“When did you get back?” That’s a question I sometimes face, from people in my own village. To me, this is undeniably an embarrassing question. More so, because I’ve never ever left, apart from at best a short few days sojourn somewhere nearby, or a travel for work for maybe three or four days.
So what makes my co-villagers feel that I have migrated, or have shifted, elsewhere?
Frankly, the fault is entirely mine. As I am quick to admit, some of us (me too) have been treating our village as if it were a dormitory. We leave it to get our work done, come back and often shift to the computer while we are here. Thus, we have interaction only of a very small degree with it.
No wonder, when someone sees (rather, interacts) with you after such a long time, and in a rather limited manner, they naturally assume that you’ve simply migrated somewhere!
Looking back, I sometimes wonder how the average Goan’s relationship with his or her village has changed over the years. A little over a generation ago, the village was a rather productive place. It sustained entire lives. It grew its own food, fed its own markets, repaired its own shoes, had its own schools and met its own religious needs. Even if this didn’t show up in the grand health statistics of modern times, it had the skills to cure itself (up to some point). It had its traditional ‘nurses’, even if without fancy degrees, and the nearby villages had their bone-setters. It was rather self-dependent.
But that all has changed.
In our rush towards ‘development’ (a controversial term, often interpreted in a dubious manner), we have virtually killed our villages. Today, our villages are dependent on the outside world for their food, water, most of their jobs, and a whole lot more.
It would not be wrong to say that today’s average Goan has three different types of relationships with his or her village. The first is that of minimal involvement, where villages are little more than dormitories and shelters for us. This is also the reality for a whole lot of intra-state and inter-state migrants. Those who are victims of Goa’s lop-sided growth where the state’s central core is hugely overgrown, while the hinterland is starved of infrastructure, transport, jobs and quality education. Just citing one prestigious institution in these areas is unlikely to improve things, too.
While it is fashionable in today’s Goa to criticise the out-of-state migrant, the fact is we have a huge intra-state migration issue within Goa itself. Remote villages have got depopulated, without many even noticing. The central core which researcher Biswaroop Das looked at in the early 1980s, continue to have the dubious distinction of gaining an excessive share of both infrastructure and in-migration.
The second type of villager, now in a minority, actually treats the village as a village. He continues to plough its fields, she continues to plant and harvest rice. This is a tiny section, increasingly facing the challenges of having to struggle to cope. His earnings are on the decline in real times; growing rice can earn you less than you invest. Labour supply is shrinking, and one has to depend on inputs from outside. Agriculture and the village life cannot cope with the quick money promised by tourism or our over-inflated bureaucracy.
It’s the third type of villager who is the most scary; one who decides that generations of investment into building the village way of life is meant to harvest now, to cash in on, for their personal use and enrichment.
This villager is the one who cashes in on land rackets, sells water from agricultural fields built with government subsidies, builds houses in field areas, and is willing to do anything to earn that extra buck. To some extent, this trend can be explained by that lack of jobs, lack of high local earning potential (never mind Goa’s misleadingly high per capita incomes), and even a lack of education that stymies growth. But more than anything, it is also greed of wanting to cash in on everything, super fast.
With the panchayat elections on us this weekend, excuse me for being cynical, but it is this group of Goans that can be seen in most strength. While such issues might not reach the public discourse, talk to anyone in the village, and they are likely to tell you the histories and geographies of those who are doing the best in the race.
Some have spent decades cornering properties, others have build up votebanks of those coming from elsewhere and in desperate need of accommodation, and yet others find the humble panchayat such a gold mind that they’d like to pack in all their possible relatives into the field. Needless to say, the game of political gerrymandering (including by reserving certain seats for women, etc) continues.
Panchayats have been romanticised and called village republics or forms of grassroots democracy. Some organisations, including NGOs, have gone about trying to hold these institutions accountable, by sharing information on how they are supposed to work. But as the predominant institutions in today’s Goan village, the inconvenient issues about villages and panchayats also need to be raised, if we are to anyway address, let alone sort out, the many issues on hand.