There are four tribal groups of Aboriginals that exist in Goa – the Gawdas, Kunbis, Velips and Dhangars – which make up 30 percent of Goa’s population. Despite being the original habitants of Goa, the land of the Aboriginal Goans has being unjustly taken from them since even before Portuguese colonization. Since Post-Liberation in Goa, the Government of Goa has continued in the footsteps of their repressive colonizers, continuing and increasing these atrocities regarding removal of land from the tribal villages. Over a short period in December, 2007, I was given the opportunity to visit various tribal villages inhabited by Aboriginal Goans throughout the regions of Canacona, Quepem and Sanguem in the south of Goa. In this report I will be identifying the various struggles of the tribal villages that I was witness to during my fieldwork – in particular the issues of mining and the Wildlife Sanctuaries, both instigated by the Government of Goa.
The Tribal Villages Culture of Agriculture
The Aboriginal Goan’s connection to the land extends far beyond the economical benefits of produce. Rather, the tribal village’s culture, traditions and way of life are deeply rooted in their land. It is important to recognize this as it frames the depth of impact the Government of Goa’s removal of tribal land is currently having on the tribal people in Goa. The Aboriginal tribes trace their dwelling of the land to as early as 5000 BC. Over thousands of years, it is the tribal people of Goa that have turned Goa into the fertile land it is today. During my visits to the village, the tribal people’s connection to the land was evident in so many ways. Particularly it was seen in how the people carried out the movements of their day-to-day lives, as well as the way in which they worked together as a family to do so. Traditional objects that I saw in each of the homes I visited – such as the ‘koita’ (the knife used to chop firewood and produce from trees), the chimney (used for light at night), the ‘paine’ (their handmade cradle for newborns) – all spoke of how the villager’s way of life was resourced from the land.
Along with this, in the tribal villages, I saw many agricultural rituals – such as creating the rice paddies, harvesting the rice, separating the grain in the fields, carrying the rice to the village houses, sifting the rice in the home – all of which the family took part in as a whole. Out in the fields I saw children tending to their plots with their parents and siblings, I witnessed young children playing amongst the rice plants as the oxen separated it with their grazing. In one home, I saw a three-year old girl mirroring her mother’s actions as she sifted the rice in preparation for the evening’s meal. In this home, four brothers lived under the same roof with their wives, their children and their parents. Together, they tended to the land of their ancestors, sharing the crops and subsisting as one. In all of this, it became very clear to me how the agricultural practices of the tribal villagers are not merely connected to their subsistence, but to their traditions, cultures and ultimately – their very way of life. Under the Government of Goa’s current legislation, it is not just the Aboriginal Goan’s land that is under threat, but their way of life that has existed for thousands of years.
One of the Government of Goa’s initiatives that is currently threatening the tribal villagers way of life is the creation of various ‘Wildlife Sanctuary’s in tribal land around Goa. The borders of these areas have been marked without consideration of the existing tribal villages, and therefore, thousands of tribal people find themselves being bordered in. With the hope of pressuring the tribal villagers to relocate, the Government of Goa has put in place ‘Forest Police’ to protect these new sanctuaries.
During my visit to various tribal villages, I witnessed the implications of these Wildlife Sanctuaries and the effects of these on the tribal people. In Edda, for example, we discovered a large gate that had been erected, blocking the path to the tribal village. The padlocked gate not only blocked traffic from entering the tribal village, but it is aiming to limit the tribal people’s movement. Next to the gate, deep trenches have been dug along either side, stretching out for kilometers. The Government in Goa, in setting up the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, has taken no note of the villagers living in this area. Instead the Government is using tactics like these to pressure the people to move away.
When I was visiting this village in Edda, the tribal people were hesitant to speak out about the issues they were facing, as amongst the people there exists a fear of the Government – making it difficult for the people to even voice their struggles. One tribal villager, however, quietly spoke of how the Government is even restricting the villagers from chopping firewood on their own land. Whenever the tribal people enter their forrest the Forrest Police are confiscating their ‘koitas’ so the villagers are unable to chop wood. The villagers are now forced to venture out at night in order to chop the necessary firewood for cooking and heating.
Also, within the boundaries of the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, the tribal people are being restricted from grazing their cattle in certain areas. On the junction of Kho Digao and Gaondongri Road the Government has allocated the villagers a new place to graze their cattle, however in this area there are no plants for the cattle to eat. In response to this the Government has planted saplings on this new ground, but these are not even vegetation suited to the cattle’s requirements. It is ventures like these, and others I have mentioned, that the Government of Goa is using to put pressure on the tribal villagers way of life. Due to the success of these agitations, these tribal villages are under threat of being displaced. Because the tribal people have no records of land ownership as they have always been passed down generations orally, in tradition with their culture, the tribal people have no legal backing with which they can respond.
Another severe threat to the Aboriginal Goans and their land at the hand of the Government of Goa is the mining taking place all throughout Goa. Recognised by the colonizers as very profitable for mining, the tribal villagers have been losing their land for decades for the economic gain of the elite. After Independence, the colonizers still held power in Goa for another 16 years before the Government of India decided to go in and free Goa. Three days before the Government did this, they had been making enquiries into the economical gain of the mining industry in Goa, revealing their motivation to freeing Goa as their own economic gain. This reflects the Government’s values of economics before the welfare of the people. From then on, the mining industry has only further expanded in Goa and it is causing great problems for the tribal people.
The problems caused by mining have different effects depending on the location of the various tribal villages. These consequences include the pollution effecting the land and crops, the pollution which is detrimental to the villagers’ health, the pollution of the tribal people’s water supply, the damage to their houses due to explosions in mining, and ultimately, the displacement of tribal villages for the purposes of mining and such.
The tribal people living in areas close to the mining are suffering devastating effects on their health, their crops and their livelihood from the pollution caused by the mines. The dust from the mines can be seen nearby as the leaves of all the surrounding vegetation are painted with the dust. The excess rocks and dirt from the mining are dumped without adequate walls or protection, so in the rainy season, the excess turns to mud and runs into the rivers and agriculture. With muddy red rivers, the tribal villagers drinking water and their water for agriculture is highly polluted. This muddy water also runs into the villagers’ plots of land and the difference between the growth of plants close to the mining can be clearly seen. In one village I visited, the coconut trees on the side of the mining were more than half the size of those further away in the same field.
In addition to this, the villagers’ health is being deeply affected as a result of the pollution from the mines – with many suffering from respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Alongside this threat to people’s health is the threat to their lives. Due to the explosions occurring within the mines, people’s houses are crumbling as a result. The walls of one house I saw had split right through and the head of the family was concerned about the next blast, as anyone present in the house at the time could be in danger of being crushed. These are only some of the devastating effects of the Government’s mining industry in Goa on the tribal villagers and their land, which I was witness to during my visit to the tribal villages.
While the effect on the tribal people living close to the mines is extremely damaging, as I have outline above, the impact of relocation of the tribal people has a further devastating effect. Many villagers are being relocated so their land can be used for mining and other purposes. One example where this has occurred is in the village of Curbem in Sanguem, where five thousand families were displaced so that the Government of Goa could build a dam. The people’s villages were submerged under water and the Government of Goa relocated them. Given only a small amount of compensation from the Government, the villagers themselves were required to come up with the remaining amount required in order to rebuild their homes. In addition to this, the land they were allocated for agriculture was much smaller and less fertile than their now submerged fields, affecting their subsistence and ultimately their standard of living.
When I visited the relocated area of the tribal people, I found it noticeably different to the villages I had seen that were still untouched by the Government. The relocated people were living on very small blocks of land that were cramped closely together and lacked the space and landmass that was taken from them by the Government. The tribal people had not only lost their homes, their fertile land, but they had lost the inheritance of their ancestry.
The loss of culture at the Government of Goa’s hand
Even without being displaced, the Government is taking away people’s land and the ability to live in the tradition of their ancestors. I came across this in the village of Kajuwad, where the Government had restricted the tribal villagers’ agricultural practices of clearing. Instead of cultivating a different plot of land every four years to seize the most fertile land, the Government has banned the villagers from this agricultural practice. The land that the villagers’ have been allocated is not as fertile as their previous practice allowed, so they can no longer live off the land – growing their own fruit, vegetables, grains and spices, as they have done throughout the generations. Instead, now the tribal people are only able to grow cash crops – such as cashews and coconuts. So where the tribal people’s tradition has been to live off the land, this traditional has been taken from them and they are now forced to participate in an economy where the integrity of their culture has been lost.
Agitation Towards the Government
The Aboriginal tribal people of Goa see the Government ‘s actions as unjust for many reasons. I will not go into them here as they are deeply rooted in history and politics, and focus around the atrocities committed surrounding the legality of the tribal people’s land tenure. It is important to note, however, that in regards to the mining, the Government of Goa is supporting mining companies who are illegally mining without a permit. Furthermore, the police are protecting these companies by the direction (and reward) of the Government. I witnessed this first hand when visiting various villages, only to find that security guards blocked off many of the mining areas and we were not permitted to enter onto the tribal people’s land.
While the threat to the tribal people’s land and way of life is very severe, the alternative of aggravating the Government with protests and demonstrations holds its own danger.
On my last day of visiting the tribal villages, the people prepared themselves for a human rights Day rally in the Municipal Gardens in Quepem, protesting against the Government of Goa and their treatment of the tribal people and their land. With over one hundred people gathering together with placards reading ‘We Have a Right to Clean Water’ and ‘Save Our Agriculture, Save Our Culture’, shouting in one voice things like “Mining Band kara’ (Stop the Mining), it was a powerful display. After making demonstrations in front of the Government offices and the Police buildings, the villagers proceeded to the gardens where different speakers passionately spoke about the issues they are all facing as tribal villages and the need to fight for justice. For GAKUVED and the people of the tribal villages, this is only the beginning of their agitation.
In this report, I have recorded my insights into the political struggles that the tribal villages of the Aboriginal Goan people are facing against the Government of Goa. In what I saw, it appears that the strongest thing that the people have in protecting their homes, their land and their culture is through agitating the Government. While the situation for these tribal villages is at a crucial stage, if the people join together and rise up against the Government in Goa, there is hope. The evidence of this has been seen in the many tribal villages that have halted the workings of mines and stopped the implementation of others through their unceasing demonstrations. In witnessing one of the rallies organized by GAKUVED, as outlined above, for myself, the possibility of protecting tribal people’s culture has been strengthened.
Student of Sociology and Anthropology,
Dusk Also has written another straight-from-the-heart piece on her Goa visit and published on her blog. To read that click here.
Report Edited by Sebastian Rodrigues