Sunday, May 9, 2010

Goan Christians and their Identity

Goan Christians and their Identity

By Tomazinho Cardozo

Although identity means uniqueness, personality, individuality, distinctiveness, etc, the phrase 'Goan identity' means different things to different persons. Conceptualisation depends on the background of the person trying to interpret it. For example, a person who feels that his mother tongue is Konkani will have a different explanation for the term compared to the person who believes that his mother tongue is Marathi. And there will be the third version from a person who considers English or any language other than Konkani or Marathi as his mother tongue.
However, in recent times I have come across articles, views and opinions from certain quarters that have sometimes left me disturbed.

According to these views (a) The Christian community in Goa is drifting towards westernisation, (b) They prefer learning English to Konkani. (c) They feel shy to make use of Konkani in public. I do not wish to dismiss these statements outright, but I would like to clarify some misunderstandings created by these statements.

First, all Goans, irrespective of their religion are showing an increased inclination towards western culture. The lifestyle of the present day youth is proof of this. Second, majority of students from the Christian community learn Konkani in Devnagri script at the primary level and as third language at secondary level. All schools, primary numbering about 126 and secondary and higher secondary numbering about 150, of the Archdiocesan Board of Education offer Konkani at primary level and as third language at secondary and higher secondary levels. There are hardly any schools other than Archdiocesan schools doing this great service to the cause of promotion of Konkani language. Third, although it is a universal craze to feel superior by conversing in English, it is observed that many Christian families in Goa, particularly those from coastal areas, do try to speak in English with their children at home. I feel that there are economic compulsions for such behaviour from certain families living in places where there is an influx of foreign tourists. Otherwise, all their daily activities, including religious activities, are carried on in Konkani only, written in the Roman script.

Having said that not only Christians, but all communities in Goa, have been bitten by the bug of westernisation, one cannot brush aside this trend, which can finally make a 'Goykar' feel out of place in his own land in the future. Konkani is the most important element of Goan identity. A mother tongue is always loved by its followers. The Christian community in Goa was the greatest supporter of Konkani language. All Christians in Goa displayed their wholehearted dedication to Konkani during the successful language agitation. However, their love towards Konkani has shown a decline over the last 20 years. The reason being the Goa Official Language Act of 1987; Konkani became the official language of Goa, but, unfortunately, Devnagri script chosen as the official script.

Roman script has been used to write Konkani right from the 16th century when a printing press was brought to Goa in 1556 by the then Portuguese government. Since then writing and printing books in Konkani continued in the Roman script. The Catholic Church of Goa made and still makes an extensive use of Konkani in Roman script for religious activities and hence Konkani in the Roman script has become a part and parcel of the life of Goan Christians. At present it is only the activities in Goan churches that keeps Goan Christians close to Konkani and consequently the Goan culture.

The language and culture of the Christian community in Goa has developed through Konkani in the Roman script over the last four-and-a-half-centuries. Elimination of Roman script has only adversely affected Goan Christians. During the last 22 years the number of Konkani-medium primary schools has not increased. On the contrary it has decreased. The majority of Hindu managed schools in Goa opt for Marathi medium education in primary schools as well as for the third subject in secondary and higher secondary schools. The impression given by Devnagri protagonists is that Konkani in the Devnagri script will unite Goans irrespective of caste, creed and religion has remained a myth.

In the recent times it has been observed that the number of students in primary schools belonging to the Diocesan Board of Education has been on the decline. On the other hand the number of English medium primary schools has increased ten fold over the last 22 years. Many students from Christian community have been compelled to move away from a Konkani education. This means they are drifting away from the Goan culture because the Goan culture cannot be preserved and promoted without learning and using Konkani.

The need of the hour is to bring Christians of Goa closer to Konkani language. And this can be achieved, even though it is very late, only through the use of the Roman script. The Government and the so called leaders of Konkani will definitely oppose the teaching of Konkani in Roman script in schools because they know that if an opportunity to learn Konkani in Roman script is given then a majority of the students will prefer to learn Konkani in the Roman script, which might well be the end of teaching Konkani in Devnagri script. Hence, I am of the opinion that the church must start classes to teach the correct method of reading and writing Konkani in the Roman script. Such an act will keep Goan Christians attached to the Konkani language. If the church authorities do not act now, the church activities in Konkani will go on dwindling and we will be responsible for driving Goan Christians away from Konkani language, the Goan culture and Goan identity.

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