In search of Identity & Culture

By Cleofato A Coutinho
20 December 2014 05:58 IST

In the past few years the debate over the identity of Goa and Goans heightens around 19th December and with the central government rejecting the ‘dream demand’ of Special status for Goa, questions are raised over the very foundation of Goa as part of Indian union claiming that the liberation of Goa was in fact annexation by the Indian government. Nehru had assured that Goa’s culture and individuality would be fully preserved when it became part of the Indian union as the case with the French settlements in India.

Past five centuries have shaped our identity and culture  into what it is today. The 450 years of Portuguese rule over the old conquests in Goa brought different cultural and religious traditions to meet and reshape the socio cultural land scape giving a Indo Portuguese personality to Goa with a distinctive history and culture from the other part of India. The new conquests had only around 200 years of Portuguese regime with limited impact on the culture, but this tiny state is marketed by the tourism industry  as a upper caste Catholic in Goa symbolized by Portuguese architecture food, dress and ‘susegado’ life style. The ‘Goa Dourada’ of the 16th century is the imagery created and fostered over the years. After 60 years of integration into the Indian Union that imagery is now under attack.  

Having refused to misadventure into ‘Goa action’, immediately after the independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru declared, in 1955 that he would not tolerate the presence of Portuguese in Goa. He is said  to have referred to Goa as an embarrassing pimple on the face of  mother India which became increasingly irritating. That military action  in 1961 brought Goa into a discourse of nationhood at international level and the ‘identity of Goa and Goans’ became an important element of that debate.

Indian Prime Minister opined that Goans were Indians as they were rooted. While the Portuguese Prime Minister Oliveira Salazar asserted that the Portuguese presence had a great social as well as cultural impact transforming Goans into Portuguese.  Just before liberation in his letter to the UN Secretary General, Nehru stated that the only solution is for Portugal to leave her colonies in India and allow the people in these territories to join the countrymen in freedom and democracy Portugal has consistently ignored U.N. resolutions on ending colonialism….. It is hardly possible to negotiate on the basis of the charter with a government which takes its stand on 16th-century concepts of colonial conquest by force”.

Though a miniscule section of the Goan community looked for independence from both India and Portugal, overwhelmingly Goans supported the unification with India.  There was no space for another independent nation. The geo political aspect is highlighted by great historian J.M. Richards ‘It was not to be expected that India, after achieving independence and also, through the integration of the former princely states, achieving the administrative unification of the peninsula for the first time in history (though sharing the subcontinent with Pakistan), would be content with anything less than the whole; or would be prepared to tolerate any compromise with her new found unity in the shape of an independent enclave, however small and however harmless to her interests, let alone an enclave ruled by a foreign power”.   

The claim of the miniscule section was lost when Goans took part in the opinion poll and various assembly and parliamentary elections conducted under the Constitution of India. The issue was brought to a decisive end in 1975 with Portugal recognizing the ‘annexation of Goa Daman and Diu’ and opening of diplomatic relations besides providing special status under the Portuguese nationality law. 

The small community which enjoyed special privileges during the colonial regime identify much more with Goa than with India. There has been large scale migration of the catholic community to other parts of the world mostly in search of employment and some due to Goa becoming part of the Indian nation. With the chunck of catholic community emigrating out of the country and large scale lower community immigration into Goa, has led to almost 1/3rd of Goa’s population being from other parts of India and catholic population falling to a very low figure of around 23% creating demographic problems for the traditional ‘Goa Dourada’.

As guns boomed to the mighty thunder on 18th December Prime Minister Nehru repeated his previous assurances that the people of Goa would preserve their individuality, culture and customs within the Indian Union. Culture and Identity of any place or community would be built by history, geography. If Magna Carta played a great role in what Europe is today, Geography has helped America to accept values of equality and freedom for us. Our coastline gives us a different culture and identity. Socio-economic factors always play a lead role in defining the identity and culture. Industrialization leads to urbanization and that leads to immigration. Such changes in society also change values and attitudes of people.    

In the present globalized world the traditional idea of identity and culture threatens the idea of linkage to specific area or territory. Writing on the identity of Goa Teotonio R. D’Souza “Goa has been exposed early to globalization, and the high degree of consciousness and resistance to its impact is a sign of its preparedness to resistance its less positive impact”.  Identity shall have to be viewed as a dynamic and evolving area. India is essentially a plural society having adopted a democratic polity and a secular state character. Tolerance and diversity are India’s passion that is also a fragrance of Goa! Search for identity and culture ends there.

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

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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