The Silenced Past and the Sancoale Question

The question of caste is related to temple privilege, marriage, employment, and even inheritance. These relations did not remain static . They changed as caste identities negotiated changed social , economic and political situations. The encounter with the colonizers brought about a remarkable change in these relations. This means the complex dynamism of caste identities is located in a cross-currents of the history of social conflicts and struggles of self-making . Temple did play vital role in the formation of these caste identities. History as well as historiography of the temple indicate temples as cites of resistance of the upper caste to the colonizer and which also portrays itself as a victim of loss in the post-colonial Goa. This portrayal again suppresses the role and the space of the lower castes in these temples , while doubling us today particularly in conflict with the Catholic brethren as spaces of loss under conversion of the entire Hindu community. Perhaps, we have to enter these layers when we respond to the crafty and malicious controversy brewing in Sancoale which unfortunately threatens to disturb the peace of our society.

Temples as site of political resistance to conversion and colonization can be seen in the transfer of the deities to new sites not under the control of the colonizers during the colonial era. At the time of the conversion the village ganvkars , it appears that some of them resisted conversion and exited their villages with the deities while others raised their temple to the ground and often made way for the church for themselves as neo-converts. Thus, the church building substituted the role of the temple in building new identities as Catholics and made room for different caste groups through the formation of Confraternities and celebrations of feasts which can be traced in some of the churches even today and often operate as cites of caste assertion. Thus, modes of worship got stained by castes both in the temples as well as the church. There is more to the politics in the temple. The 19th century saw efforts of transformation of the gramdevtas into kuladevtas. As the ganvkaria were weaken by the Portuguese, the temples that were self-regulating also received a jolt and a Goan elite upper caste saw an opportunity and took control over the administration of the temple to the patronage of the rulers. Thus, the mahajans who were mere managers of the temples became owners of the temple using colonial power and law and temples become private institutions. This appears to be the climax of the process of Sanskritization which begun with the integration of our local deities into the pantheon of the upper castes. Thus, local gods who were born again with these Sanskritization and local indigenous believers were also transformed as Hindus embracing a pan-Indian monolithic identity.

The controversy in Sancoale does open the can of worms, particularly about writing of history and making of history in Goa. It can show how the elite laid claims over the ancient past in their encounter with the with the then colonial present. It also shows that history is repeating once again when the new elite is trying to lay its claim over the colonial past in our post-colonial present. History was employed in late colonial times to self-represent and validate identities. The present conflict appears to be also bound to this complex politics of identity. Elites in both cases were/ are marginalizing the weak. In the colonial days it was the lower castes who were marginalized , today it is the Catholic community. In all this we can discern that there appears to be a silencing of the history of the people of Sancoale.

The reining narrative simplifies the history of the ganvkaria and its temples. It arrests the history of transformation of gramdevi into kuldevi and subsequent privatization of the temples when it subsumes this complexity of the history and politics of temple as loss of the entire Hindu community. Perhaps the local deity was sanskritized before the advent of the Portuguese and the event of conversion of the ganvkars of sancoale. It might have gone into other stages of transformations later. It is likely that it transformed from gramdevi to kuldevi in its new site in Keri. Thus, the present controversy glosses over bundles of silences. This silences when heard will open the politics of temple reining in Goa today. The silences that afflict the history of Goa are not just the past of the lower caste, they are also silence about the humiliation of the upper castes in Mumbai and Pune by the so called dominant brahmins there who did not recognize the brahminhood of Goan elites working in Bombay Presidency at that time. These crucial event is said to have brought about unification of castes that we do know as GSBs. Besides, the patronage and economic opportunities received by the upper caste who went to form most of the big business houses of Goa are also largely silentified.

History that is kept under wraps can come to light and villains and heroes of our past can come to light. The complexities of the past and the construction of a monolith Hindu community undergirds the present conflict at Sancoale which even silences the history of conversion, existence of a ruins of the Church when it claims that the present façade as the façade of the temple and not that of a Church. These silences are indeed deliberate and political. Hence, the erasure of the real history of Sancoale appears to be deeply motivated. This is why the challenge is to articulate and assert this real past and thus resist the past that is recast and poses as victim of colonial past and neglect of the post-colonial Government. The arrested past that remains without voice seems to have arrested our minds and lives. This arrest of thought has continued the oppression of the colonizers through the mediation of the elite upper caste today. Often on the religious front, the lower castes are deployed as the foot solider of the defence of this exploitation. Hence, for the sake of Goa, Goans and Goan-ess, we Goans of all walks of life have a challenge to re-visit the narratives of history written for us by the upper caste and bring forth the silenced histories that include struggle of self-making of the lower castes.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao