Wednesday, October 25, 2017

CULTURE WARS: PORTUGUESE HERITAGE IN GOA



The Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts (IGNCA), based at New Delhi has been documenting and studying Indian culture since 1985. Recently, the IGNCA has embarked on an ambitious project of promoting the endangered culture and traditions of various tribes in India. As part of this initiative, the IGNCA has decided to establish three regional centers in Ranchi, Jharkhand, Pondicherry, and in Goa. Sachchidanand Joshi, Member Secretary of the IGNCA was quoted in the press explaining the general objectives of the project, “We do not have reliable database for various tribes including endangered tribes. These are changing and someone needs to document the change”.

Though the objective of this project seems to be oriented towards preserving marginalized groups and their endangered traditions, IGNCA’s view of Goan culture, tradition, and history seem to be lacking as far as Goans are concerned. In the first place, IGNCA understands Goan culture as one that is “dying”. An official from IGNCA was quoted in a prominent national daily, “…we have set up our regional centre in Goa and signed an MoU with Ravindra Bhawan to launch a massive hunt for the folklore artistes to take part in theatres, perform folk dance, sing folk songs and play various musical instruments which have nothing to do with Portuguese culture. The idea is to save the dying cultural heritage of Goa by reviving and recording them”. In other words, the IGNCA has already written the epitaph of a vibrant and living community and its culture.

Secondly, and perhaps more problematically, the IGNCA posits Goan culture, especially that of rural and Bahujan Goa, as being different from and untouched by Portuguese culture. To assume that rural cultures exist without any external influences is to essentialize them as cultures isolated from the rest. If they have been isolated from the rest it is largely because these traditions were limited to a particular caste or tribal group, and not part of the traditions of a wider and diverse community.

This is not the first time that cultural chauvinists – both from Goa and outside – have had a problem with Goa’s different culture; different, that is, from what is seen as “mainstream” Indian or Hindu culture. This Goan difference is not simply confined to the Christians of Goa. Indeed, the temple architecture until very recently borrowed elements from Renaissance architecture as well as from Islamicate art. That the IGNCA is today leading this movement of reform or purification is not surprising given that one of the aims of the Centre is to “evolve models of research programmes and arts administrations more portinent [pertinent] to the Indian ethos”.

India’s caste system ensures that tribal and Dalitbahujan communities remain backwards. Preserving cultural practices mired in casteist and discriminatory social relations could also mean that these people remain marginalized. Thus, the whole idea of preserving cultural practices – of creating essentially happy museumized cultures – necessarily must address the issue of how these very same practices allow for discrimination to persist.

And it is not like all kinds of Goan cultural traditions have not received the support and encouragement of state machinery – whether of the colonial or of the nation-state. And each of these states has promoted these cultural traditions for their own selfish ends. For instance, the late Portuguese colonial state, around the 1940s and 1950s, was responsible for the identification and promotion of several folk traditions from Goa – such as the ghodde-moddnni and dangar dances – as authentic Goan folk traditions. Ironically, this is the precise moment when many of folk traditions found in Goa come to be seen as Goan for the first time ever.

With Indian rule from 1961, the Indian and Goan government promoted many of these folkloric traditions for generating income from tourism from the 1970s. And now the present government with its narrow understanding of Indian and Goan culture seems to be promoting a ‘Goan culture’ or parts of Goan culture in order to purify the same from Portuguese influences.

So where does this leave Goan culture in contemporary times? Probably in a bad place because new efforts to define (or re-define) Goan culture possibly would rob it of its diversity and the various cultural influences in its history. For instance, if we say that we have to rid Goa of its Portuguese influences then an art form like the mando would have to disappear. Goa will be poorer because a classic mando like Adeus Korcho Vellu Pavlo, composed by Torquato de Figuereido in 1905, will no longer be part of its cultural heritage. One could even say that tiatr, owing its origins to western opera can also be termed as foreign or un-Indian. The list, perhaps, will be quite long if we hold on to this thinking of ‘cultural purity’.

Cultural purists in India and Goa miss a crucial point: the intervention of the Portuguese and the cultural practices that evolved in this long period are crucial in the creation of Goa or how Goa developed through time. There is no Goa outside of this history of myriad cultural influences converging to form its cultural characters, beginning from the time of the Estado da ├Źndia. In a similar way it is also important to remember that many traditions fundamental to Indian culture, such as in food, developed as a result of Portuguese commercial policies. Chilies and potatoes, for instance, reached the shores of the Indian subcontinent some five centuries ago. Stated in a different way, there is no pure Goan culture – whether Portuguese or Indian.

To not recognize this fact would only mean that we will be hastening the process of fabricating our own history and promoting a general amnesia regarding the same.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 25 October, 2017)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SEASON OF PLENTY?: TOURISM AND THE LOCALS IN GOA



In most discussions on the impact of tourism on Goa, the issues that locals face as a result of the tourism do not enjoy much attention. With charter flights landing from the beginning of October, there was quite a buzz in the media speculating a successful tourist season. The buzz, perhaps, was created because the industry is in such dire straits and much of Goa’s economy is believed to depend on the footfalls of tourists. In all these reports, there was an image that stuck in my mind, which I think is symbolic of the misguided way in which tourism is conducted in Goa.

Those who arrived on the first charter flight were given a warm welcome with roses, and a brass band belting out some tunes in the background. These were scenes of happy and hospitable Goans. Apart from drawing on the stereotype of Goans being ever open to tourists and tourism-related activities, the welcome given to the charter tourists looked like an attempt by the Tourism department to remedy the image of Goa’s tourism industry which has taken a hit due to reports of mismanagement, environmental degradation, the rising rate of crime, and the destruction of Goan resources through an unsustainable increase in the number of tourists.

The aforementioned image seems to be a part of a pattern: a history of tourism policy-making that has only viewed the average Goan as a happy-go-lucky person who does nothing but enjoys and entertains. One can access this history of the creation and implementation (or the lack of proper implementation) of tourism policies in Goa through two documents: the “Master Plan for Tourism Development in Goa”, July 1987 and the recent “Tourism Master Plan”, 2016. These documents tell us how the policy-makers conceptualized Goa as a tourist destination, and how, through the implementation of this policy, the successive governments failed to take account of the problems that were identified in these documents. For instance, the ‘master plans’ recognized that there are limits to the number of tourists a place can accommodate; yet, we see that successive governments have tried to increase the number of tourists in Goa. More tourists require more people to service them and this has led to large-scale migration of labor into Goa. While the absence of proper labor laws and regulatory mechanisms have led to the influx of a large number of migrant labor and consequently their exploitation as well, the high influx also indicates that tourism as an industry has failed to provide gainful and dignified employment to local Goans as one can observe Goans migrating elsewhere for better job opportunities. So, how has all this tourism benefitted Goa and Goans?

During the 1980s when the Indian state and the Goan government were trying to promote tourism, they created the image of Goa as a timeless paradise. Goa was marketed as a blend of the East and the West, a slice of Southern Europe in India that tourists could afford for a fraction of the price. As Paul Routledge writes in his essay, “Consuming Goa: Tourist Site as Dispensable Space” in the Economic and Political Weekly (2000), the tourism industry was driven by the logic of consumption; nothing could stand in the middle of ‘Goa the paradise’ and the leisure consumption of the incoming tourists.

In such a scenario of Goan resources being offered for the consumption of tourists, what happens of the local Goan? The problem is that the local Goan is only included in the planning of tourism development as a service-provider, or worse, as someone who has to endure the mismanagement of public infrastructure because the tourism industry requires that Goa’s resources – roads, water, land, etc –  be pressed in the service of the tourists. Thus, a lot of Goa’s economic planning today is oriented to serve the tourists, not the locals. The casinos in the Mandovi are a great example of this kind of development. Even the viral e-petition that demanded the introduction of app-based taxi services in Goa argued that the main reason why Goa needs such alternate transport services is because “[t]ourism is the backbone of Goa’s economy and tourists across the world & India are used to services like OLA/UBER, it’s [sic] time to allow them to operate in Goa”. The first benefit of such a move, the petition suggests, is – not surprisingly – a “boost to tourism”.

Could this e-petition, like much of Goa’s tourism policy-decisions, be oriented in a different direction? Could the locals be privileged over the tourists? Could the petition have said that because of the increase in Goa’s population and the abysmal public transport system, the locals need to be provided with alternate and affordable modes of transportation?

While governmental policy has favored tourists over locals, the response from Goa’s civil society, too, seems to be trapped within the same logic. At the end of the day, Goans giving into the logic of leisure consumption or of understanding Goa as a pleasure periphery (especially of India), effectively means that local Goans – us – have very little say in our own collective economic and cultural future. Even if the economy is in a bad state and the state coffers are almost empty, one must find better ways to rejuvenate Goa’s economic situation. Such a scenario would be always better than selling away our say in our collective future for a few pieces of silver.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt:  11 October, 2017)