Wednesday, August 19, 2015



The indefinite hunger strike of Savio Lopes and members of Forum for Rights of Children to Education (FORCE) for government grants to English as Medium of Instruction (MoI) have exposed the shallow and undemocratic language politics – under the guise of ‘mother tongue’, ‘Goan identity’, ‘Konkani’, ‘Marathi’, etc – in Goa. While arguing for a robust multi-lingual outlook as well, we would like to open up the conversation to a host of other languages that Goans can profitably engage with.

Arguably, when one talks about expanding the access to languages other than Konkani, Marathi, and English, the obvious choice that immediately comes to mind is Portuguese. The importance of the Portuguese language for Goa cannot be understated. Briefly, since a lot of legal and historical/archival material is available in Portuguese, a good grasp on this language would help thousands of Goans to access their own history. Further, as matters relating to land and properties are recorded in Portuguese being conversant with the language will help many to access this information, thus preventing frauds through fudging. Though, familiarity with the Portuguese language may not instantly result in overcoming the balance of power between the have and have-nots, learning it has a potential of creating a more level playing field. This is because in Goa, Portuguese as a language – then and now – was the preserve of a few elites, which allowed them to hold onto power and privilege.

The condition of the access to the Portuguese language, historically, is not so different from that of the English language today. The large non-elite population of Goa (across religious lines) demands English as MoI as it seems to be the preserve of the few; the rich can afford the exorbitant fees of private institutions. Therefore ending this monopolistic and hegemonic hold that a few people have over languages can lead to the emancipation of the have-nots by giving them access to power, privilege, and least of all, respectable employment.

To further open up the conversation about languages that can help us understand Goan history, we would like to suggest that Persian or Farsi is also very important. The territories that came to be known as Goa from the fifteenth-century onwards were part of the Deccan Sultanate and can be said to live in its cultural, and political, shadow. In fact, before Portuguese intervention, Persian (as well as Arabic) terminology was much in use for legal, administrative, and taxation matters in the territory which became Goa and it continued to do so even during the subsequent Portuguese period. Moreover, Goa was in a constant interaction with the cultural and political hubs of the Deccan, such as Bijapur and Golconda.

Along with Persian, a case can also be made for acquiring skills in Arabic. Given the decades old migration of Goans in the Arab world, teaching Arabic in schools may also be useful. Further learning to read and write the Perso-Arabic script may also help many to access Konkani written in that script in pockets across the Konkan and Canara coasts!

Sign language, although not a spoken language might also be useful as it might help us interact with people with hearing handicap. This suggestion might seem out of context but it does help us to extend the idea that many people who understand sign languages consider those who don’t as handicapped, and why not. Of course there are cognitive benefits of learning a sign language for all children, but the larger concern is that the learning for, and communicating with, people with disabilities, is completely ignored in Goa.

The article thus far has made reference to a number of ways in which Goans can engage with multiple languages. To take this point forward, we would like to suggest that contrary to the rhetoric of groups like the Bharati Bhasha Suraksha Manch, identity is not tied to a singular language or ‘mother tongue’. To demonstrate this, we would like to make reference to the literary career of the Goan writer Laxmanrao Sardesai (1904-1986).

As Paul Melo e Castro writes in his essay ‘Of Prison Walls and Barroom Brawls…’ (2012), for most of his literary career Sardesai wrote in Marathi, with most of his stories being “anti-colonial, a bold stance when Salazarist propaganda depicted Goa as part and parcel of Portugal” (p. 128).  Having started his literary career by the 1930s, despite being considered an eminent Marathi writer, Sardesai shifted to writing in Portuguese and Konkani from the 1960s. As Castro explains, Sardesai wanted to craft a different identity for Goa to oppose the merger with Maharashtra. As such “Sardesai’s turn to writing in Portuguese (and Konkani) after a lifetime of renown as a Marathi writer” (p. 130) was a demonstration of the unique singularity of Goan identity within the Indian nation.

Today, none would dare to suggest that there were any contradictions in Sardesai’s choices; neither would anybody argue that he was ‘denationalized’. What is important to note is that Sardesai could choose from a pool of languages, which he learned due to his privileged background. It is this privilege of choice that needs to be opened up to the Goan masses as well.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 19 August, 2015)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


With the Forum for Rights of Children to Education (FORCE) commencing an indefinite hunger strike to make governmental aid to English medium schools as part of a law, the often ugly linguistic politics in Goa looks poised for another round of jousting. Things seem to have settled down a bit with FORCE receiving written assurance from some MLAs that the matter will be resolved in the next assembly session. But as assurances and promises go from those in power, there is no reason to celebrate right now. Nothing is clearly stated whether the Bill on the Medium of Instruction (MoI) would be passed and made into a law. The opposition to the demands of FORCE came from activists clustered together under the Bharati Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM).

The different constituents in Goan polity should see to it that the rightful demands of FORCE are taken to their logical conclusion. While we agree to the legitimacy of the demands by FORCE, and the right of parents to decide the future of their children, it is also important to consider the politics of language in Goa in a holistic manner. To be clear right from the beginning, language politics in Goa is not just centered around the opposition of Konkani and Marathi. It is much more complex as contestations of scripts, such as the Romi-Nagri issue, are as important as contestations regarding languages in deciding the political fates of the people of Goa. Thus, much of the rhetoric of BBSM-type of activists misguide the people owing to the ignorance of such complexities.

Primarily, there are three agitating groups that form part of the dominant linguistic politics of Goa: the Marathi language supporters, the Romi Konkani supporters, and the Nagri Konkani supporters. The boundaries of these groups are not necessarily fixed, as is seen in Marathi language and Nagri Konkani script supporters teaming up to form the umbrella organization of BBSM. Almost all of the Nagri Konkani activists have been vociferously against the implementation of English as MoI in government-aided primary schools. This is not surprising given the hegemonic hold of Nagri Konkani activists in politics as well as the many governmental institutions and bodies that make and direct the language and pedagogic policies in Goa. Furthermore, these governmental bodies jealously guard literary and cultural awards, as was seen when Nagri script supporters opposed the move by Kala Academy to restart literary awards for Romi Konkani writings. While the Nagri Konkani supporters would never give-in to the demands of equal recognition to the Romi script, they would occasionally ally with some Marathi language activists in order to check the mobilization of Romi script activists.

The MoI controversy and the demand for English in primary schools did put the activists of the Romi script in a somewhat uncomfortable situation. This was so because while on the one hand Romi script supporters were standing firm behind the demand for equality, on the other hand they had to be careful to avoid being accused of abandoning the cause of Konkani, and the Goan identity constructed around the Konkani language. The Roman script activists had also to make sure that the constituency of Romi script supporters does not see them as aligning in any way with Marathi language activists as well. Within the language politics, Romi script supporters are shown the bogeyman of Marathi taking over Goa, in the sense that it is made out to be a problem that will affect Catholics thus playing the Catholic against the Hindu bahujan. And hence the Romi supporters are sold to the idea that Nagri Konkani is necessary to check the ‘threat’ of Marathi. The Romi script activists did, however, skirt the contentious issue of MoI by giving a choice between Nagri and Roman scripted Konkani to the parents.

The Romi script activists failed to recognize that for the Romi Konkani supporters English is as important as Romi Konkani in their lives. This bi-lingual requirement was not adequately represented by the Romi Konkani activists, thus missing a golden chance to democratize and expand the scope of language politics for the betterment of all Goans.

I however argue that the Marathi activists also face a similar situation like the Romi Konkani activists, as far as betrayal of their respective language causes is concerned. The Marathi activists could also be seen as compromising with English, and thus ‘betraying’ Marathi. This is quite unfortunate, as Marathi language politics in Goa was not started to further the literary cause of Marathi, but to counter upper-caste, in particular Saraswat, hegemony in Goa. Supporting the cause of English would have also allowed Marathi language activists, especially the bahujan, to challenge oppressive social structures. The Marathi language activists also do not recognize that the Hindu bahujan have aspirations tied to the English language. Another problem that can be seen is the compromise and alliance that a section of Marathi language activists have forged with Hindutva ideologues and/or upper caste ideals.

The alliance between Marathi Rajbhasha Andolan (MRA) and Romi Konkani Andolan (RKA) some years back was arguably a bold move. But it was short-lived. Although these two groups aimed (quite commendably) at creating a unity of Hindu bahujan and Catholics, very little was done to actually forge these bonds on the ground level and assuage the mistrust present in the communities about each other. On a legal and systemic level, MRA had no proper vision of protecting Catholic interests as far as jobs are concerned since the Hindus who know Marathi (and Nagri Konkani) would automatically be more qualified against Catholics who only know Romi Konkani.

Which brings me to what activists in FORCE are trying to do: to my mind it is a rejection of the decades-old and quite often ugly politics in the name of ‘mother tongue’, ‘Konkani’, ‘Goan identity’ etc. What FORCE is doing, by standing up for the right to English as MoI, is democratizing language politics by rejecting the hold of a few class and caste patriarchs. FORCE is rejecting an oppressive model of mono-lingual practices imposed by largely upper-caste activists. In this there is a recognition that as Goans we need at least two languages in our lives. To not publicly accept this will be hypocrisy. To not change quickly will be Goa’s tragedy.

See also other articles on the issue of MoI: on the Supreme Court terming the imposition of 'mother tongue' as MoI as unconstitutional, see here; for an open letter to the Goan government's advisory committee on MoI, see here.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 5 August, 2015)