Statehood was probably the one aspiration of the people of Goa that all political parties had no objection to. It was desired. But, with states reorganised on a linguistic basis, until Goa had passed the Official Language Bill, this would not have been achievable.
On February 4, 1987, after a prolonged movement, a Bill making Konkani the Official Language of Goa was finally passed by the Legislative Assembly. Three months later, Parliament passed the Statehood Bill for Goa, and on May 30, 1987, Goa became a state in the Union of India.
Goa was probably the last state to be formed based on language. This assumes importance because when Goan identity is spoken of or debated, it is the language of Konkani that remains the foundation for this identity.
The Opinion Poll of 1967 ensured that Goa remained a union territory. The language movement of 1985-1987 gave Konkani the official language status and statehood to Goa. In a way, statehood made it possible for Goa to build upon the gains of the Opinion Poll, to retain its identity.
Yet today, Goan identity stands in danger of being erased. With the state turning increasingly cosmopolitan due to migration, and being a premiere tourist destination, Goa has compromised on retaining its identity with adverse consequences.
On Statehood Day 2023, it is imperative that we in Goa come to a concrete definition of the term “Goan identity”. There could be too many of them as this identity is complex and the term is loosely used by anybody who assumes that they have understood Goan identity.
Attempting to come to a definition that is acceptable to all sections of society, could lead to polemics. But it is necessary to come to this conclusion of what Goan identity is so that it can be retained and preserved.
Identity, in very broad terms, in this context, would be the characteristics that distinguish the Goan from the others. Characteristics by which a Goan can be easily identified as one and merely being a resident of the state of Goa, would not qualify, not from the perspective of Goan identity.
Here, it is not just the culture that makes us Goans, but also the language Konkani. Both are now being influenced by outside forces, as migration – both into Goa and out of Goa – is playing a large role in redefining Goan identity.
Will Goan identity be able to survive the assault that the state is facing today, especially in the form of migration? A cultural identity does not remain stagnant, it absorbs from other cultures and changing times to enrich itself. However, faced as Goa is today with a frontal attack on all its faculties, how much of the Goan culture we cherish and that gives the state its unique selling point, can survive even another decade?
For the tourist, who sees Goa from an “Instagrammer’s” perspective, the image is of a postcard Goa and a stereotypical Goan that has been fed to them by old Bollywood movies. This is not Goa or Goan identity.
There is the Goa of the coastal areas, the Goa of the villages and the Goa of the interiors. There are so many of these, and the one aspect that keeps all these bound to being Goan is Konkani.
On occasions like this – Statehood Day, Opinion Poll Day – these debates will be held. For the rest of the year, nevertheless, most of what is spoken and written is forgotten.
The effort has to be to keep these debates alive until there is an awakening in the people of how close to a precipice Goan identity is. And once it falls over that precipice, bringing it back will be a next to impossible task.
There is a need for some achievable ideas to retain the Goan identity that will lead to positive outcomes. In the race for development, Goa has been transformed, many of its geographical identifying marks having been converted for concretisation.
While development will happen and is needed, the balance towards sustainable development has been missing. That would be the first requirement towards Goa’s attempts to retain its identity.
As is usually the case, this Statehood Day too there will be messages from the political leaders, extolling their achievements. What is important is whether these changes that have been brought about will retain the Goan identity. That’s the least that is required.