November 2015 would be an unfortunate month for Goa. Not simply because Fr. Bismarque Dias, a fire-brand activist, was found dead under mysterious circumstances, but also because the Goan government behaved in an atrocious manner in handling the investigation as well as the law and order situation following the peaceful protest on 21 November, 2015. At a time of outpouring of grief and emotion from the people of Goa, and at a time when politics in Goa is in dire need of ‘Kindness’ (to borrow Fr. Bismarque’s word upon which rests his 2012 election manifesto) one would be quite surprised – or rather, shocked – to see vicious anti-minority statements made in public by members of the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM). With the government increasingly growing unpopular in the eyes of the Goan people, it seems quite certain that members of the RSS-backed BBSM are making hay while the sun shines.
Simply put, the BBSM’s agenda is to block the grants-in-aid to English as a Medium of Instruction (MoI) in primary schools in Goa. In trying to safeguard ‘Indian culture’ (whatever that means), members of the BBSM think that it is the Christians in Goa who are responsible for the demand for English made by parents across the caste and religious divide. It has been quite clear for some time now that the BBSM is an openly rightwing group. Its hostility to minoritized groups is very evident. In the recently-held BBSM press conference, Arvind Bhatikar said to the ruling BJP party in Goa, “Your voter is Hindu. You are in power because of Hindus. Remember this and stop appeasing the minorities”.
This issue I think cannot be framed as one of increasing communalization, as one can see that the BBSM is always clever enough to keep token figures from the Hindu bahujan samaj and the Catholic community in their press conferences and photo-ops. Neither can the vicious hostility to Goa’s minoritized groups can be understood as an issue of increasing “intolerance”. If this was the case, persons like Naguesh Karmali and Pundalik Naik (staunch members of the BBSM and Nagri Konkani litterateurs) would not have aligned with the RSS-backed BBSM, while at the same time protesting the Sahitya Akademi’s silence on the recent murders of writers and rationalists.
So the question is, how do we then, understand the comments that are made by Arvind Bhatikar and the members of the BBSM? The most important way is to see how Brahmanism operates in maintaining its own power. It is no secret that both the RSS and the Nagri Konkani camp (from which most of the Konkani “stalwarts” are drawn) are tightly controlled by brahmins. The Nagri Konkani project itself is the project of the Saraswat caste hegemony. In this context, it would profit us quite a lot if we invoke the comments of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who observed, “Is it reasonable to expect the secular Brahmins to take part in a movement directed against the priestly Brahmins? In my judgment, it is useless to make a distinction between the secular Brahmins and priestly Brahmins. Both are kith and kin. They are two arms of the same body, and one is bound to fight for the existence of the other”. Clearly, the rightwing brahmins in the RSS and the secular brahmins (who, like Uday Bhembre and Arvind Bhatikar, have so far been projected as ostensibly ‘secular’ and ‘progressive’) have come together under the umbrella of BBSM – and one can only presume that the reason to do so is to maintain each others’ existence.
I am not the first one to see similarities between the methods employed by right-wing Hindu groups and those that are employed by cultural purists like the BBSM – a major chunk of whose leadership consists of the “stalwarts” of the Nagri Konkani camp. Kaustubh Naik argues that in Goa the Nagri Konkani camp functions as a “local culture police” much like Hindu right-wing groups. This local culture police want to “impose a singular identity by carefully erasing all cultural differences to ensure the hegemony of a dominant social group”, i.e. the “Hindu Saraswats” according to Naik (The Goan Everyday, dt: 29 September, 2015).
Where is the minority-appeasement in such a scenario? If repeated struggles by the Goan people, for greater equality in political life and for a greater recognition of their individual and community rights, are diligently scuttled by dominant caste groups (with of course tokens from the Christian community and the Hindu bahujan samaj), then, once again, where is the appeasement? In the context of ‘minority-appeasement’ one cannot help but draw parallels in the manner in which Christians in Goa are made into a scapegoat like Muslims in many parts of India. By making Christians of Goa a scapegoat for a demand that clearly is not confined to them alone, a bid for maintaining caste hegemony is cleverly disguised as a concern for Indian culture – and, most importantly, Indian languages.
As serious as the nature of the comments made by BBSM’s Arvind Bhatikar is, they are also very routine and banal. One must not be fooled into believing that such comments are an exception to the rule, or an aberration. For all parents who are concerned about the future of their children, the need of the hour is not simply to ensure full recognition for the grants to be given to English as MoI, but also to challenge a vicious ideology that would deny people the right to choose.
And all said and done, even if we call this ‘minority-appeasement’, it is only going to do Goa a lot of good.
(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 9 December, 2015)