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)

Unburdening the Language from Motherhood


The debate over Goa’s language issue continues because the conflict is far from being resolved.The passing of the much controversial Official Language Act (OLA) in 1987 did anything but resolve it. In my previous columns, I have argued that the passing of the OLA was an act to impose Hindu Saraswat hegemony onto the Goan people, particularly the Hindu and the Catholic bahujan communities. In a book published in 2004, bahujan activist Ramnath Naik termed Nagari Konkani as ‘Bamani’, indicating the caste location from which the Nagari Konkani assertion emerged and is sustained till today. BJP MLA Vishnu Surya Wagh, in his op-ed article in a Marathi daily few weeks ago, also made a similar assertion, attracting sharp reactions from the Nagari Konkani camp.

Every time the legitimacy of Nagari Konkani as an all encompassing cultural marker for Goans is challenged by Romi Konkani and Marathi supporters in Goa, its proponents religiously argue against it. Instead, they assert that Konkani as the sole Goan language since it is widely spoken in Goa. They would put forth the idea of Goa as the ‘mother’land and Konkani being the ‘mother’tongue of all Goans. By Konkani, they of course mean Nagri Konkani. What distinctly marks the responses of the Nagari Konkani proponents is the manner in which they cover their defense with seeming emotional overtones, when in fact they are solidly reasoned out to assert their cultural supremacy. To nuance these conversations, one needs to undo a lot of generalized assumption about Goan history and language politics.

It is crucial to remember that there’s nothing natural about the languages we speak, contrary to what is often believed. We pick up languages that are being spoken in our environment. If speaking ‘a’ specific language was as natural as having a biological mother, we would have been hard coded into speaking only the language that our mother would speak, irrespective of the social context that one would be born in. In a multilingual environment such as South Asia, one is bound to know more than one language with equal ease and proficiency. Further, this patriarchal fixation with defining languages as ‘mother tongue’ needs to be critically scrutinized. Characterizing language with the chaste figure of a mother,as something which needs to be protected is a pattern often observed in proto-nationalist movements.Such political movements not only restrict the role of woman as a passive symbol of political discourses which are largely driven by men, but their underlying masculine nature often tends along the lines of fascism.

French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari, in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987), argue that “there is no mother tongue [but] only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity”. This is to imply that the project to naturalize languages(and script) as ‘mother tongue’ is essentially an attemptin fixing the language of the most dominant social group as the sole vehicle for cultural identity for those under subjugation. So, when Naik or Wagh refer to Nagari Konkani as Bamani, they are not merely hinting at the specific caste location of ‘official’ Konkani but also targeting the resultant fixing of the Hindu Saraswats in Goa as the ideal bearers of Goan identity, by the virtue of their dialect of Konkani being the official language binding onto the entire state.

It also needs to be emphasized that contrary to the claims of existence of one single Konkani since antiquity, history indicates otherwise. As Jason Keith Fernandes has argued there could have been several proto-Marathi and proto-Kannada dialects in use prior to the arrival of Portuguese. These dialects must have been largely confined to speech and associated with various caste communities. One must also remember that the access to knowledge was a privilege available only to the upper castes. Thus, even if there existed any tradition of writing in proto-Konkani prior to the arrival of Portuguese, it wasn’t a democratic tradition to begin with. A transition of a dialect to language is marked by its dissemination and popularization through networks of circulation. In Goa too, as argued by Fernandes and recently by Wagh, it was the work done by Catholic missionaries in codifying and disseminating Konkani through the Church that enabled the emergence of Konkani as a language. It is imperative to note that this version of Konkani predominantly used the Roman script. Rochelle Pinto’s Between Empires (2008), an inquiry of print and politics in nineteenth century Goa,also hints at the glaring absence of Nagari Konkani in the networks of print circulation while Romi Konkani, Marathi and Portuguese were thriving in Goa as well as in colonial Bombay. Thus, this false assumption that Nagari Konkani as a language was always present in Goa – even before the arrival of the Portuguese – has no basis in history.

Languages do not operate solely on impulses of emotions or identity, especially for communities which are displaced to the margins.  Rather, people adopt languages that will provide them opportunities and social mobility. Multi-lingual practices are important to facilitate social mobility in a caste and class setting that would diligently deny this mobility. Marathi, Romi Konkani and Portuguese have historically played that role for various Goan communities and therefore are very much the languages of the peoples of Goa.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 28 July, 2016)

A Goan Waltz around Postcolonial Dogmas


Some days ago I found myself invited to a ball in Lisbon hosted by the Austrian embassy in Portugal. Revived after more than a decade, the current initiative was conceived of a way to generate funds for deserving causes. In this inaugural year, funds were raised in support of A Orquestra Geração, which is the Portuguese application of the El Sistema method created in Venezuela. Another objective was to introduce Portuguese society to aspects of Austrian, and in particular Viennese, culture.

It was because the event was billed as a Viennese ball that I have to confess being somewhat concerned about the protocol at the event. For example, would there be dance cards? It was when I actually got immersed into the ball, however, that I realized that I was not in foreign territory at all. The ball followed a pattern not merely of contemporary wedding receptions and dances in Goa, but also approximated quite well the manners that had been drilled into me as a young boy, when first introduced by my parents to ballroom dancing. One requested a lady – any lady – to dance, accompanied her on to the floor, and at the end of the dance, one thanked her, applauded the orchestra or band, and returned one’s companion to her seat. In other words, there was, structurally, not much at this ball that I, as a Goan male, had not already been exposed to.

This encounter made me realize once again, the validity of the argument that my colleagues at the Al-Zulaij Collective and I have been making for a while now; that Goans, or at least those familiar with the Goan Catholic milieu, are in fact also European. Given the fact that Goans participate in European culture, and have been doing so for some centuries now, denying this European-ness would imply falling prey to racialised thinking that assumes that only white persons born in the continent of Europe, are European.

two goans reworked

To make this argument is not the result of a desperate desire to be seen as European, but to assert a fact. One also needs to make this assertion if one is to move out of the racialised imaginations that we have inherited since at least the eighteenth century. It is necessary to indicate that European-ness is not a culture limited to a definite group, but like other cultures, is a model of behavior, in which one can choose to participate in. And one chooses to participate in this cultural model because the fact is that, whether we like it or not, this is the dominant cultural model in the world. The choice then is not determined by a belief in the model’s inherent superiority, it is simply a matter of pragmatic politics.

Some days before the ball, I intimated a continental Portuguese friend about this upcoming event, and the fact that I was on the lookout for a place I could rent a tailcoat from. She sneered. The suggestion in the sneer was, why do you have to become someone you are not. One should remain true to one’s culture, and not try to engage in the culture of others, or in other words, not engage in social climbing. The response was upsetting, but not particularly out of the ordinary. This is, in fact, a standard response, one that derives directly from our racialised imaginations. There is this misplaced idea that when we participate in one cultural model, say the European, one is abandoning other cultural models, and, more importantly, that non-whites would always be on the back foot when faced with European culture. A look at the cultural practices of Goan Catholics, however, will demonstrate the ridiculousness of the proposition.

Goan Catholics have not only taken up Western European cultural forms, but in fact excelled at them. In doing so, they have not abandoned other cultural models, particularly the local, but in fact rearticulated both these models at the same time. One has to merely listen to the older Cantaram (Concani language music) regularly played by the All India Radio station in Goa, to realize the truth of this assertion. Take the delightful song “Piti Piti Mog”, crafted by the genius Chris Perry and Ophelia, for example. Set to a waltz, the song talks of the desires and sexuality of a Goan woman. The emotions are honest to her social location. There is no betrayal of the local here, even as Perry articulates it within an international idiom. Indeed, one wonders if there is much of a difference between this song, and the soprano aria “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß”. From the opera Giuditta, and featured at the Viennese Ball, this aria also sings of the sexuality of a young woman in her prime.

There are some who would argue that what has been described above is not participation in a cultural model, but in fact mere mimicry, or at best syncretism or hybridity. To put it bluntly, Goans are mere copycats, there is nothing original in what they do. Indeed, a good portion of the post-colonial academy would describe the examples I proffer as syncretism or mimicry. To such critics my question is this, were the young Portuguese women and men, making their social debut in the ball, not also participating in an etiquette that is not quite Portuguese? The waltz itself, that great institution of the Viennese balls, originated in Central Europe. Does their participation pertain to the category of mimicry, and syncretism, or is it somehow an authentic performance? To suggest that it is, would be to fall right into the racist paradigm where things European appropriately belong to whites, and the rest are merely engaging in impotent mimicry. The anti-racialist argument would recognize that all of these groups, whether continental Portuguese, or Goans (indeed also Portuguese by right), are participating equally in a common cultural model, each of them giving a peculiar twist to the model in their performance, all of them authentic.

Another challenge to my argument would perhaps emerge from Indian nationalists. If no one culture is authentic, and one merely choses to participate in random cultural models, why privilege the European? Why not join in the Indian cultural model? In the words of a passionate young man from the Goan village of Cuncolim I once interacted with, why not prefer your own people over foreigners? At that interaction I pointed out that crafting the choice in terms of Us Indians, versus Them Europeans, and stressing a biological or genetic proximity was falling back into the very racist equation we should be trying to be exit.

To begin with, this construction of the Indians, versus Portuguese works only because like most Indian nationalists he privileges the terrestrial contiguity of Goa to the subcontinent. The art critic Ranjit Hoskote phrased a succinct response to this claim in the curatorial essay for the exhibition Aparanta (2007) when he argued “Geographical contiguity does not mean that Goa and mainland India share the same universe of meaning”. In highlighting Goa’s Lusitanian links, Hoskote rightly pointed out that the seas were not a barrier to conversation but a link, and maritime connections are no less powerful than the terrestrial. Indeed, while connected to Europe, Goa has been an equal part of the Indian Ocean world, often sharing as much, if not more, with the East coast of Africa than with the Gangetic plains; that privileged location of Indian-ness. Terrestrial contiguity apart, this nationalist argument also succeeds because it willfully ignores a legal history, of Goans being Portuguese citizens, and hence European, in favour of a biased construction of cultural history. The most important support to nationalism, of course, comes from the racism inherent in the post-colonial order which is built on recognizing cultural difference managed by nationalist elites rather than stressing continuing connections. Indeed, as I go on to elaborate below, to some extent everybody participates in the European model in today’s world – in clothes and speech and education and science, and so forth. But the control of nationalist elites over the national space, and the international post-colonial order itself, would be threatened by such recognition. It is therefore necessary that while quotidian affairs run along European lines, the extraordinary is sanctified by the irruption of the national. Thus, while Indians wear pants and shirts every day, they believe that special days call for traditional garb, like kurtas. The Goan bucks this trend by privileging special moments with a lounge suit. In other words, Goan culture celebrates what is overtly European, which is what the Indians don’t like as its wrecks the nationalist posturing of not participating in European culture.

To those who would simply ask, why not exert a choice in favour of the Indian, the answer is two-fold. The first, is that there are many Goans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, who are in fact choosing the Indian model. They do so because they see that this is where local power lies. Behaving like Indians, they believe that they can make their way better in the Indian world. Others, however, recognize the limitations of the Indian model. It can take you only so far. Upwardly mobile Indians themselves recognize that they have to perform by different rules when they emigrate. Worse, the captains of industry will tell you that they have to perform by European rules whenever they meet with their compatriots from other parts of the world. As indicated before, where the European cultural model dominates the world, it is merely pragmatic politics to follow that model. Finally, it is precisely the lack of social mobility that makes many wisely avoid the Indian cultural model. The very attraction of the European model is that practically any person can learn to perform in it and be accepted as authentic. Indian models are so limited to Hinduism and caste that one cannot hope to make this parochial model work as a tool of social mobility. Indeed, one could ask whether there in an Indian cultural model at all, and if it is not just a savarna/brahmanical model?

This lack of social mobility is best illustrated by an example from Goa, where the Saraswats are a dominant caste. Speaking with a Saraswat gentleman at a Nagari Konkani event, he indicated to me how pleased he was with the response to the elocution competitions organized by the Nagari Konkani groups. Many a times the winners were Catholic girls. “But their accent is so good”, he shared with me, “one cannot even tell that they are Catholics!” Where Nagari Konkani is largely based on the speech of the Saraswat caste, one is forever trapped into behaving like a Saraswat, and distancing oneself from one’s natal behaviours. One can never be Saraswat unless one is born into the caste. A good part of the Indian model is similarly pegged according to the behavior of the dominant castes of various regions. This model has been created not necessarily to enable a democratic project, but to ensure their continued dominance within post-colonial India. As such, they will put a person in their place when a person from a non-dominant caste performs effectively. The adoption of the European model, however, is not restricted to birth precisely because it has been adopted so universally. The adoption and occupation of this model by diverse groups has thus ensured that its very form now allows for local variation. Indeed, it needs to be pointed out that the model is very dynamic. Let us not forget that at one point of time one was expected to speak Queen’s English on the BBC, but the same platform, at least in its local transmission, has now made space for a variety of accents.

The policing of cultural boundaries is one of the silent ways through which racism continues to flourish. It is in partly in the breaching of cultural boundaries that racism can be broken. Further, it is in operating within the idiom of power, and then filling the forms of power with differing contents, that negotiation with power operates and one moves from the margins of power towards the centre. In this project, Goans are past masters. Viva Goa!

(First published in Raiot on 26 April 2016)

Marathi and the Hindu Bahujans


The presence of Marathi in Goa is looked upon with suspicion by some for its links with the demand for Goa’s merger with Maharashtra from the period between 1961 until the Opinion Poll of 1967. In writing off Marathi as a Maharashtrian import, people often ignore the centuries-long historical presence of Marathi in Goa, as well as its current usage in the public sphere. Gauging by this usage, one can safely say that Marathi is as much a carrier ofthe Goan ethos as Konkani (both Romi and Nagari) and Portuguese.

The demand for Marathi as official language was largely made by the Hindu Bahujan Samaj of Goa initially, many of whom also identify with a Maratha identity. The Bahujan Samaj is a conglomeration of lower caste groups in Goa that was comprised of Kshatriya Maratha Samaj (Fisher communities), Gomantak Maratha Samaj (temple servants), Naik Bhandaris or Kshatriya Naik Marathas (toddy tappers), Kshatriya Komarpant Maratha (service caste) and Gaud Maratha (tribals). Following the rise of Maratha power in 17th century and Maratha invasions in Goa, Maratha identity had become a cultural resource through which lower castes imagined a modern identity, as Parag Parobo articulates in his book India’s First Democratic Revolution (2015). This reorganization of Hindu bahujan samaj in Goa around Maratha identity was aimed to contest brahminical hierarchy and social dominance.

The potency of the Maratha symbol for the bahujan samaj was further deepened in the course of the merger-language debates that dominated public discourse from the 1960s until their culmination in 1987. Recognizing that the pro-Konkani forces were in fact directed by Saraswat interests, the bahujan Hindus realized that the imposition of Nagari Konkani was a tool towards instituting Brahmin hegemony in Goa. It was for this reason that they chose to side with Marathi as their preferred language of expression. The political establishment in Goa was well aware of the emotional currency that Marathi carried for Hindu masses in Goa. Hence, there was a provision made to grant ‘equal status’ to Marathi in the Official Language Act of 1987 (OLA) and subsequently it was notified that Marathi would also be used in official purposes of the state government.

The suspicion of Marathi, especially among the Catholic communities in Goa, isn’t surprising. The merger with Indian union in 1961 implied the arrival of Indian nationalist discourse in Goan public sphere which meant a preferential bias towards Hindus while Catholics would be rendered as second class citizens. The animosity of Catholic communities towards Marathi is precisely because of this reason and the Marathi camp in Goa did not make any attempts to address this problem. Instead the Marathi supporters further validated the apprehension that Goan Catholics harbored towards them by fashioning their demands of merger with Maharashtra and official recognition for Marathi with Hindutva symbolism.

But much has changed since the passing of Official Language Act, 1987. The Official Language Act did not give any recognition to Romi Konkani despite the fact that the mass support in favour of Konkani emerged from those who desired the recognition of Romi Konkani. If the demand for Marathi was seen as suspect as a bow towards a Hindu majoritarianism in Goa, instituting Nagari Konkani as the sole official language proved that suspicion right. One of the recurring argument made by the Nagari leaders against Romi Konkani was that the Roman script is ‘western’ and not ‘Indian’, and hence unfit for any official recognition. Secondly, they argued that the adoption of Nagari Konkani will help bring the Goan Catholics into Indian mainstream. What these two arguments not so subtly implied is that the Catholics in Goa would have to adopt the modes of life set by upper caste Hindus while rejecting the peculiar history that the Goan Catholics were part of. It is about time that Goan masses realize the brahminical agenda operating in the name of Nagari Konkani. The recent debate over the Medium of Instruction (MoI) issue is a direct result of this agenda and the failure of subsequent governments to amend the Official Language Act in order to make it more inclusive by giving equal status to Romi Konkani and Marathi.

The current Marathi leadership, however, is not positioned against countering the brahminical agenda operating via the Nagari Konkani camp nor do they seem to be interested in addressing the issues of caste tied with the assertion of Marathi in Goa. To make matters worse, the leadership within the Marathi camp is assumed by upper caste individuals who have suspicious links with right wing groups such as the RSS and VHP. What they will end up doing is to push down a brahminical Hindutva agenda on Hindu Bahujans. Also, the current Marathi movement, especially the one led by Marathi Rajyabhasha Prasthapan Samiti, is geared to oppose the alleged onslaught of English in Goa. Such a stance will curtail the possibilities of upward mobility to Hindu bahujans in a world that is dominated by English. An ideal assertion for Marathi in Goa would be one that recognizes the bahujan position of Marathi in Goa as well as that which employs Marathi as a gateway to learn English and helps the Goan bahujans access a world view beyond regional parochialism of Goa or India.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 22 December, 2015)

When the Lion has its Say: A Review of Parag Parobo’s New Book on Bandodkar and the Goan Bahujan



Parag Parobo, the author of India’s first Democratic Revolution: Dayanand Bandodkar and the Rise of the Bahujan in Goa, says that although the two scholarly narratives about Goa—Goa Dourada (the idea of a happy, or golden, empire) and Goa Indica (the nationalist idea which sees Goa as intrinsically Indian)—are commonly understood as conflicting, they actually have one fundamental thing in common: they both are the views of the Goan elite. Parobo’s own book, formally launched on Sunday 15 November in Panjim, breaks with the past for this very reason, that it looks at Goa from the point of view of the Bahujans, the many communities that make up the region’s so-called lower castes.


The point of view changes everything, turning much ‘common sense’ about Goan history on its head. Goa’s difference, or strangeness, has been noted ever since it became part of India, by Nehru among others. While this is usually put down to Portuguese rule, Parobo argues that it was actually the rise of the Bahujans in the 1960s that created a society that remains head and shoulders above most of India in education, health and other human development indicators. The end of Portuguese rule in Goa, though officially portrayed as a liberation, was hardly a liberation for the Bahujans who remained under the oppression of the upper castes. It was only after the 1963 elections, in which a new and Bahujan-based party, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) led by Dayanand Bandodkar, a low caste capitalist and philanthropist, swept to power, that things changed.


Portuguese rule was elitist, according to Parobo, benefitting mainly the upper castes, both Catholic and Hindu. And although it is popular wisdom nowadays to say that the Portuguese oppressed Goan Hindus, he claims the opposite: the Saraswats, the dominant Hindu community of Goa, not only thrived economically but also became more socially dominant under the Portuguese by taking advantage of the new laws, educational infrastructure, regulation of temples, voting rights, and other interventions. British rule in India in contrast provided more opportunity for Bahujans (probably because of the difference between an expanding industrial economy and a stagnating mercantile one).


The book traces the fascinating formation of modern caste identities in Goa, beginning with the Saraswats in the 19th century, when they comprised many disparate communities on and around the western coast. Although many GSBs outside Goa today claim to have left Goa due to Portuguese persecution, Parobo points out that they were already outside, working as traders and scribes, before the Portuguese arrived in South Asia. But their claims to brahminhood were challenged by Brahmins in Maharashtra, which led to the 19th–century ‘discovery’ of the (apparently fabricated) Sahyadri Khand, with its authentication of their brahminhood, its provision of a glorious origin myth starring Parashurama, and its addition of Gaud to their name, creating a link to the northern meat-eating Gaud brahmins, which also however necessitated a story of migration to Goa; Parobo says that although even much-respected scholars (and GSBs) like D D Kosambi have tried to historicise this migration, there is just no proof. The same period of the 1870s-1920s sees the Marathisation of many Bahujan communities, like the Kharvis, Bhandaris, and Gomantak Maratha Samaj, all of whom identified with the non-elite and warrior image of Shivaji.


In a gripping account of the post-1961 period, Parobo speaks of how the upper caste social location of the freedom-fighters of Goa (and India) ruled their approaches to the post-colonial project. When it came to economics, for example, their focus, right from Nehru in India to the Congress’ freedom-fighter-led Farmers’ Committee in Goa, was on modernisation, industrialisation, and big dams, rather than lower rents or mundkar rights. Nehru’s education policies similarly privileged higher education over primary education. The MGP had a different vision, and it was their candidates, farmers and tea-stall owners among them, who won definitive electoral victories over “weighty” candidates like the Deshprabhus and Dhempos. The years that followed saw not just legislation on, but also implementation of, land reform (unlike in India where the tendency was to neglect the latter). Schools went to the villages, along with a relatively (compared to India) holistic education approach that included grants-in-aid, integration of gram panchayats into the education system, playground development, midday meal schemes, frequent inspections, etc. A network of public health care institutions was also set up across the region, the biggest in India.


The book does not deal much with the post-Bandodkar era, but it is ironic to see how Bandodkar’s party has declined today, into little more than a powerbroker in the state, amidst a resurgence of the upper castes. This is visible in its distance from Bahujan aspirations in education, where it supports the Congress-BJP’s brahmanical medium-of-instruction policy, in which the demands of the Bahujan students for state-supported education in English and Marathi is opposed by the bamon bhas, or Nagri Konkani, lobby, even as upper caste students happily study English in private schools.


According to a saying from Zimbabwe, only when the lion tells its story will the true picture of the hunt be known. The lions have begun to speak. Everybody else should sit up and listen.


Parag Parobo, India’s first Democratic Revolution: Dayanand Bandodkar and the Rise of the Bahujan in Goa, Orient BlackSwan, 2015.


Also see Kaustubh Naik’s take on Parag Porobo’s book, here and here.


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 19 November, 2015)

The Hypocrisy of Goa’s Protesting Awardees


In the context of a number of Sahitya Akademi awardees across India returning their respective awards in protest against the growing intolerance in India, in Goa around fourteen Sahitya Akademi awardees together with Padmashri awardees Maria Aurora Couto and Amitav Ghosh came together and issued a joint statement on 15 October, 2015. One would be struck by the hypocrisy contained in their press note released were it not for the fact that their politics of intolerance is so blatantly displayed all over the same note.

In their statement these local notables condemn “the rising trend of intolerance in the country which threatens freedom of expression…[and] the age-old liberal and all-encompassing philosophical traditions of this country.” One would take this concern seriously were it not for the fact many of these notables have been complicit not only in acts of intolerance themselves, but also physical violence.

For some years now there have been demands from many quarters that Konkani literature written in the Roman script also be given governmental recognition. But Sahitya Akademi awardees like Pundalik Naik and N. Shivdas, who have presided over the Goa Konkani Academy, have not felt it necessary to take up this cause and ensure that a Konkani tradition with a longer history than that in the Nagari script one is recognised. On the contrary, all of these protesting SahityaAkademi awardees and Padmashri Couto have watched silently while Roman-scriptKonkani has been officially ignored and excluded from all kind of state recognition, including awards and grants.

In addition, these persons have maintained a studious silence while their associates, such as Uday Bhembre and Nagesh Karmali, have engaged in the most vicious hate speech against the Catholic community in the course of the Medium of Instruction controversy (that has raged from 2011), when Goan parents demanded the right to determine the manner in which their children are educated. Where was their concern for the alleged liberal traditions, and traditional bonhomie, of Goa then?

To make matters worse, these same notables watched silently when in 2005 Naguesh Karmali, a member of this verygroup of protestors, led a violent mob in destroying public and private property on the grounds that such property was encouraging Portuguese (read as Catholic) culture in Goa.Given that Goa has had a long and historical relationship with Portugal, doesn’t the violent smashing of manifestations of this relationship amount to an act of the very same rabid communalism that these worthies profess to protest against?

In light of these inconsistencies, and the equally amusing announcement that they will hold on to their awards until the meeting of the executive committee of the Sahitya Akademi, it appears that these awardees seem more interested on jumping onto the bandwagon of political trendiness, than for any desire to stand against the growing intolerance in the country, and indeed, Goa itself.

We would like to stress that while it is true that the government of Mr. Modi has definitely presided over a rise in intolerance in the country, the roots of this intolerance lie deeper in the country’s history. As we have already pointed out, a number, if not all, of these Goan awardees are complicit in this intolerance. Their complicity is further evident in the manner in which they phrase their protest within the language of Hindutva. Why, for example, are the recent acts compared to ‘talibanism’, instead of calling them Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism? Talibanism is a phenomenon situated outside the country, when Hindutva is the problem actually at hand, given that Kalbargi, Pansare and Dabholkar lost their lives as a result of their opposition to this ideology. Indeed, Hindu nationalism has been a problem since before Indian independence. In referencing the Taliban, these awardees continue the refusal to recognize Hindu nationalism as the single greatest cause of concern in this country since 1947.

(First published in DNAIndia (Web) on 23 October, 2015)

In conclusion, we would be more convinced of the genuine concerns of these state awardees from Goa if we heard them also protest the exclusion of Konkani in the Roman script from legislative recognition, also the violent condemnation of the Goans who are simply asking for English as a state-supported medium of instruction for their children, and also the lack of implementation of constitutional guarantees for education and jobs to historically discriminated-against Goan communities. Such protests would go further in establishing norms for the respect of fundamental rights, and the establishment of law and order in our state and country.

The Shame of Speaking Konkani – III


Pride and shame, it appears, are two sides of the same coin. Invariably, pride seems to be a logical solution when an individual recognizes that s/he is being shamed by political institutions and establishments. In the past few weeks we have had occasions to discuss the operation of shame and humiliation within Konkani language politics. The discussion initially focused on a song by Alfred Rose and made some observations about the type of politics in which the man and his work were entrenched.

Since Alfred Rose did not invent the type of politics that he often propagated, the question is: who did? I believe that issues related to the shaming and humiliation within Konkani language politics will become clearer once we scrutinize the life and writings of Vaman Raghunath Varde Valaulikar. If there was one individual on whose shoulders Konkani activists, until fairly recently, placed the burden of single-handedly rescuing the Konkani language from untold miseries, it has to be Valaulikar. No person, we have been made to believe, worked as hard as Valaulikar for the cause of Konkani language and thus the Goan identity. The attempts to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Valaulikar as ‘Konkani asmitai year’ in 2002, exemplify this.

Valaulikar’s written output was (or is) considered to be seminal in Konkani literature. This he did, we are told, by not only producing Konkani literature of high standard but also by stepping up to the challenge posed by Marathi-supporters; in fact demolishing their every argument. What is important for our purpose is to focus on the manner in which Valaulikar tackled the issue of shame felt by the Catholic and Hindu communities in colonial Bombay, thanks to the accusation of Marathi-supporters that Konkani was a form of ‘impure Marathi’.

In his text, Konknni Bhaxechem Zoit or The Triumph of Konkani, Vaulikar tells us that Konkani was derogatorily referred to as ‘impure Marathi’ by Marathi-speakers and -supporters (p.47). ‘Impure’ obviously because, unlike Marathi at that time, Konkani language had not yet incorporated Sanskrit inflections, prior to Valaulikar’s project. While Valaulikar may have felt shamed and humiliated because of his ‘impure Marathi’, it becomes quite a different story when one considers that persons using the Roman-scripted Konkani had to bear a greater brunt of such shaming – with repeated call for standardized orthography – because the language that they used was not a Sanskrit-inflected one, like the ‘proper’ Marathi. Not surprisingly, Valaulikar’s response did not reveal the underlying aspiration of his caste politics in which the brahmin groups like his were trying to gain power and privilege in colonial Bombay. On the contrary he suggested that Konkani-speakers needed to work for the development of the language to give it world recognition (see Konkani Bhaxechem Zoit, Ed. K. S. Nayak, Bombay, 1930). In other words, one had to take-on to the challenge of Marathi-supporters by feeling pride in a Sanskritized Konkani by speaking and writing in the Antruzi variant, rather than ask why Konkani was referred to as ‘impure Marathi’. Or indeed ask why Hindus and Catholics in Bombay felt ashamed of their own types of Konkanis.

That he wrote in and championed the cause of the Nagri lipi and the Antruzi boli was not a problem for Valaulikar. Neither was it a problem for him that the Konkani in which he wrote his books was a new fabrication. As one of Valaulikar’s interlocutors Balkrishna Waman Sawardekar quite rightly and cheekily noted, “Shanai Goebab has, in his books, clothed Konkani in sacred robes and as such it has assumed a very beautiful and chaste form. His is a completely Konkani diction (sic) no doubt but this is what has made it very unintelligible” (p. 19). Sawardekar further asserted that this has resulted in Valaulikar producing a “fossilized Konkani” (p. 22) (see The Language of Goa, Panaji, 1971; originally published in the Portuguese in 1939).

Though Valaulikar’s project responded to the derogatory attitude of the Marathi-supporters and the Marathi language establishment in Bombay, it was a project of consolidating Saraswat caste identity against the backdrop of many other brahmin groups in colonial Bombay. The misguided ideas that Konkani is the natural mother-tongue of Goans and that it is in the blood of Goans emerged and consolidated with this project of Valaulikar.

While there is no doubt that persons like Valaulikar and likes may have faced a few instances of shame and humiliation of speaking Konkani, the non-upper caste and working class groups of Goans must have felt unimaginably more. With the rise of Nagri script (and by extension the Antruzi boli) as the sole official script of Konkani in Goa in recent times this shame and humiliation for persons who do not embody the ways and manners of being of the Nagri/Antruzi Konkani can only be said to have increased manifold. Thus, the project initiated by Valaulikar and carried forward by his ardent bhakts of creating and imposing a singular Konkani language of high literary merit has been a miserable failure for the bahujans and Catholics.

Valaulikar’s career and the history of the nagri-scripted Konkani suggests that shaming has been present in Konkani language politics for well over a century, if not more. In such a grim scenario it is quite logical that Goans – who cherish their respective forms of Konkanis – also make a demand for English. Though the possibility of him being sarcastic is eminently plausible, Valaulikar advised his antagonists – the Marathi-supporters – that rather than their obsession with Marathi, they should “at least select a language which will give them the maximum gains… [and they should] assiduously and diligently study the powerful English language” (p. 35) (see Triumph of Konkani: A Translation of Shenoy Goembab’s Konkani Bhasechem Zoit, Tran. Sebastian M. Borges, Margao, 2003). Sarcasm or not, access to the “powerful English” is no doubt a sensible strategy out of the sorry mess that is the linguistic politics of Goa.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 30 September, 2015)