Wednesday, 30 March 2016

TEMPLES AND MAHAJANS



Post-colonial Goan politics has always been about playing the Hindu bahujan against their Catholic counterparts. Fear of the Hindu bahujan is repeatedly instilled in Catholics using the bogeyman of Marathi and merger; the Hindu bahujan are constantly made hostile by falsely stating that the government panders to every Catholic demand, and by stoking communal sentiments about forced conversions, the Inquisition, western culture, food habits and so on and so forth. Of course, both these sections are quite often pitted together against Muslims. In all of this the hegemony of the Hindu upper-caste is left untouched. This pattern is amply clear if we look at the Konkani language agitation in the past, and the present mobilization of the Bharitiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) and RSS, along with some Marathivadis. Note also the manner in which Nagri Konkani in the Antruzi dialect (which is the dialect of the Saraswats) is still the official language of Goa.

The movement by the Forum for Rights of Children in Education (FORCE) launched in 2011, took a clear stance against this hegemony. More recently, the issue of replacing the old idol at the Marcaim temple in Ponda is on the boil, and is rightly termed as a “Mahajan v/s Bahujan” issue. Of course the antecedents of these two movements are not recent. The demand made by FORCE – that of government funding for English medium primary schools through an act of legislation – can be traced to the resentment over the imposition of Nagri Konkani as medium of instruction (MoI) from 1994. The conflict between the “Mahajans v/s Bahujans” also has a history, with bahujan communities repeatedly trying to gain greater access and control of the temple properties and management, currently in the control of the mostly Saraswat Mahajans. The Nagri Konkani writer N. Shivdas, for instance, has been part of movements to gain access to such brahmanical shrines.

With a judicious and cautious use of the imagination, if we try to put these two movements together, it can be argued that it is not just the temples across Goa that are jealously controlled by Mahajans, but also the ‘temples of learning’ (pardon the metaphor), thus sustaining their hegemony in Goan public sphere.

Allow me to explain a bit more. By demanding that the Mahajan Act, or the Regulamento of 1886, be scrapped, the bahujan communities are in effect asking for a greater control of temple resources, the upkeep of which uses their labour and devotion. They are asking for the freedom and liberty to exercise their choice of deciding how the temples are to be run. Similarly, the movement launched by FORCE is also a movement that demands the freedom and liberty to make a choice to educate children in the language that the parents deem fit. This choice, as we all know, is currently held hostage to the irrational and casteist worldviews and politics of the BBSM-RSS combine – in other words, ‘Mahajans’ of the temples of learning. Isn’t it after all the futures of bahujan children that are being held hostage by these ‘mahajans’?

It is a similar form of power and hegemony that FORCE and the temple movement at Marcaim are fighting. However, we need to point out and understand some shortcomings within such movements.

In relation to the movement spearheaded by FORCE, there are some crucial gaps in their political mobilization that have come to light. Despite many views asserting that FORCE’s demands are not just the demands of the Catholic community, FORCE was cornered into being an organization which represents the demands of Catholics alone. As O Heraldo’s group editor Sujay Gupta recently observed, “…when the government was clearly trying to split the movement for rights of all [emphasis added] children by catering to – or ostensibly catering to – just minority institutions, FORCE allowed this to happen by not pointing out that the government was trying to shift the goalposts”. In other words, there was complacency in FORCE’s mobilization of making more and more allies.

Thus, one can observe that FORCE failed to sustain a consistent articulation that its demands are beneficial for the whole of Goa. Although the bahujan movement at Marcaim does aim for larger political gains beyond the control of temples, yet these aims are not articulated as such; or at least not discussed in the Goan press. The ongoing debates only highlight the potential impact that the Marcaim temple movement could have on the next elections. Limiting (or allowing to limit) the Marcaim issue or the movement by FORCE to shifts in electoral politics would mean that we set our eyes on short-term goals. Both FORCE and the people leading the Marcaim temple movement should think of themselves as fighting similar ‘Mahajan’ control and hegemony.

In the past, we have seen some notable – though short-lived – attempts to unite Catholics and bahujan Hindus through an alliance of the Marathi Rajbhasha Andolan and Romi Konknni Andolan. Perhaps, the only way lasting change can be brought about is by a sustained attempt over a number of years to build solidarity between bahujan interests across religions, that is, assert universal caste and class interests over other sectarian ones. It is in such solidarity that the hope for a common, nurturing, and secure society lies. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 30 March, 2016)

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