28 Oct 2018 06:13am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
It took 57 years for the government to accomplish a task as simple as translating a set of rules from Portuguese to English
Finally, that’s a word which can be used unchallenged to express relief that the Portuguese Civil Code that the government adopted after Liberation and which decides the family and inheritance issues of the residents of this State has finally been given an official translation in English, and has been published in the Official Gazette. Really, that’s another word that can be used, this time to express surprise that the code remained only in Portuguese, with merely private translations of the code published, which were referred to by lawyers in court who didn’t know a word of Portuguese and yet took up the task of defending their clients and their clients’ rights before the court. Unimaginable, yes a third word to be used in this context, and to wonder how today in the year 2018, the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 is still marvelled at as being a highly modern code, giving equal rights to men and women, and a law that has never been amended is being considered as a model for the rest of the country.
In 1962, after Liberation, Parliament passed the Goa, Daman and Diu Administration Act 1962, which permitted the old laws to be continued with until they were amended or repealed. This is the only law that remained either unamended or was not repealed after Liberation. Former Additional Solicitor General of India, Manohar Usgaonkar who has translated the code, in a preface to the Goa Law Reference published in 1997, said, “However, the Central Government did not think fit to touch the subject of family laws and in result, till the date of submission of the Bill, the laws relating to marriage as contained in the Civil Code of 1867 and other family laws remained untouched.”
Oh yes, there are those who claim it is not all that equal when it comes to rights for men and women, but that is another debate and not being discussed today in this column. Here we are only looking at how Goa survived 57 years with a law that was written only in Portuguese, a language that is neither official in the State nor anywhere in the country, and which is hardly even spoken in Goa, despite a long tryst that the State had with colonialism.
Now that there is an English version, there remains the hope that this translation of the Code has been effected in letter and in spirit. This is truly important.
In 2000, when he released his second volume on the code, ‘Matrimonial Regimes and Inventory’, the first being ‘Law of Succession’, Advocate Mario Bruto da Costa, a former Advocate General had made a rather pertinent observation in the introduction to the book. He had written, “The following pages contain one more attempt, with much diffidence, to grasp the concepts of the law relating to matrimonial regimes and to judicial partition of an inheritance in force in Goa and to translate them into the English language. The fairly recurring difficulty when dealing with legal terminology is to gather the essence and to express it in a different language, with some hope, that the principles or the concepts are not distorted. The work is designed to be of some use to those who do not know the Portuguese language.”
As Bruto da Costa put it at that time, legal terminology is never easy to translate and arrive at the same meaning when put in a new language. And imagine that for the past 57 years without an official translation, lawyers have been standing in court and defending the rights of their clients, depending solely on some private translation. At least now, the legal fraternity has something ‘official’ to fall back upon.
One wonders, therefore, had the High Court not directed that the translation be published in the Official Gazette, a directive that was based on Article 348 of the Constitution that provides for an English translation of legislation which is in a language other than English, how much longer would the State have gone plodding along with only the Portuguese version? Perhaps some more years longer, even perhaps till such time that the country, which has been debating the possibility of having a common civil code for the entire nation, would eventually get down to actually legislating such a code, which would then be applicable to Goa too. Given the opposition to such a uniform code across the country, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. So Goa would possibly have lived with the Portuguese version for several more years, perhaps even a few more decades. Thanks to the High Court, it now has the code in a language understandable to the legal fraternity.
But, the long delay is hardly surprising. In a State where procrastination is quite common, and where there are people who, with a faraway look of nostalgia in the eye, will claim that the Goan is susegado, and leave it at that as an explanation for not doing what should have been done, could one expect anything else? It’s not that a need for an official translation was never felt before, it’s just that the government or perhaps it was the Law Department, hadn’t put their mind to it and the project, let’s call it that, remained on some dusty old back shelf of the vast archives of the government, until the High Court decided to make it mandatory and forced the government to act.
In reality, this is yet another action of this government of ours that has been accomplished based on the directions of the High Court. Pray, when will the government begin to act of its own will, turn proactive, initiating projects that are of benefit to the people rather than those that prey upon the people, the land and the environment? Oddly, as Goa awaits the day when the government will act of its own volition, it has to also brace itself to the possibility that the decision is not being beneficial to the people. It’s happened before, often, and will happen again. The fact that Public Interest Litigation is increasing in court, only confirms this.
Sadly, we live in a Goa whose political leadership just isn’t alive to the reality of the situation and the needs of the people. The translation of the Common Civil Code is just an example of how something that should have been done years ago, in the early years after Liberation, remained undone for no particular reason. The Common Civil Code is an important set of rules, one that governs every person living in Goa, and who at some time or the other would be required to refer to one of more of the provisions of the Code.