True Grit

By Dr Oscar Rebelo
20 May 2011 22:17 IST

Historians, Lusophiles, Indiophiles and other sundry opinion makers, always debate heatedly, the legacy of the Portuguese, on post liberation Goa.

The religious conversions, the suppression of civil liberties, the infamous Inquisition, the choking out of local culture are all the “evil behemoths” that  the Portuguese rule is always associated with. Arguably, all these dogmas can be contested.

But, the one enduring legacy of the Portuguese that remains unchallenged for the  sheer scale of it’s “ screw Goa  forever “ canvas are the horrendous mining leases that have been thrust upon our fragile ecosystem for perpetuity.

For the last 50 years, successive Governments and indeed people have beaten their collective breasts and wailed about the issues of language, culture and religion bequeathed to us by the Portuguese.

And somehow, their most destructive legacy, the mining leases, defended and glorified by the powerful mining lobby and their puppet CMs has always slipped under the radar and we accepted it as a way of life.

Until now, that is.

The brutal, cowardly and ruthless attack on Nilesh Gaonkar, an anti mining activist all of 23 years old and earlier on his colleague Tulsidas Velip from Caurem is evidence enough that the mining mafia, hitherto speeding along smoothly on the Highway of Hell is encountering serious speed breakers on the way.

Nilesh Gaonkar is of course, a sincere, soft spoken and committed voice of his people – a people on the verge of near genocide at the hands of the mining machine. You won’t  spot him on page3, or at cocktail parties or hear eloquent speeches from him. You most certainly won’t see him being nominated for man of the year anytime soon, but he is the type of youth leader who’ll give it his all to fight a Goliath out to slaughter him and his people and oh yeas he fights not just for his picturesque little carvem. He indirectly also fights for you and for me. For our water, for our air and for our peace of mind.

The assault was so reprehensible that it even  provoked a response from our wishy washy,  playing all sides, hypocritical Chief Miner,  oops Minister(CM) himself.

The firm assurance  by Aditya Arya, the new DGP to track down the culprits must be appreciated and he must be held to his word.

But the most interesting riposte on this ungainly incident was the one by Shivanand Salgaonkar, a mining magnate himself. He appealed for a dialogue and consensus    between the two warring groups and condemned the violence roundly  and unequivocally.  So far so Good.

It however can’t stop at this.  The onus of putting in place a sensible mining policy for the state must be on the mining industry itself.  This sheer madness of disemboweling the Western Ghats with such furious insanity must be brought to heel immediately and urgently.

The solutions must come from the mining magnates  themselves. They have all the clout, the muscle and the money to squeeze the powers that be to rescue Goa form this self annihilation.

From reforestation, to green initiatives.  From converting our forests in to tourism related national parks to investments in farming and other sustainable occupations the disgraced mining industry must work and interact with the local  communities to somehow turn  the clock and minimize damage to Goa’s ecosystem without harming the economic progress in Goa’s  interiors. This is a challenge, this is difficult but it must be done.

The choice of being men of steel or to rot in a heap of rust of Goa’s history will surely be their own personal choice.

Because the Nilesh Gaonkars of our world are not going away, anywhere, anytime soon.  They will multiply, they will reinforce and they jolly well will fight back,  hard and strong. ( And labelling people “ Naxalites “ now a days is  slowly going out fashion).

The two contrasting pictures in this titanic struggle between the pro and anti mining lobbies was best illustrated in Paul Fernandes report in the TOI recently.

On the one hand we have Shashi  Kumar the conservator of Forests with the obvious tacit backing of our happy go lucky Chief Miner (C.M) handing out 39 mining licenses  in reserved forest areas to the syndicate as if  they are clowns in uniform distributing candy at an amusement  park.

And on the other hand we have doyens like Claude Alvares and Prof Madhav Gadgil girding their loins to take this scandal to the cleaners and the courts. We  always remain indebted to them. We hope they will win.

Sadly most of the other  gladiators  and legionnaires, firmly opposed to this disgrace of rampant mining are busy  fighting their own cultural battles on another front.

The English and Konkani / Marathi divisions of Goa’s Army set up to stop the sacrilege inflicted on our land are busy biting in to one another’s throats and viciously bleeding one another dry.  Quelle tragedie !!

You know, in these reverse biblical times, we live in now, the script has changed drastically.  The Goliaths of our world steamroll and crush the Davids in our midst with all their power, their arrogance and their brutality.

But it remains our bounden and sacred duty as ordinary citizens, to always stand by the Davids ( Nilesh Gaonkar and his ilk )  of our  Goa – No matter the consequences.

Because after all David is forever noble, he is good and he is pure and we must believe constantly, that someday  somehow the sling shot will find its target.


Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Dr Oscar Rebelo

Dr Oscar Rebelo is one of the leading social activist of Goa and a practicing doctor. He led the historic peoples’ movement in 2006-07 to get the anti-Goa Regional Plan scrapped and save Goa from total destruction of Goa’s ecology and natural beauty. He is a Goa-based leader of Aam Aadmi Party. He is also a columnist.

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