Wednesday, January 20, 2016


The recent vituperative comments made by certain writers and ‘freedom-fighters’, reported in the press in the context of the demand for state support for English as Medium of Instruction (MoI) forces us to search for a deeper understanding of the issue of language politics. Given that the problem identified by such statements is about doing something that is antithetical to the national ways of life, one need to ask how we have reached this moment. One of the ways that we can understand the issue is by focusing on the operation of Indian nationalism in Goa.

Reference to T. B. Cunha’s pamphlet Denationalisation of Goans, (1944) is critical to the task at hand as many of these offensive comments either make a direct reference to Cunha and/or base their arguments on his ‘denationalisation’ thesis. Cunha wrote this pamphlet at a time when Indian nationalism was growing powerfully and anti-imperialist nationalist movements were emerging around the globe. While it is clear that Cunha went hammer and tongs against the propaganda of the Portuguese state, one would also be struck with the contradictory nature of his ideological claims. Cunha’s basic thesis was that Portuguese colonialism had “enslaved” the Goan – particularly the monolithically constructed Goan Catholic, thus preventing a national feeling or pride from emerging in their hearts. According to Cunha, a long history of the Portuguese presence in Goa and a long and complex history of Christianization had produced a Goan “essentially [of] a slavish character”, who was happy to ape Western manners and customs on his own volition.

The most glaring contradiction in Cunha’s pamphlet was his attempt at creating a single enemy against which Indian nationalism could be positioned. In this scheme of things, Cunha not only identified the Portuguese rule as the enemy, but also ended up portraying all Goan Christians as a comprador class. Reading Cunha’s pamphlet carefully one realizes that to delegitimize the Portuguese state he portrayed Goan people as being denied agency and being oppressed. However, he also claimed that Goans – particularly the Christians – were happy in their enslavement by the Portuguese and thereby furthering the interests of the Portuguese state against Indian interests. What was never explained was how a people who had been enslaved by a system, ideology, or culture had, simultaneously, the agency to further the interests of the same system, ideology, or culture. Even if we assume that some Goans were enslaved, how could slaves be the bad guys or the compradors?

In his haste to make Goa Indian and evoke feelings of Indian-ness in Goans, Cunha left Goan Catholics no choice – either you had to be Indian or you were nothing. Such an attitude is reflected in his rather bizarre assertion: “Even in her present return to saree, the Catholic Goan woman is not guided by any national feeling since she still prefers foreign material to Indian for her new dress. It would be a better proof of her patriotic spirit to continue to dress in European attire but give preference to Indian cloth” (p. 30).

This skewed logic of the oppressed simultaneously furthering their own oppression is also seen when Cunha discusses the state of language and literature in Goa, as part of ‘denationalisation’ thesis. Critical to the current politics in linguistic and pedagogic policies, it needs to be quoted at length. Cunha says, “The obstacles set up to the cultivation of their mother-tongue [by the Portuguese] deprived Goans of their most natural instrument for the expression of their highest thoughts and deepest feelings, checked all spontaneity and deprived them of a literature worthy of the name. Ashamed of their uncultivated language, the educated class professes to despise it. Forced to write in a foreign language, they are bound to produce merely imitations lacking in the creative spirit and originality which are the privilege of those who are inspired by the deep consciousness of the race. Their thoughts are borrowed from the distant West…” (p. 25).

Following the ‘denationalisation’ thesis wherein the church, the Portuguese state, and all Christians were claimed to be working to enslave all Goans, it becomes immediately clear why the demand of English as MoI was initially (and still seen) as a conspiracy hatched by Christians and supported by the Church. Apart from the bizarre accusation made by Naguesh Karmali against the church, Raju Nayak, the editor of a prominent Marathi daily recently berated the Church for its lack of Indian-ness. Further the editor in question said that the church was responsible for Goans opting for Portuguese citizenship, and concluded that “English education is not only inadequate to create ideal citizens and skilled service class, but also responsible for the sin (sic) of creating a generation of selfish, narrow-minded individuals who have no sense of belonging towards the nation. Cunha referred to this attitude as ‘denationalisation’ because the Church strengthened the colonial power in Goa and continued a colonial legacy after that”.

In other words, the nationalism espoused by Cunha and blindly reproduced by his followers continues to create problems – like a ghost that haunts frequently. What the followers of the ‘denationalisation’ thesis do not understand is that it is an inadequate framework to deal with the problems of Goa. In fact, it is such offensive views that push people to a corner, and not the other way round.

Cunha’s thesis fails to recognize that rather than being enslaved Goans were using a variety of strategies to better their lives, the most famous amongst them was to educate their children in Portuguese, English, and Marathi (at least from the nineteenth-century). Writings were produced in Romi Konkani, Portuguese, Marathi, and perhaps even French in Goa. Rather than recognize and encourage diversity and choice, Cunha’s thesis restricts them. This is exactly how linguistic chauvinists think and act in Goa today.

The ideology of ‘denationalisation’ thrives because it is positioned against an enemy: it was Portuguese colonialism and the ‘denationalised’ Goan before, now only the ‘denationalised’ Christian remains.

(All quotes from Denationalisation are from the edition published by the Goa Government, no date)

(A slightly modified version was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 20 January, 2016)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


There is a difference between a biography and a hagiography. The former is written about a historical person whose life may be something other than ordinary. A hagiography is generally the life of a saint and the miracles that s/he had performed in his/her life. Although there is a difference between these two genres, scholars and critics complain that biographical accounts and sketches often read like hagiographies (without the miracles, of course!). This is exactly the thought that came to my mind after I finished reading the recently released graphic novel, The Life and Times of T. B. Cunha (2015) narrated by Nishtha Desai, with illustrations by Ved Prabhudesai.

In recent times, Goans, especially Catholics, have been accused of being inadequately Indian/nationalist and being overtly westernized – a stick that secular nationalists and right-wing nationalists alike use against Goan Catholics. This view has been heavily influenced by Cunha’s rather infamous pamphlet, Denationalisation of Goans (1944). In such a scenario, a minister in the present government, Mr. Dayanand Mandrekar asserts in the introductory pages, “Cunha’s views continue to be relevant. Our people continue to be fascinated by the west and fail to appreciate our history.” His words are only symptomatic of the many problems within the ‘denationalisation’ thesis of Cunha and those who subscribe to his views.

If one reads Denationalisation, Cunha is seen to understand all the policies introduced by the Portuguese empire and state as a means to destroy the authentic culture of Goa and to enslave Goans – although he does not specify what this authentic culture was. Thus, for Cunha, even Christianization was a means of westernization and enslavement of the Goan people. Unfortunately, in keeping with the model of nationalist politics during the ’40s and ’50s, Cunha’s critique was only confined to European imperialism while the internal fractures within Goan society, in terms of class and caste, were either ignored or conveniently forgotten. In his Denationalisation tract, Cunha had – proverbially speaking – thrown the baby out with the bath water. In one sweep, Cunha was able to mark Christians as suspects within his nationalist vision.

The graphic novel in question is faithful to Cunha and his views on Goan history and, as such, reproduces many of his problematical nationalist stances. Like Cunha, this graphic novel is also selective of the facts that it chooses to mention and illustrate. For instance, it is an well-known fact that Afonso de Albuquerque conquered the city of Goa on 25 November, 1510. But it is also eminent fact that Albuquerque had native collaboration in the form of Mhal Pai Vernekar and Timayya.

From the moment of Albuquerque’s conquest in 1510, the book draws on the usual, clich├ęd, and endless saga of mass conversions, mass migrations, and mass suppressions. The problem is not that the book is unable to include all facts about colonialism in Goa, but the problem lies in a certain narrow and nationalistic interpretation of the few selected facts. “A few people were happy with Portuguese rule as they were given positions of power and respect – they thought themselves superior to ‘Indians’”, we are told without any specificity. Interestingly, the illustration immediately below depicts a group of suited men, sipping alcohol, and smoking cigars – or elite Christians. Further, it was not just elite Christians who enjoyed positions of power and privilege within the Portuguese state, elite Hindus did too. To further problematize the simplistic understandings of Goan history, new research by Dr. Anjali Arondekar has brought to light how the Gomant Maratha Samaj in the nineteenth century was successful in petitioning the Portuguese state for rights to land and protection against upper-caste aggression. How different would this graphic-novel and Cunha’s politics look, if both had pondered on such facts a little more? Surely, this notion of pure victimhood at the hands of an all-powerful outsider would have been tougher to sustain.

And since Cunha’s writings and politics were entirely focused on dealing with imperialism, the graphic novel is unable to ask why Cunha did not view the internal inequality within Goan society as an equal – if not a greater – threat in realizing a just and democratic society. After all, the creation of an equal society was the main thrust of Cunha’s political activism. Instead, we are presented with an image of a saint who, right from childhood, displays signs of greatness and is moved by the poverty of the people of the land – stopping just short of performing miracles. This is exactly what the illustrations seem to be trying to do – prop up a hero or a saint. The text of the novel, in contrast, is quite thin, besides being devoid of any critical gaze on both Cunha’s political career and activism, or Goan history. One would have expected a lot more given that Cunha’s ideas and writings show a change over a period of time – especially since he was unhappy with the manner in which India was handling the question of Goan self-emancipation. Thus, this book does not do justice to either the times or the life of Cunha.

In understanding and evaluating the life and times of Cunha one can be very sure that there is a lot more to the man than merely his image as the ‘Father of Goan nationalism’. A celebratory account will only obscure it.

See also, 'The English Language and Denationalisation', here.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 6 January, 2016)