Thursday, 25 May 2017

TRUCKED! MINING DUST AND PROTEST IN GOA

With the Sadhana Multipurpose Cooperative Society (SMCS) being allowed a legal existence as a cooperative society, the debate on how Goa should deal with its mineral resources is moving forward in a direction that holds much promise. The initiative of the setting up of the cooperative was led by the villagers of Caurem, particularly by Ravindra Velip. The villagers of Caurem had to fight for almost three years before the authorities agreed to recognize Sadhana as a cooperative society. That Sadhana was made to wait for so long is not surprising considering that their objectives is to enter the mining business whereby they will operate leases, extract ore, transport the extracted ore, sell and export it, cutting across the interests of giant corporates. This three year period, therefore, was not one of idle wait for the villagers of Caurem, but one marked by numerous protests as well as attacks on the villagers.

One of such protests had led to the arrest of some villagers in Caurem, including an assault on them while in jail. RavindraVelip was then the panch of Caurem. A new graphic novel, released online for free circulation about a month ago, uses the assault on Velip and his comrades as a backdrop to reflect on the struggles of people against the destruction of lives and ecology. Trucked! is a joint effort by Favita Dias, a lecturer in sociology, and the illustrator Anjora Noronha. The title of the graphic novel draws from the image of a thousand trucks that transported iron ore from the mines of Caurem to the docks in Sanvordem.  The graphic novel is about Dias’ personal experience of attending a protest meet and standing in solidarity with the villagers of Caurem.

Dias recounts her experience of negotiating her way to Caurem, where the trucks are lined bumper-to-bumper. “Follow the trucks,” Dias is told, when she asked for directions to Caurem; the empty ones, of course. Trucked! in this sense not only serves as a metaphor for negotiating the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the road from Caurem to Sanvordem, but also helps to bring attention to the most visible aspect of mining: the trucks that transport the ore.In fact those who live in the mining areas and on the route through which the ore is transported would largely agree with Dias’ characterization of the trucks as “monsters”. These vehicles speed down the roads, kicking a storm of dust and mowing down whatever comes in their path – even other human beings.

The graphic aesthetic also tries to capture the problems that rampant mining has brought about. The colour red – the colour of the Goan soil and of large-scale mining as well – jumps out of the pages. The powdery texture that the illustrator has managed to produce gives us an impression that it is actually the mining dust that is on the pages of the graphic novel. Much of the internal reflection or the inner thoughts and past memories of the author are depicted using shades of gray. This alternates between the red, dusty-texture of scenes involving iron ore. Thus, the graphic novel offers us a stark contrast between two worlds: the internal world whereby one tends to reflect deeply about finding solutions to problems; and the external world that witnesses a senseless and unabated destruction of lives and ecology.

It is important to recognize how this interiority or internal reflections can help in thinking about the problems related to mining, or for that matter any other problem that confronts Goa. Dias offers a reflection on where an individual should place herself in the larger scheme of things; how one can relate to the struggles of others. It is also about keeping faith, and gaining hope and strength from the battles waged by others, that ultimately would bring about positive changes in our own lives. Dias reflects on the manner in which the villagers of Caurem were waging their protest and resisting the assault of mining corporations and how Ravindra Velip, calm and composed, was handling all sorts of allegations against him in the fight for justice. Trucked! teaches us a way to think and feel about the problems and protests that we are witness to.

In fact, this ability to express the internal condition of the mind to a problem widespread in society was also seen when Dias wrote an essay on her personal experiences in encountering casteism; her coming to terms with her identity as a woman from the Gauda community (published in O Heraldo, 24 January 2016). The personal and emotional conflicts that one goes through and how one can think of these conflicts and pressures in a wider social universe is the way in which Dias structures her work.

It is also essential to recognize the importance of various types or modes of representations that discuss problems faced by the society. Thus, our resistance to the problems becomes stronger if, along with newspaper reports, op-eds and books, we also have other forms of representation like tiatr, songs, and graphic novels such as Trucked! Such efforts would go a long way to build a corpus of texts that record history of Goa’s struggles against destructive so-called development.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 24 May, 2017)

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

NATIONAL INTERESTS AND LOCAL INTERESTS



Goa Forward’s (GF) recent views on the expansion of coal handling at the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) should be evaluated with the party’s rhetoric of being a ‘regional party’. Surprising, some might say, that a party that stood for Goemkarponn is at odds with those who are desperately working to save Goa’s ecology. If regional interests or Goemkarponn are to be secured for the benefit of the local people, can national interests be served at the same time? Though the backlash to the statements led to a retraction as far as coal handling is concerned, nonetheless GF’s recent statements and their compromises on the issue of nationalization of rivers should make us to introspect and interrogate how national and regional interests operate.

Apart from the fact that national interests have a flip side of making those who do not conform to these interests as ‘anti-nationals’, terms like national interest are a curious way through which protests are muzzled, especially those against the draconian policies of the state. Often policies and projects carried out for the express purpose of securing national interest benefit multinational corporations. National interest further benefit persons of dominant caste and class groups or those who enjoy the power given unto them by the state and the media, while the land and resources of the poor and bahujan groups are appropriated wholesale.

Large-scale projects are not the only way to observe the operation of national interests against regional ones. In a curious way, we can see it operating in Goa’s language politics as well. By making Nagri-scripted Konkani as one of the official languages of Goa, a certain nationalist politics was put into play. The Roman-scripted Konkani and those who demanded that it too be recognized as official were left out. Within this nationalist politics it was not possible to recognize the Roman script because the Roman script is allegedly foreign. Anything foreign is not Indian, and therefore would not serve any national interests. Portuguese-inflected or -derived words in Konkani had to be purged in favor of Sanskrit-derived vocabulary to make Konkani more Indian and more national.

Linked to the politics of the Konkani language and its official script is the Medium of Instruction (MoI) issue. The demand for English, so the argument went, was anti-thetical to Indian culture. Forcing children to study only in “regional languages”, some believe, would instill national pride in the children of Goa. Vile propaganda suggested that the MoI in English was a conspiracy to serve ‘Catholic interests’. It is, however, a different matter that those who are demanding English as MoI are fed-up of the parochial language politics in Goa, and see no future in the manner in which ‘regional languages’ are forced onto the Goan public, more especially, on the poorer and bahujan sections who cannot afford private English education. The bottom line is that through a narrow and parochial politics, Goa’s elite classes are serving national interests that do not see any merits in including all forms of cultures and linguistic expressions. In fact one is expected to give up on certain practices if they do not conform to the national standard.

During the press conference which received a huge backlash, GF’s spokesperson Prashant Naik also made a sarcastic comment, arguing that if there is an opposition to all development projects then all Goans will have to “make the passport” and leave. Notwithstanding the blatant illegalities of such development projects as well as the manner in which such projects rob the people of Goa of their land and water, Naik’s seemingly off-the-cuff statement reveals a deep-seated bias. Those who opt for a Portuguese passport in order to have access to better employment opportunities, and in many ways to escape the increasingly vitiated and stifling political atmosphere in Goa, are seen as betraying the nation. They are viewed as having no loyalty to the nation. By suggesting that there is a link between those who opt for Portuguese citizenship and those who oppose mega-projects, Naik’s statement precisely draws from a ‘nationalist’ discourse that has no regard for the problems and difficulties of the people that drive migration.

Goa’s recent history is witness to several protests that opposed the large-scale takeover by the central governmental agencies and multinational corporations. At least from the 1980s there have been protests against such polluting industries like the Zuari Agro Chemicals, Nylon 6,6, Du Pont, Meta-Strips, the agitation against the Konkan Railway, as well as the agitation against the setting up of the Special Economic Zone, or the agitation led by the Ramponnkars, the traditional fishermen to safeguard the interests of people in traditional occupations. The agitation against evictions in Baina (in the garb of ‘cleaning’ the beaches of prostitution and migrants) amongst several others should also be remembered while the issue of MPT’s expansion is discussed. What this suggests is that in its recent history Goa has witnessed spirited opposition against a form of ‘development’ that is a direct assault on the lives of people.

Claims of national interest should be examined if they secure or deny rights to people, whether these rights are legal, cultural, environmental or in any other sphere. The discussion of Goemkarponn, local interests, and national interests should focus on the struggles in Goa’s recent history that has somewhat restricted the march of developmental projects. This and other instances such as the MoI issue wherein a large section of the people of Goa mobilized to fulfill certain demands tell us that the people of Goa have put local interests above so-called national ones. This is an important lesson to remember.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 10 May, 2017)