Goa’s projected population is 15.09 lakhs and includes people from different religions with the Sikh community being a minority. Over the years, the Punjabis have well established themselves in different sectors, also contributing to Goa’s economy
RAMANDEEP KAUR | NT NETWORK
The Punjabi-connect with Goa began when the Sikh troops arrived here to assist in the state’s struggle for liberation from Portuguese rule. However, some members of the Sikh community, especially those who had their last posting here, chose to settle in Goa and today, almost 57 years down the line, Punjabis have settled in the major cities across the state. According to the 2011 census data, the highest concentration of Sikh population can be found in Mormugao (356), Panaji (74), Margao (59) and Mapusa (34).
According to Surjit Singh Khalsa from Vasco, a former navy official who was posted in Goa in 1981, 80 per cent of the Sikh community are retired defense persons, either navy or army.
“In the north they are all from an army background whereas in the south especially in and around Vasco, they are mostly from navy and other fields,” says Khalsa who is now the president of the Veteran Soldiers Welfare Association based in Dabolim.
Khalsa further adds that those who chose to stay here after their retirement did so because of the terrorist issues Punjab faced at that given time. “They did not go back because they had all the facilities here. The Goa government had granted reservations for their children in schools and all professional colleges. Also many did not want to interrupt their children’s education,” he says.
How the Sikh community integrated into Goa
Having entered as troops, today however, the Punjabis have ventured into different fields. While some have their own businesses; others can be found working in transportation sectors, government offices etc. And along the way, they have imbibed a great love for Goa. A prime example of this is Mandeep Singh, who has been in Goa since 1967 and runs the famous Sher-E-Punjab Restaurant in Panaji, Mandeep prefers calling himself a Goan rather than a Punjabi. “We are very happy being in Goa and mentally I am not a Punjabi, I consider myself a Goan Sikh. I am not a ‘roti’ person; I love fish, curry rice,” he says. Sher-E-Punjab was initially established in erstwhile Bombay by his grandfather in 1932, following which his father Kuldip Singh opened a branch of the restaurant in Goa in 1969 and apart from local clientele, a lot of third and fourth generation ‘Punjabi Goans’ also dine here. “We get tourists coming in based on the recommendations of their parents and grandparents,” he says.
And language was never a barrier for him, as he learnt Konkani as a child. The locals were very helpful and lent them immense support. “Goa is a paradise compared to any place in India, it is a very unique place,” he says.
Sneha Raj Bhandare from Chicalim has also settled down in Goa pretty well. Sneha who traces her roots to Chandigarh came to Goa in 1984; she even graduated from Goa College of Architecture. Since she married a Goan it was easy for her to blend into Goa’s social structures especially since she picked up the Konkani language pretty easily. Initially though she too found the way of life very different and had to learn all the rituals performed for festivals by the way of keen observation. “I used to feel as if I were learning a part in a play, especially when I wore the nine yards and sat for the pujas that I did not understand. But slowly I got comfortable and today I can even wear a nauvari by myself,” says Sneha adding that it is a very personal choice to adapt. “If a person can adapt oneself then even the community makes an effort to adjust to the person.”
She also says that one must genuinely love the place he/she has chosen to make their home. “If you love and respect the sentiments of local community then they too reciprocate. In my case, none of my relatives or Goan friends ever treated me as though I don’t belong here. I am accepted as well as any natural born Goan is,” says Sneha.
As far as food habits are concerned it was easier for Sneha because she is a non-vegetarian. But what she found most difficult was the Goan obsession for strong smelling foods like dry fish, jackfruit, haldi leaves. She says: “In North India we don’t have these flavours and smells. And to be honest, while I have started loving fish, I still cannot get around to dry fish and the sweet dish made of jackfruit.” However, today she has the best of both the worlds at home in Goa and she calls this a “beautiful juxtaposition of lifestyle and culture”.
She does however have a suggestion in terms of Goans needing to buck up while dealing with competition. “Goans are talented no doubt but the competitive edge is missing. It’s not a generalised statement because I have seen many Goans who are go-getters. But by and large Goans are a contended satisfied happy community, though I feel the youth in Goa today have to wake up, look around and realise that Goa is becoming more cosmopolitan and so they should be ready for active competition,” opines Sneha.
Kamaldip Nijjar, a teacher at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Narayan Bandekar School, Upasnagar, Vasco who lives in Chicalim came to Goa 16 years ago and found settling down in Goa pretty stress-free. “Being a vegetarian, I had no issues as we find all the vegetables here, and there are Punjabi restaurants too,” she says, and the same goes with the language. Though she understands Konkani now but can’t speak the language fluently. She recalls that sometimes for the fun of it, her colleagues ask to her to speak in Punjabi.
Khalsa too has had no real issues. While in service, he did not interact much with the locals “but when I started my industrial business I got to communicate with them and they are very cordial and helpful. Being an ex-solider, the Goa government has also looked after me well,” he says.
Challenges they face in Goa
Even so, moving to a new place always requires a bit of adjustment to begin with, whether it is the language, culture, or people.
Similarly, for housekeeper at a casino, Sebhi Jaiswal it was a difficult task initially; the communication barrier in particular was a problem. But over the nine years and her children also sharing their experiences from school, she learned the Konkani language.
She had difficulty pronouncing the names of the places, at first, but as she began listening to other people say them repeatedly it became much easier. The daily necessities and grocery shopping too was difficult as she did not know what the items were called locally. “But as time passed things turned easier, neighbours became friends and they helped in times of need,” says Sebhi.
Ballu Latwal from Porvorim adds that in the past, it was difficult to get raw materials for traditional food. Sourcing traditional clothes was also a problem as nobody knew the authentic way of stitching the suits. In recent times though, these problems have reduced as Goans are now aware of authentic Punjabi festivals, clothing and food.
Being non-locals also meant that there initially was a problem of acceptance by the local community. “A few years back the Sikh population was much less than the present numbers. Some people had problems in accepting us and a few people did speak ill about us, especially in school as my brother used to wear a turban and I was tall; we were the first Sikh students in school,” discloses Navleen Kaur, a student from Bastora.
Manjit Kaur, a resident of St Cruz though didn’t have these problems as the locals were always helpful. “However, locals maybe subconsciously always have treated us as outsiders,” she says.
Khalsa adds that while locals may treat them as outsiders, in government offices they have always shared very cordial relations. But for Tejinder Singh from Vasco, during the initial days in early 70’s the ‘outsider’ approach was very prevalent.
Contribution of the
Having settled in Goa, over the years, the Punjabis have not only made the state their home but have also contributed to its economy, working in different sectors from hotels to transportation, real estate, banks, defense and a number of them occupy prominent posts in various government offices.
Tejinder who belongs to one of the oldest Sikh families in Goa runs a business dealing in software development, logistics services exclusively for banks and provides broadband services. His father was in the Indian Navy and was posted in Goa in 1967. He says: “We established the first Punjabi cuisine restaurant in Vasco, popularly known as New Punjab Bar and Restaurant in the 1970 which still exists today.” In their midst was Arvinder Singh Sandhu, a renowned football player based in Vasco who is also one of the early residents in Vasco.
“Ujagar Singh Arora, Joginder Singh Lall (Tejinder’s father), Kuldip Singh, the owner of Sher-E-Punjab were some of the oldest families based out of Goa,” says Tejinder.
As the CEO of Nirvana, Sneha too has received a lot of adulation and respect. Whenever she speaks in forums outside Goa, she is always introduced as a Goan. “I make sure that in my interactions with those who know very little about Goans as a community, I present the right picture to them. Otherwise some of them carry the wrong notions about Goa as shown in movies.”
And since Sikh troops spearheaded the military action against Portuguese to liberate Goa, it is important to mention Karnail Singh, a soldier from the regiment, who was martyred in course of battle. His contribution to the freedom struggle has been immortalised in the form of a statue in the Pernem taluka. President of Gurudwara Shri Guru Singh Sabha, Betim, Harvinder Singh appeals that the government should restructure and maintain the statue of Karnail Singh.
Harvinder also adds that now Sikhs are setting up their businesses here, thus creating jobs for the locals. “Punjabis are generating revenue and jobs to 3000 to 4000 people in Goa,” he says.
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