Arrested Histories and the Arrest of our Thought and Life: The Sancoale Question

As the feast of St. Joseph Vas, the patron saint of Goan Catholics arrives , in recent days, we seem to be landing is conflict that appears to be socially and politically engineered to disturb the communal harmony of Goa. We have seen that Government and police have worked to bring peace and order and have assisted the Goan Catholics to host the feast of St. Joseph Vas joyfully and peacefully. The old Church of Sancoale whose ruins still exists in a form of façade has been pushed at the center of this craftily engineered conflict. This conflict is shaped to become an identity conflict by vested interest. Goa does have its own identity conflict. Mostly this identity conflict shaped competitively around caste and religion. Perhaps, to understand the dynamics of the present conflicted which seems to be manufactured, we have to enter Goa under the colonial era.

Caste and religion in Goa had never been frozen fossilized reality. They both evolved and metamorphized with time. Scholars today reject the notion of caste and even religion as an unchanged inheritance of the colonial past. But it has been not easy to resist the metanarratives that influenced history writing in post-colonial Goa which seems to have it roots in the late 19th century. History has been written from two opposing historiographies: Goa Dourada ( Golden Goa) and Goa Indica . Goa Dourada is accused of treating pre-Portuguese as a blank slate/ tabula rasa. The issue is a bit complex and cannot be oversimplified using these binaries because what is Goa in a pre-portuguese era was simply an island of Tiswadi and the rest of Goa was assembled under Portuguese.

Goa- indica has its own complexities too. It identifies Goa as being part of India which was also politically assembled by the British out of about 525 princely states. Portuguese having arrived 200 years ahead of British, Goa has the privilage of being older than India. Besides, this paradigm did not simply identified Goa with the then India, it is also assimilated it as being part of a the then Hindu India. Now here also we have difficulty because what we today accept a Hinduism is a catch all term and is used in hindsight to identify everything that was religious other than Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Sikhism in pre-19th century India. Hence, the need to understand the evolving dynamism of both caste, religion and our society is very urgent, important and profoundly relevant.

There is another vital aspect that we have to consider. Both the above paradigms are binarized and developed by upper casts and hence, history of Goa is blind to caste and forgets the lower castes and their histories. We in Goa are suffering this strategic silence that keeps the histories of the lower castes untold. Paradoxically, this silence also remains untold and unvoiced in academics. But it is multivocal and not mere absent. It speaks through its silence. It lies as a trace of absence in the narratives of the upper castes haunting their positioning of our collective past.

Caste did not develop in the same way, although there are some similarities. The little communities did have the possibilities of upward social mobility by embracing Catholicism. This is why we cannot simplify caste reorganization under single metanarrative. Perhaps, due to the conversion to Catholicism, Goans were provided an impetus both during colonial and post-colonial times to build identities centered around religions. Caste identities somehow got huddled under religious identities. Goa Dourada as well as Goa Indica are not free from this religious stains and layers. This is why post-colonial Goa did experience the merger with Maharastra episode or the Konkani v/s Marathi conflicts in deep way. If one takes pains to look far, we can also see that conflicts did have their caste lines.

Yet Goans have largely built a tradition of communal harmony. This means our identities whether one of being Goans, Hindus, Catholic s or other castes have their roots in colonization. The politics of today is continuing this colonial politics of Identity and puts the histories of the lowers caste under arrest or erasure. To set these arrested histories free, we have to the challenge to contest the premises of the reigning received history in Goa. This challenge to contest the received history includes unearthing the hiden teeth of the upper caste that bite our people. It is this supposed blindness of our history to caste, that keeps the privilege with the upper caste and privatizes Goan temples that do not allow entry to the lower castes into their sacto sactorum as well as economic benefits derived from the temples to the lower casts in Goa.

This means we are somehow reproducing the practices and processes of the colonial imperialists and are putting the post-colonial Goans into the same cauldron that produced competing identities in negotiation with colonial practices and processes. Only one thing has changed. The privileged locations seem to have inter-changed. If it was Catholics who were perhaps largely viewed as enjoying a privileged location in the colonial period, now we may have agree that this privilege is taken over by the Goan Hindus. But the privilege in Goa was never caste neutral. It was always enjoyed and is being enjoyed by the upper castes. This is why even today, we may have to agree that the histories of the lower castes continue to be arrested in a post-colonial Goa as our politics of identity continues to mimic the colonial one in our days.

The conflict at hand in Sancoale appears to mimics the colonial identity politics. It is only that there masters have changed. The manner it is unfolding in there, we can notice that we are facing a hybridized imperialism where our very own has become a ‘neo-colonizer’ . The new power elite is doing exactly what he/ she is accusing the colonizer from the other end of the spiral of politics of identity. Goans will give peace a change. There is no doubt about this. What we also need is to let arrested histories be made free we have to question the frozen larger identities like Hindu, Indian without losing our embrace of Goa and India. Otherwise, we shall suffer an arrest of our thought as well as life and we may spill the blood of our very own with whom we share kinship right from the time our people came and settled in place that we call with deep love Goa.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao