Goa’s Chief Minister, Laxmikant Parsekar, has been receiving flak ever since he took charge from November 2014. Not simply due to the faulty policies that his government seems eager to force down the throats of the Goan people, but also due to controversial and sometimes silly comments in the media.
However, over the last several months we have been witness to a modicum of clarity and good sense displayed by the same Parsekar on the issue of consumption of beef in Goa. In March this year, Parsekar issued a statement saying that there cannot be a beef-ban in Goa, as beef is part of the diet of a lot of people in the state. Since the issue of whether Muslims, Dalits, Christians, and Adivasis living in India should or should not consume beef is being raked up with alarming frequency, Parsekar did not shy away from issuing another statement earlier this month. Modifying his views a bit due to the existing political climate in North India and the debates surrounding the ‘rise of intolerance’ in India, Parsekar said, “I don’t feel the people of a community eat or use beef to hurt sentiments of others. It is part of their cuisine or preparation and we also accept the fact…” What one can also add to Parsekar’s statement is that rather than offending anybody, many Catholics (for example) feel quite awkward and embarrassed to serve pork and beef dishes at their own functions, thanks to a desire to accommodate the sentiments of their Muslim and Hindu friends. One can see that Parsekar is quite consistent in his views on beef-eating vis-à-vis the minoritized communities and to state something as plainly as he did is frankly quite remarkable.
But Parsekar did not stop at asserting that there was no intent for hurting sentiments by the consumption of beef. The problems in Parsekar’s comments arise when he tried to link the current situation of intolerance in rest of India to the tolerant ethos of Goa, which many believe existed for centuries. He said, “This maybe a tiny state, but our speciality is that Hindus, Catholics and Muslims can live together in harmony and peace. We know the importance of respecting each others’ feelings. Therefore, such issues are never blown out of proportion as in other state”. Reading such a view one should be ideally left with a few wrinkles on one’s forehead.
The question is how valid is the idea that Goa was always tolerant? While raising this question, allow me to also stress that Goa seems to witness a relatively ‘peaceful’ atmosphere as the ‘othering’ of minoritized groups like Christians and Muslims operate through means that appear as not overtly violent.
If we consider the politics of the Konkani language organized around the legitimization of the Nagri script as the official and de facto script of the culture and language of Goa, this vision of Goa having a long tradition of tolerance immediately fractures. By now it is common knowledge that a sizable population of the Catholic community has been excluded from the Goan public sphere. What’s more is that the people who asserted the right of Roman-scripted Konkani as legitimate in the Goan cultural and political sphere were (and are) frequently at the receiving end of vicious hate speech. Though I have said that this is common knowledge, yet it does not seem to have seeped into the common-sensical understanding of many prominent intellectuals and politicians in Goa. For why else would many in Goa celebrate the fact that many Nagri writers threatened to return their Sahitya Akademi awards, despite the fact that these very same people have presided over a regime that continues to marginalize and impose savarna hegemony over bahujan Hindus and various Catholic groups?
To further focus on the harmonious existence of various religious communities in Goa, one can ask about the extent to which Muslims are represented in Goan politics. Although there are many Goan Muslims, there is hardly any representation of that community in Goan politics from 1961. In a sense, one can observe the invisibilization of the Muslim population in Goa, as, right from 1961, the leadership of the community is solely in the hands of others. I think this is very serious as there is hardly anyone who will represent the needs and interests of the community, as for example in the fields of education, employment, and food habits. And since we are on the topic of political representation, I am reminded of the Pratap Singh Rane cabinet of 1980, wherein a sizable number of key posts were given to Christian MLAs, and apparently the mood prevailing then in Goa was that the government had turned into a Christian-controlled one (Kristanvancho sorkar). That a significant number of Goans at that time (which is not that long ago) felt uncomfortable with so many Christian MLAs in the Legislative Assembly, should ideally make us realize that the narrative about Goa’s harmony is a wee bit farcical. One would find many more such incidents.
So while Parsekar is absolutely right in asserting that consumption of beef is not linked to any desire to offend, the rising tide of ‘intolerance’ should not be viewed as an aberration to the normally tolerant and harmonious ethos, whether in Goa or India. In fact, if we think hard enough one will be confronted with a longer history of small and big incidents by which minoritized communities have been consistently and systematically subjected to discrimination. To not recognize this history is to miss a chance at furthering a truly egalitarian society.
(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 11 November, 2015)
Please also see a reaction to this article by Vikas Kamat and my rebuttal to it here.