FROM CHOGM TO KONKANI BATTLE!

MASSIVE RALLY: Thanks mainly to OHeraldo a crowd of over a lakh gathered at the Azad Maidan in 1986 to demand that Konkani should be made the official language of Goa. Both Catholic leaders like Thomasino Cardoso and Udhay Bhembre, not to mention musician Remo Fernandes, addressed the rally.

BY RAJAN NARAYAN

AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when I came to Goa on October 1, 1983 to set up the English version of the OHeraldo.’ For a Saturday following the week when within weeks we had to cover the Commonwealth Heads of Government Retreat presided by Queen Elizabeth and her recently expired consort Prince Philip. For a Saturday following the week when I launched the mega agitation to make Konkani the official language of the State. For a Saturday following the week when I was savagely beaten up by Santa Cruz goons allegedly hired by politician Dayanand Narvekar, the then Speaker, who was accused of molesting his young female clerk Sunita. For a Saturday following the week when I would like to speak about some of the political monsters I created unwittingly and who are now enjoy crorepati status. For a Saturday following the week when I have been witness to the degradation of green Goa and the growth of a concrete Goa. AND a few stray thoughts on my arriving in Goa on October 1, 1983, to convert the then PortugueseOHeraldo’ into a full-fledged English daily. I was put in touch with AC Fernandes, who had acquired the Portuguese title of OHeraldo,’ by the late cartoonist Mario Miranda. The challenge of starting a newspaper from scratch appealed to me and I accepted the offer even though financially it was not very attractive. When I arrived in Goa and went to the proposed office of theOHeraldo’ alongside the Panaji municipal garden, I was totally shocked. There was hardly any staff to bring out a newspaper! Even basic equipment’s like tele-printers were not installed. In the earlier era of the media business, before everything became online, we had tele-printers which continuously produced reams of paper with the latest news from all over the world including India. This was the copy newspaper staff had to work on refining. The OHeraldo’ office did not even have decent typewriters for the reporters. Fortunately, I had brought with me a colleague from theFinancial Express,’ an S Vaidyanathan, who was to function as the news editor and train the desk staff. I had decided to hire Devika Sequeira as my chief reporter who had some experience in journalism in Mumbai. But there were no sub-editors or reporters. Sub-editors chose and edit copy material coming from the tele-printer, and also edit the local copy filed by correspondents. Historically, the desk was in the form of a horseshoe table with the chief sub-editor sitting at the head, distributing copy to sub-editors to work on. Above them was the news editor who co-ordinated between reporters and the news desk.

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

EXCEPT in the case of the OHeraldo’ the owners thought newspapers were an immaculate conception! I had hoped to start the paper on October 2 on Gandhi Jayanti. But the only equipment that we had were computers on which the setting of the matter was done and the paper was designed. TheOHeraldo’ was probably the first newspaper in Goa to install computers. Which is not saying much as in 1983 there was only one other newspaper, The Navhind Times.’The Navhind Times’ catered primarily to the Hindu community, particularly rich Hindus who could buy more than one newspaper. Hindus who bought only one newspaper at home preferred to subscribe to then popular Marathi paper Gomantak’ started by the Chowgules. So much so I discovered through research that 80% of the readers of English newspaper in Goa were Catholics. I decided to position theOheraldo’ to primarily target the Catholics of Goa and especially the community in south Goa where Catholics were a majority. It is now amusing to think that I got most of my staff scouting around at the Miramar beach literally! Not that you picked up shells or fish or sand from Miramar beach, but the dropouts from Dempe College who used to hang around at a small tea stall on the beach. They were all excited with the idea of making some pocket money more than working for a newspaper.
In any case many of them did not know how newspapers came out. In a week’s time we recruited 10-15 staff members of whom very few had a degree to qualify as reporters and sub-editors. When I met Bikram Vohra who was then editing The Navhind Times’ I had told him that we would be on the stands by October 10 he laughed at me and asked me which year I was talking about! This was an additional challenge and we brought out the first issue of the English version of theOHerald’ on October 10, 1983 as I had promised. It may have been only six pages but we had already decided that we would focus on investigative journalism. This was something new to Goa since `The Navhind Times’ then and now is like a government gazzatte which carries news stories favourable to the government in power.
Among the first investigative stories we did I recall was the murder of three sisters in Velim in South Goa. I recall going all the way to Velim with Devika Sequeira who later filed a series of reports on a controversial cases in which police and politicians were implicated.

CHOGM MEET

AND a few stray thoughts on OHeraldo’ covering the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (CHOGM). For the benefit of those who travel up and down CHOGM road every day but don’t know what CHOGM is, it is an organisation of the heads of all countries which were under British colonial rule. Even after those countries which included Australia, Canada and of course India, not to mention several African states, which became independent. They continued to be part of the voluntary group called the Commonwealth. In the 15th and 16th century it were the countries whicSh had knowledge of building ships and guns which ruled the colonial world. So much so it was the English and the Portuguese who had the most powerful navy dominating the world. It is not widely known that most countries in the world including developed ones like Australia and Canada, not to mention the United States, were originally controlled by the Britain. In the case of India initially the commercial company of British East India Company governed India. After the initial Indian liberation war called the Sepoy Mutiny, the British government took over the governance of India. The main CHOGM was held in the national capital of New Delhi. The heads of state and government however decided to take a break called a retreat at some beach holiday place like Goa. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was very fond of Goa who was responsible for the Opinion Poll chose Goa for the high-powered CHOGM retreat. To our utter surprise and shock within a month of starting the newOHeraldo’ newspaper we had to cover an international event like CHOGM where 58 heads of government and state were present. The drama started even before CHOGM got underway. The Taj Aguada built 52 cottages for the heads of government to stay in. The horticulturist who designed The Hermitage which was the name given to the block of cottages was very proud of his garden. On a visit to the Taj Aguada to see The Hermitage, the horticulturist waxed eloquent about the flower scheme. He told me that Indira Gandhi would stay in the cottage with white flowers, Margaret Thatcher of UK would stay in cottage with pink flowers and so on.
I published a story in the OHeraldo’ titled “Where 52 flowers will bloom!” Immediately, the security agencies were on my head. In fact, they even wanted to arrest me for breach of security. The logic being that if anyone wanted to target a particular foreign leader or even Indira Gandhi from the air they only had to look for the cottage which was coloured like the flowers mentioned. They were so agitated that they changed the entire colour scheme! We were lucky in being able to get the photographs of all the 52 heads of states and devoted the whole page to it. This became a reference even for the police and the security to be able to identify who was who. The president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, apparently had an ancestor who was the parish priest of the church at Merces. Our friends in the clergy informed us and we were present at the church when President Mugabe and his foreign minister made a visit. We even managed to get the photographs of all the heads of government as they arrived at the helipad put at the Taj Aguada at Candolim and Devika Sequeira and photographer Lui Gudinho spent the night at the church here opposite the helipad! The more shocking incident was perhaps when one of our then young reporters asked why the foreign minister of an African country wanted her to visit the Cidade-de-Goa late in the evening. I was suspicious as to why any diplomat should ask a young women to his room with the excuse of giving her a big scoop. It so happened that he tried to make pass at her! Fortunately I’d accompanied the young reporter and threatened to report the diplomat to the police! To end on an amusing note the then Governor Ramesh Sattawala organised a tea party for the spouses of the heads of government. Since technically Mark Thatcher, the husband of Magarat Thatcher, the UK Prime Minister, was the spouse, Devika asked him whether he was attending the tea party? Not surprisingly she got a rude response! Everyone including the foreign correspondents who had come to cover the CHOGM retreat appreciated our coverage. As is typical of Goa the lights went off at the Kala Academy when the CHOGM declaration was read. Incidentally, the present prime minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, is the son of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at the CHOGM Retreat. AND a few stray thoughts on the Konkani agitation in which theOHeraldo’ played a major role. I had always believed that there was a latent demand that Konkani should be made the official language of Goa. The problem was that while it was admitted that more than 99% of the population of Goa spoke Konkani, there was no common script for it. Konkani was written by the Catholics in the Romi script and by the Hindus in the Devenagiri script. Migrant Goans even wrote Konkani in the Kannada and Malayalam script. Script.
There was no disagreement that Konkani should be the official language amongst both Romi Goans and Devenagiri Goans. But there was a huge Marathi lobby backed by the Maharastrawadi Gomantak Party which formed the first government in Goa and the Marathiwadis in the government were against Konkani!
In fact, in the then Rane government half the ministers including Pratapsingh Raoji Rane were against Konkani and wanted equal status for Marathi. It was a tough fight with the OHerald’ and theGomantak’ being at the centre of the official language fight. I recall writing editorials on the front page for almost three years under the title “Utt Goenkara.” To the extent that whenever I went to a party I was greeted by Narayan Athawale, editor of Gomantak, with “Bos (sit) Goenkara!” Athawale as editor would abuse in his paper. I did not return his abuse but insisted that he should go back to Maharashtra for demanding Marathi in Goa. Fortunately for Goans in Goa the Devanagiri leaders were close to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They manage to persuade him to put pressure on Chief Minister Pratapsingh Raoji Rane, who also part of Congress, to bring a bill to make Konkani the official language. The ultimate goal was to get statehood for Goa. Goa could not get statehood till it had an official language. I recall that because of the persistent support for Konkani many of the Cabinet members changed their mind and supported Konkani. Thanks toOHeraldo’ which brought the Catholics and Hindus together, we managed to organize a rally at Azad Maidan which was attended by more than a lakh Goans. Seeing such public support for Konkani, Rane was compelled to bring a bill in the state assembly in favour of making Konkani the official language.
Rajiv Gandhi did not have confidence in Rane and deputed a senior High Command Observer to be present to ensure the bill was not sabotaged. But Rane and the Marathi group were willing to pass the bill only if it was specified that Konkani in the Devanagari script would be the official language. This was a big blow to the Catholic community which did not know Devanagari. Worse was to follow when the then Education Minister Shashikala Kakodkar decided to limit grants only to primary schools providing education in the regional languages.
Though the official language bill making Konkani the state language was passed the minority community was very angry. I remember that on the day the bill was passed Churchill Alemao came with a big group to the `OHeraldo’ office and insisted that the next day’s heading should say “Konkani Betrayed.” Personally, I felt that we had no choice but to accept the condition of Konkani being in the Devanagiri script being made the official language since the majority were for it. Worst still the official language bill specified that Marathi would be given equal status for any and all official purposes. Looking back I now agree with the Romi Konkaniwadis that the bill was a betrayal of the minority community.
But the Catholic chief ministers who came after statehood like Dr Proto Barbosa, Churchill Alemao, Luzinho Falerio and Dr Wilfred D’Souza did nothing to amend the bill to stipulate that Konkani in all scripts would be the official language. Or, alternatively, even now the reference to the script can be dropped.
The battle continues with the former RSS chief (who groomed Manohar Parrikar to be chief minister) Subhash Velingkar insisting that grants extended to English-medium primary schools run by the Church should be withdrawn. The bitter ground reality however, is that enrolment in Marathi medium schools has been falling rapidly with parents and the children themselves opting for English.
As against 1,200 Marathi-medium schools at the time of the Opinion Poll, there are less than 500 schools now, although the official figure is 872 schools, the ground reality is there are less than 10 students in all the four primary standard classes. Comparatively, the number of English medium primary schools has gone up to 246 even though parents have to pay heavy fees for admission!

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