Goa’s identity was secured in 1967 on January 16 of that year, when Goans voted in India's only opinion poll or referendum and rejected merger of the Union Territory with another larger State.
Today, the opinion poll anniversary is observed as asmitai dis or identity day to remind Goans of the battle that was waged to protect the land and its people from being overwhelmed by a larger state.
That, however, was not enough, for then emerged the question of statehood. Another battle later, Goa got Konkani adopted as its official language in 1987, and just months later, statehood.
There hung, however, a question of whether a Union Territory as small as Goa could ever be a viable state. The years since 1987 have answered that question, but does the identity that Goa sought to preserve in 1967 still exist?
Tiatr writer-director, Irineu Gonsalves, whose plays focus on social issues and Goan themes says, “Goa’s identity is slowly getting diluted despite we having tried our best to keep it.”
“The world over, we are known because of our culture, which gives us our identity. Demographic changes are affecting this. We have to arrest this dilution and it can be done. The government of the day plays an important role here,” he adds.
There will be no two opinions on this. Goa’s identity, though it still exists, is a watered down version of what it was in the 1960s, the period when the opinion poll was held.
Architect Pritha Sardessai, who takes active interest in preserving Goan heritage says, “The past couple of decades have seen the demography of the state change drastically, and soon the ethnic Goan may end up in a minority."
“But, the threat to the Goan identity is solely because of the changing lifestyle. May it be food, the language spoken, the attire worn or simply the pace of life we lead; it has all changed from the times of our forefathers. We are blending into a universal way of life and it’s bound to happen,” she says.
Change, however, is inevitable and the decades since has left its mark on the land, its culture, its heritage and its people.
Goa is not what it was yesterday, it is evolving rapidly, leading to frowning worries of an identity that, though it exists today, may surrender to change in the years ahead, especially if not enough is done to contain the change.
Award-winning film actor, producer Rajesh Pednekar says, “We are not trying to retain Goa as it is. Goa is now surviving on tourism."
He continues, "Anywhere in the world you go, you have to follow the rules of the land, there are certain restrictions."
"But here, out of fear or business interests, we have become so accommodating to tourists that we are losing the land identity. There is a silent fear that if you place restrictions, nobody will come,” says he.
Pednekar reasons that Goa does not have just an open door policy for tourism, but has no doors itself and that visitors cross the line, which in turn, is denting the Goan identity.
The question from the preceding is, what is now to be done to retain the Goan identity that has been so diluted.
“In my opinion, to guard the identity that we Goans have inherited, it is a must for us, as a people, and for the state to make every effort to preserve what is ours – our cultural practices, our ecology, our language and our traditional occupations,” says Sardessai.
Pednekar has a simple suggestion to start with.
He says, “Why don’t we start a conversation in the local language? Why do we start speaking directly in English or Hindi? We should start talking in Konkani, and if the other person is unable to understand, then we can switch to another language. Let’s do this, even in shops, it will bring a change.”
He gives the example of Konkani tiatrs and Konkani movies and asks, “Why are we making these Konkani tiatrs and movies? Because it is our language and our culture. The local language is the local essence.”
Gonsalves agrees and says, “Tiatr is a medium that is patronised by people from all strata of society. Tiatr and natak are part of our Goan culture,” but also adds that tiatrists are not happy with how they are being treated.
“Tiatr is part of our identity, but see how tiatrists are ignored. Of the halls that are available all over Goa, hardly two are functioning. Now, after four years, Kala Academy has been opened, but it is still not available to tiatrists,” Gonsalves says.
As the debate on Goan identity continues – it will not end soon – there was some hope that came along.
On January 14, a couple of days before the anniversary of the opinion poll, the convention of comunidades unanimously resolved to maintain the independence of the village communities.
It was an indication that Goans still have a strong sense of identity instilled in them and that the years since 1967 have not watered down that sense of belonging to the land.