The close interrelations of power, hegemony and history in the politics that surround a language and/or script were brought to the fore by Dr. Fr. Victor Ferrao, Dean of Philosophy and Professor of Rachol Seminary. Dr. Fr. Ferrao was delivering the Late Fr. Freddy J. da Costa Memorial Lecture organized by the Dalgado Konknni Akademi (DKA) at Tiatr Academy’s Conference Hall, Panaji on July 19, the eve of Fr. Freddy’d birth anniversary. Fr. Freddy who is known for his journalism and writing in Konknni was incidentally the founding member of the DKA as well as its first President.
Dr. Fr. Victor Ferrao who recently released his book, Being a Goan Christian: the Politics of Identity, Rift and Synthesis, was awarded PhD for his thesis on ‘Involving God in an Evolving Universe: Dialogue between Science and Religion’ and has taught at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune. A highly erudite scholar, Dr. Fr. Ferrao who has published many papers in various journals, argued his case with finesse. He spoke on the topic of Romi Lipintlem Konknni Sahitya: Kal ani Az [Konknni Literature in the Roman Script: Past and Present]. Rather than providing a descriptive history of the books and authors in the Roman script, Dr. Fr. Ferrao took the debate to a very intellectual level, focusing instead on the larger and much malignant issues of power, hegemony, linguistic politics and the changes wrought by colonialism. (Incidentally, some felt that Dr. Fr. Ferrao was deviating from the topic). Needless to say, the thought-provoking lecture left the audience, which also included the Journalism students of St. Xavier’s College, Mapusa, with much to chew on.
Driving straight to the point, Dr. Fr. Ferrao invoked the Swiss linguist Ferdinand Saussure and said that no language has a natural script. He then went on to explain how we create words and represent them with scripts and how meaning is then encoded in them. And drawing from the thesis of Sausure, he stated that he was not prepared to accept “that any script could be ‘natural’ and ‘scientific’ to a language.”
Dr. Fr. Ferrao tried to locate the problems of script of Konknni as well as the Medium of Instruction (MOI) in the Portuguese colonialism and believed that there were close linkages between these issues, historically speaking. The proponents of ek bhas, ek lipi, ek sonskrutay [one language, one script, one culture] are misguided, he said. By making such an argument, Dr. Fr. Ferrao asserted that a “forgetting of history” takes place. And since Dr. Fr. Ferrao identified colonialism as intimately tied with our problems today, he dwelled quite at length on the differences between British and Portuguese colonialism as well the Orientalist and nationalist scholarship of the 19th century that had produced knowledge through racist and upper-caste lenses. Dr. Fr. Ferrao was of the firm opinion that such frameworks should be abandoned.
He also brought to the discussion two insightful concepts of “colonial difference” and “coloniality of power”; the former being the difference between the foreigner and the native where the foreigner projects himself as superior while the latter concept was the acceptance of foreign power without any question. Dr. Fr. Ferrao while acknowledging the contribution of the missionaries in creating a corpus of Konknni literature also recognized the “side benefits” that it may have provided for the Portuguese state. This indeed was a new insight.
Elaborating on the theme of “forgetting of history”, Dr. Fr. Ferrao cited the example of Manthan, a recently-released book in nagri by the Professor of Konknni at the Goa University, Dr. Madhavi Sardesai. Commenting on Eduardo Jose Bruno de Souza’s novel (which was the first in Konknni), Dr. Sardesai claimed that this novel gave a picture of the state of the Konknni language when it was released while at the same time expressing regret that there were many Portuguese words used in the text. “Madhavi Bai forgets history yet again. For the spoken language always borrows and lends,” said Dr. Fr. Ferrao.
Although Dr. Fr. Ferrao conceded that the literature of Konknni in the nagri script is great or “mahan”, he admitted that this literature was relatively young. He said that there was an attempt to invent a long and glorious past. This, Dr. Fr. Ferrao said, was being achieved by finding the roots and origins of Konknni in Sanskrit. If we keep the many scripts of Konknni aside from the mainstream, can we develop the language, he questioned.
Dr. Fr. Ferrao stressed that the events of the 16th and 17th centuries are evaluated by the frameworks of the 19th century Hindu lenses. Taking the help of established scholarship that has convincingly demonstrated that ‘Hindu’ was a relatively recent invention due to foreign invasion and colonial intervention (for instance, the work of Romila Thapar and David Lorenzen), and asked a very provocative question whether it was correct to superimpose 19th century frameworks on the 16th and 17th centuries and when did the Goan Hindu actually become “Hindu”? These questions are significant as the burden of conversion has to be borne by the present day descendents of the converts, most of whom are the protagonists of the Roman script. Readers would remember that more recently the protagonists of the Roman script have been dubbed as “anti-nationals” and “agents of the Portuguese” by stalwarts of the nagri lobby.
Along with the power, politics and history, Dr. Fr. Ferrao also included “trauma” in his analysis. He said that if conversion has hurt the Hindu community, it has also instilled a shame in the Catholic community. And such a trauma (or the hurt to put it in more simple terms) produces its own politics, he said.
Dr. Fr. Ferrao was very critical of the thinking and policies of ek bhas, ek lipi, ek sonskrutay persuasion. Rather than wait in hope for the unity of Konknni under one script, why can’t we accept its diversity and move ahead, he asked.In the ideas and arguments that were presented, Dr. Fr. Ferrao has demonstrated that he is a capable intellectual and a scholar who has presented his case with sensitivity. There can be no doubt that Dr. Fr. Ferrao, with his remarkable insight, is slowly emerging on the Goan intellectual scene.
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: July 21, 2012).