DOMINATED: Dempo Bhat at Tonca is dominated by Nepali migrants who are probably trafficked into Goa by labour contractors and owners of casinos
Nepalis do not require a visa or a work permit to come and work in India. Goa is emerging as a favoured destination for Nepali migrants. For migrants from outside, whether Muslims, or Christians from the North East, Goa is akin to a mini-Dubai…
Many Americans are familiar with the Himalayan nation of Nepal as the home of Mt. Everest and a popular destination for Western pilgrims seeking enlightenment amid the vibrant spiritual life and religious heritage of its capital city, Kathmandu. But in recent weeks, political unrest throughout Nepal–the world’s only Hindu kingdom–has brought attention of a different kind to Nepalese society. Democracy protesters took to the streets to oppose the king’s absolute power, and though the demonstrations were a times met with violence by the authorities, the pro-democracy movement scored a major victory last week, when the king re-instated the parliament that had been suspended four years earlier.
Tilak P. Pokharel, a Nepal-based journalist, took time out from covering the rapidly changing developments in that country to answer questions about the role of faith in the current unrest and in Nepalese society in general.
What does it mean that Nepal is a “Hindu kingdom”?
The Constitution of Nepal specifies that Nepal is a “Hindu kingdom” and that its monarch must be a Hindu. As a consequence, about 20 percent of the country’s population–those citizens who aren’t Hindu–is never represented by the king, who is a descendent of an 18th-century Hindu warrior. Almost all Hindu festivals are observed as official national holidays, while holidays of the other religions in the country are hardly recognized by the state. This adds to the mounting disgruntlement among the religious minorities (mostly Buddhists, with some Christians and Muslims). Nepal’s status as a Hindu kingdom, therefore, leaves little space for non-Hindus to fully take part in civic life. Even killing the sacred animal–the cow–is punishable by law. This has created a lopsided hierarchy among the people living in Nepalese society.
However, ardent supporters of Nepal as a Hindu kingdom argue that this status stems from the country’s history, and they point out the uniqueness of Nepal as the only Hindu kingdom in the world. This argument is often used by the royalists to justify the Hindu king’s power and his actions.
How or to what extent are Hindu principles supposed to be incorporated into the governance of the country?
Hinduism is the source of power in Nepal, and the monarchy, as the power center, plays the most important role in designing Nepal’s state affairs. Since the king is considered, among many Nepalis, an incarnation of the Hindu Lord Vishnu, his actions may never be questioned by an individual or by any civilian authority. This remains the case despite the fact that the number of people who actually consider him a God has gone down remarkably in recent months, thanks to the king’s own unpopular actions.
The latest spate of peaceful street protests seeks to officially bring down the king from his “almighty” status. Some argue that the idea of the king as a deity is not intrinsic to Hindu faith, since Hindu scriptures do not specify that all monarchs are gods, and obviously, the majority of the world’s Hindus, who live in India and other parts of the world, do not have such a king. So, this line of thinking goes, the king’s status a god can be eliminated–clearing the way for free and open political activity–without damaging the nation’s Hindu heritage and identity.
How do we explain the violent repression of pro-democracy demonstrators by the government, if it is supposed to be based in Hindu values such as non-violence?
The violent repression of pro-democracy demonstrators by the government in recent weeks has been aimed at preventing anti-king sentiments among ordinary citizens to grow further. But it didn’t work. Instead, it backfired and the protests spread quickly–with the voices on the streets calling for abolition of the monarchy itself, something that was unthinkable until the king usurped absolute power 14 months ago in a bloodless coup d’etat.
Religion didn’t play an explicit role in these protests, nor did religious groups have any connection with these activities. But, until last week, when the king conceded his defeat, the Hindu monarch, as an absolute ruler, was the law in himself. Though the Hindu religion advocates for non-violence, royalists argue, the “repression” of the protests was necessary to stem the street violence that threatened the king’s divine rule.
Are Hindu religious leaders involved in the pro-democracy movement?
No such leader is known to have participated directly or indirectly in these protests. However, the king’s government arrested a Hindu astrologer for allegedly predicting a dark future for the king and the royal family. He was later released.
Barring a few Hindu extremists, who actively support the king, other Hindu religious leaders prefer to remain apolitical. But legends in almost all Hindu holy books talk about kings and their deeds, and these teachings implicitly include contemporary monarchy, giving the king the patina of religious approval. So it can be argued that all the Hindu religious leaders of Nepal, by transmitting these stories, are at least passive supporters of the king. If they become active pro-king activists, they risk being socially ostracized by the majority pro-democracy activists. That’s already been the case with some outspoken pro-king religious leaders.
How do Nepal’s Hindu citizens understand the pro-democracy movement from the perspective of their religion?
Even many Hindus are not happy to see their country being branded as the “only Hindu kingdom in the world,” because most Nepalis want their country to be officially secular. Since the anti-monarchy movement is backed by Maoist rebels who shun religion and hate the “Hindu king,” many Hindu and non-Hindu citizens feel that if the movement achieves its final goal of absolute democracy, it can ensure a higher degree of religious equality in throughout the society, giving greater voice and freedom to the country’s minority religions and individuals’ freedom of choice.
Goa turns into an employment hub for Nepalese
Goa has emerged as the favourite destination for Nepalese as hundreds get employment in the hospitality industry here.
Tourism and the hotel industry flourish in Goa and the hotels and restaurants in Panaji employ a large number of people from Nepal.
Offering enticing opportunities, good pay packages and other facilities. The industry has turned into a hub for employment for them.
Viren, a Nepalese supervisor at a local hotel said he did not feel that he was working in a foreign country, as the working conditions were familiar to one’s in his own country.
“Here in Goa I feel like my home only. I feel much better. There is no problem. We feel like India is our country only,” said Viren.
Former territory of the Portuguese, the western Indian state has many renowned beaches, places of worship and world heritage architecture, which attracts large number of international tourists along with the domestic crowd.
Roshan Pun, another immigrant from Nepal working as a cook at a local hotel said that he was happy with his pay package and added that he was residing in Goa for the past 10 years and was able to take good care of his family as well.
“The working conditions, lifestyle and environment in Goa is very nice and I earn enough to feed both my family members back in my village in Nepal and myself too,” said Pun.
Tens of thousands of tourists visit Goa to enjoy its sun kissed beaches, which are also famous for night long parties.
Goa attracts over 2.6 million tourists annually. The surf, sun and cheap liquor are some of the main draws of the state, which is one of the top beach tourism destinations in the country.
Unlike in other cities like Pune or Belgavi migrants get a minimum salary ranging from
8000 to12,000 in Goa even if they are illiterate. We know of tall Nepali girls being appointed as security guards even though they do not know nothing about security. Beauty parlors exploit the Indian weakness for white skins by hiring people from the North East. The singer at the Taj Vivanta Library Bar on Saturday was a Philippine girl, who showed more flash than talent towards music.
GOA’S MYSTERY OF THE VANISHING CHRISTIAN
Goa’s religious composition has changed “substantially” over the last decade and half, and Christians have lost the majority status with they maintained till 1900, says a recently published book on the state.
But contrary to what might appear to be the case, Christians lost their majority position in colonial times itself. It is still unclear as to why precisely this happened, though out-migration could be one of the major explaining reasons.
“Correct figures in respect of religious composition of the population of Goa are not easily available as they are not officially published on a regular basis,” says ‘Goa: An Economic Update’ by Prabhakar S. Angle, a book recently released in the state.
But, says the author who is a prominent businessman based in Panjim, compiliations based on available data gives a “reasonable idea” as to how the religious composition of Goa “changed substantially between 1851 and 1991”.
Christians, says the book, had a majority of 64.5 per cent in 1861. They maintained the position till 1900, with a majority of only 0.48 per cent — or some 2000 inhabitants — in that year.
“Then, the decline started, and Christians who once had a majority fo 64.5 per cent became a minority community with a share of 29.86 per cent in 1991,” says Angle.
Recently, the just-concluded Census 2001 also focussed attention on how the ‘politics of numbers’ has become a prominent factor in India in recent years.
This means that relative strengths of religious groupings have been given considerable importance, though such an approach could obscure other factors like economic clout, access to resources, caste- and other-based differences, etc.
Angle points out that no studies are available to ascertain the causes responsible for the decline in the percentage of the Christian population in Goa.
This decline, it must be noted, is in relative terms (as a percentage of the total population). In absolute terms, the Christian population has grown from 232,189 persons in 1851 to 349,225 in 1991 — though this did not keep up with the general population trend.
“Presumably, one of the reasons could be the stoppage of missionary activities of proselytization. Re-conversion of a section of the Gauda community to Hinduism (through the ‘Suddhi’ movement) may be another reason,” he writes.
One important factor that has contributed, he says, is the “post-Liberation labour influx” from neighbouring Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
But, he says, the puzzle remains of how to decline of the Christian population from 50.2 per cent in 1900 to 38 per cent in 1961, even in times when no in-migration took place.
“Emigration of Christians outside Goa in search of jobs cannot, by any stretch of imagination account for such a decline,” he contends.
But this view perhaps does not give due importance to the tens of thousands of mostly-Christian Goans who opted to settle in cities like Bombay, and smaller numbers that went to Bangalore, Calcutta, Rangoon, Karachi, East Africa, Lisbon and other centres during the early twentieth century.
Angle goes to check whether the Portuguese Civil Code — applicable to all communities and castes of Goa — could have affected the demographic ratios of this state’s main two communities.
“Elders used to comment on the small-sized families of Christians, saying that the latter did not wish to fragment their properties and wealth,” says Angle.
Angle also says that in the last three decades, Goa’s Muslim population has “increased substiantially” from 1.95 per cent in 1961 to 5.25 per cent of the total population in 1991.
“This can be attributed to the fact that the entire vegetable and fruit market as well as the hawking trade during fairs and festivals is almost monopolised by Muslims, coming to a large extent from the (neighbouring) Belgaum district. Some Muslim labour is also found in construction activity,” says he.
“Religion being an important and perhaps a basic cultural characteristic of the population, such a study may turn out to be an important document in respect of Goan culture,” argues Angle.
His recently-published ‘Goa: An Economic Update’ is subtitled Goa’s Economy in Perspective. It is an update of his interesting book titled ‘Goa: An Economic Review’ published way back in 1983.