2008-07-05 23:28:28 UTC
By Sammit Khandeparkar
justsammit at yahoo.com
The rejection of Maharashtra in the opinion poll held in 1967
and the inclusion of Konknni in Eighth Schedule of Indian
Constitution were possible due to the alliance between
Christians and Hindu Saraswat Brahmans. Protagonists of
Konknni argued that once Konknni is recognized by Central
Government, Goa's case for statehood will become stronger.
In February 1987 Konknni in Devanagari script was made
official language and subsequently Goa attained statehood on
30th May 1987. All these events helped in strengthening Goan
identity. Today some Christians feel that Konknni in Roman
script should also be recognized by the state.
This paper investigates the nature of alliance
between Roman script using Christians and
Devanagari-using Hindu Saraswat Brahmans. What was
this alliance? A consensus, a compromise or
something more complex? What were the conditions
that necessitated formation of such an alliance?
Does the voice of Roman Konknni today, question the
alliance? If so why and how? This paper attempts to
make a contribution to the rich literature on
relationship between language, region and identity.
Initially when I decided to work on the language issue in
Goa, I must say I was not fully aware of the complexities
involved and the extent to which language plays a role in
identity formation. So when I tried to comprehend the
Konknni Movement and related political mobilization, things
only got more confusing.
To get more in-depth understanding of language problem in Goa
I was advised to read Benedict Anderson, E. J. Hobsbawm, Tom
Narain, Antonio Gramsci and his concept of hegemony. Thanks
to the above mentioned scholars there was light, but maybe
the light was not enough. Reading nationalism theory has
certainly illuminated my understanding of the language
problem in Goa, but often I find myself wondering over the
potential of nationalism to be a liberating force that can
Before I put forward my argument, let me begin by giving a
brief historical account of the Konknni language assertion
The Konknni language and identity politics has a long history
starting from J. H. da Cunha Rivara (1800-1879) who argued
for Konknni in his essay 'Ensaio Historico da Lingua
Concani'. He gives the call to Goan youth in these words:
The time has come to restore the mother tongue to
its rightful place. To you, then, oh Goan youth,
is reserved this great work, essential element of
the intellectual and social regeneration of your
countrymen. (See Wolpart 1959: 293.)
However I am not so sure whether his Goa and Goan youth
included people like me from the New Conquests. Despite
having an early start, Konknni for a long time remained to be
looked upon as spoken language unsuitable for the needs of
It took the 20th century and spirited efforts of Shenoi
Goembab to sensitize the people regarding Konknni. However
the majority of people who got sensitized because of Shenoi
Goembab's efforts happened to belong to the dominant caste of
colonial Goa; who identify themselves as Saraswat Brahmans.
With the liberation of Goa on December 19, 1961 new
alignments took place. The Maharastrwadi Gomantak Party (MGP)
was formed which had merger with Maharashtra on its agenda.
It got the support from a number of non-Brahman castes,
collectively called Bahujan Samaj. Most of these people were
tenants of land-owning Saraswats and were oppressed under the
colonial and the caste system (Matsukawa 2002:130-32). They
found it sensible that their interests will be safeguarded in
Maharashtra and many identified themselves as Marathas.
Leader of this grouping was Dayanand Bandodkar, the first
Chief Minister of Goa. Christians in turn supported the
United Goans (UG) party, which was founded by Jack Sequeira.
An Opinion Poll was held in 1967. The MGP, in its claim,
cited the use of Marathi in Goa as one of the reasons for
merger. The UG in its turn refuted these claims saying that
Goa has unique culture which is represented by Konknni.
Saraswat Brahmans taking the side of Konknni were against the
merger (Rubinoff 1992:474-87).
Again the language issue was hotly debated in mid 80's.
Protagonists of Konknni argued that once Konknni got made the
official language of Goa, Goa's case for statehood would
become stronger. In February 1987, Konknni in Devanagri
script was made the official language and subsequently Goa
attained statehood on 30th May 1987.
The underlying feature of all these Konknni
movements was the alliance between Christians and
Saraswat Brahmans. Though a vast chunk of Hindus
didn't support the Konknni movement, support for
Konknni came from Christians as well as Hindus.
Moreover people who argued for Marathi were Hindus from the
Bahujan Samaj and had distinct communal overtones. I didn't
really give a thought, as to why the Christians who used
Roman script agreed to make Konknni in Devnagri script the
state language. What were the circumstances under which these
decisions were taken?
Antonio Gramsci and his concept of hegemony, I think, will be
of great use in understanding what exactly happened. Recently
we have seen that several noted personalities have argued for
Roman script, and such assertions have been seen with regard
to the Kannada script too. Why are these assertions coming
now? And who is making them? These and other related
questions I plan to tackle using the nationalism theory as
Nationalism and Nation, as many would like to believe, is not
pre-historic and natural but is a relatively recent construct.
So what is a Nation? Well decisive advance in understanding
of Nationalism was made by Ernest Gellner in his famous essay
'Nationalism', he demonstrated how industrialization produced
modern political nationalities. He says 'Nationalism is not
the awakening of Nations to self consciousness: it invents
nations where they do not exist' (Nairn 1997:1). Yet
nationalists have always seen nation as an objective entity
based on criteria like common language, ethnicity, territory
and common history.
I shall give one example of how territory becomes the part of
such a construct. Take for example Sosogad (a mountain in
Goa). When we say that Sosogad is the highest peak of Goa,
what we mean is that Sosogad is not just any other mountain
of a particular height, but that it is projected to be a
symbol of Goa. Nevertheless it can always be argued that it
is just like any other mountain, incidentally it falls within
the territory of the political map of Goa and therefore gets
the fame as highest mountain in Goa; had it been outside the
territory of the present Goa, nobody would have given it a
With this background in theory, when I look at the Konknni
movement it looks like a project in nationalism. The Konknni
movement envisaged for the creation of the political entity,
of course not with any army and such tools but definitely
with Konknni demanding a state for itself.
I would like to compare this with what happened in Europe.
Take the example of the Italian language. Italian was argued
to be the basis for Italian unification. It united the
educated elite of the peninsula as readers and writers,
though in 1860 at the moment of unification only 2.5% of the
population used the language for everyday use.
So, in that sense, this small group excluding 97.5% of the
population was what we call the Italian people. Similar was
the case in France in 1789. Only 12-13% of the population
spoke French correctly. In northern and southern France,
virtually nobody spoke French (Hobsbawm 1992:59-61).
So whenever a political nation is constructed it
doesn't really include more than a small fraction
of inhabitants and the language of its elite with
due standardization becomes the language of the
state. These standardized languages which are not
naturally evolved but are constructed, when forced
into print by state become the modern language of
the states via public education and other
So when somebody says that Konknni is the state language of
Goa, I find it problematic, because it essentially obscures
the fact that Christians -- on whose mass support Konknni
became the state language -- do not use Devanagari script. So
also, the majority of Hindus whom we now identify as Bahujan
Samaj, do not identify with this official Konknni. And
therefore I find Konknni Movement extremely hegemonic.
But this is not to say that this rot is unique to Konknni.
Consider this example given by Hobsbawm -- the deliberate
Sanskritisation of literary Bengali, which emerged in 19th
century as a cultural language, not only separated the
literary upper class from the popular masses but also
Hinduised Bengali high culture, demoting the Bengali Muslim
And this is what has happened in Goa.
By using Devanagari script as the standard script for
Konknni, the state has communicated to the Christians that
Devanagari is the marker of the citizenship of Goa. To be
real Goans and good citizens they should accept Devanagari.
Leaders of Konknni movement Like Adv. Uday Bhembre who insist
on Devanagari as standard script often argue saying that
Devanagari is an Indian script whereas the Roman script is
foreign and that using Devanagari script has united the
Konknni speakers (Bhembre 2005:4).
This is problematic because the same argument can always be
extended to say that Christians should give up eating beef
because it was forced on to them by foreigners. Then, the
same argument can be further extended to say that
Christianity is foreign and hence Christians should convert
to Hinduism because that will bring national unity.
Quite a few Christians are now challenging this hegemony.
Dr. Pratap Naik of Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr has
recently argued in favor of Roman script (Naik 2005 : 6). So
also the President of Dalgado Konknni Academy has come out
strongly in favor of the Roman script for Konknni (Mazarelo
2005:4). The question that rises now is why are such
assertions coming now? And it is this question that I am
trying to answer in this paper.
During the opinion poll and the subsequent
statehood agitation, Christians feared losing their
identity and themselves in predominantly Hindu
Maharashtra. But arguing on such religious lines
would have been politically difficult in secular
India. For Saraswats too merger with Maharashtra
would have put major challenge to their reducing
For Christians trapped in a defensive position, it was most
critical to prevent a merger with Maharashtra and for this
they needed the alliance with Saraswat Brahmins who were in
better position to argue. So, for both Hindu Saraswat
Brahmans and Christians, it was necessary to develop a Goan
identity based on language.
Giving consent to Devanagari was a necessary compromise
Christians had to make. But now that Goa has attained full
statehood, the alliance has outlived its purpose. What
Christians are communicating with these assertions is that
now that we have got the Konknni pie give us its due share by
giving state legitimacy to the Roman script.
When I try to analyze why Bahujan Samaj supported
Marathi the answer too becomes clear. What happened
is that Bahujan Samaj recognized the hegemonic
connotations of Konknni and refused to get bogged
down by the high caste hegemony.
Dissent is seen in Karnataka too, where recently the Konknni
Sahitya academy and autonomous body set up by Karnataka
government decided to use Kannada script for Konknni in
Karnataka. Eric Ozerio, president of the academy, says
"Kannada Konknni is our identity marker, so how can we let it
go?" (see Srinivasaraju 2005:64).
Many protagonists of the Konknni movement have argued against
a multiplicity of scripts saying that having uniform script
will lead to unity. But unity and uniformity are mutually
exclusive concepts. Five fingers of a hand are not uniform
but they do get united to form a fist. Similar, I believe, is
the case of five scripts of Konknni. Each script has its own
distinct flavor and there exists no reason to privilege one
over the other.
In a different part of the world and in a different era, such
a hegemony would have worked; but in the present Indian
context it becomes far too obvious.
Bhembre, Uday.2005. 'Stephens Kendracher ani Karbharyacher
Bahishkar Ghalcho' (in Konknni), Daily Sunaparant, 12 Oct
Hobsbawm, E. J. 1992. Nations and Nationalism since 1780:
Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Matsukawa, Kyoko 2002. Konknni and Goan Identity in
Post-Colonial Goa, India. Research Note. Osaka University.
Mazarelo, W. Wilmix. 2005. 'Ami Dalgadonchi Totvam Sambaltat'
(in Konknni ), Daily Sunaparant, 14 Oct 2005, Panaji.
Naik, Pratap. 2005. 'In Search of the Write Script',
Outlook (Weekly), 11 July 2005, New Delhi.
Nairn, Tom. 1997. Faces of Nationalism. London, New York:
Rubinoff, Arthur G. 1992. 'Goa's Attainment of Statehood'.
Asian Survey, Vol. 32, No.5.
Srinivasaraju Sujata. 2005. 'Tongue in a Twist' Outlook
(Weekly), 27 June 2005, New Delhi.
Wolpart, Stanley A.1959. 'The printing press in India -- Its
Beginnings and Early Development' by A.K.Priolkar. Journal of
the American Oriental Society, Vol. 79, No.4.
THIS ESSAY was earlier published in 'Sod', the journal of the
Thomas Stevens Konknni Kendr. Thomas Stevens Konknni Kendra
welcomes for suitable Goa-related articles for publication in
'Sod'. While the focus of this journal is primarily Konkani
(articles written in Konkani, either Roman or Devanagari
script, or also in English about Konkani themes), it has
widened its focus to include themes broadly related to the
Konkani culture in and around Goa. Contact Dr Pratap Naik
pnaiksj at yahoo.co.in if you'd like to contribute an article.