Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Sports – and sporting events – and their link with nationalism is unmistakable. Yet, despite being so obvious this link is rarely scrutinized critically. The celebration of Goanness in the victories of FC Goa in the recently concluded ISL Championship is an appropriate example. One can suggest that such a celebration of Goanness was never seen before as far as football in Goa is concerned. So what does this mad euphoria for FC Goa tell us about Goa and Goan identity?

One of the most overt ways in which Goanness was celebrated through FC Goa was by displaying FC Goa’s flag with vehement enthusiasm both inside the stadium as well as outside. Driving to various towns and villages in Goa with a friend, I was struck by how ubiquitous the flags were. Cars, scooters, houses, as well as shops were seen proudly displaying the flags. Michael Billig in his book Banal Nationalism (1995) underscores the importance of ‘flagging the homeland’ in our everyday lives. This ‘flagging’ does not simply refer to the physical object of the flag of a nation, but the many abstract and symbolic ways in which we are reminded of our homeland or nation every day. Words such as ‘we’, ‘ours’, ‘theirs’, etc., Billig argues, subconsciously remind us of our nations and homelands every day. Billig looks at how the newspapers use these abovementioned words in the most banal manner and suggests that newspapers are a site for ‘flagging the homeland’ in day-to-day life. Billig singles out sports as an area wherein the homeland is continuously ‘flagged’ in a banal manner with much enthusiasm, whatever may be the political affiliation of the newspaper.

The link between sports and ‘flagging the homeland’ was also observed by Zoltan Grossman. Writing in a lighter vein about the Green Bay Packers football (the one where they pick up the ball and run!) team in Wisconsin, USA, Grossman discussed how their first Super Bowl victory in 1997 made people behave in a very ‘nationalistic’ and ‘patriotic’ way. Similar to the scene in Goa, Green Bay Packers fans waved flags and displayed their pride through car stickers. And perhaps they went overboard when they considered the turf of their home stadium as sacred earth! Grossman, though writing in a satirical and lighter vein, does draw parallels with how nations are imagined and how national territory is marked.

Needless to say, the failure and success of FC Goa was keenly discussed and followed in the press. Despite the celebrity presence in the form of Bollywood and cricket personalities, die-hard FC Goa fans maintained that they overwhelmingly supported the team because the Brazilian legend, Zico was the coach, and more importantly “that they finally ha[d] a ‘Goa’ team” to support. For his part, co-owner of FC Goa Dattaraj Salgaocar, writing in a local newspaper asserted that FC Goa was successful in uniting the Goan people. “FC Goa,” he said, “may have lost in the penalty shootout in the semi finals, but I believe that it has won the hearts of Goa and our entire country. Our vision of uniting the people of Goa through football has come true; every Goan has been rooting for our team”.

While today we may celebrate football as being quintessentially Goan, the history of its promotion in Goa in relation to the Portuguese state, and commercial interests within Goa has more than what meets the eye. There is an obvious link between mining firms/families and football in Goa, and as such it demonstrates a pattern. As Constantino Xavier based at the John Hopkins University, Washington DC noted in one of his columns, the Portuguese state or Estado Novo promoted football in the 1950s, which the mining companies capitalized on immediately. (Interestingly, many blamed the initial losing streak of FC Goa on the irregularities in the mining sector!).

Xavier also notes the link with the promotion of football in Goa with nationalism, “Passion for football became a symbol of passion for Portugal. In 1955, Mozambique’s Ferroviarios of Lourenço Marques [or Maputo] visited Goa on tour, which was followed in 1959 by the Port Trust Club of Karachi. The highlight came in May of 1960, when a reserve team from giants Sport Lisboa e Benfica showed up for three test matches”. So if we are proudly waving flags in celebration of Goan football and thus Goanness, the history of this may point to factors other than the cliché that football runs in the blood of every Goan. Indeed, FC Goa’s slogan ‘Força Goa’ is similar to ‘Força Portugal’, used to passionately cheer the Portuguese football team. The ‘flagging’ of FC Goa also points to the significance of Portugal for Goan identity and how the history of Goan identity is intimately tied to the Portuguese presence in Goa. Unfortunately, this history is not yet written. All we have for now is the stray but interesting comment that Xavier made recently.

The FC Goa euphoria came at a time when this was the only news that was worth looking forward to. Football offered hope and a reason to celebrate Goa. As it mostly happens with nationalism, the celebration of Goan identity through FC Goa flags came at the cost of forgetting how fractured this very Goan identity is. But sport and its deep connection with nationalism can be seen as providing a space for instant bonding, despite the internal fractures in a society. This was seen after Spain won its maiden World Cup in 2010, uniting the country despite regions like Catalonia and Basque demanding more autonomy. Commentators also noted the remarkable number of Spanish flags that were flown across the country following the victory. If at all any unity has been achieved, as the ‘flagging’ of FC Goa would suggest, it would mean nothing if we do not ask some tough questions about the things we love and cherish as Goans. If we love football then we need to dissect the sport thoroughly. We should not only be worried about utilizing and developing Goan talent in football, but how this sport – the beautiful game – unites us as Goans.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 21 January, 2015)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Eric Ozario, the noted Konkani language activist from Mangalore, is perhaps one of the few and fortunate activists to have his biography written while still alive. Titled Eric Ozario: The Indefatigable Crusader, Ozario’s biography is written by the Mangalore-based engineer Royston Fernandes. The biography is a no-holds-barred account of his life as a child growing up in the Jeppu compound, a ghetto for the depressed caste groups of Mangalore who had converted to Catholicism, his days as a trade union leader, and lastly his life as an activist of the Konkani language.

Ozario’s biography reproduces a popular and status quo narrative of the history of the Konkani language: of widespread religious suppression and oppression, with a concomitant loss of the Konkani language and culture, in the wake of the arrival of the Portuguese. Most of Konkani language activism, especially one that is driven by upper-caste interests, situates itself within this narrative. Ozario’s biography allows us to see how this narrative operates in Konkani activism, even if this activism emerges from a location outside that of the upper-caste. Though it reads like a hagiography rather than an objective narrative, the value of Ozario’s biography lies not only in its no-holds-barred revelations, but also in what it can tell us about Konkani activists and activism.

Life for those in the Jeppu compound was as hard as it was pathetic. There was poverty and caste discrimination and Ozario’s childhood was spent in such harsh conditions. His parents originally were Tulu-speakers, but they made their children speak in Konkani. This was because despite Latin being the liturgical language of the Catholic church until the mid 1960s, Konkani reigned as the non-liturgical language. We are also told that Ozario’s parents were devout Catholics and raised their children as such. Yet, for Ozario, the story of the adoption of Konkani by the inhabitants of the Jeppu compound is a story of absolute suppression and loss of cultural identity. He states that the inhabitants of the Jeppu compound “were not only religiously converted, but were forcibly culturally uprooted. A new language (Konkani) was thrust on them in place of their mother tongue Tulu. No efforts were made to teach them the new language”. Ozario does not tell us what this culture that was lost on conversion was. The assumption here is that whatever was lost was good, thus glossing over the fact of the entrenchment of these cultural practices in caste.

Ozario’s appraisal of the conditions of the Jeppu compound as a total suppression of culture of its inhabitants occupies an uneasy position with his tacit acknowledgement of conversion to Christianity as a way out of poverty and caste. Though Christianity provided a way out of caste, the discrimination based on caste never stopped. Thus, the root of the problem which is located in the structure of caste is seen solely as a problem of conversion (forced or otherwise). It becomes clear that what Ozario understands today as an absolute loss of culture was not similarly understood by his parents who had converted to Christianity and had, as a result, adopted the Konkani language.

Yet, one cannot downplay the shame and humiliation that the young Ozario had to undergo for being “forced to speak a horribly grammarless and accented ‘Konkani’ during his entire childhood” and the various conflicts that he has with the church authorities. Thus, he stayed as far away from Konkani language and culture in his youth as possible.  Though not comparable in an equal measure with the humiliation that Roman script-users and tiatrists face for not knowing ‘proper’ Konkani, Ozario’s childhood experiences are not isolated from many other Konkani-speaking groups.

Rather than recognize this fact and use the childhood experiences to tell the story of his Konkani activism, Ozario plugs his life and engagement with the Konkani language into the popular and dominant narrative of forced conversions, migrations, suppression, and a loss of culture. For instance, while discussing his project of reviving the tradition of playing gumott among the Mangalorean Catholics, Ozario falls back on the story of how the Portuguese state and the Inquisition had suppressed the playing of the gumott. But the migration of “[o]ur forefathers” from Goa during this time allowed the gumott to be played without restrictions in areas of Mangalore.

The problem with this kind of understanding is the fact that Ozario’s parents did not migrate from Portuguese-controlled Goa. Further, such a narrative of migration wherein there are only pure victims and pure oppressors is one that is largely peddled by upper-caste groups across the Konkan and Malabar. While this history of oppression may be true for these upper-caste Hindu groups, the same cannot be said for the Christian groups in Kanara or for later converts to Catholicism. One can ask as to how Ozario – and his life and activism – fits into this migration narrative given that Ozario’s family was not converted during the first few centuries of Portuguese rule. Ozario is not the first to uncritically repeat the persecution and migration myth. More recently, Gopalkrishna Pai, the Cochin-based author of the Kannada novel Swapna Saraswat, asserted at the Goa Arts and Literature Fest, 2014 that nearly 22,000 Hindu families fled Goa after conversions began.

The question here is why does Ozario’s story shift from a personal experience of shame and humiliation due to Konkani in the Jeppu compound to an impersonal experience of persecution of Konkani-speaking migrants from Goa? Why does the blame shift entirely on Portuguese colonialism (something ‘external’) rather than also seriously thinking about how the violence of casteism operated within the Konkani society? The answer to this lies not so much in the history of Portuguese religious policies but in the manner in which individuals exert themselves to escape shame and humiliation. One can either distance oneself from the object of shame and humiliation (like Ozario did in his youth by distancing himself from Konkani) or try to be recognized within the structures that cause this shame and humiliation as Ozario’s subsequent Konkani activism indicates.

Ozario’s biography indicates to us not just the problems in uncritically using the persecution and migration narrative, but it also tells us how the very narrative is not challenged adequately by activists of the Konkani language. Challenging this narrative would allow us to see that within the Konkani language there are multiple ways of being and living. That the experiences of the Jeppu compound, the Roman script, and the tiatrists, to name a few, are legitimately part of the history of Konkani, despite the fact of not fitting into the ‘persecution-migration’ narrative. Confining to the popular and dominant narrative would mean to define the politics and vision for the Konkani language in narrow terms.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 7 January, 2015)