Memory, History and Archival Power

A sudden declaration of loss of documentation of the acts of the then-nascent legislative assembly by our CM was indeed disturbing. Thankfully, this error was immediately corrected by the department of the legislative assembly. This simple incident does manifest the kind of archival culture that we have in our society. The archival silences sometimes can open spaces for the vested interest to push forward its gruesome agendas that may have nothing to do with real history. Archives are filled with voices but if they are silenced grave injustice can befall that society. This is why we cannot lose whatever little we have in our archive in Goa. In this regard, it is also not just to think that we cannot digitally catalogue and archive our land records just because it is too big and tedious an affair. No archive is a neutral place. It is a space of power. It allows us to hear the stories of our people. But since they are catalogued by humans, they do suffer the defect of bias. There are voices that are given prominent space as well as voices that are excluded. This means any archive is a reservoir of excesses, distortions, omissions, erasures and silences. Here we are interested in the archival silences that are being exploited by the powers that be in our society in Goa.

At the height of the debate over the proposal of the rebuilding the temples that were destroyed by the Portuguese, one Editor of an important Konkani Tv channel told me that he had approached the Department of the Archives and Archaeology to furnish him with the information as well as the plan of the Government about the temples that are going to be built. To his utter surprise, he said that the concerned department said that it had not done any study as regards the temples as well as it did not have any plan that is ready to build the same. Paradoxically, we still have 20 Crores allotted to that temple reconstruction project. Therefore, the fact that a political discourse about the rebuilding of temples was unleased in Goa, it appeared that the ruling benches and their affiliates were using the silence of the archives to disturb the communal harmony of our society for an ulterior purpose. It appears that the power elite is exploiting the archival silences to marginalize and further minoritize the minorities of Goa. Silence haunts every archive. But it can be contested by the marginalized who are rendered voiceless. In the context of Goa, it appears that the silence of the archive is compounded by the ruling benches in order to mark its difference from the moderate Hindutva of late Manohar Parrikar.

The use and abuse of the silences of the archive appear to be motivated by the drive to manufacture a social memory that positions the Hindu community as victims of the atrocities of the colonizers while minorities are projected as the villains when in reality it has little or nothing to do with the truth. Memory does not always obey reason. It becomes an inherited tradition which shapes our identity and triggers deep feelings such as love-hate, humiliation and resentments etc. This is why maybe we can trace a kind of social engineering orchestrated in Goa that is attempting to curate as well as police our memories in recent times. Issues like the Goycho Saib and the Inquisition, anti-conversion law, rebuilding of temple seems to attempt to disturb the nerve centres of social harmony in Goa. This is becoming complicated because we think that History and social memories are one and the same where facts and events are listed in a homogenous time. This reinforces the belief in the hiatus between the past, present and future. It, therefore, defines the present and the future as a space to right the wrongs of the past. Time, therefore, becomes a space for us where we enact our attempts to give a future to a broken past.

Memory has also something to do with forgetting. This is why we have to continuously reclaim our memory. It is because of this relation between memory and forgetting that vested interest attempts to manufacture our social memory for their advantage. Memory is, therefore, associated with those who wield power because it is they who decide which narratives are to be preserved, remembered and disseminated. Therefore, it is not surprising, why there is silence about the one who invited the Portuguese to fight Adilshah of Bijapur, the upper caste community that largely benefited from the colonial rule as well as those families that came out as economic powerhouses due to the beginning of mining during the Portuguese era. We may also find how the colonizer also craftily constructed silences and erasures to hide their wrongdoings. Like most places, we too face the policing and well as the manufacture of our social memories to benefit a power elite. We can certainly find painful and traumatic events of the past that linger in our collective memories. This event and painful memories need therapeutic healing. Several societies like the one in South Africa that suffered apartheid and dealt therapeutically with painful memories to usher in peace through public mutual forgiveness may show us the way.

The violence of the past is unjustifiable but it does not justify violence today. If we do not learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat the tragedies of the past. This certainly means that we end up overstepping our moral limits. This manner of dealing with the pain of the past is certainly pathological. There are no prizes for guessing who is racking up painful memories of our past and with what effect. Because several events of the past are excessively tragic any racking of them up today appears banal as one cannot capture the past without distorting it. But there is a thin line that we have to mark between memory, forgetting and silencing. We do need to choose which memories we wish to forget while staying critically aware of those forces that are trying to silence other memories. The silenced memories that are marked as unsaid, forbidden, unspeakable and shameful when repressed have a way of exploding. Therefore, we cannot truly silence the voices of the past. The same is also true, we cannot amplify them too with good effect.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao