50 years on, why are Kannadigas feeling like outcasts in Goa?
Dabolim/Mumbai: Two men shower in a makeshift bathroom outside their thatched roof homes while two others in knee-length shorts walk aimlessly around a pile of rubble. This is the scene after a recent demolition of at least 55 homes in the middle of what seems to be a rather old slum overlooking Baina Beach, about 6km from Goa’s Dabolim airport.
Not all homes in this acre-wide plot were demolished, though. Many hutments with people from Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, among other places, remain standing, as though they escaped a targeted missile attack.
The rubble is all that remains of what was home to around 900 Kannadigas for at least half a century. Mostly working as daily labourers, running small food carts or as coal workers, Kannadigas in Goa, whose origins are mostly in arid North Karnataka, feel like outcasts in a state that embraces millions of tourists every year from across India and abroad.
“Are we the Taliban? Is this Pakistan? Are we not Indians? Why aren’t we allowed to stay?” questions a 48-year-old food cart owner whose parents migrated to the coastal state over a half a century ago to escape the droughts and lack of jobs back home. He and others Mint spoke with requested not to be named for fear that they could be targeted by the local administration.
The Goa government’s decision to demolish the hutments follows its 2013 stance that the gradual influx of migrants was diluting the ethnic character of Goa, a problem raised by multiple state governments which claim that backward states do little to retain their population.Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar had written to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, highlighting apprehensions arising due to continued migration that “Goans will become an alienated microscopic minority within their own state,” The Hindu reported on 13 June 2013.
The food cart owner now rents another small home for Rs4,000 a month (earlier he paid Rs3,000) about half a kilometre away from where he lived earlier.
A 47-year-old daily wage labourer, requesting not to be named, said that in 2004 about 1,200 homes were demolished and in 2015, about 200—all belonging to Kannadigas. All residents here speak the local language, are registered as voters, but are not considered Goans by the government.
This time, a local builder had sought the administration’s support in evicting these inhabitants as he had produced documents to prove ownership of the plot, according to locals who were evicted from the site.
The 47-year-old cited above said that reports of the local BJP MLA Mauvin Godinho’s claiming that Rs3 lakh per family was given as compensation for those evicted were also false. Godinho, the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator, did not respond to calls or texts.
The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka has after the latest demolition proposed to buy about 30 acres in Goa and distribute it (20-30 sites) among the Kannadiga population, complicating relations with its neighbouring state already troubled by sharing of waters from the Mahadavi (also known as Mandovi) river.
“We are unsure if the Kannadigas are targeted. But it so happens that all homes that are demolished are that of Kannadigas,” Atheeq. L.K., principal secretary to Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and a member of the committee looking at rehabilitation of the impacted population in Goa, told Mint.
Cortalim legislator Aline Saldhana said that the Goa Rehabilitation Board (GRB) she chairs had plans to rehabilitate the displaced Kannadigas among other groups. “The GRB and the Goa government are providing all basic amenities in these localities and I do not see the need for any other state government to buy land in Goa to resettle their people,” she said of the Karnataka government’s decision. “We have to be careful about our limited land resources and it is not easy for Goa to keep selling its land to others,” she added.