Lusostalgia… and the ‘golden’ pre-1961 days

On Goanet one of the recurring themes is a dispute over how we understand Portugese rule in Goa. If it was so good (for us!) how could it be so bad?

Maybe it’s all a question of how we view things. Gabriel de Figueiredo in Australia and Paulo Colaco Dias in the UK were arguing this issue recently. Gabriel cited the post below:

Province to Colony

Friday, Feb. 01, 1963

A year after Indian troops ended Portugal’s 451-year rule over its tiny colony of Goa on India’s west coast, native Goans were longing last week for the bad old days of colonial oppression.

Under the Portuguese, Goa’s virtually duty-free status had ensured it a higher standard of living than neighboring India. Teachers and minor government officials, paid nearly three times as much as their counterparts across the border, could easily afford such imported luxuries as Belgian sausage and $2-a-bottle Scotch whisky. Field laborers carried transistor radios, and peasant women dabbed their ears with Chanel No. 5. A steady stream of ships carried high-grade Goan ore to Europe as well as Japan. “All you had to do to make money,” said one Goan trader, “was to type a few letters.”

But independence from Portugal brought Goa under the control of India’s austerity economy and stifling bureaucracy. About the same time, foreign demand for its iron ore slumped; production dropped from 1,000,000 tons in 1961 to 650,000 tons last year. Wage scales were adjusted downward to an Indian scale, but the cost of living climbed by 3%. Indian import restrictions abruptly cut off the flow of foreign goods, bankrupting many small merchants, and forcing Goans to pay more for Indian merchandise of a lesser quality.

Hesitant Indian officials referred even minor bureaucratic decisions to New Delhi, where they became lost in a labyrinth of red tape. It was over a year before local merchants were allowed to pick up goods imported and paid for before liberation, by which time much of the stuff had rotted away on the docks of Mormugão harbor. Though Portugal oppressively banned all political opposition, it did give Goa a considerable amount of local autonomy. Under New Delhi’s rule, Goa hoped at least to become a separate state. But the neighboring Indian states of Mysore and Maharashtra, covetous of Goa’s economic potential and of Mormugão harbor, which is one of the finest harbors on the subcontinent, have each begun a campaign to annex it.

All in all, morale is low. Grumbled one Goan bitterly: “Under the Portuguese we were considered a province. Under India, to our surprise, we find we are treated like a colony.” Source: TIME magazine.

In response, this blogger just cited Robert S “Bob” Newman’s essay. While this blogger is very much and persistently vocal about post-1961 corruption, environmental degradation, barely-representative politics, and the large-scale “transfer” of resources, one feels that justifying Portuguese colonialism is hardly the answer.

During the Salazar regime (established in 1926) and particularly after World War II, Portugal tried to hold on to the fragments of her Indian empire by belatedly encouraging some development projects and by turning Goa into a duty-free port.

It had long been known that Goa was extremely rich in iron-ore deposits, and in 1947 the Portuguese began issuing leases for developing them. The leases were taken up mainly by local Hindu merchants, who paid as little as Rs 300 for the priviledge of becoming mine owners. With the infusion of foreign capital from India and elsewhere (specifically, Japan and West Germany), the Goan mines developed rapidly in the last decade of colonial rule.

There were also attempts to expand the road network, electricity supply, and school system, all of which had been neglected up to then. “Only in the last two years … were textbooks for Marathi … primary schools prepared under government supervision and published in Goa.”

The number of scholarships for study in Portugal was increased, and many Hindus were given the opportunity to attend the metropolitan universities — an opportunity rarely available until this period.

After 1947, Portuguese salaries were very high compared to those paid in India; and retirement pensions were equal to the salaries. Cheap luxury goods and the availability of imported staples made Portuguese rule palatable to many; even today, older Goans yearn for the days of cheap whisky, cheese, olives, and Japanese textiles.

In general, the prices of many consumer goods were about 50 to 70 per cent below Indian levels, while incomes were nearly double — a situation which encouraged large-scale smuggling of goods into India.

The Portuguese succeeded in creating an artificial prosperity based on iron-ore exports, high salaries, and low prices for duty-free goods. Aimed at the politically-aware middle class and the intellectuals, however, the system offered little if anything to the vast majority of people — those engaged in agriculture and fishing. In fact, farmers and fishermen were reduced to subsistence levels,since their products could not compete with the cheap imported foods. There is good evidence that Portuguese efforts to mollify anticolonial feelings were superficial at best.

The only bank in Goa until 1961 was the Banco Nacional Ultramarino, which gave no interest on deposits. There were no separate departments or sections of government for various aspects of economic affairs (industry, agriculture, fisheries, forests, mining, land survey, statistics, price control, etc). Rather, all activities were lumped together under a Directorate of Economic Services.

Portugal, a poor country itself, had neither the capital to invest in Goa nor the industrial output to supply Goa’s needs — not even the ships to bring goods and take away iron ore. The Goan economy was doubly colonial; subject to a do-nothing Portuguese administration, it was also exploited by Japanese, European, and American interests who bought the iron ore and invested in some domestic facilities. Japan and West Germany together took 70 per cent of Goa’s iron-ore production in 1960. — Robert S Newman, ‘Goa: The Transformation of an Indian Region’ in “Of Umbrellas, Goddesses & Dreams: Essays on Goan Culture and Society” (academic references not included above, available in book, Other India Press, Mapusa 2001, ISBN 81-85569-51-7

Tell me what you feel, then….

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