I was invited by the Konkani Bhasha Mandal to deliver a talk to the 9th standard students of the Ravindra Kelekar Dnyanmandir School in Vidhyanagar Gogol-Margao on January 16, 2021, Goa’s Opinion Poll Day, Asmitai Dis! Having worked with children and youth for more than a decade now, it was super to have this opportunity to interact with the students.
What should I talk about? Where should I begin? While we celebrate the landmark opinion day that led to Goa establishing her identity and recognition of her unique language, when we look back to that important day in history, can we say we are free to speak our minds, our opinions? Can we assert that we are truly liberated? Do we feel free to uphold our rights and share our opinions? Are others willing to listen? Is our government willing to listen?
Today while we are making sure that our children get a good education and are liberal in the way we raise them, everywhere we see voices of truth being silenced. In the last year and also during Covid-19 pandemic, a large number of activists have been arrested and imprisoned under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act! Under this act, there is no respite of bail and one can be imprisoned for up to 7 years including a fine! Fr Stan Swamy has spent more than 100 days in prison for helping tribal people and treating the community with love and compassion. There have been many well known and stellar individuals who are still languishing in prison. And while adults see these injustices unfold, we are also witnessing most of those in governance misusing the provisions in law to effect decisions that violate basic constitutional rights of protection of the environment.
In the last many months since the lockdown, what have we witnessed? Silent protests and outcry by local communities against these injustices and decisions and repeated appeals to listen to the voice of wisdom, truth and secularism.
Farmers in Taleigao are protesting against the filling up of their agrarian lands for construction of a Panchayat Ghar. Besides this for more than a decade, there have been continuous land conversions for more and more development-high rise housing and commercial establishments - at the loss of green habitat, wetlands which are eco reserves and paddy fields which provide food security.
The villagers from Chandor, Davorlim, San Jose de Areal, Arossim and many more have been protesting against land acquisition because of the double tracking of the railway lines and the proposed coal corridor whereby many are losing their land and homes.
The residents of Vasco which has the MPT coal hub and coal handling station have been protesting over months regarding the near fatal coal dust pollution and rise in respiratory diseases.
The villagers of Nauxi have been protesting for years against the proposed Marina project and the loss of their livelihoods and the impact of this on the bay and river.
Many NGOs and individuals have been protesting against the Nationalisation of Goa’s six rivers and all the projects connected to Goa being made a coal corridor and coal hub.
The women and villagers of Shel Melauli have been protesting for months against the IIT project that was going to usurp all their land where they have been nurturing their orchards, growing rice and vegetables for centuries as their only livelihood.
The youth in Goa have risen too and have been protesting for months against the 3 large destructive development projects that are slated to destroy the protected forests of Mollem and Bhagwan Mahavir National Park. The widening of the National Highway, the doubling of the railway line and the electricity transmission line and substation are all cutting across pristine forests of Goa which are also the World’s asset as these are part of the Western Ghats of Goa.
On December 19, 2020, on the 60th anniversary of Goa’s liberation, many youth, minors and citizens were arrested and detained by the Goa police when they were on their way to the Panjim Church to celebrate with songs, dance and skits. Their liberties were crushed by the very police whose primary duty is to protect citizens. This went down in history as a Black Day! Children who witnessed this were shocked at how the State law enforcement agency was used against peaceful citizens.
In this situation how do we keep our spirits and values intact? How do we continue with upholding the identity and value of our motherland, of Goa? What is the role therefore of parents, teachers and mentors?
My father was instrumental in nurturing in me a love for my land, nature, environment and community. He did not teach me. He did nothing. He simply allowed me to accompany him everywhere so I could see, feel and experience his connectedness to Goa, her identity, osmitai! I was lucky to experience all of this. As a kid the surrounding land of my city, villages and home was my backyard to explore, be nurtured and gain values from. When my children were born, I did the same with them, taking them everywhere I went, allowing them to experience the richness of our land, nature, environment and culture. When my students, colony kids and friends needed to be guided and mentored, I did the same again. During the lockdown, many students and adults who have travelled, volunteered and protested with me had the experience of connecting to this unique identity of Goa. Goa’s biodiversity, its pristine nature, its tribal people, culture and language are its assets, like gold. Not to be liquidated, not to be sold. But to be handed down from one generation to the next.
(Tallulah D'Silva features in the Top 20 Golden Door Awards 2020 shortlist of international writers)