2009-01-02 21:09:16 UTC
By Frederick Noronha
fn at goa-india.org
Goa can't but feel the heat. Communal conflict from other
parts of India has left scars and created distrust of a new
kind. This has brought in its impact from Orissa and coastal
Karnataka, not far from home. Earlier, similar trends were
witnessed in Gujarat's tribal areas.
Christians, who form a "major minority" in Goa, have shown
signs of worry over the anti-Christian violence reported from
these areas. Hindus, on the other hand, who have had a
complex but often peaceful relationship of coexisting with
Christians here, appear somewhat defensive about an issue
which they have little control over.
Meanwhile, with elections round the corner, tempers
have been getting heated in Goa itself. The series
of attacks on temples, still unexplained at the
time of writing, has made the mood in the majority
Hindu community restive and neglected.
"The Congress government can't even protect the 'moortis'
(statues) just outside Panjim, and they were damaged
yesterday. Corruption has also spiralled," said a barber in
the city. "I'm not saying the BJP wasn't tainted by
corruption. But they at least delivered results. And Panjim
was better maintained when they were in power."
* * *
Debates over secularism and communalism have turned into
means of scoring points. Both the Congress and the BJP resort
For instance, the BJP, whose wider network and affiliated
fronts played a role in stoking up temperatures in 2006 riots
at Curchorem-Sanvordem, went on to blame the Congress for
allowing such violence to hit Goa during the latter's rule.
Congress' spokesperson Jitendra Deshprabhu, on the other
hand, blamed the BJP for itself being behind the recent
temple desecrations. This came inspite of the fact that the
Congress government so far failed to nab any suspects.
Goa chief minister Digambar Kamat offered a Rs 100,000 reward
for information leading to the trail of the miscreants. Kamat
also asked citizens in Goa not to allow Goa to see a repeat
of what already happening in Karnataka and Orissa. Citizens
too have attempted some initiatives, but it is clear that
these are certainly not sufficient.
Goa home minister Ravi Naik likewise critiqued the
BJP, in another statement, saying its temple
politics was meant to dividing people. While such
political games go on, the State pays a big price
for its lethargy with the communal virus spreading.
* * *
Over time, the polarisation is simply getting worse.
Misunderstandings mark relationships between Goa's three main
communities. If the 20th century in Goa was spent in caste
battles -- Brahmins versus Chardos among the Catholics, and
Bahujans versus the 'upper' castes among the Hindus -- now
the focus is going to building suspicion among different
Hindu-Muslim mistrust appears to be growing.
Catholics and Hindus have a bone to pick in some
places. "To construe superficial conviviality and
cosmetic bonhomie as deep rooted communal harmony
is just fooling ourselves," argues Ave Cleto
Afonso, a retired philosophy prof formerly with the
Dhempe College. Afonso recently translated the 1923
book 'The Hindus of Goa and the Portuguese
Likewise, the growing immigrant Muslim population of Goa has
become the target of campaigns both on communal or regional
grounds, with Catholics also showing some signs of buying
'anti-outsider' arguments too here.
One concern that has to still be sufficiently address is that
communal lobbies could have infiltrated key government
departments. Sometimes, too, the media coverage of certain
issues is shocking. Sections of the vernacular press in
particular are known to have taken a rather shrill position
There are other irritants within the population. Catholics, a
majority in the state till a little less than a century ago,
today feel swamped. Their numbers declined due to their
outmigration, in-migration, and lower birth rates. Since the
1960s, their shrinking access to political power has had its
On the other hand, the average Hindu isn't able to
access trends like out-migration, which creates
easy earning opportunities for many Catholics.
Increasingly, both communities are also seen to
compete in each other's territory -- government
service was once a domain which Catholics
dominated, while enterprise was where the Hindu had
strengths. New and unexpected elements enter the
equations. Both communities, for instance, are
showing signs of disliking Muslim vendor
competition that has grown in the markets.
Due to accidents of the past, Goans can have very differing
ideas of their history and their culture. Minority
communalism doesn't get addressed as much as it should.
Goans, of all religions, also tend to have fewer campaigners
over secularism; most are easily polarised over lines of
religion, compared to the situation elsewhere in India.
* * *
Goa is not immune to concerns that dominate the wider
national agenda. Recent attacks on some churches and found
their echo here too.
Sites like the Thane-based hindujagruti.org -- which
describes its goal as a "mission is to serve (the) Hindu
Dharma and Nation" -- has pages on its sites devoted to news
that highlights the negatives of Christianity and Islam. Some
of this touches on Goa too.
For instance, it quotes the RSS-linked Karnataka
chief minister saying "Christian organisations
(are) flaring up social tension". It likewise
highlights the arrest of "two Christians" for the
swamiji's murder in Orissa, and the controversy
over a translated Bible in the Jharkhand assembly.
Likewise, it says, "Christian nuns claim false rape
in India to defame Hinduism". Some of its other
reports point to a Christian-Hindu feud over a
Lahore temple, and a charge that 'Once a Hindu
converts, his loyalties shift'.
In the recent anti-Christian campaigns, some involved have
faulted Christian conversion policies as provoking conflict.
While certain sects are indeed on an aggressive evangelical
drive, conversions are a non-issue for a number of mainstream
denominations, including the Catholics.
In Goa, in fact, the Catholics themselves feel the pressures
coming from up when other, smaller, fringe Christian groups
seek to lure over Catholic adherents, not unsuccessfully. So
if conversion was the issue, there's no explanation why
Catholic religious places and personnel should be targeted.
But issues apart, the jostling for space is visible.
Sometimes not just metaphorically.
News reports from Margao (Herald, Oct 3, 2008) pointed out
that only a wall separates the existing masjid and the
newly-built Durga Mata temple at the Goa Housing Board plot
in Rumdamol. Recently, Muslims held Id prayers there, while
local Hindu leaders fixed their religious ceremony to install
a religious figure of Durga at around the same time, giving
the authorities some tense moments.
* * *
For the average citizen, most would obviously wish to simply
live in peace. But that's not how it always works out.
There are a number of reasons one could attribute to the
growth of communal politics in Goa too. One clearly is the
role played by politicians and the press. The first is search
of easy votes, and the latter going out for circulations.
But there are also other reasons. The global shift to the
Right in politics, visible since the 1980s, is making its
impact felt here too. Identity-politics is a good substitute
-- and divisionary tactic -- to avoid taking on more tougher,
real-world, concrete issues.
Likewise, the ascendence of conservative leaders at the helm
of many religions -- from Popes, to politicians claiming to
speak in the name of Hinduism, and militants claiming the
Muslim space -- only complicates the issue. Growing Christian
Evangelicalism, and the ascendence of the Christian Right
till Obama's recent election in the distant US has influenced
the debate on Goan shores too.
Spilling over into the Panjim Azad Maidan, this sometimes
shows up in the form of noisy prayer meetings. This is a
questionable policy at best which sees the municipality grant
permission for the use of this public space to just about
anyone who pays their price.
Even the stray religious conversion that happens here is
reason enough for the sections of the local vernacular media
to blow-up the issue. A case of a family from Parra, sometime
back, opting to change their religion lead to columns of
newsprint being devoted to this issue.
On the other hand, Christian arrogance is visible when it
comes to dealing with other religions. In part, this comes
from a monotheistic faith, with concepts like "false gods"
being part of its doctrine; but this makes for an incongruous
situation in the early 21st century. More so in times when
one has to accept that nobody has a monopoly over the truth.
Likewise, different political parties too have
tried their hand at playing the communal game.
While the saffron BJP has been often blamed, the
Congress itself hasn't been above majoritarian
politics (or minority versions of the game, in some
parts of the country). Its role in the anti-Sikh
riots, attempting to lure Christian votes in the
North-East or Salcete, and unlocking the Ayodhya
controversy with Rajiv Gandhi's shilyanyas is only
too well known.
In Goa, for their part, a number of political parties have
played their own sectarian, if not communal, role. Both the
MGP (which dominated Goan politics in the 1960s and 1970s)
and the BJP have played their part. So have some politicians
within the Congress, and the Goa Congress was decidedly a
party aiming to build a decidedly Catholic support-base. In
the 1960s, the UGP-MGP divide was also based on such a logic.
Arms of the State also play a role.
Young lawyer Jason Keith Fernandes wrote about an exhibition
held at the Kala Academy in Panjim, which he termed
"invitation to hate". This 2007 event aimed "to 'educate' the
average Hindu about the violence by Muslims on the Hindus of
Kashmir and Bangladesh." It came up via the French
Catholic-born Francois Gautier, now a staunch supporter of
the "Hindu nationalist movement".
When in power, the Rane Congress government spoke
of stopping the "sprouting of illegal constructions
and encroachments in public property". It did so
even as a debate raged on the need for a law to
tackle "communalism" in the state. Given the manner
in which some politicians and sections of the media
have been going after Muslim places of worship on
grounds of being illegal, the implications of such
an official stand would be clear to anyone who
takes a second look.
When in power, the Congress's role has sometimes itself been
Take the case of Tariq Ahmed Battlo, arrested amidst much of
an outcry and media sensationalism at Margao, and alleged to
be a Tehrik-ul-Mukahidin militant. On July 10, 2008, he was
given the benefit of the doubt, and set free.
Strangely, just around the time of the Sanvordem-Curchorem
riots, Goa's Congress Rane-led government had publicly
announced his arrest (probably even before the police
formally arrested him, or staged his arrest), along with
charges that RDX too had been seized from him at Margao.
During the discussion on the Goa 2006-07 budget,
then CM Rane also announced plans for a law to
prevent communal disturbance. Nothing of that kind
has happened yet. And communal incidents keep
getting stoked, while an impotent State -- or one
which chooses to be -- looks on helplessly.
Suddenly, unusual issues crop up. As noted above, the concern
of "illegal constructions" was made central to the debate of
communalism in Goa some time ago.
Religious shrines have been sprouting all around, but it is
only "illegal" Muslim shrines that get targeted. Even before
the 2006 anti-Muslim violence at Curchorem, a campaign was
created over this issue.
Media reports highlight a number of such issue. For instance,
the December 2005 attempt to burn a mosque at Mardol; the
October 2005 desecration of a mosque at the Mapusa housing
board; the villagers demand for the demolition of a masjid
project under construction in Curti, on October 15-16, 2005.
* * *
"Communal danger (is) knocking on Goa's doors," argues
journalist Vidyadhar Gadgil, also a campaigner against
communalism and its spread. But others have critiqued
secularism campaigners for highlighting the ills of 'majority
communalism' often, while ignoring the problem of its
Gadgil himself warns that communal elements are likely to
want the tempo "built up and sustained" even as elections
approach. Argues he: "Citizens of Goa, irrespective of faith
and community, have been outraged by the violence against the
Christian community, and have united to condemn the
Gadgil contends that the blame needs to be placed where it
belongs. Critiquing the impact of the Hindutva ideology, he
believes, cannot be neglected if one is not to attempt "a
frantic and desperate (and doomed) attempt to be
But others see the issue differently.
Dr Anand Virgincar of Margao, now based in the UK,
has another take on this. Joining a discussion on
the maverick GoenchimXapotam mailing-list in
cyberspace recently, he contended that "there is no
malice, let alone hatred, between the vast majority
of Goan Catholics and Hindus". Virgincar added that
"the vast majority of BJP/MGP voters in Goa -- and
there were 276,000 odd at the last elections -- are
not communal." Besides, he posited, the current BJP
leadership in Goa is "probably the least interested
in fomenting strife between communities -- as
compared to both BJP and non-BJP leaders across the
country. The recent Orissa violence is a case in
point. Ex-CM Manohar Parrikar "not only condemned
the violence but made a clear statement that there
is no Christian missionary activity encouraging
religious conversions in Goa," argued Virgincar.
But he argued "anti-Hindutva protestors (are) making
anti-Hindu statements ... in their over-enthusiasm". "While
faults with the Hindu religion are displayed in all their
glory -- often concealed as criticism of Hindutva -- any
wrongs within the Catholic faith are swept under the carpet,"
he argued. Bigots were left arguing such issues in the online
world, he said.
"Any moderate Hindu or a BJP or Manohar Parrikar supporter,
reading such hateful propaganda, would be a potential recruit
for their cause -- and their dream of collecting an entire
generation of militant Goan Hindus," argued Virgincar, who
uses the cyber-identity of 'Mahatma Sachin'.
But even if individuals are well-meaning, the reality of
communal ideologies needs to be taken into account.
For instance, R.S.Golwalkar, head of the RSS for nearly 30
years, perceives the 'Golden Age' India as a "full-fledged
nation of Hindus", with other communities living here being
either guests like Jews and Parsis, or "invaders" like
Muslims and Christians.
Different other quarters define the issue differently too.
For its part, the Konkani Bhasha Mandal, a body promoting the
language, recently said any attempt to amend the Official
Language Act of Goa "would only foment trouble in the Goan
society and divide the people on communal lines."
But others like the pro-Romi Konkani ex-Speaker Tomazinho
Cardozo argue contrarily. Cardozo commented recently:
"Traditionally Goans, Hindus as well as Christian, loved and
still love their own religions and at the same time they
respected and still respect the religious feelings of each
other. This is the foundation of communal harmony and peace
Solutions that are offered similarly differ.
South Goa collector G P Naik spoke in terms of a three-tier
peace committee "for managing conflict situations arising in
South Goa district." Margao itself was the seat of communal
tensions on June 27, 2008.
As an editorial in the Herald newspaper commented:
"The communal violence that engulfed Margao is an
extremely ominous indicator of the times to come.
Is Goa's commercial capital now going to be rocked
by communal violence every time a Hindu and a
Muslim have a fight, for whatever reason? The last
two times that the town has seen communal tension,
the events have been frighteningly similar."
On September 16, 2008, Goans answered a call by the Council
for Social Justice and Peace -- and braved some rain -- to
attend a rally opposed to communal violence. People from
different areas of Goa joined the meet to condemn the
incidents of violence against Christians in Orissa and
CICH, a local campaign group called The Citizens' Initiatives
for Communal Harmony (CICH), argued that the desecrations
were "all taking place in one belt in South Goa and seemed
designed to deliberately polarise communities." CICH is
represented by social campaigner Ramesh Gauns and lawyer
Albertina Almeida. This group has also questioned the logic
of "projecting Muslims as repositories of violence".
Citizens have taken up other initiatives too.
After the March 2006, anti-Muslim riots in
Curchorem-Sanvordem, Goa's secular lobby was quick to study
the issue. Some who didn't agree with the findings of the
report raked up a controversy over it in cyberspace. Yet, its
study did put out a whole lot of useful and surprising
information about the way communalism is being built in Goa,
often without even being noticed.
This notwithstanding, on June 12, 2008, the
Additional Sessions Court of Margao acquitted 23
persons who were charge-sheeted for the arson and
assault during the March 2006 communal riots in the
Curchorem-Sanvordem twin towns. Addl Sessions Judge
Dilip Gaikwad gave them the benefit of doubt.
Earlier this year, a body calling itself the Akhil Goa Mandir
Suraksha Samiti, headed by the 'Dharmajagran Pramukh'
Rajendra 'Raju' Velingkar, son of RSS leader Subhash
Velingkar, lead the call for a protest strike in Goa over the
mysterious attacks on temples.
But this is one side of the story.
There are still positive examples. At the village and town
level, there are instances of people living in amity and
peace, for generations. Goans share some religious festivals
-- in places like Fatorpa, Mapusa and a few other spots.
Catholics, for the most, acknowledge their Hindu roots.
Dividing lines between 'we' and 'them' are not so clear-cut
here, though increasingly this is sought to be made so.
Concern over communalism continues to show up though.
In mid-November 2008, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind "vowed to
build a secular and prosperous Goa and not to allow
polarisation of the state on communal lines."
In October 2008, the Citizens' Forum for Secularism and
Communal Harmony fact-finding committee pulled up the police
administration for its failure to check communal violence in
Margao and Rumdamol on June 27 this year.
It is not as if we lack the law to tackle communalism.
The Indian Penal Code has clear-cut laws against destroying,
damaging or defiling a place of worship or sacred object,
with the intent to insult any religion (Sec 295, IPC). On the
law-book too are laws against maliciously insulting any
religion (295A), causing a disturbance to religious worship
(296), trespassing into a place of worship (29), or even
"uttering any word or making any sound" with the intention to
wound religious feelings (298). But, as one could guess,
these are seldom implemented, by a State which is itself
appears lackadaisical about the growth of communalism.
* * *
Goa's reality is different from that across the country. Our
history is different, so is our demography, and the relations
What is the same however is the manner in which
this region too is prone to sustained communal
propaganda, the political interest in instigating
communalism, and the growing pressures to find
scapegoat-communities in times of economic
pressures and change.
Ironically, contrary to the widely-held view, Goa has not
always been the haven of peace it is made out to be.
On the contrary.
This tiny region has been the hotbed of communal battles,
caste conflict and theocratic intolerance for much of the
past centuries. But the good side of this bad story is that,
despite all that has happened -- or perhaps, because of it --
Goa has been less prone to go in for blatant communal
bitterness for much of the recent past. The state seems to
have realised that religious-based hate doesn't pay, and
solves no problems. Suspicions, and communal, politics do
linger on though.
The villain of the piece has been Portuguese
colonial rule. A few decades after settling in Goa,
in the mid-sixteenth century, the colonial ruler
began a policy of Lusitanisation and religious
conversions. Even in the 20th century, Salazar's
Estado Novo was known for its theocratic approach
and modus vivendi with the Vatican.
But contrary to the lore perpetuated by contemporary
communalism in Goa, it was not the Portuguese alone that
adopted policies of religious intolerance. Nor were the
Portuguese persistently biased against whom they defined as
The Other. Portuguese policy also hurt diverse segments of
the population, cutting across religious lines.
Initially, the colonial rulers slaughtered the Muslim
population of a Muslim-ruled Goa. The belief of some
influential players then was that the Hindus of Goa could
utilise the Portuguese to oust the then Muslim rulers is also
documented. But, for some time during their long regime, the
Portuguese gave Goa stints where anti-clerical politics saw
the expulsion of the Jesuits and other religious orders.
On the other hand, the Portuguese intolerance
during its rule in parts of Goa (the 'Old
Conquests' central core, ironically more Catholic
today) is also well documented. There is no denial
about the Hindu or Muslim shrines destroyed and
rebuilt as Catholic places of worship or even
Anyone wanting to rake up a bad row could create dozens of
Ayodhyas here. Though of course things are more complex than
that, because together with the shrines, the a section of the
people too were converted. Most of the latter are today
content to belong to the faith they are part of.
In addition, religious conflict wasn't the the only or prime
driver of colonial rule, as is sometimes sought to be
suggested. Likewise, religious minorities of today should not
be confused with the colonial rulers of the yesterdays.
This situation is ripe with other contradictions too.
A researcher planning to take up this issue listed
a number of religious monuments that got caught in
the religious intolerance of the past. Such as the
Muslim cemetery and mosque site near the fortress
in Chapora; the Reis Magos fortress and church
site, built on a Hindu temple; the Rachol Seminary,
built on a mosque site; monuments at Velha Goa; and
temples temples around Ponda, that were created as
"fugitive" religious sites.
Those raking up issues against the Portuguese policies on
religion often gain support from the 'New Conquest' areas,
areas where ironically enough colonial religious intolerance
was not fierce, or hardly felt.
Goa nowadays often gets reminded about the Inquisition in
Goa. Sometimes, the motives are genuine; at other times, the
intention is simply to justify more present-day communal
intolerance on the basis of the bigotry of the past.
Goa's complex history says it all. The post-1910 Republican
regime in Lisbon in fact made attempts to make up for periods
of anti-Hindu bias, till Salazar set back the clock.
Post 1963, after one-man one-vote electoral politics were
introduce in Goa, political parties played to communal
galleries to lesser or greater extent. The MGP, UGP, BJP,
Shiv Sena, Goa Congress, among others, have banked on getting
the votes sometimes with overt and unchecked appeals to
religion. Congress' attempts to garner votes involves a more
complex process of incorporating regional leaders -- of
diverse local community or caste groups -- together with a
role for money and migrant votes.
But during the BJP rule one had Governors like the
RSS-linked Kidar Nath Sahani highlight the
importance of rebuilding temples demolished by the
Portuguese and "erstwhile regimes" as part of the
"nation building task" in October 2003. It boggles
the mind how such sectarian talk can be tolerated
by a high functionary of a secular state.
There were other trends that caused concern in that period.
In early 2003, when the controversial Marathi play "Mee
Nathuram Boltoy" was staged in Kala Academy, the character
Nathuram Godse (Gandhiji's assassin in real life) got loud
applause from the audience.
There was a controversy over scrapping of some religious
holidays; hot-heads managed to get into the Archbishop's
House on an excuse; and, contrary to national policies to
have a force representative of the populace, only a tiny
number of minorities were recruited to crucial sectors like
the police. This was justified on the grounds that Catholics
anyway disliked working as stereotyped constables.
A controversial VCD, communalising the past via a
religiosity-suffused interpretation of history, was released
by the government. State monies were passed on to allegedly
partisan bodies in the wake of the Gujarat quake.
Samata Andolan, a body campaigning on social issues, then
also blamed the BJP Goa government of handing over over
primary schools to the Sangh Parivar "without complying
"How does (ex-chief minister Parrikar) justify the
thousands of saffrons he has recruited into
government service ever since the BJP took over the
reins two years ago?" charged lawyer Aires
Rodrigues, currently a vocal supporter of Mr
Parrikar, whom he now sees as the only option for
Winds blowing in the rest of the country are also bound to
Outlook, the New Delhi-published magazine, offered some
surprising info recently. In its issues of Sept 28, 2008 and
Oct 6, 2008, it reported a link between Hindutva terrorism
and Goa. Some of those involved in recent cases of violence
had got trained in making timer-bombs. Said Outlook, "Panse
(one of those involved, also) underwent training by the VHP
and Bajrang Dal at Goa for two years." Names of other groups,
like the Sanatan Sanstha, which publishes a newspaper from
Goa, have also come up in connection with this controversy.
But even while attempts are on to widen the communal rift,
some understand that religious-infighting doesn't make any
sense, and the State swims or sinks across communities.
As Prof Afonso put it, "It is my belief that the hope of
sustaining Goa and enriching Goan cultural identity depends
on healing of the old wounds that have divided the Hindus and
According to editor turned Christian campaigner John Dayal,
the anti-Christian violence between August 24-Ocober 2, 2008
had the following toll:
Districts hit 14
Villagers destroyed 300
Houses burnt 4,300
People murdered 57
Fathers, pastors or nuns injured 10
Women gang-raped 2
Churches destroyed 149
Schools, colleges destroyed 13
Districts devastated 4
Churches attacked 19
Nuns, women injured 20
Churches damaged 3
Churches damaged 4
Churches destroyed 1
Attempts made 4
Churches attacked 1
Murdered 2 (aged priest and employee)
First published (in a slightly differing version) in Goa
Today, December 2008 issue.