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)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

On Vandalizations and the Rule of Law

Through the month of July, Catholics in Goa were under considerable distress following a spate of vandalizations both of crosses as well as grave stones. For a while the state seemed unable to address the situation until the police identified one Francis Pereira as the perpetrator of these acts. However, if the state authorities were under the impression that this arrest would satisfy civil society in Goa, then they were sadly mistaken. Incredulous that a fifty-year-old man could single-handedly engage in so much destruction, the arrest has become the butt of jokes and caustic comment from Goan citizens.

While the state may continue to protest its bona fides and swear that they have gotten the right man, it would do well for the authorities to take stock of the situation they find themselves in where the citizenry is deeply suspicious of them. This is at least the second instance where the citizenry have refused to accept the police’s version of events. The other incident that I refer to is that of the nature of Fr. Bismarque Dias’s mysterious death. The state authorities should realise that if this popular disregard of their findings becomes a systematic pattern, then not only will they lose the confidence of the people but it will seriously impact the law and order situation in the state. Indeed, if there is one single fear that we can take away from the grave vandalization case it is of the manner in which law and order has declined in Goa. Last month, this column reflected on the instance in the village of Mercês where rather than complain to the police, locals had taken it on themselves to avenge their abuse by rowdy tourists.

The Government on the other hand seems to not take this situation where the authorities are being increasingly disregarded seriously enough. As with most things the authorities seem to have grasped the wrong end of the stick with what law and order means. While the state should be concerned with preventing crimes like the vandalization of graves, they are instead busy building up a police, or surveillance state. Thus, rather than work to ensure that the peace of society is not disturbed, they sit back and allow for provocative rhetoric to fill the air – as in the case of the recently-concluded All India Hindu Convention. Once violence erupts, the authorities delightedly step in to augment the existence of a state with greater police surveillance. Civil society should take note that a greater police presence in the state is not a panacea. Rather, the biased way in which police can function, especially when the state is under the control of problematic forces should give one pause when considering, or demanding, greater police presence on the streets. Take, for example, the actions of police forces where they have stood by silently, or joined in the violence when Muslims are attacked by Hindu mobs. This was the case not just in Gujarat in 2002, but in various cases across India. Indeed, one was witness to such a scenario in Goa itself when I 2002 police stood by while property in Fontainhas was vandalised by Hindu right wing groups.  

There is another question that emerges when civil society considers the question of the vandalizations.  In addition to demanding that the state ensure better security, another response has been to blame Hindu nationalist groups, in particular the forces behind the All India Hindu Convention. While there is no doubt that greater state scrutiny is required of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, one should be careful to not blame the group for the violence without investigation. There are a plethora of Hindu nationalist groups, and not all of them are necessarily working with each other, even though they may all be working towards a common goal of a Hindu state. These groups are also working to undermine the strength of groups they see as being too soft, some groups demand deference because they have been around for longer are more established, and led by upper caste leaders. Thus, what is required is that, rather than wild allegations, we demand that a serious investigation be carried out by the state authorities and appropriate actions be taken. In this context, it falls on political parties that do not have representation in the legislature, but have ambitions of getting there, to take leadership. Political parties like the AAP or the Communists have funds and personnel and they ideally ought to direct these funds and personnel towards ensuring that the procedures and rule of law are followed. They should hire lawyers, and other professionals as needed, and ensure that there is a systematic follow-up. What I am arguing for, is that especially at a time when the rule of law, and the institutions that secure it, are collapsing we need to work harder to ensure that procedures are followed, and there is a firm focus on institution building.

What would be the appropriate response to these vandalizations? Catholics, and others concerned, should also be aware that these acts are possibly being carried out to gauge the responses of the public. If such is the case, responding with vigilante action would be devastating. Concerned groups need to do all they can to avoid emotional responses and insist that the state do its job. What we need at this point in time, where the state is actively abandoning its role as the upholder of law is to commit ourselves to a greater investment in institution building. What needs to be understood is that the Hindu right thrives precisely on the collapse of the secular state. We need to stem this collapse by a commitment to institution building and a respect for the due process of law.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 25 July 2017)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why don’t you see Fascism?

The bye-elections to select the representative for the city of Panjim are being seen as critical given that it will determine if the BJP-led coalition will continue to govern Goa, and will also determine the career of the BJP candidate Manohar Parrikar. It is for this reason, therefore, that most people are on edge and apprehensive about the outcome. Some of the tensions involved in this election were made evident in the article written by advocate F. E. Noronha and published in Renovação, the newsletter and magazine of the Archdiocese of Goa. In this article, Noronha all but urged the electorate to reject Parrikar at the polls, arguing that a Nazi-like atmosphere had arisen in Goa.

A newspaper article reported that Vijay Sardesai, leader of the Goa Forward party which is a member of the ruling coalition, dismissed this article as “hyperbole”. Sardesai is reported to have indicated that he thought the argument “a clear cut case of exaggeration. In Goa, where is the fascism? Which community is being discriminated or acted against by the state, through the state machinery?”

This report confirmed my own evaluation of the problems with the Indian polity, and the inability of elected representatives and politicians to either appreciate the nature of what exactly is at stake at this particular moment in Indian politics, or to ignore the implications in their drive to obtain political power.

To begin with is the sheer arrogance with which Sardesai dismisses Noronha’s argument. As a member of a Hindu dominant caste, Sardesai is in no position to idly dismiss others’ concerns.  How would he, who is under no threat - of life, or culture - be able to determine what is hyperbole or not? Rather than dismissing the concerns of a member of a minoritized group, he ought to have said, “yes, I hear you, and I will see what I can do to resolve this matter”. This dismissal is particularly callous given that Sardesai rose to power through the support of the many Catholic groups. 

It appears that Sardesai has either no idea how fascism actually operates, or is being disingenuous given that he has pledged his support to Manohar Parrikar’s election bid from Panjim. In any case, since Sardesai reportedly inquired which community is being discriminated against by the State, let us take him seriously and provide a response. This response will demonstrate the manner in which fascism has been growing, systematically pushing groups out of power and minoritizing them.

It needs to be noted that fascism does not emerge fully-grown, like some Athena from the head of Zeus. On the contrary, fascism grows through small, deliberate steps. One need only look at the discrimination against the Roman script of the Konkani language. Ever since 1981, when the Official Language Act (OLA) was legislated by the Congress party, the Roman script has been the target of hostility by the state-supported Nagri Konkani lobby. Not only have literary works in the Roman script been ignored for awards, these works have not even been admitted to competitions on the grounds that the Roman script is not an officially recognised script. This is the face of creeping fascism where the chief tool through which a social group, viz. that of the Bahujan Catholics, expresses itself is systematically and deliberately side-lined and suffocated. Indeed, given Sardesai’s claims of representing Goemkarponn, or Goanness, one would have expected him to take up the long-standing demand of such groups as the Dalgado Konknni Akademi, and the Romi Lipi Action Front to ensure that the Roman script is officially recognised. But this is not the only example of systematic minoritization and threat. There has been a stream of anti-Catholic abuse by persons not just from outside of Goa, like Sadhvi Saraswati, but persons within Goa such as Subash Velingkar, Uday Bhembre, with people like Naguesh Karmali having actually participated in the destruction of property as in Fontainhas in 2002. In all of these events, state governments of varying parties have literally looked on passively. One should also not forget the effective suffocation of the production of beef in the state a process initiated by the MGP in 1978.

One would have hoped that Sardesai would use his position in the ruling coalition to push forward agendas, like the official recognition of the Roman script, that will halt the systematic minoritization of various groups within Goa. However, Sardesai’s rhetoric demonstrates a troubling similarity with Hindu nationalists. Take, for example, that not only has Sardesai reportedly dismissed Noronha’s argument as hyperbole he has also dismissed “certain sections of Goan people” as being irrational. He suggests that such concerns are the result of “scepticism, pessimism among certain sections of Goan people” rather than rational opinion articulated after careful study and observation. Given that these comments were made in the context of Noronha’s article, one can safely assume that Sardesai means Catholics when he refers to “certain sections of Goan people.”

As should be obvious from the discussion above, fascism in our state is not limited to the actions of the BJP alone. Rather, it has had a long gestation period. Nevertheless, it is also true that the presence of the BJP, especially at the Centre, has allowed for the animosity towards non-Hindu groups to be asserted viciously. In this context we should take into consideration the words of the economist and former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis. Speaking in the context of the recently concluded French presidential elections Varoufakis pointed out that it was important to rally around the problematic figure of Emmanuel Macron precisely because it was critical that the racist and right-wing Marie Le Pen be defeated. Speaking to those who did not see a difference between these two problematic figures he pointed out that one needed to be aware of the implications of what happens when a “fascist, racist party” gets its “hands on the levers of the deep state, the levers of the police, and of the army.” This article will appear too late for it to have any impact on the outcome of the election to the Panjim legislatve seat. However, the larger point that needs to be made is to underline how fascism operates, and how it is, in fact, very much a threat in Goa.

(A version of this text was first published in the O Heraldo on 24 Aug 2017)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mercês, stereotypes and the broken system

A violent altercation in the village of Mercês between a busload of tourists from Maharashtra and about four residents of the village caused a stir across Goa.

There were a number of reasons why this incident garnered the attention it did. First was that the incident involved the use not merely of brute force, but of weapons including a sword, chopper and a club. Then there was the scale of the violence. The bus utilized by the tourists was also set upon by this group resulting in smashed windows and the like. And finally, as reported by the press, was the fact that it was not just men who were attacked but women and children as well.

What is interesting is that the site of the incident was considered a significant detail in the debates within Goa. As was obvious in discussions on social media, the residents of Mercês and the surrounding villages are said to be known for their violent behavior and their “goondaism”. In other words, the location was a confirmation of the guilt of the accused and the innocence of the tourists. Initial reports suggested that the four residents attacked the group of tourists over a petty incident. As it turns out, however, the tourists may not have been particularly innocent given that CCTV footage from the restaurant suggest that it was the tourists who began the altercation.

The focus on the residential identity of the perpetrators of this crime, and the manner in which the tourists were presented as innocent, demonstrates the processes of political injustice in our state. The people of Mercês and surrounding villages, just as the people of Salcete, are routinely held up as examples of rowdy and violent political behavior. Echoing the arguments of Vivek Dhareshwar and R. Srivatsan in their essay on the ‘rowdy-sheeter’, I would like to point out that the identification of the residents of these areas as rowdy elements is not innocent. Rather, it is deeply rooted in their caste, class, and religious identity. The residents of these villages tend to Catholics, not from brahmanised Catholic caste groups, former tenants of large landlords, and members of the working class. The tension in Goan politics since at least the ‘80s has been to harness the energy of these groups and make them serve the agendas of the elites, as in the case of the pro-Nagari Konkani language movement. The moment they disagree with elite opinions and seek to assert themselves, they are branded as rowdy.

The systematic and persistent denial of a voice in the formal institutions of democracy, and by extension a denigration of the rule of law ensures a rise in violent forms of protest and vigilante justice. Indeed, the incident in Mercês also assumes significance because vigilante (in)justice has come to dominate the Indian political scene. Whether it is lynching persons who are presumed to be transporting cows for slaughter, or persons who are innocent bystanders, vigilante actions seem to be a rising trend in the country.

Whether in the case of the incident in Mercês, or instances across India, vigilante actions can be traced to the fact that there is in fact a systematic destruction of institutions of law and order in the country. While the silence of the Prime Minister, and the active choices that the BJP seems to be making in nominating leaders definitely seems to have opened the flood gates of unlawful violence, it needs to be emphasized that the undermining of the institutions of justice delivery has been ongoing for decades. For example, had there been a firm commitment to the rule of law in our state, the initial altercation begun by the tourists would have been reported to the police. The locals would not have been toughs, and nor would they have taken the law into their own hands. People are encouraged to take the law into their own hands primarily because they see the organs of the state as unreliable in resolving violence, or complicit in violence.

My argument is buttressed by the fact that our Chief Minister has himself pointed to the possibility of a police-goonda nexus in the Mercês incident, only underlining the fact that the police are seen as an ineffective organ of justice delivery.Left unarticulated, however, is that the intervention of elected representatives in the functioning of the police systemis another one of the reasons for this perceived ineffectiveness. In addition to the possible police-goonda nexus, one also has the police-politician nexus, as suspected in so many cases, not least that of the rape and murder of Scarlett Keeling.

But it is not just politicians who are to blame; as many have remarked Goan society suffers from a profound lack of morality. Thus, whether politicians are the cause or the effect, the fact is that Goan society shamelessly indulges in immorality. Take, for example, the fact that a response of many Goans to the incident was that this incident would give a “further beating” to “Goa’s reputation as a tourist-friendly State”. If on the one hand the tourist in Goa is seen as an object to be used for the generation of money alone; on the other hand, under the guise of ensuring law and order the tourist is also often used as a way to destroy the guarantee of legal rights. Take, for instance, the way in which rather than address the larger issue with regard to public transport in the state, civil society groups seek to crush the taxi driver unions using the tired argument of the damage to the tourist trade. One is not concerned about rights, neither of the local, nor of the tourist. At the end of the day this cynical use of tourism only serves to further hollow out societal morality.

In various interventions in the press I have consistently pointed out that rather than being merely one way through which Goans earn money, tourism has become the raison d’etre of our existence. It is as if we exist, and Goa exists, merely to service tourists. Rather than addressing the question of rights, the issue becomes one of the impact on tourism. Even the issue of beef ban evokes responses that claim that the tourism industry will be affected. Rarely are the rights of locals to choose their diet, mentioned when criticizing the ban. The incident in Mercês should concern us not because the victims in this case were tourists, but because this incident is a demonstration of a breakdown of law and order, where both state and society systematically ignore the question of rights and justice, and people believe it is acceptable to take law into their own hands.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 27 June 2017)