Goan Retreat

Brexit just wrecked the career plans of thousands of Goans

Free movement within the EU allowed residents of Portugal's former colony to work in Britain.

On a day when the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union, the Portuguese consulate in Goa was nearly deserted. On most days, serpentine queues wend around the consulate’s Panjim office, which issues between 30 and 40 Portuguese passports a day. But Friday was unusually dull.

Portugal, which ruled Goa for 450 years before it was incorporated into India in 1961, recognises Goans born before that year – as well as their children and grandchildren – as Portuguese citizens. Passport agents who help applicants through the paperwork estimate that 300,000 to 400,000 Goans have become Portuguese citizens since Portugal joined the European Union in 1986.

Because citizens of European nations can live and work anywhere in the EU, an estimated 20,000 Goans have used their Portuguese passports to settle in the UK, a country that uses a language most Goans know.

But with the British exit from the EU, an event that has become to be known as Brexit, obtaining a Portuguese passport is likely to become less attractive for Goans.

Hurdles likely

“Things are going to be difficult for them from now on after Brexit,” said a consulate official who asked to remain unidentified. "Though it is expected to take a while, restrictions are bound to be put into place."

Dr Wilfred Misquita, Goa’s NRI Commissioner, agreed the Brexit verdict would create hurdles for Goans trying to enter the UK on Portuguese passports – especially those in non-specialised job sectors. “What can we do for them?" Misquita asked. "They will have to adapt to this economic problem, like everybody else.”

Day one of Brexit saw a drastic drop in the numbers of people making inquiries about passports. Among the few people there was 76-year-old Jenny Fernandes and her daughter Caroline, who had made the long trip in from South Goa to the Consular office. They were unaware of the Brexit result this morning.

The elder Fernandes said she was keen to join her son’s family in the UK. “We do not know what will happen, but let’s see what my son says we should do," she said, unaware that the situation may have changed for her. Like many Indian grandmothers, Jenny was expecting to help by babysitting her two-year-old grandson while her son and daughter-in-law were at work.

Changing plans

A middle-aged woman and her teenage son, who are in the process of preparing documents to obtain a Portuguese passport, were dismayed to hear about the Brexit verdict, but recovered quickly. “ If it is not possible to go to the UK to work, there are other countries like Germany and Spain,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. Their initial plan, though, was to go to the UK, where the use of the English language would make their transition easier.

Chandni Rao, a twentysomething IT student from Mumbai who works for an IT firm in the UK, believed she was on surer ground. Rao’s application for a Portuguese passport is under process and is expected to come through. Her Goan father, who lives in the UK, already has a Portuguese passport, she said.

“My UK employers will work out a work visa for me," Rao said. "IT graduates are in demand in the UK. But others working in the service sector may find it difficult to stay on without a visa or work permit."

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.