Not skirts or bikinis, but the very idea of Goa is at stake

The recent actions of several Hindu organisations point to a concerted attempt to de-legitimise other cultures in a state where a quarter of the population is Catholic.

Pramod Muthalik of the infamous Sri Ram Sene and Sudin Dhavalikar of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Goa’s public works department minister, are not the first to be worried about skirt lengths in Goa. Goa’s parish priests have also had anxious moments, not just over skirts but also revealing wedding dresses.

A friend describes a wedding where the priest met the couple-to-be at the door of the church and led them down the aisle, the groom in shirt and tie because his jacket was firmly wrapped around the bride’s daringly cut dress. It was not that long ago that a girl in a sleeveless dress could find herself passed over in the queue for communion.

But even anxious parish priests would be startled to hear Dhavalikar argue that skirts were against Goan culture, given that for even the most demure and devout Catholic ladies, ranging in age anywhere between eight and 85, skirts that stop one inch above the knee or five inches below it are de rigueur.

Skirt-wearing is no longer the prerogative of Catholics or Goans, but its ubiquity among the state’s Catholic population, coupled with recent attempts to edge Catholics towards the position of a cultural and political minority, suggests this is another attempt to create a cultural divide.

The temporary high court ban on cattle slaughter in April 2013 hit a staple in the diet of Catholics and Muslims for a week. Then, while campaigning in the state during the Lok Sabha elections, chief minister Manohar Parrikar of the Bharatiya Janata Party equated the activities of Gujarat-based human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash with Pramod Muthalik’s actions in Mangalore, when Sri Ram Sene men attacked women for drinking in pubs.

Yet Goan culture – as every culture – is too slippery a beast to be pinned down in this way. The episode has descended into the usual political buffoonery, with Parrikar saying bikinis can’t be worn to temples, and Dhavalikar saying they may be worn in private.

The tourism department, unwilling to jeopardise a major source of revenue by allowing bikinis and drinking to become the targets of the Sri Ram Sene’s free-range chauvinism, has hurriedly announced that it is impossible for it to execute a ban on bikini wearing. Alcoholism is a prevalent social problem in the state, but stigmatising drinking is in fact culturally alien to both dominant communities.

While it might seem like political suicide to fight to remove the skirt, beef and alcohol from Goa, these recent gestures indicate that there are those only too eager to work towards the gradual de-legitimisation of non-Hindu cultures.

Not-just-cultural Organisations
It is time to pay attention to the composition and activities of organisations like the Govansh Raksha Abhiyan, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and the Sanatan Sanstha. The impetus for the ban on cattle slaughter, and Muthalik’s statements, was provided by these cultural organisations.

The Sanatan Sanstha invited Muthalik to Goa as part of the all-India Hindu Convention, held from June 20 to June 26 this year. Sudin Dhavalikar’s wife is reportedly a volunteer for the Sanatan Sanstha. Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene acquired notoriety for unleashing violence not only in pubs in Mangalore, but also for its involvement in the spate of violence against Christians and Muslims on the Mangalore coast in 2008.

While the Karnataka coast has seen violence against Muslims from the 1980s, from 2008 on, the state saw attacks on churches, the desecration of statues and nuns beaten. The incidents of violence were compiled in a report by Justice MF Saldanha and submitted in 2010 to the minister of minority affairs at the time, Salman Khurshid. The report unequivocally suggests the involvement of the Bajrang Dal, another affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and describes the collusion of the police in covering up the violence. Muthalik used to be the Karnataka coordinator of the Bajrang Dal.*

Reports from the time reveal that when government-aided Christian institutions in Karnataka declared a shut-down on August 29, 2008, to protest against the attacks on Christians in Kandhamal, Orissa, the Public Education Department issued a show-cause notice against them for not seeking prior permission.

One of these notices said that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal sent letters to the government requesting action against the Christian institutions, and it was on this basis that the government acted. Hindu nationalist groups seem to have a clear methodology: the agenda for action is prepared by cultural organisations, which then hand the political initiative to supportive governments. This has led many to fear that Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene is in Goa to provide the fly-by-night violence that can polarise communities, and which – crucially – can be disavowed by those in elected positions.

Know your police
Perhaps a ‘know-your-police’ campaign is also a useful exercise in Goa. Take the case of Devu Chodankar, whose Facebook opinions on the induction of Pramod Muthalik into the BJP – a move that the party later rescinded – annoyed an industrialist so much that he filed a complaint against him. Goa police’s cyber crime cell arrested Chodanker, then opposed his plea for anticipatory bail, which ensured that the court rejected it.

If this were a sign of the incredible pro-activeness of the Goa police, we would all be impressed. But there seems to be a double standard at play here. Muthalik had also given a speech, uploaded by Goa’s Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, urging Hindus to carry swords to instill fear in minorities.

Durgadas Kamat of the Congress filed a complaint with the police, but when they took no action, he had to approach the Judicial Magistrate first class, seeking orders directing the police to act on his complaint. The video was eventually taken down, but these contrasting episodes reveal the unsurprising slant of the police and the relationship between them, the government, and the increasingly strident cultural organisations that have welcomed Muthalik to Goa.

Full circle
The matter seems to have come full circle. It is worthwhile recalling that Parrikar was one of the more vocal opponents of Muthalik’s entry into the BJP, and that Muthalik entered Goa as a challenge to him. Further, when Parrikar was in the opposition, he made allegations of corruption against Sudin Dhavalikar, but has seen fit to hand him the same portfolios when he became chief minister.

Has Parrikar been delivered a cultural agenda by these two very recent allies that surpasses his own for Goa, or has the Lok Sabha electoral outcome helped invigorate a cultural politics of intimidation in which he is beginning to participate? Meanwhile, appropriating the vivid pink chaddi campaign of 2009, which embarrassed the Sri Ram Sene after its assault on women, Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat has sent a mini-skirt to Dhavalikar.

Dhavalikar’s anxiety about public behaviour has a context that is particular to Goa. There are many Goans angered at the explicit marketing of their home as the good-time capital of the country, not least because of the disastrous fallout on the young, with the easy availability of drugs and the dangers of child and other prostitution.

The idea of Goa
Some – but by no means all – of these views are routed through a social and religious conservatism that cuts across Goa’s two dominant religious communities, Hindus and Catholics. Expectedly, this complicated opposition to the image of Goa as a place of sexual excess and libation is being appropriated by the BJP alliance, which is now arguing that controlling women’s mobility is the way to ensure their physical safety.

Hence, Dhavalikar’s carefully worded defence of Muthalik, where he said that ‘Goa was a city of temples and churches’. By tapping into the idea of a devout quiet coastal community of the past, Dhavalikar conceals the implicit violence that Muthalik’s politics promises.

Bhaile is a mildly pejorative term to denote the outsider or migrant in Goa. These days it tends to take on harsher exclusionist overtones and often carries class biases, but it can in some cases be very useful as a kind of political shorthand. One could say for instance, that Muthalik’s attitude to women drinking is typically that of a bhaile, while Dhavalikar should really stop talking like one. As for the Pink Chaddi campaigners of 2009, we hope you haven't left the building.

*After publication, contacted Pramod Muthalik to clarify if he remains a member of the RSS. He is no longer with the organisation. The error is regretted.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.