Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The MAND Connection- 1

I have been to Goa a couple of times and every time, there are expected and unexpected lessons. My first trip was in October 2008, on behalf of a Delhi-based NGO I worked for. The visit was spread over few days, limited to exploring the context of the ‘other side’ of Goa, as in, discovering those aspects of Goa which are relatively unknown even today, for instance, dangerous levels of mining in some areas that not only threaten mountains and biodiversity contained in them but also people staying close-by, who are directly dependent on natural resources for a livelihood. Rama Velip is one such person, who continues to fight illegal mining and police atrocities in Quepem, his hometown. We stayed with his joint family and moved around with our team for the next few days.
Preparing authentic Goan food for us at Rama's home
The visit was brief but we managed to get in touch with and collaborate with many protesting voices all over Goa. Not only did we find ourselves participating in local group meetings at Colomb and anti-SEZ protests at Panjim, but we also got an opportunity to witness popular leader-activists- Sebastian (Seby) Rodrigues (Siolim), Cheryl De’Souza (Maina) and Jeraldine (Benaulim), in action. In fact, Seby was our ‘tour guide’ (he’ll kill me if he reads this), who grew up in the mining belt, escaped death as a child to become a full-time anti-mining campaigner. Recently he was awarded the GOA SUDHAROP AWARD, an annual award given to him this year for excellent coverage of local mining issues on his blog http://mandgoa.blogspot.com/.
What is problematic with such excursions by people like us is that 'we outsiders,' sometimes individual researchers and sometimes organized NGOs, tend to come 'touring to Goa' and are selfishly looking for 'bakras' or contacts, whatever you may call it, to make our little, short-term projects work, besides getting an all-expense paid holiday, if we get to stay and roam around with the activists. This is one question we all must ask ourselves, especially the self-proclaimed 'social workers' that do we actually care about people we pretend to be 'helping' by such visits? Rural Goans inform how outsiders or city dwellers, who have no understanding of their context, life and culture, come with pre-determined (NGO) goals, fulfill them at all costs and go back home, never to look back again. It’s sad, but it’s true in most cases.
These are photos of about 500 villagers adversely affected by mining, raising slogans and banners in protest at Panjim. The rally gathered much attention and media glare as tourists, pedestrians and those hurrying to offices were slowed down by large processions.
Meeting of local activists at Colamb
In this particular public meeting, villagers gathered at Colamb (South Goa) to express solidarity against mining-mafia-local bureaucrats, who have entered their green villages while promoting legal (and illegal) mining activities. This meeting concluded with a decision to gather at Maina Village, in front of Cheryl's house- another anti-mining activist- to protest against mining outside her home.
Machines used outside Cheryl's home to uproot trees for mining
Cheryl is an affluent farmer, who owns thickly forested hills  replete with rare species of flowers and animals distributed around her splendid Maina (South Goa) home. She lives there alone with her mother, daughter and maid, without any other human soul in sight for many kilometers, except the presence of about 200 truck drivers in the vicinity, who intimidate Cheryl and her family as often as 'needed'. These trucks belong to mining companies that transport ore from Maina even during night! Truck owners have no mercy for anything dead or alive that is being dug out by cruel metallic jaws (see picture), since selling this ore gives them an insane amount of money, much more than what the (in)famous Goan tourism industry can generate.
Photo on the right shows Cheryl’s husband, who also invested a lot of time and energy in building up this place for his family, but couldn’t live long enough to enjoy it. So this land is home to three generations of women, braving police-politician-mining mafia nexus, even if it means doing it all alone.
Our last day in Goa was spent at Benaulim, walking through innumerable construction sites on our way to the beach near-by, which we heard was very clean, unlike all other ‘touristy’ beaches that have been taken over by shack owners to make a quick buck. The slow walk revealed many upcoming guest houses/tourist resorts/plush apartment complexes (see pictures) that necessarily require large scale deforestation first.
As we came close to the Benaulim beach, we witnessed many families living close-by, who were entirely dependent on fish, both for purposes of consumption and sale in markets. The powerful tourism industry threatens their lives and livelihoods by constructing lavishly designed concrete jungles, encroaching on as many spaces around the beach as possible, insensitive to the greenery they're destroying in the process. Not only that, fishermen feel doubly theatened since their annual catch is reducing drastically because of high levels of pollution in sea water.
At Benaulim, we spent the night at Patxa Guesthouse, owned by Jeraldine, Convenor of the Bernaulim Village Action Committee. Villagers live as a close-knit community, holding regular public meetings, writing letters to Village Sarpanch and other concerned administrative bodies frequently about issues of unplanned urbanisation (akin to onslaught by builders), roads, bad water supply, spread of diseases like malaria and so on. "Sometimes we succeed in getting our demands fulfilled, sometmes we don't, but the real joy comes from struggling together," says Jeraldine.
At Patxa guest house before boarding train to Delhi the next day
I left the NGO job few months after this visit, but was certain about revisiting Goa sometime soon, not only to meet these committed activists, who had also become good friends by now, but also to learn more about their method of community struggle against a powerful, oppressive state, mining giants and other profit-driven tourism industries. Had it not been for collective people-struggles like these, the greenery of Goa would have been plundered more rapidly and more ruthlessly.

For more pix, click here.


  1. Rama's home kitchen is well recognised,familiar n soul touching as i grew up eating n spent my enitre teenage cookin from such kind of chullah.love it:)

  2. Very happy you connected with it... our stay over there was very nice. Rama's family was very gentle and kind to us. God bless!