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India: Threat to Mauzo attack on Goan culture | Vivek Menezes

31 July

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The Times of India

by Vivek Menezes

Anger and revulsion in Goa, as news emerged that beloved Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo, was compelled to accept police security cover after his name was found on a list of targets with the alleged killers of journalist, Gauri Lankesh. According to the police chargesheet filed in her murder in Bengaluru less than a year ago, the same murder weapon was used to gun down scholar M M Kalburgi in Dharwad, in 2015. At that time, Mauzo publicly urged the Sahitya Akademi to “come out expressing its serious concern over the prevailing threat to the creativity of free-thinking writers, and the rising tend of intolerance in the country”. He decried “moral policing by the protagonists of mono-culturalism”. It is then the would-be assassins probably turned their eyes on him.

Mauzo is a unique bridge figure in Goa’s culture. Humane and empathetic, he is the pre-eminent ambassador of Konkani literature, with many fans all over the country. An indomitable stalwart of the language movement, he writes in Devanagri but has no fight with the Romi camp. Born Hindu, he has spent his life tending to the needs of the mostly Catholic villagers of Majorda, via his family’s general store. He often recounts being nursed by the mother of Anthony Gonsalves, the pioneer of Hindi cinema soundtracks who was born at the same time next door.

Gentle in his personal mien, Mauzo is nonetheless possessed with a spine of pure steel. This refusal to back down is still apparent, even after the danger to his life has been identified. The long-time survivor of cancer and heart disease was quoted saying, “My freedom is not curbed, and it never will be. No bullet can defeat a thought.” But while Mauzo will clearly never yield, it should be noted with regret that the history of threats to freedom of expression in Goa demonstrate they work very well, aided by the complicity and cowardice of the official apparatus.

In retrospect, it is clear the first steps in the wrong direction were taken many years ago. As far back as 2006, the multiplex in Panaji unilaterally withdrew Da Vinci Code from its screening schedule after Churchill Alemao threatened to “forcibly stop” shows, because of “insult to Christians”.

At the same time, a concerted campaign in the state was generating hundreds of frivolous court cases against the acclaimed painter, M F Husain. Eventually, this original discovery of the pioneering Goan master F N Souza, was hounded out of the country. He complained from Dubai in 2008, “There are around 2,500 cases against me around the country, with 900 just from Goa.”

In 2009, it was the turn of the veteran showman of Goan art, Subodh Kerkar, whose playful drawings of Ganesha drew police complaints for “hurting religious sentiments”. In this case, the state police made a show of protecting the opening of his exhibition in Calangute, but then pushed for immediate closure. The following year, similar threats emerged against polymathic scholar Jose Pereira, whose exhibition of water colour paintings of scenes from classical Sanskrit literature was cancelled before it could be opened at the Xavier Centre of Historical Research in Porvorim. In that instance, state protection was not offered at all.

If there is one lesson to be learned from this shameful record of capitulation, it is that appeasement does not work. The “protagonists of mono-culturalism” that Mauzo wrote about in 2015, have only become more emboldened, and now they have put a target on his back as well. In doing so, they have threatened the very heart of Goa’s civilisational values. This is a battle the state cannot afford to lose.

The writer is a photographer and a widely published columnist. Views expressed are personal.

P.S.

The above article from The Times of India is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use