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Love thy neighbour  The Goa-Karnataka connect

Danuska Da Gama | NT NETWORK

Goa has been a preferred destination for most people not just for holidays, but as a place to have a home and accelerate their lives and career. When Goans were aiming to go abroad and had to travel outside the state for studies, opportunistic neighbours from Karnataka made a permanent move to Goa.

The 2011 Census points out that 67,923 people in Goa use Kannada as their mother tongue, this figure is negligible considering the population of over 4 lakh Kannadigas that use other languages, including Marathi and Konkani as their mother tongue.

Rulers, colonisation, expansion and development were some factors that led to migration of people across states, and while several Goans found shelter in Karnataka, people from the neighbouring state came to Goa too.

“Since the establishment of the Vijaynagar Empire and the early days of trade there have been interactions between Goa and Karanataka. And the same continued with the trade relationship between the two states. Since Goa was a Union Territory people wanted to settle here, Goans from Mangalore and Karwar came back after liberation. After Goa Statehood and reservation, the number of people coming to Goa decreased,” says associate professor Geography and president of the Ponda Kannada Sangh, Krishna R Badiger. Locals fled to Karnataka when conversions were taking place and thus Konkani is also one of the spoken languages in North Karnataka.


The route to trade and employment

People from Karnataka have settled in Goa for several years. In fact, the early settlers date back to the late 1800s. The first families that entered Goa, namely, the Gadvis and Palekars, were involved in trade and business.

After liberation several professionals seized opportunities in Goa in fields like teaching, engineering, science, medicine, etc. This can be attributed to the fact that Goa was far behind in education and facilities as compared to the large neighbouring state. While it improved to a great extent after liberation, those who wanted to pursue higher education had to go to Karwar, Pune or Mumbai. Many migrated abroad or took up jobs on cruise liners which made it easier for the educated and qualified neighbours to gain access to ‘good’ and secure jobs in the state.

Many Kannadigas who settled in Goa in the 90s were employed in government departments and thus have contributed to Goa’s growth, directly and indirectly. “There were several people who came to Goa to offer their services to the State and people. Several teachers and engineering teachers and personnel in the government were from Karnataka,” says Mallikarjun Badami, a civil engineer who came to Goa in the 1986.

While they initially came for work, most of them spent years climbing the ladder in their respective fields, and thus chose to make Goa their permanent residence. “After some years of working here you tend to realise that you are neither a Goan nor from Karnataka, and thus choosing a place and having a home here was the best option for most Kannadigas as Goans were hospitable, and the feeling one got in Goa was very homely,” he says.

In the 90’s Uday Kumar Javali’s brother Ramesh Babu came to Goa as a surgeon and worked in several hospitals. After thoroughly understanding the sea of opportunities available in Goa, he made sure his siblings came over to find good jobs. “I have now retired after completing 36 years of service as a technician at National Institute of Oceanography, besides starting the first readymade uniform business in Goa,” says Uday Kumar Javali, from Panaji.

From the early 90s till about 10 years ago there was rapid infrastructural development in the government and private sectors in Goa, and builders and contractors largely depended on the labour-class from Karnataka. “In those days the wages were not proportionate to the work they did, but it was still a lot for the workers who lived and travelled in groups. I had a group of Kannadigas who worked for close to fifteen years and then returned to their village after making money and building their homes there,” says a Goan builder.

“It’s easy for Goans to call us ‘ghatis’, but if you look around most houses and building have the sweat and hard work of Kannadigas who comprised the major labour force in Goa until recently. And the difference in work, skill and quality can be felt today as most of the people working as labourers are from Jharkand, Bihar, Chattisgarh,” says a youth from Karanataka who is used to being called ‘ghati’ by his friends; a nickname or taunt used by locals in the State.

Prakash Yadahalli who works Doordarshan goes on to explain that presently labourers are paid better in Karnatak as compared to Goa. “The standard of living is high here and so it makes no sense for them to work here. They can practice farming there for which they have started getting help from the government too. Wages are better or almost the same there,” he says.

Shrikant Loni came to Goa as a civil contractor and used to take up smaller jobs. After establishing a base and gaining sufficient experience he got his licence and now undertakes major civil works for the government.

The stories of Shrikant, Prakash, Javali and others resonate with the stories of others from the community that paints a picture of Goa being a lucrative destination.


The second largest community in Goa

The Kannadiga’s are proud to say they are the second largest community in Goa, after Goans, of course. With close to 6 lakh people scattered in all 12 talukas, some members of the community have had up to four generations live in this state.

As the community merged into the socio-economic fabric of Goa, they decided to have an association to take care of their own socio-cultural needs. The Goa Kannada Samaj was founded in 1984 and today it has 28 All Goa Kannada Sanghs in various parts of Goa.

The samaj has been actively organising events to celebrate the culture and tradition of Karnataka whilst integrating Goa’s culture with theirs and felicitating successful people from both communities.

“We organise 8-10 events every year and make sure that there is participation from all the 28 sanghs. These events serve as a platform to meet our people and celebrate our identity in Goa,” says secretary, Arun Kumar.

“Since we are born and brought up in Karnataka we are still connected to our roots and ensure to keep in touch with our family, people, culture and traditions. However, the younger generation born and raised in Goa don’t have as much affinity to their roots, though as elders we try our best to propagate heritage and culture through our mother tongue, celebrations, etc,” Badami says.

At home the elders generally speak in the local mother tongue, Kannada or native dialects, and say that is how they make sure their children understand and use the language.

In fact through the efforts of the samaj, the government set up a Kannada medium government school in Zuarinagar. Here, free education up to class 10 is offered. However, the major hindrance is that students are forced to travel to Karwar for the class 10 board exams as there is no examination centre in Goa. This has resulted in many students from the labour-class dropping out after class 9.

The members of the samaj tell us their community is a large one. They have been pressing for land and space for an office and centre in an around Panaji for a long time. “Last year the late CM Manohar Parrikar had a meeting with us and had given us assurance, but now we don’t know what will happen. MLA Digambar Kamat offered us land in Margao, but we want the location to be in the centre, easily accessible to all,” informs a member.


Religious traditions and culture kept alive

Hindu, Christian and Muslim Kannadigas celebrate all the major festivals including Eid, Christmas, Ganesh Chaturthi, Akshaya Tritiya, Diwali and Gudi Padwa. However, they have celebrations that are special to their community.

Basava Jayanthi is traditionally observed by the Lingayats. This day marks the birthday of Basavanna, the 12th century poet-philosopher, and the founding saint of the Lingayat sect. This year it will be celebrated on May 8.

Dasara is a state festival in Karnataka and is celebrated with grandeur for 10 days, especially in Mysuru. The festival is celebrated in Goa too. A special Durga Pooja is organised for members of the community and married couples perform a pooja of the Goddess.

The community celebrates Liberation Day in December and Karnataka Rajyotsava on November 1. The latter was the day, in the year1956, when all the Kannada language-speaking regions of south India were merged to form the state of Karnataka.

One of the most popular folk theatre forms of Karnataka, Yakshagana is also held in Goa. Like a play it has music, colourful costumes, vigorous dance movements, subtle expressions and dialogues. The mahila samaj of the community hosts programmes for the ladies of the community. “On Nag Panchami competitions like laddoo making, etc, are organised for women,” says Badiger.

Many programmes organised in Goa are in association with the department of Art and Culture, Government of Karnataka and include quizzes, talks and variety of programmes related to events happening in Karnataka.

A major percent of Kannadigas are Hindu. Unlike a few States, they tell NT NETWORK that they worship all Gods revered by Goan Hindus. However, the main temple that most Kannadigas visit is the Shree Yella Lingeshwara temple in Zuarinagar.

The Siddharoodha Math which has its main branch in Hubli is situated in Porvorim. It is worshipped by the Hindu brethren and is one of the most frequented holy places of the Kannadigas in Goa.

While most Lingayats are known to be vegetarian, many have adopted Goa’s staple food and have turned non-vegetarians. “Our main food is jowar roti and vegetable preparations. Those who have come from the coast eat fish. But there are many who came to Goa back then as pure vegetarians and their families now eat fish and other meat produce,” says Suresh Kanavi.

Most Kannadigas living in Goa live in joint families, speak Kannada at home and eat food that is typical of Karnataka. “We keep our tradition alive by speaking Kannada at home. Also, jowar roti, vegetable preparations and curd is our staple food. We still haven’t ventured into eating fish,” says Hanuman Sirur from Bicholim.

It may be rather surprising to know that a majority of the priest population in the state are Kannadigas, and no ritual, of birth or death, can be complete without the service of our neighbour priest.


Integrating and strengthening bonds

Goans have been welcoming and thus outsiders have meandered well into the community. “We’ve never felt like outsiders in Goa. There might be a few people who term us as ‘ghatis’, but it doesn’t bother us. We’ve been accepted with wide arms since the early days and have managed to grow our community here because of the welcoming nature,” says priest, Arunkumar from Mapusa who is the secretary of Goa Kannada Samaj.

He came to Goa for his sister’s marriage and fell in love with the place. While performing religious duties remains his primary job, Arunkumar like many other Kannadigas has diversified into business too.

He tells us that Goans today have picked up a few lines of Kannada, while Kannadigas are fluent in Konkani, Marathi or both. “It can be quiet tough to distinguish a real Goan from a Kannadiga if you make them speak Konkani or Marathi,” he quips, before adding that foreigners might come to Goa for touristic pleasure, but when Kannadigas migrated here the culture also played a major role.

“We have done good business in Goa. Be it groceries, engineering companies, contractors or vegetable vendors, the people of Goa have cooperated with us. We have served our community and contributed to Goa’s economic growth,” says Javali.

Suresh Kanavi has no plans of retiring to his hometown. “Karnataka is my ‘janm bhoomi’, but Goa is our ‘karma bhoomi’,” he says before adding that they have adopted Goans’ lifestyle and there is not much of a culture difference among the Hindus of Goa and Karanataka.

“A lot of Kannadigas have married into the Goan community and vice versa, and it cannot be avoided when you have mix of cultures,” says Javali. Badiger mentions that his children studied in a Konkani medium school but are fluent in Kannada, however they were trained to answer a special exam KCET, which has a special paper in Kannada knowledge to get qualified for avenues for further studies.

And while Goa and Karnataka may share a different relationship, politically and strategically, especially with the issue of Mhadei, the Kannadigas in Goa aren’t taking any sides and are loyal to the State that has given them much more than just jobs and business.

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