Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bleddy Goans....and all that

By Frederick Noronha

It has been quite awhile since I've seen a piece of
text stoke up so much heat and emotions in a
positive way. More so, one that did not go about
merely raking up divisions of religion or caste,
nor even language.

It wasn't even one of those bitterly-argued pieces of writing
one sees ever so often nowadays, which is basically targeted
at an individual we don't like. Instead, it was just a piece
focussed on the environment; the crucial question of how to
respond to the change that we in Goa are all facing at this
very point of time.

Admitted, the language used was rather strong. Someone by the
name of Godfrey Pereira wrote an article titled "A Letter To
The Bleddy Goans From An East Indian Bugger". If you want to
see the text of what he wrote, visit:

After first emerging on Goanet, it quite did the
rounds. It surfaced on various networks linked to
Goa. In a world where email opens up new forms of
communications, this means it reached far and wide.
This brief text soon started benefitting from a
'viral marketing' campaign of sorts, which was
never planned for it in the first place.

Turns out that Godfrey is an ex-SUNDAY magazine (Kolkata) and
INDIA TODAY journalist. And his argument is basically that
Goans are doing nothing while their State's coast is turning
into another Chowpatty, beach after beach is being decimated,
and mining is greedily and unstoppably eating away at the

In contrast, Godfrey praises the East Indians: "In Mumbai
thousands of people from the ten villages of the Gorai-Uttan
belt have been fighting Essel World [India's "largest
amusement park" that's coming up near Borivali]. They are
protesting against the proposed Special Entertainment Zone
(SEZ) spread over 14,183 acres in the area. They know they
stand to lose the core of their culture if this happens and
so they are fighting this encroachment disguised as tourism.
At least The East Indians there are trying."

The reaction was swift and divided. Many agreed with him,
even though Godfrey uses sharp language to castigate the
Goan, while putting out his angrily-worded missive. Goan men
are useless, while "the Goan women don't seem to care. Their
sons are in The Gulf or Canada, sending money back home."

Let's not dwell too much on the responses that emerged
though. As could be anticipated, there was another kind of
response though. Not all was supportive of Godfrey. The angry
tone of his what-are-you-Goans-doing letter apart, he drew
praise from some for his wake-up call. But others seemed
defensive. What has happened to the East Indians in Mumbai
anyway, was the tone of their reply. Or: who the hell are you
to tell us what's to be done here? Further: you don't even
know what's being attempted here.

At least one letter from Seby Rodrigues, the
campaigner on mining and other issues dubbed a
Naxalite ironically by none other than Opposition
leader Manohar Parrikar, make an articulate case.
Seby pointed out to the struggles actually being
taken up by people in interior Goa. The simple folk
who were themselves affected by mining every day of
their lives. Seby's documentation of the issue is
also visible at and
through other posts made in cyberspace.

But then, these stories hardly ever emerge. The meek of the
earth shalt not inherit the headlines, as Indira Gandhi once
famously said. Their campaigns lack the immediacy, is bereft
of the drama, and above all, these are simple people!

* * *

Godfrey did make us pause and think. Taken to its extreme,
his logic -- and one that often makes sense -- is that we all
are all to blame for things going wrong. We can't just blame
Mr. Politician, The Faceless Bureaucrat, or even The Mining
Lobby, and absolve ourselves of any responsibility. Five
decades after the colonial sun set on Goa, the unanswered
mystery is how we allow our minds to be colonised, how we can
turn a blind eye to issues so close to us, and tolerate
injustice even when we encounter it.

That is one part of the reality. But things are more complex
here. Goa's mess is also because of our own internal problems
and divisions, our inability to build common perspectives on
any issue, and our difficulty in sharing a common vision.

One Goan will not trust another, and Catholic will
distrust Hindu and vice versa (and, more recently,
both have been ganging up to distrust the Muslim,
specially the "migrant Muslim"). It's as if we have
very different senses of history, geography and an
even understanding of what's in our long-term
interest -- depending on our religion, even our
caste, our experience of colonialism and religion,
which part of Goa we live in, and how we earn our
livelihood today.

The expat Goan, who has already collated more than enough to
live in comfort -- and maybe take care of a future generation
or two too -- is quick to propose that Goa remains in its
picture-postcard state. Skyline is important. Nature has to
be preserved. The possibility of Goa shaping into another
Mumbai is the worst doomsday scenario that this section can

This is true, in a sense. But it's not the whole picture.

Residents need sustainable jobs, and the chance of earning a
fair living. Today, earning a decent living in Goa itself is
a rather tough task. This is partly because of scale -- we
don't have the economics of a big, ugly and productive city.
At the same time, it's also got to do with corruption.
Efficiency is shown the door. Likewise, our ability to block
each other, and trip one another up, is legendary.

But, this reality -- of the need for sustainable and
eco-friendly opportunities in Goa -- is being used as an
alibi by those very forces who would like to squeeze out
every paisa from Goa, no matter at what cost.

In the past, we saw the strange phenomenon of
Congress ministers "boasting" about how high the
figure of unemployment in Goa had reached. They did
so by citing the figures of job-seekers in the live
register of the Employment Exchange. Nobody seems
sure now as to how accurate these figures were.
Today, we don't hear about the same any more. But,
in the 1990s, this was an excuse to get in more
controversial units, from metallurgical power
guzzlers to what not!

But our complications don't stop there. Despite our attempts
to romanticise the reality, Goa has long been a highly
stratified society. Subalterns Goenkars -- regardless of
religious differences, but not quite independent of the
reality of caste -- have felt a resentment, definitely
understandable, that they and their families for generations
together have been excluded from the benefits of whatever
prosperity passed by here.

Post-1961, the populism of the times encashed on this. Such
aspirations were stoked. Everyone would like to live like a
bhadkar (Goan-style landlord); so what if this is the
ultimate impossible dream? Everyone would also like to aspire
to flaunt the neo-riches of the returned expat Goan, for whom
the State is little more than a holiday destination. But is
this possible, leave alone be sustainable?

Goa is caught between these two clashing visions.
One which would like it to retain its
picture-postcard charm at any cost -- never mind
that people need to survive and take care of their
reasonable aspirations. The other vision is to
promise the moon but deliver not even the coconut

The latter vision pushes arguments of GDP, promises
redemption from generations from caste strangleholds, and
talks the language of jobs and development. But, at the end
of the day, it all boils down to money and profits for a few.

In this rigged and meaningless tug of war, the real issues
are forgotten. Godfrey's language may seem provocative, if
not almost-insulting, but it plays its role of alerting us to
the situation.

My only concern is that the Godfreys of our world would sound
more convincing if they factored in what makes the Goan
reality so complex. Also, why people -- or large sections of
them -- can be taken for a collective ride for such long
periods of time.


As circulated on Goanet e-mail list on 15 May 2010.

[An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Herald, Goa on 12 May 2010]
Herald, Goa, May 12, 2010

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