Unburdening the Language from Motherhood

By KAUSTUBH NAIK

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)

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Cantaram as political dissent

By KAUSTUBH NAIK

Earlier this month, Goa Government’s Department of Information and Publicity held a ‘Konkani Kantaram Utsav’, a cantaram singing competition in which the participants were asked to sing about the achievements of the current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This competition attracted a lot of criticism, noticeably from the tiatr community, questioning the government’s intentions behind organizing such a competition. Cantaram competitions are usually held without any pre-decided themes and certainly not with a rule that prohibits participants from criticizing the government. On the contrary, one of the several requirements of a cantar and cantorist is that of political sharpness. Cantorists ranging from Conception-Nelson-Anthony (famously known as the Trio kings) and William de Curtorim in the past, to the current sensation Francis de Tuem, have been famous for their radical political positions. Cantaram carry a huge affective magnitude for the Goan Catholic communities and it has played a key role in influencing public opinion at various historical junctures in post-colonial Goa.  The concerned department, in its official press release, stated that “[s]ong and drama is one of the medium used to propagating various policies, programmes and the schemes of the Government [sic]”. While using traditional cultural practices to propagate government schemes is not unheard of, there is more to the said cantaram competition than meets the eye.

11754510_905717512811034_6447163134040975280_oCantaram are an indispensable part of the tiatr, a theatre form that is popular largely among the bahujan Catholic communities in Goa. Audio CDs of cantars have brisk sales across Goa and is one of the most consumed form of Konkani music. In digital space too, a cantar shared on YouTube would have an average of 25,000-30,000 hits, a popularity that no other Goan cultural form enjoys. But the potency of cantar form lies in how, over the years, it has become a medium of formulating a discourse about the Catholic communities in Goa, wherein they retain their own agency. Cantaram, beyond its appeal as a form of entertainment, are employed to narrate and remember Goa’s history from the perspective of bahujan Goan Catholics. For instance, it would be helpful to look at two Goan political leaders, Dr. Jack Sequeira and Dayanand Bandodkar and their respective portrayal in cantaram and popular history. The popular narrative of Goan history escalates Bandodkar as a leader of masses while Sequeira’s role in Goan politics is inadequately discussed. But in cantaram, one finds an inversion of this narrative where Sequeira is celebrated for his definitive role during the Opinion Poll in 1967 while Bandodkar is subjected to sharp criticism for wanting to merge Goa with Maharashtra.

Such popular commentary on the state of Goa, emerging from a marginalized community poses a significant discursive threat to the regimes in power. Almost a year ago, the current BJP led government was exploring possibilities of setting up a censor board on tiatrs. However, the popularity that tiatr enjoys in Goa is far too powerful for the censors. Following a backlash over this move, the BJP government had to retract its decision. Having burnt their fingers once, this time the BJP led government saw it fit to organize a cantaram competition, with a clause that no adverse remarks could be made on the government, effectively imposing the censorship.

While the BJP draws its support largely from its anti-minority rhetoric in rest of the India, such stance hasn’t proven to be a success in Goa. In fact, any political outfit in Goa cannot afford to neglect the bahujan Catholic voters that until recently, could make or break governments. This is not to reduce the bahujan Catholic communities in Goa merely to a vote bank but to point to their acute political awareness, which marks them distinctly from the rest of the Goan population. The manner in which the Indian state has been rendering the Goan Catholic communities as dispossessed citizens, for example, by the denial of official recognition to Romi Konkani or the recent uproar over state grants to English medium primary school, makes them confront the state machinery in a manner which often proves to be litmus tests of Indian democracy in Goa. Cantaram and tiatr are central to the production and distribution of the discourse that makes this political awareness among the bahujan Catholic communities possible. By organizing the Cantaram Utsav, the BJP government precisely wanted to seek control of that discourse.

However, the tiatr community almost boycotted this event as a mark of protest. A collective that identifies itself as “Musical Warriors” gave a clarion call to Tiatrist and cantorists to gather outside the competition venue for a parallel cantar singing competition. This competition aimed at bringing forth the truth about the last four years of BJP governance and their anti-people policies and schemes. Singers Francis de Tuem, Lawry Travasso, Marcus Vaz among others, gathered outside the competition venue and singing critiques of the BJP-led Goa government in a sharply satirical cantar titled ‘Acche Din Aane Waale Hai’. This performative protest was sheer brilliance on the part of these singers to indicate that they will not compromise their political position for state patronage. While one fears that cantaram would lose its radical potential owing to attempts of appropriation by the state such as the said Kantaram Utsav, the tiatr community, through this protest kept alive the tradition of political dissent.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 21 March, 2016 )

What is also this talk Regarding ‘Anti-National’ About?

By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA

 

Being branded anti-national is not new to Goans. As a matter of fact, the protagonist of a Konkani film ‘The Enemy’ that recently hit the theaters, poignantly raises the issue of how even a Goan who has migrated to a part of British India that eventually became Pakistan is treated not just as anti-national but as the enemy of the State.

 

If, after the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961, you critiqued the Indian/ Goan government, you would be seen as favouring Portuguese rule and therefore anti-national regardless of the content of the critique. At the time of the Konkan Railway agitation, the people opposing the then proposed route alignment through Old Conquests were branded as anti-nationals; this included the late Matanhy Saldanha. The demand for recognition of the Roman script has earned Goan Catholics the label of ‘anti-national’ for well over thirty/forty years. In 2006, Sanvordem-Curchorem was aflame through selective targeting and violence against Muslims, who constitute a miniscule minority in Goa. The ‘anti-national’ rhetoric was used as a justification to foment the riots against the minority and to sustain Brahminical majoritarian power. The rhetoric is also used to foist a development model that will enable a select few to hog all the benefits.

 

Which brings us to the moot question – who really is anti-national? Essentially, those who question the State, even when the State foments divisiveness are branded as anti-national. Somehow the word anti-national has been understood to conjure up an image of people having to get together to defend against an enemy for fears of attack. This becomes an effective means for the State to distract people’s unrest about non-compliance with its basic obligations to the varied people in the nation under the Constitution. The enemy is imaginary and the fears are also imaginary. The word anti-national is like a sword brandished to chop freedom of speech and expression, as much as assembly and association, with the ultimate aim of sustaining Hindu Brahminical power and global capital.

 

So, according to the State, anyone who does not show pride in being superior is anti-national. Anyone who does not claim privileges on the justification of being superior is anti-national. Anyone who goes contrary to the ‘nationalist’ trend of upholding the idea of a nation bonded by a culture of caste and cravings for massive greed and power, is anti-national.

By this yardstick of nationalism, all those abiding by and upholding the Constitution of India which is the basic document on which the Indian Republic is founded, are anti-national. All those who work for democracy, justice and peace and against systemic caste based discrimination, exploitation and oppression are anti-national. All those who are fighting for Justice for Fr. Bismarque, Justice for Rohith, and to Stand by JNU, are anti-national. All those who strive towards intergenerational equity and sustainability of the earth or a particular geographical space, including farmers and fishers, are anti-national. All those who affirm the right to live and let others live are anti-national. All those who oppose the assault on Goa’s environment and on people’s livelihoods are anti-national.

They are said to be opposed to ‘development’ and obstructing the ‘progress’ of the nation. Who is the nation? From what can be seen, those at the helm of affairs consider the nation as a collective of its majoritarianists, its ‘upper’ castes and of corporate entities that tie up with multinational chains and exclusively benefit from ‘development’. What the State does not spell out is that the development that is planned and foisted, through such things as Regional Plans is destructive and discriminatory in nature against many people who are said to constitute the nation. The State also does not respect the Constitutional imperatives of participation in governance, of people at the grassroots as so well enshrined in the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution.

The State effectively thus distracts people from the struggles against sale of their land and resources to the highest bidder without regard to the life and livelihoods of the people who till and sweat on its soil. With all the nationalist talk, it puts blinkers on gross injustices and frauds on the economy. We then miss seeing the formulation of policies and processing of files that let multinationals swoop in and squeeze people’s labour and resources and siphon the profits and plough back the foreign exchange that the nation statedly earned. The ‘Nation’ does not want to know about the processing of files for a Large Revenue Generation Scheme of the Central Ministry of Tourism, by Leading Hotels for their Tiracol Project, where Leading Hotels is a subsidiary of Asian Hotels (North) Ltd., which is a company of the Jatia Group, which in turn has 100% stakes in a hospitality company in Mauritius, that in turn has substantial stakes in Lexon a Mauritian company that has about 80% stakes in Leading Hotels. Which means that monies will eventually get siphoned.This even as politicians trade allegations against each other about monies stashed in Swiss accounts, as a facade.

So, rather than feeding this distractive debate by labelling someone as national or anti-national, or defending that one is national or anti-national, it is necessary to unpack what is behind such labeling. As a matter of fact, nationalism has been the cover or the ‘honour’ behind which every condemnable form of discrimination is to be borne and endured, and the ‘honour’ killings or torture are expected to be condoned.

 

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

Marathi and the Hindu Bahujans

By KAUSTUBH NAIK

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)

Destabilising the idea of India

By KAUSTUBH NAIK

Following the abominable lynching of Muhammad Akhlaq in Dadri, the beef bans, and the overall rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP’s rise to power in India, many are worried about the perceived threat to the ‘Idea of India’. The ‘India as a Hindu Rashtra’ rhetoric propagated by RSS is at loggerheads with the Nehruvian idea of secular, liberal and modern India. These are disturbing, but nonetheless interesting, times where these two imaginations of India, both originating from elite upper caste positions, are fighting for their supremacy. However, it is important to note that both these imaginations have failed to cater to the assertions of marginalized and subaltern communities in India.

A deeper probing into history would tell us that this Secular vs Communal, attributed to Congress and BJP respectively, is a false binary that the marginalized communities are forced to choose from. Both these political parties have operated largely to serve and safeguard elite interests in this country. While both the Congress and BJP have often tried to project a liberal image, their history tells otherwise. To believe that one of them is secular than the other would mean to live in a fool’s paradise. In such scenario, one can conclude that if we are to think of a political discourse focused around emancipating the marginalized communities, neither Congress nor BJP can be our best bet. The reason for this, as noted by the late historian Prof. MSS Pandian in an essay he wrote in the year 2000, is that both these groups populated by the modernizing elite cutting across the ideological divide of communal and secular, have a deep-rooted feeling against the Indian democracy.

Pandian provides examples of how the modernizing elites have repeatedly exhibited their contempt towards values of democracy. According to Pandian, the implementation of Mandal commission report by the United Front Government in 1990 that extended reservations in government jobs and educational institutes to non-creamy layer OBCs along with SC and ST communities, was a moment of deepening of democracy in India. While the so called secularist Congress government did not implement the recommendations of Mandal report for a decade, the opposition to the implementation originated from the modernizing elites of India across party lines. This is indicative of the fact that the then political establishment in India was united across false divisions to oppose a democratic decision. If one were to look within Goa, the denial of official language status to Roman Konkani and opposition to the state grants for English medium primary schools would be fitting examples to explain the contempt harbored by elites towards values of democracy.

Pandian further illustrates the anti-democratic urge of elites by drawing the reader’s attention to the attitude of the elites towards politicians who have come to occupy positions of power through the support of the rural lower caste voters. He specifically talks about how Lalu Prasad Yadav was parodied in mainstream press for being a village bumpkin unfit for the serious business of politics. Even after the recent victory of Grand Alliance in Bihar against BJP, Lalu’s ‘village joker’ image is constantly brought back into the mainstream discourse to perpetuate Lalu’s incapability to be a serious politician.

Soon after Laxmikant Parsekar succeeded Manohar Parrikar as the Chief Minister of Goa, a photo parodying Parsekar was being circulated on WhatsApp. The photo showed Parsekar’s face morphed on a monkey’s body while Manohar Parrikar’s face was morphed onto a man’s body that held a rope around Parsekar’s neck. Some of the seasoned BJP members shared this photo with utmost glee, exposing their discomfort to accept a non-Brahmin leader as the Chief Minister of Goa. In such situation, it was not surprising when recently asked to list achievement of his government on the account of completing one year as the Chief Minister, Parsekar responded by saying that people have stopped parodying him on social media.

The aforementioned articulations by Pandian show that the the idea of India perpetuated by its modernizing elites does not provide enough space for contesting power based on the existing disparities of caste, region, language and religion. Instead, it homogenizes the struggles of the subaltern on the lines of secular versus communal, forcing them to choose the so called lesser evil. In contemporary times where the Hindu right is establishing control over institutions of power in India, the Nehruvian idea of secular liberal India as a necessity to combat the Hindu right is also getting affirmed. However, it needs to be pointed out that the Nehruvian polity was no less compatible with a certain form of Hindu right and hence needs to be destabilized.

To rethink subaltern politics, in the wake of such situation, would first require us to avoid falling into the traps of these so called lesser evils and false binaries of communal vs secular. The recourse would be, as suggested by Pandian, to foreground a political strategy that is based on the perennial contestation of different forms of power by acknowledging and addressing difference as the fundamental reality of the social. Alternatively put, instead of relegating the differences of caste, religion, region, language etc. into one’s private domain as ‘taught’ to us by the modernizing elite, we must use these very differences as arsenals for contesting power.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 24 November, 2015)

Of Muthalik and Nagri Konkani

By KAUSTUBH NAIK

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)

FORCE and Bahujan Aspirations

By KAUSTUBH NAIK

FORCE, a collective of parents of schoolchildren in Goa who want the state government to formalise the grants to English medium primary schools through an act of legislature, seems to be the target of misguided criticism in Goa for past couple of weeks. In response to their protests for demanding grants, the Bharti Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) organised a rally in Panjim to “show the strength of majority to the minority”.  Given that the demands emanating from FORCE cuts across the lines of religion, caste and class, the vocabulary in which BBSM has been targeting the FORCE members has a disturbing   communal tone.

There are certain fundamental issues pertaining to the Medium of Instruction (MoI) agitation that we often take for granted but need to be critically examined, the foremost being the idea of mother tongue itself. In their book, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987), French philosophers Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guttari argue that “there is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity”. Now let us examine this statement in the context of Goa. The official language of Goa, according to the Official Language Act passed in 1987, is Konkani written in Devanagari script which asserts that it is the “mother tongue” of Goans. The other languages that Goans use are Romi Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese, Dakkhani Urdu, and English. In fact, the use of Romi Konkani and Marathi in Goa exceeds that of Nagari Konkani by a substantial margin.This argument could be validated by the recent shutdown of the only Nagari Konkani newspaper Sunaparant, which according to many, was struggling to sell even 300 copies a day. So, when you have these languages being used in a remarkable abundance, one must question why Nagari Konkani is made the sole official language of the state. Nagari Konkani has a distinct feature of being the dialect spoken primarily by the Saraswats in Goa.  Thus the power takeover, as Deleuze & Guttari suggest, is that of this upper caste group which wants to assert their version of language as the official version, coercing the rest of the masses into believing that it’s a vehicle of Goan identity. Catholics in Goa do not use this Nagari version of Konkani, both in terms of writing and reading. Neither does the average Hindu bahujan who identifies more with Marathi because of their historic opposition to Nagari Konkani. This allows us to conclude that Nagari Konkani is more foreign to a large section of Goans than English, as far as usage is concerned.

BBSM seems to suggest that it is only Catholic parents that want their wards to learn English while Hindus are all for regional languages. This is not entirely true. There’s a sizeable population of Hindus (both Bahujans and elites) who want their wards to study not only in English medium schools, but in “Convent” schools specifically. Hence, giving it a communal angle is a desperate attempt by BBSM to gain political mileage. The desire to train one’s child in an English medium school is a post-globalisation aspiration of the rising middle class so that they can grab the opportunities offered by the neo-liberal economy. Its validity or futility could vary depending on one’s subjective opinion, but many see English as an egalitarian and neutral ground which would help them break away from their traditional class/caste backgrounds and claim space in the globalised world.

The Goan bahujan are not alone in this demand, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar himself referred to English as the milk of the lioness and said that only those who drink it will roar. Contemporary dalit thinker, Chandrabhan Prasad too, relentlessly argues that English is the key for emancipation for the marginalised communities. The demand for grants to English medium schools comes from the dalit bahujan section of Goan society, both Catholic and Hindu, and hence the state must pay heed to them. Traditionally denied education by the dominant brahminical socio-political setup, it was only with the arrival of western modernity via colonialism that these marginalised sections could gain an access to education.

The elites in Goa on the other hand have had cultural and economic capital to send their wards to privately-run English medium schools for decades now and some of them are BBSM sympathisers today. In light of this ironic situation, one needs to ask why only bahujans must carry the burden of culture and nativism, while the elites can be as “western” as they wish to and still be regarded as guardians of culture.

Also, a closer look at the BBSM politics will indicate that though the BBSM members are mobilised under the banner of safeguarding Bharati Bhasha, they are, in fact, desperate to ensure the hegemony of Nagari Konkani in Goa. During the official language movement, the Nagari camp used Romi Konkani supporters as footsoldiers but eventually cheated them by denying any recognition to Romi Konkani. Now they have turned to Marathiwadis for help on communal and nationalist grounds, as they perfectly know mobilising Hindu masses solely for the cause of Nagari Konkani is nearly impossible. During the official language movement, people who supported Marathi were asked to leave Goa and settle in Maharashtra. Now, people who are demanding English as MoI are being asked to settle in Portugal. Unpacking both the situations will tell us that, in either of the cases, interests of only one particular group are being safeguarded. Nagari Konkani is perennially on its deathbed and periodically requires bahujan blood to revive itself. Sometimes Hindu, sometimes Catholic!

Hence, any alliance with the Nagari camp would sound a death knell for Goan Bahujans. We have witnessed that during the official language movement it was the Catholic bahujan which suffered major amount of loss and marginalisation. In an ideal scenario, the brahminical coterie of Nagari Konkani should be kept at farthest distance possible as it is responsible for the systematic intellectual and cultural massacre of two generations of Goan Bahujans (both Catholics and Hindus). In a mission to impose Nagari Konkani over the next 50 years, Uday Bhembre, with a straight face will tell you that the further massacre of the subsequent generations of Bahujans will be a collateral damage.  It is this nefarious project that FORCE is poised to challenge. Unlike the way it is being portrayed, FORCE does not represent only Catholics. But what it definitely represents are the aspirations of Goan bahujan masses.

(A shorter version was first published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 16 August, 2015)