Of Temples, Conversions, and Apologies


The Portuguese Prime Minister should apologise, say the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM), ‘as soon as he lands, for all the atrocities committed on the people of Goa, while the Portuguese ruled Goa.’

Let us leave aside the fact that these apology-seekers have long been part of the present ruling establishment, and thus should themselves apologise first for their failure on every single front—for the freely proliferating casinos, for the mining mess, for the numerous white elephant projects destroying the environment while driving the state into massive debt, for the communities being uprooted right and left, for the lack of decent employment and wages for Goans even as the government prepares to clean out the state coffers to provide the 7th Pay Commission bonanza—to itself.

But let us ignore the fact that this talk of apologies for the past is clearly an attempt to distract us from the issues of the present, and to make some nationalist mileage out of the visit of the Prime Minister of Portugal to Goa. Let us also ignore the fact that it is ridiculous to ask for apologies for past events whose participants are dead and gone. What I would like to look at instead is the history peddled by the MGP and GSM, which, as expected, is both one-sided and brahmanical to the core.

So what are these atrocities that they want an apology for? ‘There was maximum destruction done by the Portuguese by destroying temples and bridges, just as they left Goa in 1961,’ claims former PWD minister Sudin Dhavalikar. Plus there was the ‘oppression under the Portuguese rule, conversions and inhumane treatment’, adds GSM president Anand Shirodkar, not to mention the introduction of the ‘English language culture’.

Now this is the first time one has heard of temples destroyed in 1961, probably because it never happened. There are of course records of temple destruction by the Portuguese earlier. But it is really a question whether this calls for apologies. Because what exactly did these temples represent? Even today, many Hindu temples across India are strongly brahmanical institutions.  Dalits have been beaten, even killed, for stepping inside temples in India not centuries ago but in current times. In Goa, while overt violence might not be heard of, Dalits are still barred from Hindu temples in Pernem. Even elsewhere—as in Marcaim, represented by Dhavalikar in the Goa Assembly—full access is allowed only to certain castes, while every single job, ritual and celebration sees the enforcement of the caste system with its ideas of purity and pollution.

The bahujan struggle at Marcaim to democratise the control of the temple is, not surprisingly, yet to receive a word of support from Dhavalikar.

How would it have been centuries ago when the temples of the Velhas Conquistas were destroyed? These dominant-caste temples were not just the owners of wealth, including lands, gold, and all kinds of slaves, but also the heart and soul of caste society. As Xavier and Zupanov (Catholic Orientalism, 2015) point out, the temples were the ‘centre of local sociability, a memory archive of social distinctions, a collective treasury, and the seat of village authority’. This was a society that upheld sati (banned by Albuquerque) and treated bahujans literally like dirt; not even accepting them as animals, forget humans; not allowing them to eat or dress decently—because that was against religion, the religion upheld by the temples. It was a time when Dalits could be killed in religiously-sanctioned sacrifices for the construction of all grand projects, as the inscriptions in Vijayanagara (Hampi) describe.

The destruction of such institutions by the Portuguese would thus surely have been seen as a moment of liberation by many, even though it was probably done not for liberation but as a statement of power.

As for conversions, according to Ângela Barreto Xavier (2007), the untouchables (farazes) were willing converts to Christianity, for they saw it as a chance to escape caste oppression. It is another matter that, thanks to many dominant castes also converting in order to retain power and wealth, caste itself entered Goan Catholicism. Even so, Catholicism still offered the message of equality, at least theoretically. The combination of this theory with the jobs, education, and other opportunities offered by the Estado to Catholic bahujans, meant that they could leave their former humiliating conditions and seek new opportunities. As Raghuraman Trichur and Peter de Souza point out, this in turn provided an opportunity for oppressed castes in the regions outside the Estado. For the Velhas Conquistas now needed labour; bahujan outsiders could find work here and thus escape their old positions and identities.

Conversions to Catholicism were thus a boon for Goans, not just the Catholics but all Goans. And the destroyed temples were similarly hardly likely to have been mourned by anybody but the dominant castes whose position they upheld. As for the ‘English language culture’, only casteists would want to deny this culture to all, along with the social and economic benefits it entails.

So, apologies for what? Vasco da Gama’s arrival in the Malabar is in fact considered by many Dalits as a milestone in the history of Dalit liberation (Aditya Nigam, 2006).

It is high time that Goans stop falling for the history narratives peddled by casteist myth-mongers. For them, the only problem in Goan (and Indian) history is the arrival of the Portuguese (and the British); before that, we supposedly lived in a Golden Age. But this was a Golden Age of only the dominant castes, and the sooner we recognise this, the earlier our real liberation.

(A version of this post was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 21 January, 2017)


Of Muthalik and Nagri Konkani


The ban on entry of Pramod Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene into Goa has now been extended till January 2016 by the Goa Government. Drawing attention to another sinister group engaged in cultural policing, last week, BJP MLA Vishnu Wagh urged the chief minister to impose a ban on Sanatan Sanstha for its alleged links with the murder of Govind Pansare in Kolhapur.  While Sanatan Sanstha was alleged to have been involved in the Margao blast case few years ago, Muthalik, who achieved national attention after his associates ransacked a pub in Mangalore in 2009, wanted to set up a Ram Sene branch in Goa.

Goa has been a target of these groups for the supposed ‘western’ outlook and character. Outfits like Ram Sene have stated their intentions to cleanse Goans of western influences. Such cultural imposition of right wing Hindu outfits must be resisted, though whether to ban them or not is a topic for another article. However, while it is important to be vigilant of these external forces altering plurality of Goan society, one must be aware of such culture police locally present within Goa. This local culture police might not be as formally organised as Ram Sene, but their larger project has similarities, i.e. to impose a singular identity by carefully erasing all cultural differences to ensure the hegemony of a dominant social group. It is also interesting to note that some of these individuals indulging in cultural policing are also active members of a Facebook group called “We Don’t Need Ram Sene in Goa”.

I am referring to the lobby that propagates Konkani as the authentic embodiment of Goan identity. The Official Language Act of 1987 instituted ‘Konkani written in Devnagari script’ as the sole official language of Goa. This Konkani, however, was not the extant and popular Concani. Rather, it was the dialect spoken largely by the Hindu Saraswats of Goa. By officially recognizing this Konkani as the only official language of Goa, the state excluded two major Goan communities i.e. the Catholic and Hindu Bahujan groups. The Catholics in Goa largely use the Roman script to write Concani. By specifically mentioning ‘Konkani written in Devnagari script’, the official language act slyly suggested that Devnagari script is the marker of ‘Indianness’ in Goa.

As Goan historian Parag Parobo suggests in his book India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015), the upsurge of Maratha power in 17th century had turned Maratha identity as a symbol of cultural resource. The lower caste Hindus in Portuguese Goa articulated  a modern identity through the Maratha symbol to escape caste oppression.  The potency of this symbol was further deepened in the course of the merger-language debates that dominated public discourse from the 1960s until their culmination in 1987. Recognising that the pro-Konkani forces were in fact directed by Saraswat interests, the bahujan realised that the imposition of Nagri Konkani was a tool towards instituting brahminical hegemony in Goa. It was for this reason that they chose to side with Marathi as their preferred language of expression.

The symbolic power attached to Nagri Konkani by its institutionalisation through the state apparatus has rendered Goan Catholics and Hindu Bahujans as ‘lesser’ Indians and Goans respectively. Instead, it frames the Nagri Konkani supporting Hindu as the ‘ideal’ representative of Goan identity. Such idealisation is in the interest of sustaining the caste hegemony of Saraswats in Goa. In the popular press or social media platforms, any demand for official status for Romi Konkani is vehemently opposed citing it as a representative of the colonial hangover of Goan Catholics. Similarly, even though the pursuit of merger is no longer feasible, the demand for official status for Marathi in Goa is held under suspicion as a step towards Goa’s merger with Maharashtra. Both these demands emerge out of a resistance to upper caste hegemony and are a call for accommodating the plurality of vernacular cultures in Goa. However, the ‘Nagri Konkani sena’ has time and again opposed such assertions by labeling them as a threat to “Goan identity”; implying that such identity should be expressed only through Nagri Konkani. Those demanding official status for Romi Konkani are asked to leave for Portugal. Similarly, those asserting a Marathi identity to resist Nagri Konkani hegemony are asked to settle in Maharashtra.

Muthalik and the Nagri Konkani lobby may have different organizational structures and modus operandi but they strive towards similar agenda. In the case of Muthalik, it is the militant imposition of Hinduism as the authentic Indian culture, by attacking cultures that challenge the idea of ‘Hindu rashtra’. In the case of the Nagri Konkani-wallahs, it is professing of Nagri Konkani as the sole vehicle of Goan identity. Any opposition to this is accused of being a ‘traitor’ to Goan and Indian society. Muthalik has often resorted to violent ways of propagating his claim while the Nagri lobby systematically executes its agenda through an equally violent, albeit insidious, state apparatus. Both consider themselves to be the guardians of monolithic identity formulations that are validated only by excluding the subaltern communities of the land. While there is no doubt that Goans need to be vigilant against the Ram Sene, there is clearly a need to challenge such locally present cultural policing as well.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 29 September, 2015)