in the wind. On it, in Nagri-scripted Konkani, is:

 

Amchi murti, amkam zai!
Mullchi murti amkam zai, hich amchi vhadlikai
Ganvkar saglle ek zavya, amchi murti ami rakhum-ya

(We want our idol!
We want the original idol, for it is our pride
Unite Gaonkars, we have to protect our idol!)

 

The temple has been in the news of late for the dispute between the GSB Mahajans and the bahujan villagers, which began over the temple idol. The Mahajans, who wanted a new idol, claim the temple is theirs and built when they migrated to Marcaim. The villagers say that the Mahajans are Mahajans only because they were able to use their privileged caste position to register under the 19th century Lei das Mazanias. The temple, they say, actually belongs to the village. The villagers also took over some rituals that were earlier the privilege of the Mahajans alone, like the palki procession in which the idol is carried through the village along a specific route. The Mahajans responded by declaring all rituals cancelled till further notice.

 

The dispute is before the courts. But a visit to Marcaim reveals a many-layered worship, which is at once deeply connected to the bahujan communities and non-brahmanical deities, but in a casteist fashion.

 

The temple itself is built in the syncretic style of many Goan shrines of the 17th-early 20th centuries and still retains some of this distinctive old ambience, including the basilican (i.e. church-like) plan, arched windows, and a Renaissance dome over the sanctum, along with pitched roofs elsewhere. Much of this has however been rebuilt in concrete and altered in the process, either subtly (like the roofs), or crudely (like the large ugly window-eaves), or even completely (like the new secondary buildings).

 

The syncretism in any case is limited to the temple’s architecture, for its functioning is as brahmanical as ever. All the functions and rituals of the temple need bahujan participation, the villagers say. But this participation is never equal or free but always based on caste. There are drums in the temple lobby, beaten only by the Gomantak Maratha Samaj caste. There are the gold- and silver-clad inner doorways, created by the Chari caste. The priests all belong to the Bhat caste. And only they and the GSB Mahajans enter the sanctum, even today. In fact, the bahujans who contribute to the temple’s functioning are called sevekaris (servants).

 

The temple’s influence extends through the village in many ways, but always hierarchically. E.g. rituals like the First Harvest, for which rice is specially cultivated near big tallem (pond) known as the Tallembandh, see the harvest offered first to the temple and the Mahajans, and only then other houses in the village.

 

Anthills, known as roin or Sateri, have long been considered sacred by the indigenous communities of Goa. There are two Sateris in Marcaim, in different vados. One is near the Tallyambandh, on a GSB-owned property. Nearby is a Sateri temple and another to Vetal, another non-brahmanical diety. This Sateri and its temple used to be frequented by villagers earlier but have now been walled around, making public access difficult. The second Sateri is located with its own little temple at Tallyamkhol, another tallem at the foot of a hill in Parampaivado. This Sateri remains accessible to all, for the land here belongs to a Christian bhatkar. This is where Navdurga’s palki procession ends, to return over the hill back to the temple.

 

There have been attempts to change things, as when a grand new gateway was recently built along the palki route in the village. Funded by bahujan devotees from one of the village vados, it carries a plaque naming the vado. There are similar new gateways at the temple proper which also prominently bear the names of funders—GSB ones—which have not caused comment. But here the palki route was apparently altered, to avoid passing through the bahujan-funded gate.

 

Curbs are now being put on older ways of participation, probably as a result of these challenges. E.g. the bahujans would put up decorations at the Tallembandh for the yearly Sangod ritual, but now a new metal fence prevents their entry.

 

All in all, it is clear that the Mahajans are fighting to maintain their privilege and power, in the face of a growing bahujan challenge. The real question is about the focus of this challenge. Marcaim’s worship of the goddess Navdurga appears to be an overlay on the bahujan Sateri and other non-brahmanical gods, co-opting these and their worshippers into the brahmanical world but as inferiors. The bahujan stand however seems to be that this brahmanical temple, with its ‘original’ idol, is native to the village and belongs to them; only the GSBs are outsiders. The problem with this stand is that it challenges the Brahmins but not brahmanism. For, can a brahmanical temple—which is casteist not just in practice but also theory, being backed by all the casteism of the Shashtras, Stutis, and Smritis—ever oppose brahmanism?

 

The real need is not to fight Brahmins, but to challenge Brahmanism in every form. Otherwise faces will change, but nothing else. This is going to be a long battle, but one small step in it could be to put up another banner outside the temple with the same slogan in, not the baman bhasha, but Romi Concanim, or Marathi, or English.

 

(With thanks to Ashwinkumar Naik)

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 22 September, 2016)

Caste Atrocities in Goa: Give Us this Day… Our Land!

By AMITA KANEKAR

Gayechi shepdi tumi doura,amkaam amchi zamin diya – such is the slogan (translated into Concani) of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladayi Samiti, formed in Gujarat after the recent atrocity where 4 Dalit men were tortured by Gau Rakshaks, for disposing of dead cattle. Atrocities on Dalits are of course not new for South Asia; indeed they are the way of life for the brahmanical societies here. But, even as India rang to this new slogan, and other inspiring news from Gujarat where a vow has been taken by Dalit communities to forswear this occupation that they have traditionally been forced to do, leading to the dumping of cattle carcasses in front of government offices, Goa has been mostly silent. There was a small protest on 15 August in support of the Gujarat struggle, but, apart from this, one would imagine that Goa has nothing to do with such atrocities.

But this is not true. Atrocities against Dalits (and others) are part of not just Goa’s history, but contemporary culture too. Just a few days earlier, the people of Shahu Nagar wado in Ibrampur village, Pernem, had invited lawyers and others to their village to discuss the serious caste discrimination rampant there. Ibrampur has seven wados with a total population of 1800, of which the Mahars comprise 166 persons. As is the case with most Goan villages, the wados are caste-based, with the Mahars living to this day in a separate wado, known to the village and the government as the Maharwado or Harijanwado, though the residents have decided to change the name to Shahu Nagar. And although they have lived here for generations, toiling on the land and growing many fruit trees and other crops there, the land is not in their name, except for their houses. The rest is in the control of the Communidade of the village. And this Communidade is dominated by members of the Gawas community, who consider themselves higher than the Mahars.

The recent grievance of the Mahars concerns the Prime Minister’s Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, under which Ibrampur is one of three villages selected to become a ‘model village’. Funds have been laid out for these villages to invest on various kinds of infrastructure. The Shahu Nagar residents had applied 2 years ago for a community hall and children’s park in their wado, individual (private) toilets and water connections, and a proper road to all houses in the wado. The Gram Panchayat apparently said that a No-Objection Certificate (NoC) was required from the Communidade, which the latter had refused to give. When the villagers approached the Communidade, they were told that the NoC would only be provided if the people of Shahu Nagar took up all their old occupations again. They had been permitted to stay on the land, the Communidade members are reported to have said, only in return for providing ‘seva’ to the village. In other words, the Mahars had to go back to beating drums at temple festivities, beating the dhol through the village at other times, clearing carcasses, delivering messages, etc, all of which they had given up years ago.

The people of Shahu Nagar protested that many of them were employed otherwise now. The Communidade however remained adamant. the Mahars had to do the work. Only then would the development of their wado be considered.

Meanwhile, the funds released under the scheme are being utilised in the other wados, where roads, gutters, taps, toilets, and wells are being built. In Shahu Nagar however, even a deep and dangerous hole which has developed in the main road remains unrepaired.

And this is not the only atrocity being faced by the Dalits here. They are not allowed to build new houses, extend their old ones, or even build new sheds or barns; one person was threatened when he tried. And they are, even today, not allowed to enter the village temple. There are some houses, including that of a teacher of the local school, where they are offered water in separate glasses. This school conducts a Satyanarayana puja every year (itself a questionable activity—why should a government school hold religious programme, and that of only some faiths?) in which Mahar students are not allowed to play a role. The villagers say that they have complained about all this to BJP MLA Rajendra Arlekar, who represents Pernem in the Assembly, but to no avail.

And Ibrampur’s story is not a unique one. Avinash Jadhav, an activist of Dalit Ekta Samiti, carried out a one-day hunger strike in Panjim on 15 August, in solidarity with the Gujarat movement and also to highlight atrocities in Goa, especially in Sattari. Jadhav described Dalits there as living ‘in custody’. They lived, he said, completely at the mercy of the bhatkars, i.e. the Rane family, with no title to the land on which they have lived and toiled for generations, without the freedom to harvest the produce from their own trees, sometimes even with barbed wire fencing put around their houses by the bhatkar’s men to prevent them ‘trespassing’ on the sprawling lands controlled by him.

In other words, our ‘progressive’ land of Goa is rife with caste-based atrocities, most of them directly connected to the practices and beliefs of Hinduism, as pointed out ages ago by Jyotiba Phule as well as Dr Ambedkar. And a critical element of this oppression is through control of land. Thus the slogan given by the Dalits in Gujarat, challenging the Hindu obsession with the cow and also focussing on land, is the slogan for Goa as well – Keep the cow’s tail for yourself, give us our land!

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 25 August, 2016)

Goa’s Reservation Scam, Part 2

By AMITA KANEKAR

 

My last column was on how the system of caste-based reservations, which is supposed to ensure representation of all communities in government and education, is consistently subverted in Goa. This is commonly done by fudging the reservation rosters (which contain each department’s record of implementation, on a post by post basis), or by not following the proper procedures in recruitment, admissions, advertisement, etc, or by simply acting as if reservations don’t apply.

 

Examples include the improper reservation rosters of Goa University, and improper admission procedures to the B.Ed course by the Directorate of Higher Education. For improper advertisements, one need only open any newspaper: almost all government departments and colleges, along with the University, ignore the rules regarding announcement of reserved posts/seats, viz. clear mention of the number and location of the reserved posts/seats, the method of application, the relaxation in qualifications, etc. And those who simply and illegally ignore reservations include many schools, private colleges, self-financed courses, as also contract and hourly-basis employment everywhere.

 

Such is the ongoing subversion of the rules. In this article, I want to discuss the implications of this subversion, and also how some of the rules themselves are a problem.

 

According to the Goa government’s employee record (of 1/1/2015), while 41% of posts are reserved for SC, ST and OBC communities, only 23.4% are reserved posts actually occupied by reserved category recruits. 43% of the reserved posts are thus held by others. But the law says that no reserved post can, after 1997, be allotted to an unreserved (UR) candidate. This means that the post-1997 appointees in this 43%—numbering into the thousands—are illegitimate occupants of these posts and should immediately vacate them. Their ignorance of the scam is not an excuse. If you buy a stolen car in ignorance, are you allowed to keep it? No. Similarly if you accept a stolen job, you can’t keep it.

 

And even this figure of 23.4% is probably inflated. One recalls the roster examined in the last article (of Assistant Professors at Goa University), where various ‘mistakes’ conveniently resulted in a higher percentage of filled reservations. Only an examination of all the government’s reservation rosters will reveal the true situation.

 

The Goa’s Government’s demarking of a total of only 41% posts for caste-based reservation is also questionable, given that the Supreme Court has allowed caste-based reservations up to 50%, and that SC, ST and OBC communities are over 50% of Goa’s total population.

 

There are also problems in the roster lists. Non-caste reservations like Physically Disabled (PD) and Children of Freedom Fighters (CFF) are not supposed to be listed like caste-based ones, for they cut across caste. E.g. a PD recruit would also be UR, SC, ST or OBC. So the proper way of maintaining the reservation roster is having the 3% PD recruits occupy UR, SC, ST, OBC positions, as the case may be, and by selecting one PD candidate in every 33 recruitments. Goa however chooses to fix separate posts for these.

 

How are all these posts fixed? According to the system in central organisations, if the reservation for ST is 7%, i.e. 7 in a 100 employees or one in every 14, the first ST post is No. 14, the second No. 28, and so on. Now this is only for central government where the cadre strength is generally large and the smallest reservation is 7%. State governments are supposed to work out norms that fit their situation.

 

In Goa, the smallest caste-based reservation is SC at 2%, i.e. one in 50 employees. Applying the above rule places the first SC post at No. 50 on the roster. This means that it will take forever for the first SC recruitment, especially with many small departments/cadres. E.g. in a cadre of 10, the SC appointment will happen only after the retirement/dismissal/death of not just all the first 10 recruits, but also their successors, the successors of their successors, and so on, till the 5th generation, i.e. after perhaps a hundred years. This obviously defeats the purpose of reservations. If one really wanted to achieve representation of all communities in a tiny cadre, one would put the first SC, ST, OBC posts at Nos. 1, 2, and 3 on the roster.

 

Goa’s government however applies this central rule, but with casteist modifications. The lowest reservation percentages in Goa are SC at 2%, CFF at 2%, and PD at 3%. With CFF and PD listed on Goa’s rosters just like castes, the first CFF post should be No. 50 (like SC), and the first PD No. 33. But Goa has instead put the first PD at No. 1, and the first CFF at No. 10, while the first SC is far away at No. 49. Thus, there will be PD and CFF recruits even in small cadres, but not SCs. Why this discrimination? Obviously, it’s because PD and CFF recruits can be UR, and usually are.

 

Thus there are innumerable ways in which caste-based reservations get subverted in Goa. And changing this looks difficult, given the brahmanical tendencies of all our political parties. But an attempt is on. Following many complaints by individuals from the marginalised communities, members of Goa’s Social Justice Action Committee (sjac@gmail.com) are conducting workshops to create awareness on the issue. And the group ‘We for Reservations’ (v4reservations@gmail.com) has announced a conference on reservations in Ponda, on August 28.

 

Bahujan Goa is fighting back.

 

(With thanks to the ‘Discrimination in Reservations’ workshop conducted by Yugandraj Redkar and Prof. Alito Siqueira.)

 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 28 July, 2016)