Fighting “communalism”, Goan-style


Last week, the Rane-led Congress government in Goa spoke of stopping the “sprouting of illegal constructions and encroachments in public property”, while talking about a law to tackle “communalism” in the state.

New legislation to tackle riots on cards (By Herald Reporter) PANJIM, JULY 12 — Chief Minister Pratapsing Rane tonight said the government is contemplating to bring a legislation with measures to prevent communal disturbance as well as controlling illegal constructions. Rounding up the general discussion on Budget for 2006-07, the chief minister said we have to jointly think of fighting the communal forces trying to create social tension. He said in another 3-4 months, the State government would come out with a legislation to prevent such ugly incidents. The comprehensive legislation would try to put a stop to the sprouting of illegal constructions and encroachments in public property.

First of all, my belief is that the main two forces currently spreading “communalism” (or, intra-religious hate and enmity) are the politicians the press.

Suddenly, the issue of “illegal constructions” is becoming central to this debate. That is strange.

Firstly, let us accept that the laws are so tight in today’s Goa that it’s almost impossible to build a ‘legal’ structure in even your own property. Anyone wanting to squeeze something out of you can point to flaws… unless you have a very good architect, and are rich enough to afford a whole lot of real estate to build on. (But then, even the five-star lobby has been flouting the largely-impractical laws with impugnity.)

Religious shrines have been sprouting all around, but it is only Muslim shrines that get targeted. It appears that the religious places of the two more established-in-Goa religions (Catholicism and Hinduism) don’t get challenged on grounds of being illegal. But they are visible all over the place, including in Kadamba bus stands at places like Panjim and elsewhere.

“Legality” is also a question of having the state behind you. A communally-minded government could easily turn into “legal” any shrines of its choice. Or, conversely, turn illegal those it doesn’t like. For example, none of the churches built during Portuguese rule in Goa would have been considered “illegal”, but if someone wants to build a controversy over the same now and has a government in power, this could easily be the case.

It’s frightening to see the insidious campaign against places of worship being built by Muslims in Goa. Some time back, a search for areas where such issues had been raked up, threw up a fairly long list below (probably there would be more cases which I missed through an internet search). For instance:

Luizinho flays bid to burn mosque: The Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Luizinho Faleiro expressed shock over the attempt to burn the mosque at Mardol on December 13. From Gomantak Times, December 14, 2004.

Protected monuments: Ten more ancient and historical sites in the State have been brought under the protective shield of the Goa, Daman and Diu Ancient Monuments and Archaeological
Sites and Remains Act, 1978 with effect from October 16, 2003. These include the Fort of Reis Magos at Verem, the Fortress of Khorjuve at Aldona, the Cave of Sidhanath at Surla, the Mosque and Tank at Tar Surla, the British Cemetery at Dona Paula, the Fortress of St Estevam, the Fort at Marmagoa, the site of Kaivailya Math at Consua-Cortalim, the Cave at Shigao-Sanguem and the site of Narayandev at Vichundra in Sanguem. In Herald, October 19, 2003

Maulana directed not to hold demonstrations in front of masjid VASCO: Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Mormugao, Levinson Martins, in an order passed on March 16 directed the Maulana of Madina Masjid, Vasco, and the managing committee not to hold any demonstration in front of the mosque or take any rally in and around Vasco city or cause any breach of peace. Gomantak Times, March 17, 2006.

‘Demolish all illegal religious structures in Mormugao’ The Murgao Samaj Seva Samiti of Vasco has demanded that all illegal religious structures – be it a mosque, temple or church – in Mormugao taluka be demolished by the concerned authorities and that there should not be interference from any quarters. The Samiti has also requested the Hindus,
Christians and Muslims to support the authorities in this task. Weekender/Goamantak Times, March 19, 2006.

Govt pledges aid for South Goa’s Davorlim mosque Submitted by Herald Cybernew… on 23 November, 2003 – 9:36am. MARGAO, NOV 22 (HR) Panchayat Minister, Babu Azgaonkar has assured the Muslim community that the government would provide required infrastructure to the Al Sunni Masjid located at
Rumdamol-Davorlim.

Desecration of mosque at Housing Board, Mapusa, flayed. According to the Mufeedul Muslameen Youth Organisation, antisocial elements had demolished the compound wall,
important parts of the mosque and burnt the mats used to perform namaz. Herald, October 11, 2005.

Curti village council discusses the masjid (Muslim prayer centre) issue. Gova Doot. Dec 6, 2005.

Tempers ran high at Curti-Khandepar on Friday, when residents held a demonstration to demand the demolition of a masjid project under construction at Curti. Herald, October 15-16, 2005.

I find it impossible to believe that only one community is committing illegalities. This is also not what is visible at the eye-level. Why is the issue being posited in this manner? And what role is the Congress government playing on the same? The BJP approach is more or less well known and open.

This could be like the case of those post-Curchorem meetings which were insidiously converted into campaigns to criticise “illegal religious shrines” without appreciating the implications of the same. The role of the media in stoking up such issues also needs to be monitored.

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