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Goa’s citizenship woes

Frederick Noronha

Goa’s BJP unit was quick to reassure the “Christian community” in the state that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) would not have any adverse impact on them; they criticised the Congress for “misleading” people on this issue. Likewise, NRI Commissioner and former MP Narendra Sawaikar held out a similar assurance, regarding the CAA.

Both the CAA and the National Register of Citizens, which has caused myriad problems of its own in Assam, have faced protests over the past week across the country for diverse reasons. Technically though, both the BJP and Sawaikar are right. The CAA-NRC doesn’t directly target specifically individuals in Goa. One would have to see how it plays out, if and when it gets implemented. But, both, at the same time, only bring to the surface the many citizenship woes that a significant section within Goa has been facing since that fateful day in 1961 when everyone’s status changed.

Goa, with its extremely high per capita rate of out-migration, is naturally concerned by shifting goal-posts on the citizenship front. In absolute numbers, the total number of Goans might seem small. But every second family is affected by migration, often international. That number is not going down, despite official statistics telling us that Goa is becoming better by the day. Earlier, Goan migration was mainly from the Catholic community. Today youngsters of all backgrounds see moving out as economically promising.

In fact, the colossal failure of officialdom in Goa, including the NRI Commission and all political parties including the Opposition, becomes clear. The NRI Commission has put out that it is “trying to establish” contacts with the Karachi Goan Association. They are just an email away! Sawaikar’s view, as shared via the media, is that “some Goans” who “stayed” in Pakistan had “some issues about their visa and

passport”.

There are in fact at least four issues emerging from this debate, as far as Goa goes. The first is about the Karachi Goans. As discussed in this very column some weeks ago, this section finds every barrier placed in their way to even visit home.

Some thousands of Goans settled in that city as economic migrants when it was part of Undivided India. Today, their population is still estimated at maybe 15,000. They went there in search of a better life, just as many from here moved to other cities of Undivided India. Independence, Partition and Liberation happened subsequently. These were events they had no control over; and which nobody had an ideas as to how these would shape out over time to come. They were caught, and remain caught, in the wheels of history.

While this is largely a Christian Goan population, someone recently was discussing a Goan Hindu family which is still there. Contrary to what the political discourse suggests, their choice could well be based on economic considerations, not religious.

Today, they find it extremely tough to even get visas to visit their home, Goa. Using some archaic clauses and rules, about exchanging pilgrims, they need to come in a group during the St Xavier’s feast period, report to the police, and be otherwise harassed. Not just that, even those who have shifted to say Canada, and are Canadian nationals today, find it very hard to get visas, just because their city of birth shows up as Karachi.

This section of the population is hardly interested in seeking Indian citizenship. They are mostly middle class, and doing well. What they need is a halt on the discriminatory issuing of visas. This population did not migrate after Partition, nor did they shift there on religious or political grounds. They chose Karachi, just as many other Goans opted for other Indian cities of those times, like Bombay, Bangalore or Calcutta.

To make matters worse, they find even their properties caught up in some law that is wholly irrelevant to Goa. Called the Enemy Property Act, this law was passed after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

In January 2018, media reports pointed out that tiny Goa itself had 263 properties on the “enemy properties” list – the fourth largest number among all states nationwide! The total failure of our political class in pointing out how irrelevant such laws are to Goa is a case in itself. Interestingly, the Konkani film ‘Enemy’ deals with this very issue.

This imbroglio is, of course, not connected with the CAA-NRC. But it does show very sharply how an issue relating to one country in the CAA-NRC debate affects actual people from Goa.

The second, and wider, issue has been the difficulty many Goans face over citizenship, simply because their history, and manner in which they joined the Indian Union, has been different.

Goa joined the Indian Union nearly a decade-and-half later; that’s how history shaped up. Many Goans still find it difficult to fit into the law. This is specially true when expatriates sometimes apply for OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) status. Only to find that they keep running into roadblocks, merely because their parents or grandparents had migrated out of Goa, in the pre-1961 era, and were then considered Portuguese nationals, not British Indian or Indian.

This issue has got even more complicated in recent times, with quite a number of Goans opting for Portuguese passports or citizenship. Advocate Albertina Almeida and Amita Kanekar have discussed this issue at length, in the context of the CAA-NRC. Ironically enough, even some legislators, some backing the BJP too, have been targeted by allegations of opting for Portuguese nationality. For understandable reasons, these matters remain in a state of limbo.

Thirdly, the CAA-NRC concerns also highlight the wider mess on the citizenship front as far as Goans go. Due to the political developments of 1961, all those then residing in Goa had Indian citizenship thrust upon them as of December 20, 1961. That is, unless they chose to return their “immediately” previous citizenship or nationality within a month. The Goa, Daman and Diu (Citizenship) Order, 1962, which crafts this as the route out, can still be found, of all places, on the RefWorld site of the UN High Commission for Refugees.

The maze of migration and citizenship till plays out in very strange ways for the Goan worldwide and in Goa. The Goa (Citizenship) Order takes care of those who were born till 1961, and were residents in Goa then.

This still left out quite a few, in a state where as many as maybe one-third of its six-lakh population in the early 1960s was part of the migration process. Some friends, whose parents had migrated to East Africa as Portuguese citizens pre-1961, and returned subsequently, found themselves in a citizenship netherworld back in Goa. Today, ironically, it might be easier for someone from Goa to claim Portuguese nationality.

The fourth issue is the possibility howsoever remote of Goans, once again, getting kicked around like a political football, facing as some do the prospect of statelessness. One generation ago, this was a reality for them in Idi Amin’s Uganda, and in Hasting Banda’s Malawi. Many also got caught up in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, some of whom returned back in trauma.

In the first two cases, little help came from home, or the Government of Goa. The Government of India did help with some repatriation efforts from Iraq. Those East African Goans who decided to return to Goa did not have it easy either. After facing racism, Enoch Powell and his ‘rivers of blood’ threats, quite a few nonetheless opted for the UK or Canada, and are doing well there today.

After 1961, some Goans actually left for Portugal. While many stayed on there, and remain bitter over how they had been treated in changing times, a few returned on realising that their properties here would be at stake.

Besides this, the Goan has had his or her own experience with other discriminatory laws. The ‘mundkar’ or tenancy laws have hit hard the very section of small land-holders, even single home owners, who had opted for migration. Another generation of their children among the non-resident Goans are still fighting to reclaim their properties, in the year 2019.

Likewise, domicile laws meant to benefit ‘sons of the soil’ actually hurt the interests of those who might have migrated even for a few years, for jobs. Their children would lose out on admissions and jobs which need mandatory domicile. Now, the sword of ‘Enemy Property’ over the Karachi Goans’ head is only the latest in the list of unfair laws, supposedly equal to all but which wound some more than they hurt others.

Radharao Gracias, the maverick former legislator, speaking at a book release one recalls, sometime in 2010, had argued that dual citizenship was something that would help a migration-oriented community like that in Goa. But, don’t expect to get it because Goans want it, he had also argued, pointing out that this community was, in numerical terms in a country of one-whatever billion then, too small and too insignificant.

“It will come about when Gujaratis [or some such big and influential group] demands for it,” he had said, in a comment which now seems prescient. That’s something Goa might have little control over. But, for starters, it would surely help if our political class could understand the local needs better, and represent the same less

inadequately.

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