Tuesday, 31 January 2017

HOMECOMING AND BELONGING: ANTÓNIO COSTA IN INDIA



Until January 7, 2017, Cristiano Ronaldo was arguably the most famous Portuguese personality in India. This changed when Portugal’s current Prime Minister António “Babush” Costa came on a state visit. The reason for this shift in emphasis was Costa’s supposed‘Indian roots’. On a visit to boost bilateral ties, inter-governmental cooperation, and Portuguese business opportunities, Costa’s ‘Indian roots’ received a lot of attention. Costa himself did not shy away from proclaiming his pride for ‘Indian origins’. Both Costa and his Indian hosts seemed pleased that he was the first person of “Indian-origin” to lead a country in Europe. As a symbolic gesture that would unfailingly win him admirers amongst Indians, Costa displayed his PIO or Person of Indian Origin card to the audience, during the course of his joint press statement in New Delhi and his address in Bangalore.

But to insist and hark repeatedly to Costa’s “Indian-origins” is to commit a gargantuan historical error. In fact, Costa’s visit to India and his use of symbolic acts like affirming his Indian roots and displaying his PIO card offers us the opportunity to deepen our understanding of issues of homecoming and belonging, especially since the issue of dual citizenship is heating up. The legal anthropologist and Herald columnist Jason Keith Fernandes spoke to a Portuguese news portal and claimed that the notion of “Indian-origin” as applied to a person like Costa is in fact “quite racist”. It is so as “those acclaimed as Indians, such as Costa, often do not have Indian origins, that is, they have no origins as citizens of the Indian state. The term Indian is being extended to people who have ethnic origins in territories today claimed by the Indian state”. Fernandes makes a critical distinction between ethnicity, which is the staple of racial politics, and legal identities. Thus, in Costa’s case, his father, the writer Orlando Costa, was born a Portuguese citizen in Mozambique and raised in Margao before 1961. His mother Maria Antónia Palla is Portuguese. Thus one could argue that Costa is ethnically half Goan and half Portuguese.

To think of the issue more deeply, it appears that Costa has origins and roots in multiple locations: in Goa, in Mozambique, and Portugal. He can justifiably claim to belong to each of these places. Perhaps Costa could do the same things, that is, similar public celebrations of his ‘local’ identity, in Mozambique as he did in India/Goa.

When one thinks of ‘ethnic origin’ and ‘nationality’, the celebration of Costa’s “Indian-origin” appears to be problematic. With the current laws of citizenship in place both in India and Portugal ethnicity does not necessarily translate to nationality, and therefore citizenship. A person born in Goa today automatically gets Indian citizenship by birth, but if they opt to reclaim their Portuguese nationality the same person is only entitled to be a PIO. If one chooses (Indian) ‘ethnic’ origins then one cannot claim (Portuguese) ‘nationality’. Therefore, for a large number of Goans homecoming and belonging are not necessarily a matter of pride or celebration; it is more of a legal mess that one has to negotiate.

While the Indian government is using Costa’s roots to promote economic interests, it is ignoring other crucial problems that beset people who are Indian nationals. When Goans demand their right to dual citizenship, given the particular history of Goa, and in order to have greater (and easier) mobility to access jobs while at the same time stay connected to Goa where they have roots and ties, the Indian government acts as if this is unimaginable. While one arm of the Indian government is busy promoting economic interests and closer ties with Portugal via an ‘Indian’ PM, another arm, i.e. the election commission, is poised to delete thousands of Goan names from its rosters, thereby forcibly breaking links that Goans have with Goa. This doesn’t make sense because, like Costa, the many Goans who have opted to reclaim Portuguese nationality are socially, economically and emotionally invested in Goa. Like Costa they still have family here, and they visit Goa as often as possible. And like Costa they too should be allowed to belong to two or three places. Indeed, as Fernandes put it, they are not going from Goa, and India, but only coming back. Their departure is the result of their being forced out by the Indian state.

While Costa’s visit may have indeed been a moment of great celebration of Goan identity – the easy-going Costa surrounded by throngs of adoring admirers in the streets of Panjim and Margao was a sight to behold – it also exposes the fragility of this Goan identity, sandwiched between an Indian order that erases its history, and a global order that seeks to curtail human migration as much as possible. In both instances the rights of Goans (either as dual citizens or not) get severely underrepresented and unrecognized. 

Goan identity loses when it comes to the promotion of large-scale business interests. What this means is that the average hard-working Goan loses out. In a racist and indifferent world, the contribution of the Goan migrant is deemed to offer states and global orders nothing in particular. This is surprising as the remittances of the Goan migrant, one of the highest in the country, keeps (and kept) the Goan economy afloat and contributed foreign exchange to the coffers of India. To not accept Goans and their history, while celebrating Costa and his history, is to treat them as disposable commodities. Costa’s visit needs to be remembered for precisely this reason.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 1 February, 2017)

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

(RE)WRITING GOAN HISTORY



A strain of history-writing that has recently gained some attention is that of “global history”. The writing of global history, especially of the 16th to the 18th centuries, is a simultaneously challenging and exciting task for professional historians and students. Exciting because at a time when it took months or even years to sail from one continent to the other, people, goods, ideas, and cultural practices traveled from one place to another. But these influences did not just travel; they had a deep and transformational impact on the history and culture of the recipient peoples and societies.

All too often the writing of global history that stresses global connections is met with outrage. Were there no historical developments of our own, locals often ask. These questions become crucial and fraught with dangers as global histories appear to be another way of saying that Europe was supreme, and influenced the rest of the world. This is to miss the point of global historiography because when global histories are written outside of Europe one can observe how these global connections had a profound impact on Europe itself. Further, global history need not be written only with reference to Europe. One can be creative and even try to understand the history of Goa, say, from the perspective of Mozambique.

For some time now I have been toying with the idea that Goan history should be, or is essentially, a global one. That is, the international connections through which Goan history emerges are not only crucial but are the chief creators of Goan history. If ‘global’ is too ambitious or too ideologically fraught a term one could label such connections as ‘trans-oceanic’ or ‘trans-continental’ or simply ‘connections’. However, the importance of connections, regardless of their dimensions, remains true. Thus, while writing the history of Goa one seeks connections not only with Portugal but also with the neighboring Deccan regions and its polities, as well as the polities on the western coast of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Ernestine Carreira’s Globalising Goa (1660-1820): Change and Exchange in a Former Capital of Empire (2014) is concerned precisely with discussing the connections that the Estado da Índia had with Portugal, Brazil, the Marathas, and other European powers in the Indian Ocean. Carreira, who teaches Portuguese history at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, gives equal importance to the political developments wrought by European and local powers. Further, her book also hints at the simultaneous development of the Goan identity.

For instance, take Carreira’s discussion of how the territories of the Novas Conquistas were conquered and/or integrated into the Goan segment of the Estado, which until then comprised only of what subsequently came to be called the Velhas Conquistas. What we today identify as the territory of Goa was linked to certain definite developments in Brazil. During the reign of Dom João V (1689-1750) new gold mines were discovered in Brazil which provided Portugal with much needed bullion. These resources were used to finance the army which won against local feudatories. With military victories and diplomatic negotiations, new territories and people came under the rule of the Estado. In a similar way, Carreira writes about other events and developments in the India Ocean or in the Deccan region that had a deep impact on Goa.

There is something else that can be said about the Goan identity from the abovementioned anecdote. There is a tendency in Goa to link Goan history to the Indian nation as a default reflex. Many times this proves to be historically inaccurate. As the above anecdote shows, large parts of what is today indubitably considered Goan became Goan due to the unstable polities on the borders of the Estado. How different local feudatories interacted with the Estado changed the identity of many population groups from the 1750s. Therefore, Goa emerged (and is indeed continues to emerge) slowly through concrete historical processes.


Apart from the conceptual concerns, Carreira’s work also tries to intervene in the area of Goan academia in general and Goan historiography in particular. Like Raghuraman Trichur and other scholars have recently asserted, Carreira too suggests that Goan academia is hardly a place of lively debate. In terms of Goan historiography, Carreira rightly notes that after an initial spurt of publications in the ’80s and ’90s by organizations such as the Xavier’s Center of Historical Research, there are few institutions today that are interested in furthering historical research about Goa. While there are many scholars – such as Carreira herself – who would like to devote themselves to research on Goa, they lack precisely the support system and academic infrastructure crucial to develop historical research. The consequences of such apathy towards historical research are indeed grave.

Apart from the fact that historical interpretations can be propagated by politically misguided persons, the actual archives too get neglected. Without an organized and vocal interest-group, there is nothing to stand between the archives and the ravages of time and climate that decimate these holdings. Goa’s state archives, like the numerous historical monuments, are the patrimony of all Goans, regardless of their political or cultural affiliation.These archives are significant because they can not only reveal, but also have the potential to change, our collective memory of the past. Well-kept and well-used archives, and libraries, are also a sign that governmental and cultural institutions are serious about the culture of the place, which fosters a community spirit. Institutions in Goa need to recognize it and seriously invest in such bodies.

But nonetheless, students and researchers of Goan history should be glad that they have a rigorously researched study for reference. Call it global, trans-oceanic, or any other name, Carreira’s work reminds us that the connections that Goa had with other regions and peoples are not only very important to study but critical to an appreciation of the Goan past and present. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 18 January, 2017)

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

A SLOWER ECONOMY OF LIFE



The year 2016, according to many, has been frustrating for several reasons. While the sharp increase in violence across the globe may justify labeling 2016 as ‘horrible’, one can also rightly claim that the ugly face of violence has manifested itself for decades together. In such a bleak scenario, where do we go? And how do we deal with this mess?

Global processes also impact regions like Goa in multiple ways. In contemplating the many terrible events of 2016, it is worth reflecting upon the recent statement of Jorge Barreto Xavier, the former Secretary of State for Culture in Portugal. Delivering one of the keynote addresses a month ago at the VII Goa Arts and Literature Fest, Xavier spoke about the importance of writers and artists creating discourses that address the existence of inequalities and injustices present in our societies; the ones that sit quite comfortably under our noses.

From the keynote address it becomes obvious that Xavier is deeply concerned with the inequalities wrought by globalization, and its economic and political setups. Xavier observed, “Statistical data also shows that the rich are getting richer. Personally I have nothing against wealth-creation. We need to encourage entrepreneurs to generate wealth. But I have a lot against the accumulation of wealth that is not re-distributed…the degree of inequality achieved nowadays cannot be considered fair”.

Observing that due to rapid globalization “we are moving very fast”, he suggested that “we must have the wisdom and the courage to walk more slowly”. He further said that “[t]he vertigo of the present time is driving us to exhaustion – emotional exhaustion, physical exhaustion, intellectual exhaustion, exhaustion of natural resources, exhaustion of sustainability”.

Xavier emphasized that we need “a slower economy of life”. Because only in such a mode “there will be a world for the future generation and sustainability for the present. Today, it seems that we have forgotten the pact that [has] lasted for millennia – one generation receives the patrimony from the previous, and passes onto the next”. The earth must be allowed to recover itself every year, and the next generation must also be allowed to lead a life of dignity. This is possible only if we slow down, Xavier emphasized.

If we look at the last couple of decades of the history of ‘development’ in Goa, it would be painfully obvious that Goa and Goans indeed need a slower economy of life. Perhaps, what may not be very obvious is how events in distant corners of the earth may impact Goa. In other words, we may not be thinking of Goa’s problems in global terms. Let’s look at the mining boom that followed China’s bid to host the summer Olympics (among many other such recent examples). China’s voracious appetite for even low-grade ore led to rampant over-mining in Goa, according to many reports.

There is also a human cost that needs to be borne by the peoples and regions at the receiving end of globalization and development. Most discussions about Goa’s troubled (and troubling) industries like mining and tourism highlight the rampant corruption, the deliberate losses imposed on the state exchequer, and the general losses suffered by the economy. However, one rarely comes to terms with the human loss and the loss of dignity in the ensuing chaos. The mining boom around 2008 saw many persons investing their life’s savings to earn from the transportation services then in high demand. While all liabilities such as loans were the sole responsibility of the individual – and not the mining companies – the sudden halt of all the mining activities somewhere in 2014 led to families sinking nose-deep in debt. The mounting debts drove many to suicide. These were not of course the only deaths related to mining; there are also the innumerable people who died in mining-related road accidents.

The human and environmental cost is quite visible when we start accepting that the current rate of development has robbed the Goa of human dignity, and the environment of its ability to renew itself. One sees that the people of Goa feel that they have either lost or are fast losing any control over their individual and collective destinies. What then of people, their lives, their culture, and their livelihoods?

I have written about the tourism industry in the past and how its ‘development’ has created more problems than solving the existing ones. Recent governmental bodies such as the Investment Promotion Board that promotes real estate and industries only add to the rapidity, the vertigo, and the dizziness of our times.

A ‘slow economy of life’ would necessitate that we start thinking of‘development’ as essentially sustaining the natural and human resources. With elections round the corner one will hear so much talk about what needs to be done and what should be done. But the question that needs to be asked is whether the current political and economic establishment would end up exhausting ourselves.There should be a balance between work and leisure, with emphasis on the dignity of the human while enjoying the fruits of the earth in moderation.

(A slightly modified version first appeared on O Heraldo, dt: 4 January, 2016)