Goa is the youngest part of India, having joined the Union only in December 1961. It is the smallest state in the country; one can drive across it in less than a day. It is one of the least populous, having less than two million people. And it is one of the most interesting.
The culture of Goa is rich, and complex: Hindus rubbing shoulders with Christians, Konkani speakers with Marathi ones. The ecology is diverse, too—a glorious coast-line at one end, the Western Ghats at the other, rivers and rich green paddy fields in between. The Portuguese were here twice as long as the British in the rest of India, and their long residence has left its mark in the way the houses and offices and (especially) churches look, and in the way the people speak, dress, sing and (especially) cook.
I first visited Goa in December 1984, twenty-three years after it was ‘liberated’ from Portuguese rule. I was back there earlier this month, a further twenty-three years later. In this time Goa appears to have become more solidly part of India.
One sign of this is the declining influence of Portuguese. In the first house I visited on my first trip, the family spoke to me in English but to one another in Portuguese. Now, I was told, the language had all but disappeared. Back in 1984 many of the shop signs in Panaji were in Portuguese. I particularly remember one that read; ‘Typografia Prafulla’. If the business still exists, it probably goes under the name of ‘Prafulla Printers’.
The languages that Goans themselves speak are Konkani and Marathi. But since this is a state very heavily visited by outsiders—Indian and foreign—these are supplemented in everyday discourse by English and Hindi. I was struck, on this visit, by the proliferation of slogans in Devanagari, painted on billboards and boundary walls, and advertising all manner of products, from mobile phones to motor bikes. These being commercials, the words were often accompanied by faces, usually of Hindi film stars.
There were other signs of Goa’s integration with the nation. I saw a ‘Brahmakumari Yoga Ashram’, which must advocate a physical regimen which not many would associate, culturally and historically, as being compatible with being Goan. More substantially, in Panaji itself I came across a large and well appointed park named after B. R. Ambedkar. In the middle of the garden was a statue of the great man, holding a copy of the Constitution.
That Constitution that Ambedkar helped draft gave every adult Indian the vote. However, when India became a Republic, on 26th January 1950, Goa was still a Portuguese colony. Twelve years later, the Indian army walked into the territory and, after the garrison there surrendered, announced that it had been reunited with the motherland. Shortly afterwards the Goans were allowed to vote for the first time in their very long history. As in other parts of India, they took to the franchise as a duck to water. In the most recent Assembly elections, held in May this year, almost 70% of the electorate cast their vote.
There is a distinction to be made between ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’. The Goans, by and large, are comfortable with the former; what they really fear is the latter. In the first decade after Liberation, the most serious threat to Goan identity came from the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. The main political force in the territory, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, vigorously campaigned for Goa to be merged into that state. The danger was linguistic as much as it was territorial—for with the argument that Goa was really part of Maharashtra went the sub-text that Konkani was really a dialect of Marathi.
In a referendum held in the late 1960s, the Goans chose not to join Maharashtra. In subsequent decades, there was a vigorous revival of a Konkani identity. After Goa was elevated from Union Territory status to full statehood in 1987, Konkani was bestowed with the title of ‘official’ language. But now a fresh challenge presented itself—this posed not by Marathi or Maharashtrians, but by Outsiders in General. Some non-Goans came to Goa in search of jobs; others in search of a holiday home; yet others in search of Nirvana. Previously isolated beaches became the home of bums and drug addicts; a rash of ugly and uglier hotels and resorts came up alongside.
There are twenty-eight States in India; twenty-eight or more ways of living, speaking, dressing, and believing. Now and then, movements have arised in some States expressing their disenchantment with India and Indians, based on grievances and resentments real and imagined. Most of the time, however, the people living in these various States are happy enough also to be counted citizens of the larger nation of which they are part. Since 1961, Goa and Goans have had occasion to be irritated by India and Indians, but the irritation has never endured long enough for them to ever consider divorce or separation. In her book Goa: A Daughter’s Story, Maria Aurora Couto writes of a friend of hers called José Pereira, a scholar and musician with a ‘personality which is proudly Goan and Indian’. One can say much the same for the state as a whole