Saturday, April 14, 2018

More Indian or more Christian?


Not unlike the Muslim communities in India, Christians in the country are also victim to a persistent questioning of their patriotism. While this suspicion of Christian groups has been a fact since the formation of the Indian state in 1947, this issue has gained in dimension with the election to power of the Modi government which has not only emboldened Hindu nationalist groups to dismiss all actions and ideas that fail to conform to the aims of Hindu nationalist groups as unpatriotic but has in fact led to increasing anti-Catholic violence perpetrated by these groups in various parts of India, but especially in Central India. It seems that this crisis facing Christians in India was very much on the mind of Cardinal Oswald Gracias when speaking at the conference of Latin rite bishops held in Bangalore in February this year, he reportedly said, “The Catholic Church needs our nation, and India needs the Church. We will be discussing our role as Indian Christians and asking our people, [sic] also to become better Indian Christians. This is the call of today to be fully Indian fully Christian”.

While appreciative of the delicate position that the Catholic hierarchy in India finds itself in, the Cardinal’s position will only drag us in deeper into the mess that contemporary India is devolving into. In making statements such as that of the Cardinal, the bishops are making a profound analytical mistake, not dissimilar to that made by the European Jews from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. Assuming that it was their external difference from Christian Europeans that was the reason for anti-semitic hostility, sections of the Jews began to give up their distinctive dress, customs, and sometimes religion, to try and fit, or assimilate, into the mainstream. As the tragic consequences of the World War II demonstrate, this did not stop them from being demonized across Europe, and eventually meeting their end largely through the efforts of Nazi Germany. A similar mistake by the Catholic leadership in India could have serious consequences for Christians across the country.

The call to “be fully Indian fully Christian” offers two suggestions. First, that Indian Christians are not as yet fully Indian, and secondly, that it is possible to identify what it means to be fully Indian, and then meet those goals. The first suggestion in fact plays directly into the hands of Hindu nationalists of all shades, who suggest either explicitly or subtly that, given Christianity’s foreign origins, Christians in India are not authentically Indian. That this claim is recognized by Christians themselves can be seen in a variety of cultural interventions that purport to be forms of inculturation. In this context it is worth bearing in mind that the attempt to become "Hindu-Christian" by some theologians, is in fact identical to the requirement that the RSS places on all Muslims and Christians in India - that they be Hindu-Muslims and Hindu-Christians, positing Hinduism (understood exclusively in its upper-caste brahmanical forms) as the base culture of India.

It is the second suggestion that requires more work to deal with. The recommendation that Catholics in India should be more Indian and more Christian, seems to suggest that Indian-ness is capable of being objectively determined. This is not a sound appreciation of reality. There is a mountain of scientific research that points to the fact that the unspoken ideal subject of Indian nationalism is the upper-caste (North) Indian Hindu male. Such research points out how even Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings demonstrate an unconscious bias of Hindu-ness as the underlying theme of Indian-ness.  It is these men, regardless of whether they are Hindu nationalists, or secular Hindus, who define, and have been defining, what Indian-ness means. Bluntly put, given that Christians in India are not in the position of defining what Indian-ness means, there is simply no way in which we will ever be able to approximate the ideals of Indian-ness set by Indian nationalists of any hue.

What killed the Jews of Europe is similar to what threatens all non-Hindu communities in India today, the growth of nationalism. The problem with most popular analyses of nationalism is that they do not recognize the difference between the concepts of the nation, and the state. These are two distinct concepts that have been clubbed together. The distinction between the two is perhaps best captured in Hannah Arendt’s pithy observation of “the conquest of the state by the nation”.  In her perspective nationalism transformed the modern state, from an organ which would execute the rule of law for all its citizens and residents, into the nation-state, an instrument of the nation alone. Modern nationalism is inherently a divisive force, identifying religion, ethnicity, or language as the basis of the nation, and in this process inevitably excluding groups within the state, or creating hatred of those without. In this context it is worth noting that social groups do not naturally exist as minorities; they are actively created, or minoritized through conscious exclusion. That this exclusion is an inevitable aspect of nationalism is made obvious in the fact that the only way secular liberal nationalisms across the world can think of the relationship with minority groups is that of “tolerance”. Not love, but tolerance.

In many ways, nationalism is a theology, which articulates a mystical relationship between the national-citizen and the nation constructed as deity. It is when we recognize the theological nature of modern nationalism, and the nation-state that perhaps we will become aware that there cannot be a compromise between nationalism and the Christian calling. In this context, Archbishop Macwan was right in the phrasing of the pastoral letter for which he was pilloried. Catholics have a religious obligation to ensure that nationalists do not take over the state. 

Fortunately Catholics in India are not called to make a dramatic choice. The Christian call to universalism, one that recognizes neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28), can ensure that Christians are more than able to participate to the benefit of the state, but refuse to cooperate in the sectarian projects of contemporary nationalism. There is of course no need for Catholic leadership in India to actively proclaim a refusal to participate in nationalist projects, this would be a fool-hardy venture in the current climate. But there is similarly no need for us to contribute to nationalist rhetoric by asking that we become “more Indian”. Our call is to be more Christian, loving all without distinction.

(A version of this post was first published on UCA News on 13 Apr 2018)





Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Os perigos de abraçar a Índia


Desde a visita do primeiro-ministro António Costa à Índia, em Janeiro de 2017, e da recente vinda do primeiro-ministro indiano Narendra Modi a Lisboa, têm surgido vários discursos celebratórios sobre a efetiva aproximação entre os dois países.

À superfície, estes discursos parecem trazer consigo a promessa de fortes e mutuamente respeitosas relações pós-coloniais. A realidade, porém, é bem mais inquietante. As novas relações que Portugal está a forjar com esta potência regional demonstram um profundo desconhecimento da natureza do Estado indiano. A antropóloga Shalini Randeria cunhou o termo ‘cunning state’ [Estado astuto] para definir a natureza da Índia, ou seja, a de um Estado que utiliza acontecimentos internacionais para fortalecer o seu poder tanto interna como externamente. De facto, a Índia, enquanto Estado astuto, manipulou Portugal e o seu primeiro-ministro, afirmando uma duvidosa e racializada leitura da história do subcontinente asiático, estrategicamente pensada para abrir caminho a uma nova ordem internacional — de carácter neo-colonial — que a Índia espera impor.

O desejo de se afirmar no plano global é uma ação legítima por parte de qualquer Estado. Mas a forma como a Índia opera é, por várias razões, altamente problemática. Uma análise cuidada da concessão do estatuto de Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) — Cidadão Ultramarino da Índia, um estatuto em princípio aberto a todos os estrangeiros com antepassados dentro das fronteiras da India actual — ilustra bem esta questão.
 
De facto, uma das principais razões para a recente visita de Costa à Índia foi este presidir ao 14.º Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Dia do Indiano no Exterior). Portugal cometeu o enorme equivoco de tratar este convite como uma oportunidade para obter acesso ao tão desejado mercado indiano. Muito pelo contrário, este convite foi um cavalo de Tróia deixado pela Índia em Portugal.  

O aspeto que deveria ter agitado o establishment diplomático português ao permitir que o primeiro-ministro português seja reconhecido como OCI é deixar a Índia determinar a natureza das relações diplomáticas entre os dois países. A Índia reivindicou Costa, um homem que se tornou primeiro-ministro sem qualquer apoio do Estado Indiano, e desta maneira definiu a identidade do mais alto representante de um Estado estrangeiro.

É óbvio que a Índia atingiu este objectivo em parte devido ao apoio das estruturas racializadas que continuam a dominar a cena internacional e onde Portugal, apesar de ser um membro da UE, continua a ser um país semi-periférico. Por estas razões, a relação entre os dois países está longe de ser uma interacção entre iguais, tendo a Índia uma larga vantagem. É compreensível que num contexto de dificuldades económicas graves os empresários portugueses lutem por acesso ao mercado indiano. Porém, o Governo português deveria ponderar se para isto valerá a pena comprometer a dignidade do Estado e, mais importante ainda, os direitos dos seus cidadãos.

A comprovar a astúcia do Estado Indiano, o estatuto de OCI não concede quaisquer direitos de cidadania de facto; trata-se, apenas, de um visto permanente. Na realidade, apesar de as únicas restrições conhecidas aos OCIs serem apenas as proibições de votar e a compra de propriedade agrícola, vários incidentes demonstram que existem diversas outras restrições ocultas, apenas referidas quando da conveniência do Estado indiano. O maior problema, contudo, reside no facto de o regime de OCI se basear em preconceitos raciais e sectários. (Sendo racismo a identificação de grupos de indivíduos como uma raça, grupo étnico ou religioso e a atribuição de características indeléveis a estes mesmos grupos). Desde logo, porque reforça o preconceito anti-muçulmano do Estado indiano, visto que o OCI não é extensível a pessoas com ligações familiares ao Paquistão e ao Bangladesh. Mais, com a actual política de OCI, a Índia define efectivamente os seus cidadãos através de uma perspectiva étnico-racial em vez de uma perspectiva legal. Por exemplo, os antepassados de Costa nunca foram indianos. Eram cidadãos portugueses e goeses, sendo que o Estado indiano só emergiu em 1947. Identificar os antepassados de Costa como indianos seria classifica-los do ponto de vista racial. Desta forma, o Estado indiano pretende revindicar como indiano qualquer pessoa que provenha do subcontinente em qualquer altura da história, apagando desta maneira todas as especificidades das diversas identidades sul-asiáticas e agrupando-as numa homogénea e racializada “identidade Indiana”. Isto ao mesmo tempo que pretende consolidar um nacionalismo cultural bramânico que exclui indivíduos que não pertencem às castas dominantes hindus e ignorando deliberadamente os direitos políticos de uma grande parte da população e de uma forma profundamente sectária.

Assim, quando Costa se afirma orgulhoso da sua identidade indiana, o que está efectivamente a fazer é ser cúmplice de um regime racialista e neo-colonial. Uma acção que tem consequências múltiplas, não só na Índia, mas também em Portugal.

Desde logo, esta postura do Governo de Portugal compromete a identidade dos seus cidadãos com ligações ao Sul da Ásia que se ressentem ao ser identificados como “indianos”. Este rótulo opera efectivamente de forma racialista, pois não só nega a esses cidadãos a sua identidade portuguesa como também ignora as especificidades das suas múltiplas identidades sociais. Esse é o caso dos vários grupos cujos antepassados deixaram o Gujarate e se estabeleceram na África portuguesa durante gerações, chegando a Portugal como retornados e portugueses. A mesma questão se coloca com os goeses, damanenses e diuenses. Para estas pessoas seria crucial poderem ser reconhecidas socialmente como portugueses — embora distinguindo as suas identidades sociais específicas — em vez de serem agrupados indiferenciadamente numa categoria racial única. Esperava-se que o corpo diplomático português que aconselha o primeiro-ministro tivesse sido capaz de tomar devida nota destas nuances sociais.

Mas a natureza racializada das relações luso-indianas não termina com a manipulação da identidade de Costa por parte da Índia. Portugal tem tido também um papel ativo neste jogo, perpetuando uma tradição colonial e luso-tropicalista, ao oferecer o seu “privilegiado entendimento” de África aos seus potenciais parceiros indianos, sabendo que a presença indiana em África tem dimensões neo-coloniais.

A escolha de um modus operandi mais ético na sua relação com a Índia, ao mesmo tempo enfrentando os complexos problemas que ensombram esta relação, daria a Portugal base para um entendimento mais honesto e possivelmente mais duradouro entre os dois países.

Um dos obstáculos a uma feliz convivência entre os dois países é sem dúvida a relação de Portugal com os seus antigos territórios no subcontinente, especialmente Goa. Esta difícil relação deve-se em grande parte aos distúrbios criados por parte de nacionalistas hindus ativos em Goa. É frequente ouvir-se os diplomatas portugueses na Índia mencionarem em privado que historicamente a razão para a ineficácia das relações entre Portugal e a Índia se deve ao Governo de Goa e a certos segmentos da sociedade local. Segundo os mesmos, as relações com o governo central são, pelo contrário, de grande cordialidade. Esta lógica poderá ter sido uma das razões que levou a diplomacia portuguesa a querer fundar uma nova relação com a Índia, pondo de lado as raízes do passado. Operando como Estado astuto, o governo central indiano reivindica completa impotência perante eventos “anti-portugueses” em Goa, precisamente por não ter nenhum interesse em pôr fim a este tipo de manifestações naquele território. Isto porque a retórica dos nacionalistas hindus em Goa não é mais do que uma extensão lógica do nacionalismo cultural através do qual a Índia continua a impor uma certa identidade nacional.

Pelo facto de assentar num nacionalismo cultural, em lugar de num nacionalismo político, a construção da identidade nacional indiana sempre foi marcada por ideias de inimigos externos e internos. Por esta razão, também, a presença portuguesa será sempre vista com suspeita, e a história portuguesa no subcontinente sempre disponível para ser recordada de acordo com a conveniência dos interlocutores e a obvia desvantagem dos investidores portugueses na Índia. Dado o poder que o governo central indiano tem sobre os seus estados, especialmente quando o mesmo partido governa tanto a nível nacional como regional, a invariável alegação de impotência para intervir na situação de Goa deve ser vista com grande cepticismo. Desempenhando o papel de Estado astuto, a Índia permite e incentiva o florescimento de alguma instabilidade regional, porque a mesma lhe traz vantagens na sua estratégia geo-política mais alargada.

Uma política externa que reconheça a natureza do Estado indiano permitiria a Portugal perceber que abandonar o passado português no subcontinente nunca poderá gerar uma relação madura e equitativa com a Índia. Na verdade, é no confronto das questões relacionadas com o fim do Estado da Índia Portuguesa, como a maneira em que o Estado indiano nega aos residentes destes antigos territórios a dupla nacionalidade, que Portugal poderá construir uma relação honesta com a Índia, cumprir com as suas obrigações enquanto descolonizador, confrontar os seus desejos neo-colonialistas que ensombram a sua relação com os PALOP e, ao mesmo tempo, enfrentar os complexos desafios raciais que estão longe de estar resolvidos em Portugal.

(Este post foi publicado como Opinião no Publico no 5 Jan 2018)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Cure for Foolishness




When I first encountered this work by Navelcar I knew, because of earlier conversations with the artist, that these two lines of calligraphy were not some orientalist scribbling. The artist had shared with me that, as a boy, he had learned to read and write Urdu from a Catholic teacher in the neighbouring village of Aldona. Given my own inability to read Urdu, I turned the image over to friends on social media who revealed that the script was, in fact, Arabic. At this point differences emerged in interpretation. One friend argued that it looked like the work of someone practicing to write in Arabic, with the first line marked by errors and the second correcting those errors. This explanation made sense, since the artist has eschewed a title for this piece. A second appraisal of the text suggested that both lines were actually the same, just written in slightly different styles. “The difference lies in a slight variation in the cursive ‘h’, the ‘lā’ and the hamza...,” my friend offered. Both assessments were clear in their estimation, however, that the text before us captures the Arabic proverb “Alhamaq da' la dawa' lahu.” This translates to: “Foolishness/stupidity is a disease that has no cure/treatment.” The language and the choice of proverb with which to practice his calligraphic skills reveal interesting dimensions of the artist’s personality. 

Asked to write a curatorial essay for an exhibition in Hyderabad of the works of Goan artists in 2015, I encountered the sheer diversity of global experiences that animate their works. Taking cue from the erstwhile authoritarian Estado Novo’s proclamation: “Portugal não é um país pequeno” (Portugal is not a small country), and choosing to subvert it, my essay notes that “Goa is not a small country.” Having lived through the Estado Novo and traversed the pluri-continental Portuguese world, it is my suspicion that Navelcar, whose art bears the influence of these experiences, would agree with my reframing of the Salazarist claim.

Subsequent to Goa’s legal disconnection from the Portuguese world due to the annexation of the territory by the Indian Union in 1961, Goan identity has been reformulated by Indian nationalists to reflect a narrower character. Following the national lead, itself obsessed with brahmanical origins, Goan elites have crafted a local identity that is focussed on an imagined Sanskritic past, when in fact Goan culture is knit from heterogeneous strands. Navelcar’s efforts in this untitled piece counter this Indian nationalist tendency, demonstrating instead the centuries-old, and continuing, connections between Goans and the larger Indian Ocean world within which they are situated.

The ties between Goans and Arabs predate the migration of the former to the Gulf states as a result of the economic boom of the 1950s. The eastern coastline of the Arabian Sea was frequented by Arab traders even prior to the latter’s conversion to Islam. For example, the myths associated with the figure of Cheraman Perumal, the Chera ruler of the territories  that now constitute contemporary Kerala, evidence this ancient proximity. In one myth, the ruler, a contemporary of the Prophet Mohammed, witnessed the splitting of the moon. On learning from visiting Arab traders of a similar event involving the Prophet, Perumal is reported to have renounced his kingdom, travelled to Mecca, and converted to Islam. In the context of such exchange, one could enquire whether Navelcar’s present work operates as a suggestion of the “stupidity” or “foolishness” of contemporary identity-framers who tether Goan identity to a Sanskritic one alone, while obscuring the various pluri-continental strands that have and continue to constitute Goan identities.

Further, Arabic is not a language internal to Goan heritage alone. It is also inherent to the other spaces through which this exhibition tracks the journey of Navelcar: Portugal and Mozambique. Arabic was an Iberian language prior to the establishment of the Frankish kingdom of Portugal. As such, a reconnection with the language is critical to the future of Portugal if it is to move away from those historiographies of the country that are racialized and parochial. Being part of the Swahili coast, Arabic similarly maintains a visceral presence in parts of Mozambique. It turns out, therefore, that Arabic is not as alien to Navelcar’s world as it might first appear. Thereupon, his artistic practice could be viewed as a challenge to the postcolonial nationalisms that besiege the various locations in his world: Goa, Portugal, and Mozambique.

If such is the artist’s intent, then Navelcar’s choice of idiom, and his practice at perfecting his Arabic calligraphic skill, suggest that there is in fact a cure for foolishness. The remedy lies in the opening of one’s self to the larger world. Foolishness, after all, is not so much a naturally existing state, but a stubborn refusal to see the world as it is.

(A version of this text was first published in the catalogue organised by R. Benedito Ferrao that accompanies the exhibition 'Goa / Portugal / Mozambique - The Many Lives of Vamona Navelcar' organised by the Al-Zulaij Collective, at the Fundação Oriente India from 12 Dec 2017 - 12 Jan 2018.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Of Catholics in Goa, Germany, and Fascisms



Two recent statements, one by BJP’s Goa spokesperson Nilesh Cabral, and the other by the IT Minister Rohan Khaunte, should chill Goans concerned about the health of the Goan polity. This is because it signals that critique of the government will not be tolerated by the present establishment, neither by the ruling party, nor by those supporting it. The suppression, or lack of tolerance for dissent, is the sure sign of a polity well on the road to fascism.
Khaunte’s argument was that Goans abroad seemed to have more to say about the dismal state of Goan politics than persons in the state. He subsequently clarified that his reproach to Goans criticising the Government was limited to those “who have given up Indian citizenship and have lost their love for Goa”. As I have elaborated out elsewhere, it should be noted that Goans who have given up Indian citizenship have not done so voluntarily. Rather, they have been forced to do so by the Indian state which fails to recognise that Goans have a long history of Portuguese citizenship, and refuses to allow them to enjoy these older rights without giving up Indian citizenship. A concern for nuance and truth backed by a modicum of basic historical awareness is not, however, something that seems to bother these elected representatives.

This fact was amply demonstrated in Nilesh Cabral’s ridiculous suggestions when responding to the article published in the Renovacão prior to the by-elections in Pangim and Valpoi.  Cabral is reported to have suggested that Nazi-era Germany was 90 to 100 per cent Catholic, and that Nazism was supported by the Catholic Church. In a stronger democracy, where the statements of elected representatives are held to account, Cabral would have been laughed out of the room, and even probably asked to resign his position not only for misrepresentation, but for statements intended to provoke mischief. But then India has long stopped being a democracy one can take seriously.

St. Maximilian Kolbe,
martyred by the Nazi regime
A basic familiarity with the history of Christianity will demonstrate that the territories that would eventually come together as Germany have had a problematic relationship with Catholicism. It was in Wittenberg, now in Germany but then within the ambit of the Holy Roman Empire, that Martin Luther, at the time also a Catholic, commenced his critique of the Catholic Church. This act led to a series of incidents culminating with warfare within the Empire. The consequent Peace of Augsburg (1555) made peace between Catholic and Protestant princes, compelling subjects to follow the faith of the ruler. The Empire was no longer a single Catholic bloc.

A united Germany was only formed in 1871 when Otto von Bismarck, the Minister President of the kingdom of Prussia, declared King Wilhelm I of Prussia also King of Germany. Bismarck, who was Chancellor of this new German empire, had a relationship with the Catholic Church which was far from amicable. Politicians like Bismarck, who sought to build strong nation-states with power over all society, saw the assertions of the Catholic Church, which not only raised moral objections to the claims of the nation-states but also offered alternative ways in which to view the world and create socio-political communities, as a hindrance to their plans. It should be pointed out that, just as in Goa, Catholics formed a small (approximately 35 %) but dominant minority within the German empire. Bismarck thus, aided the Kulturkampf (1871–78), an attack on the Catholic Church and community in Germany, which presented German Catholics as the internal enemy to the incipient German nation.

It is in the context of the Kulturkampf, and the manner in which the state asserted a right to control education, that a Concordat was signed between the Vatican, represented by Cardinal Pacelli (later to be
Pope Pius XII) and the Nazi regime in 1933. The Concordat which demarcated the rights and powers between the two entities allowed for the Catholic Church to have control over the management of the affairs of the church. It is largely this Concordat that lies at the heart of accusations that the Catholic Church supported the Nazi regime. 

While not excusing the manner in which many groups (Catholic and Protestant) that offered resistance to the Nazi regime were effectively abandoned by the Vatican’s policy to obtain the Concordat, one needs to recognise that the Vatican does not represent the entirety of the Catholic community in any region. This community includes the Catholic hierarchy in the region, the clergy, religious groups, and various communities and groups of individuals who confess Catholicism. The Catholics in any one territory, therefore, are composed of multiple groups and it is this complexity that one needs to recognise when making charges against “Catholics”. Shifting our understanding of the term “Catholics” from a monolithically represented community and recognising the diversity within this group allows us to see that, while there were Catholic supporters of the Nazi regime, both clerical and lay, the hierarchy of bishops in Germany were not only wary but also offered resistance to the regime, as did many other Catholics, both as individuals and groups. The Vatican itself, notably through the voice of Pius XI in his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (1937), raised concerns about the manner in which the Nazi regime was violating the Concordat, as well as raised moral objections to the regime’s discourse and practice. The Nazi regime itself continued the earlier German state’s hostility to the Catholic Church.

To accuse the Catholic Church, and Catholics, of supporting Nazism in such a context is to make a statement that is irresponsible and
erroneous. In many ways, the article in the Renovacão, as well as the decision by its editorial body to print the article, is similar to the opposition of the Catholic hierarchy and laity to German fascism. For this heroism in continuing to speak truth to power, Catholics and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Goa need to be commended and one hopes that they will continue this opposition by coupling it with deeper philosophical and historical insight.

This insight may also point out the ecclesiastical errors committed in Nazi Germany that could be avoided here. More recently the Archbishop Patriarch of Goa is alleged to have acknowledged that the role of the ecclesiastical authorities dealing with the contested sales of various properties, especially that on the island of Vanxim, while morally wrong, was legally correct. Such a response smacks of the same kind of positivist and legalistic thinking that guided the Curia and Cardinal Pacelli in the conclusion of the Concordat with Germany. It also runs counter to the ideal leadership that has systematically been demonstrated by Pope Francis in recent times. All too often, the Catholic faithful are reminded that we must be careful in our critiques of members and leaders of the Catholic community because it only strengthens the hands of the enemy. This is true. As such, it is doubly binding on the leadership to examine their own behaviour, even as they continue to be the voice of truth in a polluted polity.


(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 19 Sep 2017)