It is Sunday evening and the sun is still quite high in the sky. A group of senior citizens sits at the corner of a beach. They can’t go any further as a hotel has blocked access to the rest of the sandy shore. Once upon a time, in their youth, these men had played football on the sand and drew the ramponn bringing in fish they sold making their living off the sea and its resources. Today the beach is off limits and the fish have disappeared from the sea. Further inland, an elderly woman hesitates to speak to her neighbor. She is unsure whether the family living in the gated complex just across from her house speaks Konkani. Most of the residents in the complex don’t know the language. When she first came to live in this area there were only trees in front of the house and she woke up to the sound of birds chirping. Today, she wakes up to the sound of car horns blowing.
In government offices a non-resident Goan lady runs around as she attempts to get justice. In her absence her parcel of land has been usurped and she gets little help and even less sympathy from indifferent administrative machinery. She has to then go to the media and get her story published before anybody takes notice. Goa has changed, unquestionably and even perhaps irrevocably. From the quiet, peaceful land where neighbors borrowed sugar, tea leaves and cooking oil, where they shared their fish, sweets and cycles, where they sat on their balcao and hailed everyone passing by, to a land where neighbors are strangers, and the only thing they share is the air they breathe.
Long years ago, when the Portuguese still ruled Goa, a Goan journalist reporting on the situation in the colony, returned to Bombay and wrote a book he titled ‘Sorrowing Lies My Land’. Today, a 100 years old, that journalist, Lambert Mascarenhas, will in a few days from now be collecting the Padma Shri Award. In a free land he has been recognized, but how much has changed from the days in the 1950s when he published his novel? Is Goa laughing today? Or is it still sorrowing? In a land where narcotics are sold openly, where gambling is legalized, where women are constantly rescued from prostitution, where fields sprout up concrete jungles, where bribes are the only way to get a file moving in a government office, can there be laughter?
There is music, the loud strident blast of the electronic version, but missing is the soft soulful sound of the guitar being played on the streets. In the villages little boys still go fishing with rods and lines, in the cities their compatriots are fishing on their electronic gaming machines. The little girls are still sweet and lovely, but the monsters that lurk are more frightening than ever and even the schools are no longer safe for our daughters. Goa is definitely not smiling. Why should it? The land is bleeding. Populated by three times more people than it was five decades ago, its green hills ravaged by indiscriminate mining, its pristine shores ruined by tourism, and the land in between a messy network of potholed roads the glaring evidence of corruption.
What has the Goan given back to his land? For centuries he lived entirely off the land but with a tender attachment to the red soil. He tilled it, sowed his food and nourished it again for another cycle of growth. But that stopped. For the last few decades the Goan has been only living off the land, exploiting it but giving nothing back. Mining, tourism and real estate, the three main industries are exploitative of the land. They use the natural resources but give the land nothing in return. It is time to curb this overexploitation. It is time the Goan wakes up from his slumber and fights for his land.
In life you don’t always get what you deserve. You get what you bargain for, what you fight for. Goa too has not got what it deserves. It deserves a better breed of politicians, a breed that will feel with their hearts, think with their minds and do with love for the land. That won’t happen unless you fight for Goa, defend your land, the land that is slowly dying for you. In any culture the children inherit from their ancestors, they are preferred when it comes to rewards. Why shouldn’t it be so with Goa? Shouldn’t jobs in government go to Goans on merit? If there are qualified and experienced Goans, shouldn’t they be given preference. Otherwise they will be forced to migrate abroad in search of the elusive job. Goans have fought many battles and won them, but the war has not ended. A single victory in a battle does not win the war.
The Goan fought for Konkani and Goa won the battle to make it’s mai bhas the state’s official language, and then won the battle to get the Indian government to include it into the VIII Schedule of the Constitution. And then? The war hadn’t ended but the soldiers slowly deserted the field and today fight among themselves. Today the battle is not about Konkani but about the script. Isn’t this, the act of dividing the people, also the work of corrupt politicians?
Another battle is looming ahead. The battle for the very survival of Goa. Not too long ago, the state wrote to the Centre and sought special status for this land. The government, then headed by Manohar Parrikar, wrote: “Over a period of time, unrestricted migration into this tiny state is threatening to make the Goans a minority in their own state. The apprehension is that by 2021 the migrant population will outnumber the local Goans.” The year 2021 is less than six years away, making the threat all the more real and alarming. But what has happened after that? Are Goans going to sit and allow themselves to be outnumbered? Are they going to only listen to the promises of the politicians and fail to act when they are broken? Isn’t this the same government that promised to move offshore casinos out of the River Mandovi?
Politicians have fooled the Goan for years. There have been promises but little or no delivery. The time to reverse that is come. Goans have to come together to save Goa. Your voice has to be heard, your demands acceded to, your aspirations fulfilled.
This article was first published in the oHeraldo