Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Rui Carvalho Baceira, who has recently completed his 3-year stint as the Consul General of Portugal in Goa, made some very interesting comments about his stay before moving onwards to head Portugal’s diplomatic mission in Palestine. Of his many observations, his statistics on the people applying for Portuguese nationality can offer some insights on the problems Goans are facing vis-à-vis education and employment. In an interview to a prominent national daily in Goa, Baceira said that most Goans seeking a Portuguese passport “are male, between 20 and 30 years old, and are not skilled. Few have a university background”. He further added, “In Goa, Portuguese passport aspirants are roughly 60% Christian, 30% Hindu and 10% Muslim”. While it is not exactly clear what Baceira meant by “unskilled”, the reference, perhaps, could be to a lack of professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, seeking the Portuguese passport.

Baceira’s comments are noteworthy precisely because they emerge out of first-hand information on how Goans are engaging with Portuguese nationality. The question is why is this happening – that is, why mostly unskilled Goans, without a university background, seek a Portuguese passport. Are any of the internal problems within the educational and employment setup of Goa pushing unskilled Goans out of Goa? The question is worth asking as many commentators in the past have made the suggestion, in the context of the controversies over Portuguese nationality, that it is rather the internal problems facing Goan economy and polity that is pushing people to migrate out of Goa.

The issue of a large number of Portuguese passport aspirants being unskilled reminded me of some commentators who had argued about Goa’s linguistic politics being detrimental to Goans pursuing higher education and professional courses. Some ten years ago, Bahujan Samaj and Marathi activist Ramnath Naik, in his History Hour talk titled, “Social Damage done by Goa’s Language Controversy and the Conspiracy behind it” at Xavier Centre (6 October, 2005), made the interesting suggestion that introducing Konkani in the Devnagari script overnight had consequences for the educational success of Goans. Naik asserted that shifting to a new language, without having the necessary infrastructure of scholarly books and trained teachers and scholars, had put members of the Bahujan Samaj at a disadvantage.

Naik’s assertion, though at first glance seemingly bizarre, may hold true, as the demand for English as Medium of Instruction (MoI) would demonstrate. The manner in which the MoI issue has played out in Goa over the last few years has made one thing clear: most Goans, irrespective of religious affiliation want English medium education for their children, as a way out of the stifling and narrow linguistic system presently existing in Goa. The question, therefore, is whether the linguistic and educational policies of the Goa government (irrespective of which political party is in power) has led to the increase of unskilled Goans, who are unable to access university education?

That poor or low-income families were not being able to afford quality education for their children was also a major issue that votaries for English as MoI constantly highlighted. It does appear that if there are many Goans unable to access quality education it is largely because the educational system, from the primary to higher education levels, is not equipped to provide education to all Goans, irrespective of income and social status. Moreover, in the past several decades successive governmental policies have only made the situation worse, rather than broadening the choices that Goans had in terms of pursuing educational opportunities (preferably in Goa itself). The result may simply mean that more and more Goans are being unable to pursue educational and employment opportunities of their choice or liking.

In his talk, Naik also made the suggestion that the impact of language policies is similar for Catholic communities as it is for the Bahujan Samaj. Baceira’s revelation that almost 60% of the applicants of Portuguese passport from Goa are Christian, allows us to return to Naik’s suggestion and evaluate its merit. It is no secret that within the current linguistic regime in Goa – of privileging Devnagari Konkani – most of the Catholics are seen as outsiders; even demanding equal status for Romi Konkani led to Catholics being labeled as ‘anti-national’. The demand for English as MoI was projected as antithetical to Indian culture; the detractors of English as MoI even went to the extent of communalizing the issue, calling it an explicitly Christian demand. In many ways the labeling followed a similar script of betraying the national culture as those obtaining a Portuguese passport were believed to have been doing.

Thus, along with a skewed language and education policy, this aggressive nationalism propagated by these votaries of Indian languages and culture also contributes to pushing people out of Goa. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that almost 60% of those who apply for Portuguese passport in Goa are Christian, and most of them are unskilled, without a university degree.

In many ways it can be argued that most of us already knew the facts that Baceira revealed. It is common knowledge that in Goa it is the Christians that move out in large numbers, especially on a Portuguese passport. Rather than stressing a lack for one’s own culture whenever controversies flare on issues such as Portuguese nationality and the language questions, it would do us a lot good to think about the internal systemic problems contributing to the migration of Goans. If these internal problems are not addressed immediately, one will only witness more Goans leaving the shores of their homeland. 

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 27 September, 2017)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


The 2017 Monsoon session of the Goa Legislative Assembly ended about a month ago. In what could be construed as a remarkable show of governmental efficiency, six bills were passed and one referred back to the select committee for further deliberations and clarifications. Of these bills, The Goa Compensation to the Project Affected Persons and Vesting of Land in the Government Bill, 2017 and The Goa Requisition and Acquisition of Property Bill, 2017 have come under the scanner of activists due to the consequences such laws might have on the ownership of property, and especially of  marginalized communities. It is believed that a combination of these two laws would allow the government unfettered power in acquiring land from the people of Goa, to be disposed of as the government deems fit. In many ways, activists argue, such laws would secure the rights of investors over and above those of the common people of Goa. Goa is no stranger to such laws with the Investment Promotion Act, 2014 being at the centre of the Tiracol controversy.

What is cause for concern in The Goa Requisition Bill, 2017 is an absence of a proper definition of what constitutes “public purpose”. One should in fact ask: who constitutes this public? Goan society consists of multiple strata of communities who are unequal in terms of wealth, social status, and access to land. Mundkars do not have similar access to wealth and social status as, a bhatkar. The “public purpose” also claims to serve the landless. Around the beginning of 2017, the case of a small tribe, the Vanarmares, who were literally and figuratively living at the margins of Goan society came to light. They were landless and disenfranchised in multiple ways, and denied even the right to vote. Will such a bill or law enable the government to acquire land in favor of such communities? At the end of the day, the government needs to produce a meticulous report so that the Goan public is made aware of the consequences and ramifications of land acquisition legislations.

The aforementioned bills are not solely a creation of our times; they have a precedent in the past. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894, is said to be the forerunner of successive land acquisition or requisition acts in British and post-British India. What is crucial in these laws is the notion of “public purpose”, a claim made to justify such legislations. Interestingly, both the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, and The Goa Requisition Act, 2017, contain statements of “public purpose” in them. One can think of these laws as introduced in separate political and historical contexts: one by the British colonial state and the other by a democratically-elected government within sovereign India. Ideally, one would prefer the independent nation-state to completely move away from the practices of the colonial state; at least this is the assumption by which we try to function in a democracy.

Laws or bills like The Goa Requisition Act, 2017, are similarly structured as the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. For instance, the notion of what the law-makers understood by the acquisition of land for “public purpose” is same. The idea of “public purpose” in both these laws is rather a British colonial construct. Both the laws have provisions in them to acquire land to rehabilitate the landless [vide 1894 Act, sec. (3) (f) (v); 2017 Bill, sec. (2) (m) (v)]. Ironically, the same laws empower the government to clear slum areas [vide 1894 Act, sec. (3) (f) (vi); 2017 Bill, sec. (2) (m) (d) (iv)]. Thus, the law that could be used to acquire the land of slum-dwellers and therefore potentially evict them also claims to rehabilitate the landless. The law-makers in the 1894 and 2017 legislations act as if eviction and rehabilitation are not two sides of the same coin; what if a developmental project requires the land of those who dwell in slums?

Thus, one can suggest that the definition of “public purpose” has remained the same in the 1894 and 2017 laws. Indeed, it is common practice for states to follow laws and rules formulated by a previous political formation. For example, kingdoms and states in medieval Europe based many of their laws on older Roman laws. Similarly, one can understand that most of the laws formulated or amended in independent India were derived from the laws of the British colonial state. But 70 years after the departure of the colonial state, if practices pertaining to the colonial state still persist then there is an urgent need to change the way governance functions.

The abovementioned legislations can be juxtaposed alongside the notion of “public purpose” in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. While this law was a step forward, it was subsequently diluted to circumvent many of its progressive provisions. The 2013 Act not only has an elaborate list of what constitutes “public purpose” [vide sec. (2)], but it also  further states that prior consent of at least 80 percent of the affected people is necessary in the land acquisition for private companies and 70 percent in the case of public-private partnership. Such checks and balances are not visible in the draft of the Goa Land Requisition Bill, 2017.

In a situation where it is estimated that around 300 million are landless in India, land acquisition by the government per se should have led to an equitable distribution of resources. However, that is not the case, with private companies benefiting the most from such laws. The larger question, therefore, would be if such laws do indeed promote the interest of the public.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 13 September, 2017)

Saturday, September 2, 2017


If Goemkarponn unites all Goans one would wonder why a Goan is an outsider in a village/town other than his own. Perhaps, Goemkarponn and other Goan identities contain mild xenophobia towards those it calls its own. Girish Chodankar, the Congress candidate in the just concluded Panjim by-elections, was termed an “outsider” by his opposition. One would be forgiven for assuming that Chodankar hailed from a place beyond the borders of Goa; it turns out that he is a bhailo in Panjim only – he resides in Margao!

Obviously, it was impossible for Chodankar to carry on with what we now know was his unsuccessful campaign without addressing the issue of him being a resident of Margao and not Panjim. Therefore, he issued a statement, which circulated on social media, assuring the voters of his full-time presence in their constituency. Chodankar’s full statement deserves scrutiny: “The people of Panjim are ready for a change. They have one doubt, however. I reside in Margao, and being from Margao they (the people of Panjim) are concerned that they will have to come all the way to Margao to meet me. They have asked me…if I will shift to Panjim. When I told them that I will shift to Panjim, they told me to publicly declare that after winning the election I will shift to Panjim. I would like to inform all my voters from Panjim that I have humbly accepted your request and I will immediately shift to Panjim after being elected…Moreover, the people of Ribandar because they have to travel to Panjim, have requested me to be present in Ribandar once a week. So there will be an office in Ribandar, in addition to the one in Panjim”.

Listening to Chodankar’s statement, it struck me that the people of Ribandar could also make similar demands of wanting their MLA to be resident in their area. After all, they too are equally entitled to meet their MLA as per their convenience, as are the people of Panjim. If indeed Chodankar would have his offices in Panjim and Ribandar, the question still remains of the need to move house to Panjim. Couldn’t he travel daily to Panjim or Ribandar? Wouldn’t it be the same as residing in Panjim – traffic snarls and commute hassles notwithstanding? The answer to this is obviously, no. It isn’t the same and convenience is not the only factor in this equation.

In India, as in Goa, power is brokered and negotiated at multiple levels of governance (the Panchayat, Zilla Parishad, Municipality, etc) and through caste and class relations. Those who occupy power at each of these levels are figures of authority that not only display their power and discharge their duties through their public offices, but extend their sphere of influence to the physical location of their households as well. Such a mode of functioning is reminiscent of the manner in which kings and feudal lords would rule over their territories from their household – their courts were contained within it. They did not have a separate office as such to conduct the affairs of the state. The residence of the emperor/king/feudal lord doubled as the court; there was no separation as such between these two spheres. The commoners as well as the other officials who had to approach the ruler, for any matter, had to essentially come to the abode of the ruler. In such a system, one is personally indebted to the ruler-lord, for it is through the personal attention of the ruler-lord that one is provided with relief and bestowed with justice.

The non-separation between the private and public spheres within the political culture of Goa also indicates the manner in which common people are forced to relate to those who rule over them. Even if Goa is operating within a system of democracy that stresses individual liberty and freedom of choice, there is a good reason to believe that the age-old feudal order is still thriving as political reforms haven’t brought about a change in the social relations amongst Goa. For instance, in modern and liberal forms of governance people don’t need to constantly knock on (literally) the doors of public servants and elected representatives for personal favors – even for trivial purposes. The people would, ideally, approach the concerned department or office in the bureaucratic system. In Goa, one observes that the bureaucracy is the least approachable and mostly requires a nod from the authority figure to swing into action.

A couple of months ago the current government issued a circular barring government officials from visiting the homes of MLAs for official business. As well-intentioned as this circular seems, it was issued with the intention of stopping government officials visiting the opposition MLAs. The uproar that was created in the Assembly and the government’s easy capitulation only indicates how crucial the household-office is in politics. Even if the opposition MLAs today argue that they need to meet officials in their homes due to a lack of proper, officially-designated meeting places, the same opposition MLAs never stopped receiving people in their household-offices when they were in power. When the ‘cult of the personality’ takes over the governance, the bureaucratic system becomes an extension of a durbar. The modern politician, therefore, assumes the role of a traditional lord, and the voters become the traditional clients.

A shift away from this patron-client relation in the political culture would necessitate that we recognize that the individual needs to exist without depending much on figures of authority. Rather the promise of every election – of one person, one vote, and one value – needs to be realized to its full potential.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 1 September 2017)