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The wandering Goan

Frederick Noronha


Our honourable legislators, on one of those rare days when the Goa assembly meets, raked up a storm last week. At its centre was a comment about Goans migrating abroad in big numbers, and then ending up in menial jobs in places like London. Cleaning toilets’ was the term used by former chief minister Pratapsing Rane, whose view incidentally drew a fair amount of desk thumping from his legislature colleagues.

What was probably meant as an argument to rally support for mining, ended up as a huge debate on Goan migration. Radharao Gracias, the maverick former legislator and lawyer, known as much for his wit as his acerbic tongue, responded by pointing out to the significantly large number of Goan world-class achievers who had reached the helm of many fields.

Advocate Gracias’ list (somehow listing only Catholic names) countered the impression that Goan migration is necessarily low-end. If we don’t know enough, it’s because of ignorance of our own past. Radha, as he is known, is someone who has long and seriously been tracking the Goan diaspora world. He has names, people and places on his fingertips.

Authors like the late Dr Teresa Albuquerque (Goan Pioneers in Bombay, 2012) and J Clement Vaz (Profiles of Eminent Goans: Past and Present, 1997 and reprinted recently), among others, have done a lot of work in tracking the shining stars from this tiny region. Dr Teresa completed this work while she was an octogenarian, I know. Clement Vaz, whose family one ran into recently, did this work after his retirement, in an era when easy information was not even available via cyberspace.

Much has been said about the comments made in the assembly, which have been dissected from various points of view. But now that the often-ignored issue of Goan migration has come up for debate (even if for all the wrong reasons, and in an odd manner), it might be apt to look at the various issues that this itself throws up.

In one Facebook group, someone wrote a pithy, two-dozen word message. It read: “It’s respectful and cheaper to get a Portuguese passport, and earn more, than to buy a job paying 20 lakhs and then take bribes.” Over sixty persons (many of whom would be expats, I guess) posted ‘likes’ below the message. Most commenting on the message agreed with it.

Without castigation anyone who exercises the option to migrate (it’s their right, their choice), this issue does throw up some thorny issues here. Goans, going by the estimation of some scholars like Robert S Newman, have about the highest rates of out-migration in the world. People from this region have been landing on distant shores for maybe three, four or even five and six generations by now. While the rest of India quickly catches up in the out-migration race, few other parts of India have seen as much pressure as Goa in terms of ultimately facing a disconnect with home, speedy affluence, language loss, adopting new countries and customs, reaching very high up in life in distant parts of the globe, and the alienation that comes with being uprooted (even if primarily for economic and aspirational reasons).

The comment on Facebook, above, begs many a question, ones which most are not ready to acknowledge. Is a government job the only thing we can think of, and aspire to, in Goa, even assuming (for the sake of argument) that it costs `20 lakh to get one? Are we so uncreative? From personal experience, I have worked in a couple of government jobs in Goa, paid not a paisa to get in (agreed, if one needs favours and lacks a political lobby, then it could be cash) and had no problems with the same. But, quickly enough, I too wanted to take on more challenges.

The argument that moving out is the best way of bucking an unhelpful system is for some an alibi for opting for greener pastures. Nothing wrong with choosing that, but why come up with easy excuses?

Of course, Goans have been good (for at least 2-3 generations now) at getting jobs across the globe. But should our visions and aspirations be restricted to this alone? There is a deep lack of entrepreneurial talent among the Catholic community, members of which are most prone to migration. This, together with their proclivity to pick up jobs overseas, is a double-edged sword. Then too, they merge so well abroad, that few return, unless faced by an Idi Amin or Saddam Hussein.

Migration has become a habit, nay an addiction. While we need not fall for taunts, there is perhaps a need for self-introspection over what can be done to face this situation. Many have already expressed concern about the Goan becoming the Wandering Jew of the 21st century (Manohar Rai Sardessai called them the World Wanderers), that too without a Promised Land. This is an issue which has long-term implications and will impact issues of identity, self-perception, and the future.

The first step towards dealing with this issue would be to understand the nature and seriousness of the issue. That is a task hardly taken up, as yet. Various governments, regardless of the party in power at Panaji, have failed to do anything of worth for the significantly large expat Goan population. Mostly, the contribution of the NRI Commission of Goa, now and in the past, has been zero, if not something actually negative. One doesn’t even hear of its activities.

Beyond that, Goa needs steps to train its young in better ways (at least so that nobody lashes out at them for ‘cleaning toilets’ tomorrow, even if in theory we all believe in dignity of labour). Expats have long been promised a chance to contribute to positive change back home, but this has remained as mere words.

Above all, experience has shown that the government alone cannot be depended upon to undertake such steps. If the citizens care for it, they need to take the first step.

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