Tuesday, 5 July 2016

TROUBLED TIMES AND THE LIBERATION BUGLE



Over the past few weeks, I have been reading with much interest a few letters addressed to the editor of O Heraldo. These letters, in one way or the other, argued for the necessity of ‘liberation’ for Goa. While Victor Ferrao, the Dean of the Rachol Seminary sought a “second liberation”, others rather felt that Goa needed a proper or true liberation. These letters were sparked off, as one may remember, by the highly objectionable statements made in the press by some freedom fighters, calling for punitive action against Goans who have registered their births in Portugal.

Calls for liberation coming in the wake of such statements by the freedom-fighters (FFs) can tell us a few things about Goan politics. To begin with, we need to understand that the FFs have an authority and legitimacy in Goan politics that is generally not questioned. Their role in the anti-colonial movement against the Portuguese Estado da Índia (EI) is what gives them this legitimacy, to such an extent that they have come to epitomize freedom from colonialism. Thus, when Ferrao asserted that there were “several un-freedoms” that the FFs refused to acknowledge – and thereby also played on the word ‘freedom’ in FFs – it enabled us to see the regressive role that some of these FFs play in contemporary Goa.

The letters addressed the sorry state of Goan politics and the manner in which the State in Goa had mismanaged governance and public resources. It is in this context that one needs to see the calls for liberation being pitted against the image of the FFs. Contemporary calls for liberation are a challenge, I argue, to a nationalist understanding of Goa and its history.

Liberation in the Goan context is used to describe the departure of the EI after the military annexation of Goa to the Indian Union. Thus, Goa and its people were understood to have been freed from foreign dominance, and also to have arrived at a culmination of history with their integration into the Indian nation-state. The FFs have, or claim to have, actively contributed to this integration. Thus according to the nationalist version of history, liberation as a project, or as a movement in history, is understood to be complete, with no necessity for further work or improvement. The departure of the Portuguese, coupled with the arrival of the Indians, was equated with the liberation of Goans. And yet we see renewed calls for liberation.

What we need to recognize is that anti-colonial movements that led to the formation of many nation-states across the colonized world also came as a promise for progress and modernization, apart from mobilizing to overthrow foreign yoke. The colonial state could not ensure the progress and betterment of the people because it oppressed and enslaved people. The colonial state denied rights to people in their own land. It also obstructed the cultural efflorescence of the people, and imposed Western culture on them. Such a position was articulated by TB Cunha, noted for his contributions to Goa’s anti-colonial movement.

However, progress and betterment is precisely what the nation-state that emerged from anti-colonial movements have failed to give to the masses. Even if the nation-state has been able to bring about modernization it has been at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of the marginalized masses. We have recently seen this in the manner in which land is sought or is grabbed in Tirakol, Mopa, Vanxim, Betul, and elsewhere across Goa, the brutal police action on peaceful protesters, unending scams that deplete the State exchequer or public money by many thousands of crores, and the mammoth mismanagement of public resources and properties.

Thus, to many it does feel like, rather than having the freedom to live and earn a decent livelihood, one is still colonized by the nation-state and its partners in the name of development. In such a contemporary scenario, the presence of FFs who hark back and depend on a legacy that is constantly failing us in the present is rendered meaningless. What is the point of having FFs if we do not have freedom? This is why calls for liberation today make more sense than celebrating some (imagined) national glories.

Which is also why calls for liberation should also be seen along with another more famous (or notorious) movement called ‘Liberation Theology’. In this context, liberation is cast as an emancipatory project. Begun as a movement within the Church in Latin America after Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez published his seminal text A Theology of Liberation (1971), ‘liberation theology’ sought to address the poverty-stricken lives of many in Latin America due to an unjust social system, and rampant capitalist development. The poverty in Latin America made the Church there face a crisis of its own relevance in that society. Fr. Gutiérrez argued that such a moment was precisely the time that the Church had to change by putting the poor and the oppressed first and actively supporting their struggles – the poor after all were at the center of the Christian message.

Listening to calls of liberation coming from various quarters one could argue that the State as well as the Church in Goa needs to put the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed at the center of politics and planning. The State more so as in a secular, liberal democracy the welfare of the citizens is entrusted to the State. With the State opening the doors to rampant development, the common masses and the marginalized will be further pushed in the corner and the calls for liberation will only grow. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 6 July, 2016)

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