Saturday, August 31, 2013

"Europeans of An Other Colour: Why the Goans are Portuguese" - KAFILA (India - 31 August 2013)

This article serves as a response to Sir Andrew Green’s comment on the alleged misuse of Portuguese citizenship by Indian nationals of Goan origin whom the Daily Star and the Daily Mail have characterized as immigrants who travel to Great Britain to take advantage of it. Green’s perspective from a few months ago mirrors prevalent xenophobic views on the rights of immigrants to Europe; hence, the counterpoint offered here hopes to challenge such bias as it will surely continue to be expressed.

On 13 May, 2013, the Goan Ethernet was aflame with outrage at statements made by Sir Andrew Green, chairperson of Migration Watch, and carried in the Daily Star and the Daily Mail. The Daily Star reported, “An Indian national from Goa can obtain Portuguese citizenship if their parents were Portuguese citizens prior to 1961,” and quoted Green as saying, “They can then move straight to the UK with their family. On arrival they can avail themselves, immediately, of all the benefits available to UK citizens.” The Daily Mail seems to have been spurred on by Green’s statement, going on to claim that “[a] number of Indian nationals from the former Portuguese territory of Goa are thought to have taken advantage of the loophole. Indians living in Goa can claim they have Portuguese heritage and so claim Portuguese citizenship. They can then move directly to Britain - without ever having to visit Portugal - and bring a family without meeting any qualification test.”
Given the manner in which the matter regarding Goan access to Portuguese citizenship has been reported in the British press, as academics studying Goa and the Goan community, we believe that there is a need to redress such misrepresentations and firmly call out, not only the wilful amnesia about Britain’s imperial past, but also the Anglo-centric interpretation of colonialism, the post-colonial, and de-colonised world order that motivates such representations. In so doing, our aim is to address not merely a need for Goans and others of former Portuguese India to assert the legitimacy of their actions, but to also enable a view of the global order from a position that is more respectful of the formerly colonised.

Addressing the aforementioned inherently Anglo-centric bias of the colonial and post-colonial context requires commencing with a review of the Western European encounter with South Asia. This engagement traces back to the late 15th century with the Portuguese “discovery” of the sea-route to the fabled Indies. It resulted in the establishment of what came to be known as Estado da Índia Portuguesa, or the Portuguese State in India, which was centred in Goa in 1510. The boundaries of Portuguese India, which extended to other enclaves beyond Goa were firmly fixed only in the 18th century in the face of contestation with, not just local, but other European powers as well. As a result of this early entry into South Asia, by the time the British departed from the subcontinent upon handing over power to two nation-states - India and Pakistan - the Portuguese State in India would outlast their English counterparts and have existed for approximately 450 years. This Portuguese state was markedly different from the one that the British had created in the course of their time in the subcontinent. Most significant, for the misrepresentations that we seek to correct, was the fact that through the length of its presence in the subcontinent, the Portuguese state attempted to recognise natives as citizens, or bearers of rights equal to those of persons from the metropole. As a consequence, Goa was represented by non-white parliamentary representatives from 1834 when the declaration of the constitutional monarchy in Portugal created the space for a national parliament. These rights were extended universally in 1910 with the commencement of the First Portuguese Republic, only to be eclipsed somewhat during the course of the dictatorial Estado Novo, or New State, headed by Dr. António Oliveira Salazar. Nonetheless, the rhetoric of equality was firmly established and constantly referred to by Portuguese Indians, whether living in Goa, or as migrants to British India or, indeed, British East Africa where many Goans lived and worked, as bearers of Portuguese citizenship. Within this colonial framework, even if only in legal theory, racial and cultural difference was in fact surmountable.

This situation was certainly different from that existent in British India, or in any other part of the British Empire for that matter, where the only status enjoyed by the natives was as that of subjects of the British crown. As a result, one could argue that it was the failure of the British state to extend the much coveted status of imperial citizen to the comprador British Indian elites that caused members of that echelon to then set up their claim for independence from the Crown. The nationalist claims that these elites initiated rested on the creation of a national culture that accepted the racial and other differences that the British colonial system enforced. This situation ensured that extant differences were perpetuated rather than challenged. 

The Portuguese State in India came to a definitive close with the actions of the Indian state in 1961, when the
Indian armed forces invaded the Portuguese territory of Goa. While an anti-colonial movement was afoot in the region, the eventual decolonisation of Goa cannot be said to have resulted primarily from the anti-imperialist movements of its own soil due to the military intervention of the Indian state and its subsequent denial of the right of self-determination to the Goan populace. Additionally, in an imperialist act that was echoed in the newly independent nation’s actions in Kashmir and the north-east of the country, the formerly British India unilaterally integrated the territory of Goa into itself. If India was able to get away with this, it was because the developing post-colonial order was awash in racist and ethnocentric perspectives engendered to a large degree by British colonial practices. These were predicated on the assumption that territorial contiguity and the presence of the Hindu religion across the geographic expanse, though not exclusively or without diversity, gave India ample right to take over marginal territories such as Goa and Kashmir.

The significant fact that the Goan people were legally Portuguese citizens was given short shrift and eclipsed by an act of the Indian parliament that bestowed on them Indian citizenship. Hindered by an effectively xenophobic understanding of Indian-ness, and its relationship with the countries that surround it, in contrast to many other legal regimes, the Indian state does not permit its citizens to hold multiple nationalities. Therein, unlike British Indian subjects, in being made a part of the Indian state, Goans and other Portuguese Indians lost their Portuguese citizenship, and the ability to be both South Asian and European, only to have Indian citizenship thrust upon them, and be fixed as solely Indian.

It was only subsequent to the normalization of relations between India and Portugal that a number of former citizens of the Portuguese State of India were able to reclaim their Portuguese citizenship. It is precisely because of the unfounded allegations of the Daily Mail that it should be stressed that these Portuguese Indians are not petitioning for new citizenship, nor exploiting a loophole. What they are doing is reclaiming a legitimate right that was lost owing to the actions of the Indian state. There is no need for them to prove their Portuguese character as the Daily Mail suggests, for their parents, if not they themselves, were Portuguese, and 450 years of Goa being a part of Portugal has made those Goans as Portuguese as any other person in continental Europe who holds Portuguese citizenship. The Daily Mail’s claim is profoundly offensive since it is based on the racist assumption that only Caucasians can be Portuguese and European. This assumption is of course buttressed by the fact that the colonial practices of states like Britain considered only whites to be properly British or European.

The British nation’s historical record when it comes to matters of who is deemed British enough is a controversial one. Note that in the 1960s and 70s, the aftermath of decolonisation in East Africa and Africanisation policies, emergent from impoverishment due to colonisation, saw the vilification and expulsion of Asians who were then denied entry to the United Kingdom despite being holders of UK passports as
colonial subjects. In 1972, when 50,000 Asians were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, the very notion of the Commonwealth was proven to be one in name only because, by 1968, the right of colonial-era UK passport holders to enter Britain had been withdrawn in response to an increase in economically induced out-migration from Kenya in 1967. It is important to stress here that not only were Asians – Goans included – in East African countries because the British administration of those colonies had recruited them, but also that their labour had benefitted the Empire. Goans were given British subjecthood to serve the colonial administration in many cases. In so much as Goans were nominally British, their UK passports served more as travel documents than a guarantee of citizenship rights, as became painfully evident in the post-colonial period. While Goans and other colonised groups had been British “enough” to serve the regime, it became apparent that was no longer the case once their usefulness had been outlived. This was a profound abdication of national  and legal responsibility, not least for the racialised political climate induced by years of British colonial rule in Africa. In fact, the colonial legacy continues to reveal itself as is the case with the revelation this year of the destruction of records relating to violent and deadly atrocities committed against Kenya’s Mau Maus who rebelled against British rule.     

 For all the problems that Portuguese colonialism produced, and the racism that accompanied it, what must be underscored is that it is also differentiated by the legal rhetoric that recognised, and continues to recognise, the multiple groups outside of Portugal as equally Portuguese. Thus, the Portuguese Indians who recover their Portuguese citizenship and then migrate, not merely to Britain but across the world, trace a path similar to other Portuguese nationals who are currently in flight from a Portugal laid low by the European
crisis. Portuguese legal history and flows of migration are often ignored by the largely Anglo-centric understanding of the world. The recognition of the Lusitanian milieu allows for a reconstruction of European-ness outside of the racist frameworks that currently delimit it.  It permits a corrective to the manner in which the post-colonial world was constructed along racist lines, restricting the ability of persons to freely move internationally. While white privilege has ensured an ease of travel for some, the accompanying racism leads to the outcries as evidenced in the reports by the Daily Star and Daily Mail, as well as the ritual humiliations of non-white travellers at embassies, consulates, and immigration check-points globally. In challenging this racism that underlies the statement attributed to Sir Andrew Green, there is also an option opened up for Europe wherein the racism that undergirds the European project can be challenged, and in re-understanding the flows of capital and populations that have contributed to European hegemony today, the current crisis can be utilised as a way to reimagine the European Union’s association with the world outside itself and as the product of its own history.

This article appears online at the Kafila website, and was co-written with Jason Keith Fernandes. A version in Portuguese appears on Alice News. Goan Voice UK was our initial source for the reports on Green's statements.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Goan Sands, Global Gays, and Pink India" - PINK PAGES (India - Monsoon 2013)

The message was confusing. In May 2013, several news sources across India, and online, had headlines that seemed to burst with pink pride: “This July, Goa will be a Gay Haven,” they said, while serving as an advertisement for IndjapInk, reputedly the country’s “first and only gay boutique travel agency.” IndjapInk was organizing a “Life is a Beach” package for travellers wanting a “most sensational, super sexy gay group tour of the year to Goa.” So, what was so perplexing about all that then, one might ask. Well, to accompany this ebullience and gay abandon, IndjapInk provides images of the wistful scenarios that patrons might aspire to once at the “gay haven.” The company’s Facebook page depicts scenes where swimwear-clad men lounge on sandy shores, get massages, look upon companions lovingly, and even laugh it up in groups of four that hint at the promise of, shall we say, more to come. One of the problems is there is no guaranteeing that any of these idyllic settings are actually in Goa (last I checked, most beaches have sand...). And all of the men in the pictures are white. 

What exactly is IndjapInk offering? Is it: a) Goa as a destination for white men? b) Goa as a destination where Indian men can access white men? or c) Goa as a destination where the people themselves are, perhaps, white? 

While beaches litter the coasts of India, what sets Goa apart as a favoured holiday destination in the Indian imagination is the liberality associated with it. Undeniably, the Indian film industry – Bollywood – has influentially played its part in crystallizing this perception, often by negatively representing Goa and Goans, through such movies as Dum Maro Dum (2011) and Go Goa Gone (2013), which portray the coastal location as a hedonistic playground for the pleasure of those that seek it. However, it must also be contended that assumptions of Goa’s permissiveness are tied in with its divergent colonial history from the rest of the country, which adds to its exotic allure for Indians. Goa was a Portuguese dominion between 1510 and 1961, thus pre- and post-dating the colonial association of most of the rest of modern India with Britain. Because of the nearly 500 year presence of the Portuguese in the region, a notion that persists is that Christianity and interraciality generally characterize Goan identity, giving its people a more Western and, so, more tolerant bent toward sexuality for one thing. Ironically, not only have Christians been a Goan minority since before Goa was decolonized, but white-Asian miscegeny had been a rarity that only saw its heyday as far back as the early sixteenth century. So much, then, for choice c, above, even if it is what IndjapInk might subliminally be selling with the Goan tag on its package.

Because Goa is an international tourist destination, white bodies do dot its beaches, making options a and b viable. Nonetheless, there is an interesting tension between the two possibilities. Does a company that chooses to name itself with a moniker that conjures the orientalist fantasies of a repressed colonial sahib (say “Indja” and try not to think of a stiff upper-lipped fellow with dreams of the Kama Sutra running through his head...) have any choice other than to offer an India of days gone by to white gay tourists? At the same time, what option b presents the Indian gay traveller to Goa with is, conversely, a modern experience. Because the Indian tourist may potentially share the same space as white gay men, his identity is placed on par with others on the gay global scene, which makes him just as modern and emancipated as them. The Indian gay tourist to Goa is being told that he has “arrived” because he can avail of the same pleasures in Goa as gay men of international origins.

Goa’s liminality plays a peculiar role in affording Indian gay men the opportunity to establish their identities as tourists and as members of a global fraternity. And afford is the key word here. The 25 May, 2013 Times of India headline puts it best when it notes of businesses like IndjapInk, that theirs is the task of “Luring the Pink Lucre to Incredible India.” Partaking of a gay lifestyle and demonstrating one’s liberation as a gay tourist is clearly only the domain of those able to drum up the right amount of pink rupees. This, therefore, is not about gay rights for all and sundry but, instead, a demarcation of the privilege of a few – a few men, at that. It is evident that the company is not aimed at drawing in women travellers. For the Indian gay male tourist, then, Goa becomes a proving ground of his liberation because he might encounter gay men from other parts of the world, but it also fixes Goa as India, but not quite. 

In his essay titled “Tourism and Nation-Building: (Re)Locating Goa in Postcolonial India” (2007),
anthropologist Raghuraman Trichur argues that Goa’s unique position as “India with a ‘difference’,” not only presents the region as a commodity for tourist consumption, but does so to integrate Goa with India. What Trichur alludes to is the manner in which Goa was subsumed by the Indian nation-state in 1961 though “Goa never figured in [the] imagination of independent India,” because “[t]he shape and form of postcolonial India is largely defined by its history of British colonialism.” Therein, Goa’s decolonization occurred not as an act of the self-determination of its own people, but at the hands of a nation that took it over. 

What the current wave of Indian gay tourism does is to reinforce the identity of a narrowly defined segment of the population, those of a certain economic ilk, by hailing them as elite and moneyed members of the nation. This homonationalism simultaneously sees the gay male subject as a participant in the ordering of India along ethnocentric and class lines, to the exclusion of the marginal, while he is concurrently given the chance to see himself as a player on a global stage that is similarly narrowly defined. So while the IndjapInk slogan might proclaim that “Life is a Beach,” the subtext reads: “Gay rights, one sandy shore at a time, but only if you can pay your way there...”

This article appears online here and also in the Winter 2013 issue of Trikone Magazine.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"The Man Who Wouldn't be King" - INDIA CURRENTS (California - August 2013)

It was May 1992. Los Angeles was still on fire. Although the tumultuous scene was on our television set in India, it could not have felt any closer to home. The newscaster offered a recap of the story that my family had been following intently since April. Tensions had flared in the aftermath of the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial. Despite videotaped evidence, the jury had exonerated the policemen responsible for violently assaulting the black motorist. The acquitted policemen, as well as the jury, had been all white. In a year, we would be emigrating to the United States. Los Angeles was our destination. And, like King, my first name is Rodney.

King was so much a part of my consciousness that I would often introduce myself as “Rodney… You know… like King? Rodney King?” I often needed the added qualification because, as I was told on more than one occasion, it was odd that someone of my racial background would have “a name like that.” As a teenager, newly immigrated to the States, my job at a fast food restaurant was my firsthand introduction to my new city’s racialization. In many ways, my workplace was a representative microcosm of Los Angeles – they were both equally diverse. Yet, what was plain to see was that while the staff at the restaurant were generally first generation immigrants, it was largely upper management and the clientele that were white.

During the unrest, when King famously made his televised plea for the people of his city to “get along,” his statement became the stuff of legendary ridicule. Was it that the notion of co-existing amicably was so simplistic, or that the sentiment had come from an ordinary black man with a rap sheet who had been beaten by the police? What the incident had done was to raise questions about police brutality and whose rights the keepers of the peace were protecting. For South Asians, among members of other ethnic communities, similar issues of racial profiling and civil rights violations rose to a crescendo in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. Racial injustice may not be unique to any one minority group, but it is this very ubiquity of violence that should make us more mindful. Events in the current moment prove the need for us to voice our outrage, especially when it comes to those as defenseless as an ordinary, unarmed, young black boy whose life and rights seem to not matter at all.

Itself a legacy of the civil rights era, the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 aimed to disprivilege national origin in changing how immigrants would be allowed entry to the United States. Even in so doing, the express purpose of this change was to draw in highly skilled immigrant labor. The contemporary visibility of an upwardly mobile South Asian, and more specifically Indian, presence in America can be attributed to the 1965 measure. While 9/11 proved that class privilege was no deterrent to racial victimization, clearly, not all South Asians who immigrate to America do so from the technocratic ranks. Provisions made through family reunification clauses have diversified the community’s class demographics. In my family’s case, our petition for immigrant entry was made on the basis of my mother’s East African roots. As Goans of Kenyan heritage, despite the lack of quotas, it is evident that our case was helped because we were not only South Asian but also African – we ticked the diversity boxes for two developing regions. 

It is within these slippages of race and nationality that my personal experiences of being a dark-skinned resident of the United States have taken shape. The arrest occurred in January 2009. It had been a few short months after I had become an American citizen; short months after I participated in an election that brought to office America’s first black president – a man who, like me, had an East African history. Just off the bus from work, I was on foot, a few blocks away from my apartment in West Hollywood when a siren blared behind me. In broad daylight, I was handcuffed in my own neighborhood and shoved into the back seat of a deputy sheriff’s car. Citing a violation of the fourth amendment – which protects people from search and seizure without justifiable cause – I took my case to the ACLU, stating that I had been a victim of racial profiling. “What makes you think this
was about race?” the lawyer had asked. “What would make me think it wasn’t?” I wanted to say, but was stopped from doing so because the case just was not high profile enough for the organization. Technically, I had not been arrested because I had not been brought to the station; never mind that one never forgets what a pair of cuffs feels like.

“Rodney, huh?” The officer was looking at my California ID while the cold steel continued to bite into my wrists. Upon finding my UCLA identity card, establishing that I was an instructor there, the officer’s tone changed dramatically. “The reason I stopped you,” he said while uncuffing me, “is because you resemble a man who committed a burglary in this area earlier today.” Leaving aside the ludicrousness of why someone would be traipsing about on a brightly lit sunny day just after they had perpetrated a crime, I got straight to the point and said, “You stopped me because you made an assumption about my race.” Inadvertently confirming my suspicion, the officer responded, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a black. All that matters is that you matched the description I have.”

Was it because “a black” was in the wrong neighborhood? The irony should be apparent that in an area thought of as being liberal because of a large gay and lesbian presence, my complaint to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department was met with the party line that, after an internal investigation, it was ascertained the officer had acted in accordance with policies and no evidence of racial profiling could be found. I am sure it was also not racial profiling when a San Mateo policeman stopped me for questioning in September 2011 claiming that I resembled a criminal. “I’ll show you what I mean,” the officer said, producing an image. “You have the same eyebrows,” he explained helpfully. It was probably also not racial profiling when I was questioned extensively at airport immigration in September 2001. 

In spite of my name, my dark skin, and my African history, unlike Rodney King, I have the “privilege” of proving that I am not African American. “Long after your case is closed, you are going to have to be Rodney

King for the rest of your life. Do you think you can handle that?” attorney Steven Lerman had asked his client, the Los Angeles Times reported in a story following King’s death last year. “Steve, I just don’t know,” King replied. The same article quotes an earlier interview in which King had mused, “People look at me like I should have been like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. I should have seen life like that and stay out of trouble … But it's hard to live up to some people's expectations, which [I] wasn't cut out to be.” King was an ordinary man upon whom national attention had been thrust without him having asked for it. As I mourn the miscarriage of justice in the Trayvon Martin case, I am reminded of an ordinary King. These are the legacies that remind us that injustice is all the greater because of its ordinariness, and all the more ordinary when one is black. 

The print version of this India Currents article appears online here, and also on The Aerogram. My thanks to the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club for recognizing this piece with an award for analysis at the 37th Annual Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards on May 31, 2014.