INCITEMENT: By not including leaders from the majority Hindu community, the Church has given Hindutva fanatics room to accuse them of dividing Goa on communal lines
By holding an inter-faith dialogue without any significant representative of the majority community, the Church has played into the hands of the Sangh Parivar which will claim that they are anti-national
By Rajan Narayan
BY HAVING an interfaith public meeting without any prominent representative from the Hindu majority community, the Church has played into the hands of the lunatics and fanatics. Even worse the so-called interfaith meeting was widely promoted as the coming together of the minority Catholic and Muslim communities in Goa.
This is very unfortunate as Goa has never publicly been divided on communal lines. While there have been interfaith meetings in the past they have included all the three major communities — Hindus, who form the majority, Catholics, whose numbers are dwindling, and Muslims whose numbers have increased sharply.
The immediate provocation for the joint public meeting of the Catholic and the Muslim community is probably not the arrest of Francis Pereira for vandalism of crosses and Catholic burial grounds. What I suspect has brought the two communities together is the fear that beef will be banned in Goa as it has been in many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled states such as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Even though the Supreme Court has struck down the ban imposed on the purchase and slaughter of cattle in the Country, the gau rakshaks, with the blessing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), if not the BJP, continue to attack those who are transporting beef. Indeed even Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has come under attack by the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) for a statement that he will ensure that there is no shortage of beef in Goa. Ultimately when the stomach is threatened communities come together.
What we object to is not the coming together of the Catholics and the Muslims. Or the fact that the Church took the initiative to bring the two communities, which have often fought with each other, together. Particularly in South Goa, not just the Christian Community, but even parish priests have opposed the demand of the growing Muslim minority for land for building mosques and kabristans. Even in Margao city there have been protests by Catholics over giving part of land owned by Church for expansion of the existing kabristan. What we are concerned about is the way it was done.
The task of forging unity between the Catholics and the Muslims, which is much needed, should have been left to politicians and not religious leaders. This is because if religious leaders create the impression that they are ganging up, the fanatics in the majority community are bound to react. Indeed the response was immediate, with the Sanatan Sanstha, the RSS and other Hindutva organisations which have the patronage of Dhavalikar, promptly holding a meeting of the majority community the very next Sunday, and demanding that the Christian sect ‘Believers’ should be banned. This is in the wake of the so-called confession by Francis Pereira, who has been arrested in the desecration case, that he belongs to the Believers. The Believers ironically do not believe in many of the practices of the Catholic Church.
Historically Goa has remained a secular state because the minority Catholic community formed a very significant part of the population. At the time of Liberation and the first election in 1962, Catholics accounted for almost 45 per cent of the population. But over the decades there has been a sharp fall in the population of Goan Catholics. This is not because of any major increase in the population of Goan Hindus, except that the bulk of the migrants in the first two decades post Liberation were Hindus. The ratio of both ethnic Hindu and Catholics has come down sharply because of late marriages and the reproduction rate being less than the replacement rate. Unlike in the case of the migrants who have an average of four to five children, the ethnic Hindu or Catholic couple limit themselves to one or two children.
The proportion of Catholics to the total present population of 15 lakhs is now reportedly just 20 per cent. This is a result also of large scale emigration of the Catholic population. Due to the lack of jobs in Goa the first wave of Catholics went to the Gulf countries. In more recent years many Catholics have migrated to Australia and to New Zealand. Catholics have also taken advantage of the provision in the Portuguese constitution which allows any Goan born before Liberation (or descendents of such Goans) to apply and secure Portuguese nationality. There were not many takers for the offer until Portugal joined the European Economic Community (EEC), as Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and did not have many jobs for even its own people, let alone other people. But after joining the EEC, Goans with Portuguese passports could get jobs in the UK, France or any other European country, where the salaries and benefits were much higher than in Portugal. There are reportedly over 50,000 Goans in a small town called Swindon near London, who took advantage of Portuguese passports to take up jobs in the UK. Virtually all the Catholics in Siridao village near the Goa Medical College went to France courtesy the late Fr Freddy who had contacts in France. This is how the St Andre constituency became a Hindu migrant majority constituency from a Catholic one.
The Hindu majority community dominated Goa for the first 18 years, but could not achieve their ambition of merging Goa with Maharashtra during the Opinion Poll as the entire Catholic community and part of the Hindu majority voted in favour of Goa retaining its unique identity. Even after the BJP came to Goa it could not impose Hindutva policies as it was dependent on the Catholics for remaining in power.
When Parrikar first became the chief minister in 2000, the pillars of his government were two Catholic opportunists — Babush Monserrate and Mickky Pacheco. Subsequently following the example of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, who engineered a political alliance between the Dalits and the Brahmins, Parrikar managed to build a bridge to the Catholic community even in Salcete.
For the first time in the 2012 election the BJP gave tickets to a dozen Catholics to contest on the lotus symbol, and supporting some as Independents, the majority whom won the elections, defeating even heavyweights like Churchill Alemao and Dayanand Narvekar. Again in the 2017 election the main supporters of the BJP government were not the Hindu majority community but the Catholic minority community. Of the 13 seats that the BJP won in the 2017 election, seven were won by Catholics contesting on BJP tickets. It was due to the efforts of the Catholic MLA from Calangute Michael Lobo that Parrikar was able to persuade the Goa Forward with three MLAs to extend support to him to form the Government. Parrikar himself has been re-elected six times from the Panjim assembly seats primarily due to the support he enjoyed among the Catholics of Panjim.
If Parrikar has assured Goans that there will be no shortage of beef in Goa it is not because he loves the holy cow less than Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or the RSS boss Mohan Bhagwat. It is political compulsion that has forced Parrikar to defy the BJP and RSS high command and refuse to impose a ban on the consumption of beef in Goa. Parrikar is well aware that beef is the primary element in the diet of the Catholic Goan. He also recognises that if beef is banned he will also lose the votes of the growing Muslim population in Goa.
At the time of Liberation, Muslims comprised less than 1 per cent of the population of Goa. On the eve of the 2017 Assembly elections it was estimated that Muslims account for at least 15 per cent of Goa’s population now, and this could go up to 20 per cent by 2020. The increase in the Muslim population is due to mass migration of Muslims to Goa post Godhra. While a small proportion of Muslims migrated to Goa from Hubli and other parts of Karnataka soon after Liberation, the mass entry of Muslims took place after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Muslims from all parts of country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari have settled in Goa because they think it is the safest place for them. There is truth in their belief. Except for a minor incident in Curchorem in 2006 there has never been a communal riot in Goa.
Politically it is important that Catholics and Muslim should come together, as the influence of Catholics has gone down because of migration. The Catholic population, except in Salcete where they are a majority, is not a crucial factor in Goan politics any longer. But if they join hands with the Muslims, together they will command 40 per cent or more of the votes. Since both Islam and Christianity are organised religions, they can counter the mass mobilisation of the RSS, and during elections can ensure a better turn out than then Sangh Parivar.
Muslims and Catholics should come together to protect the secular character of Goa and to keep out Hindutva fanatics.
But they must do so by targeting politicians. The Church should have compelled the Catholic politicians to hold a public meeting to demonstrate a show of strength by the minorities. If the Catholics send out a clear signal that they will not vote for the BJP in the next election, Parrikar will have to listen to them in his own interest. The hands of the Catholic MLAs will be strengthened if they take along with them the growing Muslim population in the state. Together they can take on the saffron brigade as they managed to take on the pro-merger MGP during the Opinion Poll.
Neither the Church and the padris nor the maulanas should try to avoid giving the impression that they are uniting against the majority community. The ground reality is that even if the Catholics and Muslims come together, their total strength as a share of the total population of 15 lakhs, will be 40 per cent. The Hindus will remain a majority with 60 per cent of the population as there is very little migration from the Hindu community. They need the support of secular Hindus. Moreover the majority of those migrating to Goa are also from the Hindu community. There should be no confrontation along communal lines in Goa.
Goa is like the tea or coffee or milk you drink. The various communities living in Goa whether they are Hindus or Catholics or Muslims are like sugar. When you put sugar into your milk, coffee or tea it dissolves and makes the drink sweeter. There is no trace of the sugar. Similarly all communities should come together without engaging in individual dadagiri. If there is an inter-religious public meeting it cannot exclude the majority community. The Brahmin swamis of the Partagali matt or the Kavele matt may not have attended or responded to invitations for inter-faith meetings. But the Bhandari swami Brahmanand would have been happy to join. The minorities must join hand with the other backward classes and the tribals to ensure that Goa continues to remain an island of peace and harmony in an ocean which is increasingly turning saffron in colour.
I would like to end by recalling the story we have all been taught in our childhood. An old man on the verge of death calls all his children to his bedside. He gives them each a stick from the tree in the compound of the house. He asks them to break it. They are able to do so very easily because the sticks are single thin sticks. The old man then ties all the sticks in a bundle and asks his children to try to break the bundle of sticks. They are not able to do so as they are not weak individual sticks but a sturdy bundle. The moral being — united you are strong. Alone you are weak. Similarly, if all communities in Goa — Hindu, Catholic, Muslim and others — stand together, Goa will be strong.