Tuesday, June 30, 2015
GOANS SHOULD FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS By Vito Gomes
As the rest of the country debates the pros and cons of the Land Acquisition Bill, I would like to draw attention to matters closer to home in Goa. Many of you are aware that there is a movement to preserve the traditions of the Comunidades and there is much discussion whether to abolish or reorganize them.
The system of the Comunidade is pre-Portuguese. In fact the earliest known date of its reference is 1526. It is known that centuries earlier, a few people from across the Ghats came to Goa. They were agriculturists, in Cape Canar (Karnataka), and were attracted by the freshness and beauty of Goa as their own lands were uncultivable.
It is well documented that the first people to live in Goa divided themselves into families called Vangores. They were further divided based in order of preference into first vangor, second, third, etc. The territory was further divided into malos (provinces) and further into gaos (villages). A certain number of vangores were transformed into ganvponn or Comunidade.
The Comunidade got its income from fields, fishing in the lakes and rivers and this was further distributed between the gaonkars. Land ownership was collectively held but controlled by the male descendants of those who claimed to be the founders of the village.
This became a form of land association similar to many other rural agricultural peoples’ form of land holding such as that of pre-Spanish Bolivia and the Puebloan peoples now in the Southwestern United States.
Over time this institution has lost its original character and now is tightly controlled by the Goa State government which leaves little scope for them to act as self-governing units.
My family, the Gomes, are one of the 9 founding families of the Comunidade of Taleigao. The other families being Mendonca, Abreu, Luis, Falcao, Martins, Veigas, Faria and Almeida. Most of them were cultivating the fields and managing plantations of cashew and mangoes with the help of cattle.
Taleigao or Tiswadi Taluka, as known, reaches up to the Panjim Church on one side and up to Dona Paula the other including the Singbal building.
The land held in this particular comunidade, is prime property and is most sought after. The Comunidade has in the past decades provided parcels of it as per tradition for various purposes to benefit the community. For example some years ago one parcel of land was given to the Don Bosco institution to set up educational facilities. However, sad to say, a part of the property adjacent to Don Bosco in Odxel has been sold to a real estate developer for an apartment complex facing the ocean. Similarly they have leased an area, close to the Chapel in Odxel, to a restaurant, a commercial entity.
It seems, the sole official function of the comunidades, currently, is to parcel out their land at government-approved rates with little thought to community benefit.
After 1962 much of the land from the Dona Paula plateau and others was forcefully acquired by the Government, Navy and other agencies. Although taken over by the Government, the same land was further sold to real estate companies for monetary profit. A classic example is the residential complex called Mathias Residency, owned by Joe Mathias, facing the sea. Little remains to the imagination when speaking of an ocean front complex regarding the amount they are being sold at whereas neither the Comunidade nor its members get any of the benefits.
Furthermore a few years ago, a huge parcel of land was acquired by the Goa state government for the purpose of building the Rajiv Gandhi IT Park. It was given under the promise of bringing jobs to our youth. This project is now abandoned and the IT Park is being shifted elsewhere. The land which was acquired to benefit our people is now going to be used to build a convention centre.
Cajetan Rapose, associate professor at St Xavier’s College (Mapusa) and attorney of the Comunidade of Assagao, in his thesis on ‘Comunidade System in Goa – A Socio-Political Analysis’ claims to have analyzed over 250 amendments, legislations, circulars, notifications and directives by governments since post-liberation. Rapose felt these directives were issued in violation of the Code of Comunidade and that governments since post liberation have never had an inclusive dialogue before initiating changes in the structure of the Comunidade.
His research revealed that various government directives had “adversely” impacted the Comunidades rendering them financially handicapped as they do not get revenue from such lands.
Therefore it is important that we take urgent measures to prevent such land acquisition which does not benefit the community but just a few in positions of power. Furthermore, any land that has been acquired but not being used for its original purpose must be returned to the comunidade so that it can be redistributed for the benefit of the community it represents.
Comunidades with a systematic and detailed code governing their functioning, are age-old institutions meant to safeguard the interests and welfare of the indigenous population. If we don't stand up now and fight for our rights, legacy, history and culture, we might find ourselves being strangers in our own land of Goa.