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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 33, August 9, 2014

On Goan Migration

Friday 8 August 2014, by Eduardo Faleiro

Sometime ago, I visited several villages and towns in the neighbouring districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka to meet people of Goan origin settled there. During the 16th and 17th centuries thousands of Goans, both Hindus and Christians, left Goa to escape religious and cultural persecution. In Goa, during that period, all possible obstacles were imposed on the practice of the local religions. Moreover, converts to Christianity could not easily change their deep-rooted Indian way of life. The missionaries and the colonial administration would not tolerate this. For them Christianity meant Europeanisation and Christian religion, a part of the Western culture. The new Christians had to detach themselves from their cultural, social and natural environment. If they followed their own culture in any manner whatsoever they were arrested and tried by the Inquisition.

This situation led both Hindus and a large number of converts to Catholicism to migrate in search of peace and a normal life. Epidemics as well as continuous wars waged by the Sultan of Bijapur, the Marathas and the Portuguese hastened the Goan exodus. Those early Goan migrants were mostly farmers. Today, many of their descendants are teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, government officials, elected government representatives and many others have joined the Defence forces.

Descendants of the people who migrated to the neighbouring areas of Maharashtra are known there as Bardezkars since their ancestors migrated mostly from Bardez. Their surname in school registers and revenue records appears as “Bardezkar”. The progeny of those settled in Karnataka are called Konkanes because they speak Konkani as well as Kannada. Hindus, Muslims and Christians in those areas participate in each other’s religious festivals, weddings and other gatherings and there is hardly any difference in their social life and food habits.

The then Union Minister of Youth Affairs, Jitendra Singh, agreed to our request for a Youth Exchange Programme so that the youth of Goan origin from the neighbouring areas might visit Goa and get acquainted with their roots and different facets of life here. The programme is aimed at the youth in the age-group of 18 to 30 years, future leaders, who have distinguished themselves in some field of activity. It is intended for the young generation to promote understanding and goodwill between the three States involved—Goa, Maharahtra and Karnataka.

Eleven youth of Goan origin settled in Azra, Kohlapur district, visited Goa last year, and participated in a one-week orientation programme to create awareness of different facets of life in Goa. They interacted with the Goan youth, our academic and cultural institutions as well as with our elected representatives at different levels of government. They visited the Goa University, met with the faculty and students and participated in several cultural and social events. Subsequently, a group of seven Goan youth visited Azra for a similar one-week schedule and stayed with local families. The Nehru Yuvak Kendra conducted this programme. It is expected to be an annual feature.

The history of the early Goan emigration needs to be written. The Xavier Centre of Historical Research has done some research on this subject The University Grants Commission has funded a Chair on Diaspora Studies at the Goa University and it will also deal with this topic.

Emigration of Goans continues to this day. The Department of NRI Affairs, Government of Goa, in collaboration with the National Centre for Development Studies released in 2008 a comprehensive Goa Migration Study. The Study found Goan diaspora settled in 43 countries with 56 per cent in the Middle East, 13 per cent in Europe, 11 per cent in South and South-East Asia and 10 per cent in North America. About seven per cent of our emigrants work on board the ships. Among the emigrants, females are better educated than males. 36 per cent of the female emigrants are graduates compared to 26 per cent male emigrants. Remittances from our emigrants are estimated at Rs 700 crores and have a significant impact on our economy.

Meanwhile, a growing apprehension is being voiced at the influx of migrants from elsewhere into Goa. Recently, one of our Ministers expressed concern that it may destroy Goa’s demography and identity. To reduce such an influx there ought to be adequate employment opportunities for Goans in Goa. Our State has an increasingly educated work force and limited industrial growth. In the sixties, Tourism was identified as a key sector for Goa’s development. However, Goa being a small State its carrying capacity in terms of its size, facilities available and ecological fragility needs to be considered. Tourism ought to be managed in a manner that benefits our people not just in the short term but also in the long run. The economic benefits as well as the social costs need to be evaluated.

It is indeed necessary to formulate a development strategy which provides employment to Goans whilst being less dependent on tourism. Information Technology enterprises seem to be most suitable for the youth of Goa in view of the rather high literacy rate in this State. IT industries require smart work rather than hard physical work. These are the industries of the Knowledge Society and they will continue to thrive.

The author is a former Union Minister