As Goa awakes on the morning of January 16, many who are around 65 or more today, and who were between their early teens to their forties in 1967, will perhaps pause, some might lapse into silence while still others will remember the day, in such graphic detail, with each image a riveting photo frame, with every frame etched and framed as if it was just yesterday. Perhaps there will be a tear drop alright, even if embedded in moist eyes, even as a flood of memories cascade into that wonderful cosmos that January 16, 1967 was.
If some of those Goans awake on the anniversary of the Opinion Poll January 16, 2018, and find a tear drop as they look back on this day, will it be of joy or sorrow? Let’s hold the thought as we move on for now.
What happened as a result of the way Goa voted on January 16, 1967 was beyond the hard earned victory to prevent Goa’s merger with Maharashtra.
As tears of joy flowed, enough to keep the Mandovi hydrated for years, Goans cutting across caste and religious lines, realised that it was not a Union Territory that they managed to retain. What they did was win for themselves the very reason for existence – identity. We have argued and insisted that some of the attributes which cemented the unique identity of Goans could be boxed into two, a unique sense of belonging and the absence of debilitating vices which sully the culture of the land. The inability to protect and preserve our land for locals, the misuse of Comunidade land or community land, the gradual taking over of traditional occupations by non Goans and the hedonistic cocktail of drugs and prostitution have pushed Goa further and further back from its own identity.
But this is given. But there are layers of understanding that emerge once these obvious top layers are peeled off. What hurts Goans in their seventies, or even more, those in their late eighties, is how the simple way of life that made their Goa so unique has changed in so many little ways. Faulty or no planning has led to decisions of land planning, without the involvement or consent of the village. The soul of Goa, its villages, have seen humungous intrusions where their surroundings have been chopped and pulverised to welcome a modernity which comes with water tables, habitats and traditional pathways destroyed. What hits the veterans is how their villages, in which their lives have revolved around, are physically changing. It hurts because the contrast between 1967 and 2018 is acute. We are in two different worlds.
In the world of 1967, decentralised governance was delivered as a rule and not as an exception. Now it is not even an exception. Earlier, panchayats, zilla parishads and other rural bodies took major decisions which were always on the bulwark of consensus and based on great respect for the wisdom and advice of village elders. In many villages eg Divar, St Estevam (based on personal knowledge) and we are sure in countless others, village elders had a designated spot, on fields and hill-slopes or even near chapels, crosses and temples. Here they discussed and deliberated on the needs of the village and after a consensus emerged, these were placed before village local bodies and discussed further. Then a decision was taken in the best interests of the village. In 2018, unseen hands and forces decide on behalf of the village and come armed with stamps of authority to rule over the lives of those who have lived by the soil, of the soil and by the spoil. The helplessness of ultimate decision making going out of local hands gives rise to discomfort and escalates quickly to disappointment, to dejection, to irritation to anger and then disgust. It will be fit to assume that the generation which took and accepted local decisions in the late sixties have been oscillating between irritation anger and disgust in the last decade.
And much of the non local decision making has made non alienable lands alien. The trampling of land rights are akin to the trampling of human rights. The predominantly agrarian society in rural Goa, has seen a cruel and non reversible parody of their agrarian status played out.
Speak to the veterans. Those who put their lives on hold and gave all they had, on that day in 1967, as if their lives depended on the decision they were about to take. They will tell you, that that the Goa they feared if she merged with Maharashtra, has come to haunt them 51years later, even as Goa completes 51 years since the decision not to merge was taken. The fears were thus:
a) If Goa merged, Goan culture would be subsumed in Marathi culture and disappear
b) Merger would result in a loss of jobs for Goans. Goans would be sidelined for jobs in their own state
c) It would affect traditional occupations like toddy tapping
On the 51st anniversary of the Opinion Poll, an independent state of Goa is facing a challenge to protect its culture, the gap between job seekers and the availability of jobs is increasing and traditional occupations are being taken over by non-Goans.
And yet there is a sea change between 1967 and 2018. Every home had a crusader, every village an army of foot-soldiers, and every taluka had a sense of purpose in fighting for the Goan cause. There were no Hindus and Catholics then, only Goans on the battlefield.
The battle was all about busting stereotypes. Any reading of what happened during the build up, and as reported widely by Herald, will tell you that tiatrists campaigned with Konkani songs written by then young Hindu writers and thinkers like Ulhas Buyao, Dr Manoharrai Sardesai, Shankar Bhandari and Adv Uday Bhembre. Buyao’s songs stirred true Goans to go out and protect Goa’s identity forcing pro-merger groups to disrupt Buyao’s programmes in their strong areas.
Rashtramat a new Marathi daily, was started to influence the Marathi readers (who were mostly pro-merger) against the merger. The role of Chandrakant Keni, its Chief Editor can never ever be forgotten by any true Goan. Advocate Uday Bhembre himself, in his passion filled column Brahmastra, opposed his pro-merger father. The paper played a stellar role in influencing many Marathi speaking Goans to vote against the merger with Maharsahtra.
The commitment of the common man was a force which moved mountains. And this story will move many to joyful tears. In a post written a decade ago on the anniversary of the Opinion poll, for one of the popular Goan online groups, the Kuwait-based A Veronica Fernandes recounted that fateful day.
He remembered how he peddled all the way from Candolim to Aldona to meet the local grave digger of Candolim called “Bengalo” who was transferred temporarily to Aldona, to ask him to come to Candolim on Opinion Poll day, to vote against the merger. He handed over the only money he had – rupees two – that his mother had given him to spend, to Bengalo. With those two rupees, Bengalo travelled to Candolim spending 50 paise on a bus ride from Aldona to Mapusa and another fifty from Mapusa to Candolim and another one rupee for his return journey. Grave digger Bengalo arrived in Candolim to vote against the merger, wanting nothing more than his travel cost, not even a cup of tea.
These were the real Goans on the battle field.
Where are they now? If a single drop of tear on the face of a silent Goan is of remorse and sadness and not of joy, then hundreds of those who claim to love the land have to answer why are they not fighting the good fight, instead of giving in or participating in the Goa of today moving further away from the aspirations which were born on the historic day of January 16, 1967. The silent tear drop tells Goa’s story.