Need to respond to Pundalik Naik's appeal

By Maria Aurora Couto
31 May 2010 17:28 IST

Pundalik Naik was awarded the Gomantak Sharada Puraskar, the youngest writer to be so honoured. At the ceremony held at Kala Academy he spoke with passion and a unique, self deprecating humility of his emergence as a writer from days when he often tended cows and helped with menial tasks within a farming community. He recalled the lessons learnt from life and from observation of human experience which alone can create great literature. His speech was a powerful evocation of ideas and ideals and a questioning of the role of the writer in contemporary Goa. It should be published both in Konkani and in translation into English because it raised issues that need to be brought into the classroom so that our youth can participate more fully in the creation of a less corrupt, more environmentally conscious society.

My friends from other states tell me that Goa is unique in achieving some success with civil society movements that continue to strive with courage, fortitude and immense dedication to stall some of the degradation that afflicts Goa.  And yet we also have national headlines that taunt us. While NGOs are exemplary in their persistent efforts, except in a few institutions, not enough is being done by our educationists at school and university level to educate our youth into thinking on issues that impact their lives. True the competitive scene at exam level and job hunting level consumes them; yet it is imperative that students are made to confront and involve themselves with these problems for they are the voters of tomorrow, who alone may bring in some change by voting for less corrupt and self serving legislators. Should we not make our young engage with political processes that need cleansing?  

Pundalik expressed dismay at people's perceptions of writers, who are seen as having been co-opted by the establishment once they take up positions in academies run by the Government. And yet it need not be so for the true worth of an individual in public office is his ability to establish his integrity and impartial commitment to a vision irrespective of political pressures. Aruna Roy, the Magsaysay Award winner, said she spurned the IAS  because that meant supporting the status quo (both she and her husband Bunker Roy resigned from the IAS after only a couple of years to start  NGOs - Hind Mazdoor Kisan Sangathan and Tilonia in rural Rajasthan with legendary success.)

Although it is true that increasingly our services are getting co-opted and politicized this need not be the case. There were many members of Goa's elite who disapproved of my husband Alban Couto accepting the role of Advisor on Special Projects with governments that were palpably corrupt and inefficient, as also with the BJP Government whose ideology was anathema to him. Alban always was of the opinion that one can do much from within the system if one has the vision and will to fight against powerful lobbies. The JICA project was fraught with problems because of political interference but he persisted and achieved at least some if not all he had dreamt of doing "before I die" as he often said to me.  

I have seen questions in the press about the Finance Commission report presented by him in March 2008, which has yet to be discussed in the Assembly, although there was a prominent photo displayed in the media when it was presented to the Governor S.C. Jamir.  The report, said advocate Amrut Kansar, at a meeting the other day, " is the best  contribution of Mr Couto to Goa, so deep and detailed, it is an extraordinary document which should be discussed and implemented immediately." It appears to be perceived as so threatening to the status quo that it has been scandalously kept in abeyance for two years.

It seems to me that Pundalik's reflections point to the fact that those in executive positions can work and channelise their own power for the good of our society. He posed searching questions seemingly to himself - he who was once the firebrand convener of Konkani Projecho Awaz, - wondering if Government positions had blunted the edge of his commitment to preserve the best in Goa.

The Navhind Times (29th May) has published the findings of an independent study by a reputed agency which has analyzed the effects of the proposed MPT expansion plans. The devastation is so extreme that I find it inconceivable that the MPT authorities should have had the temerity to even propose it: "The study has warned that if the proposed plans were allowed to be executed, then the whole of coastal area [south] would be converted into a junkyard full of steel, coal, shipbuilding and shipyard related activities and that the government should take steps to prevent the expansion plans of the MPT".

In my own limited interaction with the process of permissions sought and granted at State and Central Level for projects, I have found that corruption exists at every level within the bureaucratic and political process both in the State and in the Centre, and yet it is possible to disturb with questions, delay the process and with luck, get plans dismissed altogether if they inflict serious damage on people's lives and environment as some of our NGOs have demonstrated.  Constant vigilance is essential and for that the questions raised by Pundalik need to be taken to youth so that activists are empowered with greater support from all of Goa.

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

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Maria Aurora Couto

Maria Aurora Couto, recipient of Padma Shri in 2010, is a writer and an educationist. Her book "Goa: A Daughter's Story", a cultural history of Goa, analyses the state of the tiny state from pre-liberation Portuguese regime till date. She has also translated “Etnography of Goa, Daman and Diu”, a classic work in Portuguese by A.B. Braganca Pereira. Both books have been published by Viking, Penguin. Yet another book to her credit is "Graham Greene: On the Frontier, Politics and Religion in the Novels" by Macmillan, London published in 1986. She is also known for fearlessly voicing out her opinions on Goa's social and environmental issues. 

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