Goa Liberation Day: Goans at a crossroads-Little Portugal on the western coast

Today Portuguese is rarely spoken but a large number of Goans continue to apply and receive Portuguese passport and are migrating to Europe

Goa Liberation Day: Goans at a crossroads-Little Portugal on the western coast
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Frederick Noronha

Almost two generations after the Portuguese left Goa amidst far-from-pleasant circumstances, the region is still getting to terms with the changes -- good, bad, and the indifferent.

Operation Vijay, the Indian military operation between Dec 18-19 ejected the Portuguese. New Delhi and Lisbon had a running Cold War before (from the mid-1940s) and after. This continued till a leftist military coup ousted the ultra-conservative dictator Salazar's successor regime in Portugal in April, 1974.

Today, things are drastically different. Outgoing Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa (60), who lost his majority in November after a six-year stint in power is of Goan descent. Socialist Costa built an alliance with the Left and Greens, to reshape Portuguese politics. Portugal and India have restored ties and undertake close cooperation. The Iberian gateway is still handing out Portuguese citizenship to people of Goan origin.

Goa, or more accurately parts of it, was under Portuguese Rule for a whopping 451 years. This is longer than any other European colony not just in Asia but globally. This makes the 3700 sq. km. region (not to forget the outlying Daman and Diu, today a separate union territory) markedly distinct from the rest of South Asia that was dominated by Britain for a much shorter period.

Goa’s complex history, not always pleasant but not entirely bitter, is marked by a long 20th-century dictatorship and religious intolerance during certain periods, and changes in predominant culture and language. Ironically, this led to an exodus or outmigration (among the highest per capita in the world, on par with Greece, Ireland, Malta, Lebanon, and some small Pacific island states, according to anthropologist Robert S Newman). Many have done well for themselves worldwide, rising to become MPs, corporate heads, prominent musicians and linguists.

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"This is not South Asia! This is Mexico!!" a European friend told me when we met up in Fontainhas, supposedly the Latin Quarter of the state capital.

Goa's capital is spelt in five different ways, reflective of the many changes it has undergone. Only government officials and tourists refer to it by its current appellation, Panaji. Pangim was the Portuguese version and Nova Goa the even older Luso label. English-speakers prefer Panjim. On every Konkani tongue, it is simply Pon'nje.

What have stayed on are the Family Laws or Civil Code, introduced a century-and-a-half ago. The Goa Family and Succession Laws have undergone some changes. But the 150-yearold law is still in play here, and draws praise for diverse reasons -- right and wrong.

The law allows families to equally divide their incomes between both spouses, which lowers the tax burdens, especially on the upper-middle-class. Praised for being "uniform", it does contain provisions of the Code of Gentile [sic] Hindu Usages and Customs of Goa. Some aspects of the law allow for religious, even caste differences, though this has been evoked only rarely here.

Goa Liberation Day: Goans at a crossroads-Little Portugal on the western coast
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The Goan Civil Code is deemed to be an Indianised variant of the Portuguese legal system. The latter largely draws from the Code Napoleon, a common legal system in a number of Continental European nations, in contrast to Indian law which mostly derives from English common law.

Before 1961, Portuguese language-dominated the discourse and was the official language. Marathi was then considered a minor literary language while Konkani was mostly the spoken patois.

This changed after 1961, when the then regional, pro-Maharashtra government of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) undertook a vast expansion of Marathi. The MGP drew its support from intermediate castes, and spoke in the name of the "Bahujan Samaj", as opposed to the earlier elite comprising upper-caste Catholics and Hindus.

After the Official Language Act, Devanagari and Konkani gained ascendance. Konkani is written in five scripts, and other scripts like Romi and Kannada have felt left out by the Devanagari-alone policy. In the 1990s, there was a push away from English-medium education at the primary level.

Portuguese is today considered an endangered language in Goa.

But interest in the "elite" lingo of the past has not completely evaporated. There is renewed interest in learning Portuguese, partly due to the easy access to the EU via Portugal.

Goa's women enjoy greater access to rights. This is as much due to their education and out-migration, as due to the law in place. On paper they have equal inheritance rights, but in practice this is both sidestepped or seen as the cause of intractable property disputes.

The high migration out of Goa reflects growing aspirations and also difficulties to financially do well for those who don't have access to government jobs or political connections.So there is this struggle to get a Portuguese passport and settle in Europe.

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Goa's history meanwhile has led to political turf war. The BJP chief minister Pramod Sawant criticised the Nehru administration for having "delayed" the end of Portuguese rule. But the situation was indeed complex, as shown by a recent newspaper series going back six and more decades, being narrated by journalist-author Valmiki Faleiro.

After staying aloof from the Indian freedom movement, the saffron forces used the Goa campaign to rebuild their credibility as fighters for the cause of nationalism. Some of that spill over has influenced local politics, directly and indirectly, from the 1960s onwards here.

Tiny Goa's complex and centuries-old story is still being told, and is yet to be understood in its entirety.

US-based Goan freedom fighter Suresh Kanekar's book 'Goa's Liberation and Thereafter' is just one of the many stories being told.

(Frederick Noronha is a senior journalist covering Goa since 1983)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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