‘Goa was better off in the hands of the Portuguese’ I’ve heard this rhetoric before, as have many of you who hail from Goa. People say this more as a reaction to the frustration they feel about the current situation in the State, but imagine my surprise when I saw a group on Facebook that thought the same thing!
This group describes itself as a group “for all goans who believe that goa woud be better off with portugal,and this was the flag of goa when it was under the portugese.” (The spelling mistakes aren’t mine). It’s a small group and most of the members are young people.
“Honestly?,” I thought, was Goa really better off in the hands of the Portuguese. At 451 years, Goa has witnessed the longest colonial rule in the world. “Do you speak Portuguese” is a common question asked to me by my friends in Bangalore and I say “no, in fact very few people in Goa speak or know Portuguese”. When you think of it, its surprising that after being ruled for 451 years the language has virtually disappeared, a mere 46 years after the departure of the Portuguese. In fact Goa has so deeply and completely integrated itself into India that few are bemused by the transition.
But was “Goa better off under the Portuguese”, I honestly don’t know. From the little that I’ve read and studied, when the Portuguese left Goa, Goa was pre-industrial, and that’s why the high level of migration to other parts of the world and India in search of jobs. Goa didn’t even have adequate educational institutions and people had to go to Mumbai, Belgaum, Dharwad to study. The economy was largely agrarian and depended heavily on mining. The infrastructure was old. Very little was manufactured locally and Goa depended much on the imports of food commodities first from India and then after the economic blockade from Portugal. Politically, there was little freedom or equality of participation. So what was better about Goa when it was under the Portuguese?
Picking my brains, for sometime now, I think the answer lies elsewhere.
- In the romantic versions we young people have constructed about the days of yore. Perhaps they are based on the stories told to us by our grandparents, or from the colourful tins our grandmothers retained of milk powders, biscuits and other commodities they bought.
- Perhaps it stems from the desire of most Goans to migrate abroad in search of greener pastures.
- Perhaps it stems from our ignorance of our recent past.
- Or perhaps it emanates from our fear that we are loosing our identity too fast, to the multi-cultural potpourri called India
The answer could be one or some or all of these. It could be more reasons than my limited knowledge has allowed me to note.
But if there is a feeling that Goa would have been better off under the Portuguese it must be recognized and addressed. This is not to slot people into right and wrong but to note from where this feeling stems.
I personally feel very ignorant about my history. Today, we are fortunate to still have some freedom fighters alive, even though very advanced in age, but I had few opportunities to hear them share their experience. Given that Goa did not have a particularly violent freedom struggle, though it definitely was a protracted one, but where is the documentation. Where is it being shared with the younger generation? Where is the opportunity for us to take pride in it?
I was not taught Goan history in school. In fact, a quick quiz would reveal that Goan students know more about Egyptian, Greek, English, American and Russian history that about Goa. Years later the Education Department did make an attempt to correct the situation, but the slim book was an addition to the history book, an after thought and studied briefly. I honestly don’t know if any serious thought went into the reasons for introducing Goan history. I can only hope that today it is taught in more details and introduced early in a student’s academic life.
But for us, people in their 30s and above, we are definitely trying to make our Portuguese passports, hankering after the rosy past. The lack of knowledge of our history, our culture and heritage is reflected in the way we treat and neglect it, and that’s why heritage conservationists have a huge battle on their hands. I guess they can with time convince the Government and even the builders lobby, but how do they teach the people of Goa to love what is theirs and see value in it.