Wednesday, 4 March 2015

EXPLORING GOA’S MANY WORLDS



Goa’s history has witnessed the engagement of various inhabitants and cultures with the land in many complex ways. Owing to its location as one of the important port cities in the Indian Ocean network, and later due to the migration of its people to Africa, the Persian Gulf, Australia, the Americas and Europe, Goa has been a part of many worlds. In other words, the four hundred-odd years of Goa’s history as a territory of Portugal have contributed in multiple ways to the emergence and development of its character. With the coming of the tourism-boom circa 1980s, this interaction of Goa with other cultures and peoples seems to have been given a violent shake.

To say that the tourism boom has created problems for the Goan society would be to state the obvious. But, rather than discuss the obvious economic and social ills that have plagued tourism, this column would like to take tourism in Goa as a point of departure for talking about the problem of a dearth of in-depth scholarship. I say so largely because the rapid changes that were brought about by tourism have not been studied in-depth. While there is a clamor to invest in the development of the tourism sector, one does not see similar demands being made in order to critically study the problems that came in the wake of tourism. So what the example of tourism enables us to see is the lack of any demand to seriously invest in intellectual activities despite there being an urgent need. There is a serious lack of a well structured agenda to invest in an intellectual corpus of Goans who will go to the root cause and explain the ills that are faced by the Goan society. In other words, we may know that we have a problem but we may not know why the problem occurred in the first place.

Investing in intellectual pursuits is not simply a matter of finding the financial resources, but also of allowing access to a diversity of people across the social and economic spectrum to indulge in research and writing. I say so because many commentators on Goa (Goan or otherwise) would point out that since Goan communities are established in various parts of the world, and many Goans have occupied and occupy valuable and influential positions in several institutions, Goa has benefitted greatly. But in reality what we see is that very little of this advantage has translated into an intellectual benefit for Goa. What one observes is that this intellectual benefit has and to a large extent is, confined within age old networks of class, caste, and family. The problem is that in Goa nobody likes to talk about this concentration of power and privilege into the hands of the few. The flip side of the issue is that despite many different peoples flocking to Goa – largely for holidays – Goa seems to have been unable to forge any meaningful cultural contacts. I do concede that in this two-way exchange, of Goans migrating out of Goa, and others travelling to Goa, a lot of foreign exchange has been earned. However, the question remains, to what systemic use has this money been put to?

Foreign exchange earned without any proper vision for the intellectual and cultural development of the people of Goa, would hardly amount to anything in a world that is rapidly changing. For instance, the recent drop of the ruble against the dollar had caused a lot of anxiety in Goa. As an important aside, the uncertainties of the international markets can also be seen in the manner in which the collapse in the demand for iron ore from Goa, along with the irregularities rife in that sector, could make and break several families in a matter of a few months. Thus, one can clearly see that there is an urgent need to start thinking about Goa and its place in a larger world in a different manner.
Courtesy:
Memórias da India Portuguesa

A similar argument was made in 2013 by Constantino Xavier in one of his articles and it still seems relevant despite the two years that have lapsed since its publication. Xavier argues that Goa should essentially be a center to foster ties with other Portuguese-speaking countries in the world. Maintaining that Goa’s culture would provide a more congenial home for many of the students and scholars hailing from the Lusophone world, Xavier suggests for an establishment of an institutional set-up or a center for research and other scholarly works. Although Xavier made his arguments in the field of developing policy research, one can easily see that the argument can and should be extended to other areas of research in the humanities as well.

The importance of this suggestion can be seen in the fact that nearly nothing has been done to understand the connection with the Arab world despite the large number of Goans migrating there. For a start, very few works are available to understand the history of this migration. We have very little scholarship to understand the place of Goan labour in a larger world. How would detailed histories of Goan labour and work (or employment) in the Gulf contribute to our understanding of Goanness and Goan society? Arguably, a lot, since it would enable us to see how thousands of Goans were interacting (and still interact) in a globalized labour market. As a society, are we solely happy to see our men and women migrating to foreign shores and sending back remittances? Or would we like to see Goa emerge as a space that can employ its own gainfully?

Moving away from the concerns of diaspora and migration, there is also very little literature available to understand the major political movements that Goa has witnessed. For instance, how and why did mining emerge as an industry mid-twentieth century Goa? What were the causes and effects of the changes in land reforms, language agitation, the Ramponnkar’s movement, the Nylon 6,6 agitation, the agitations against megaprojects, and other issues? There are many Goan organizations across the world that are committed to the preservation of Goan identity and culture, but it must be pointed out that investing in a celebration of Goan culture and investing in a critical reflection of the same are largely two different things.

It must be mentioned that the project of exploring Goa’s many worlds and indeed forging new relationships in contemporary times, cannot be divorced from an exploration of the history, politics, and conflicts within Goan society. Thus, a concerted vision of long-term investment in the intellectual development of Goa, would do Goa and the Goan identity much good.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 4 March, 2015)

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