Dale Luis Menezes
Robert Eric Frykenberg’s book Christianity in India: From the Beginnings to the Present, opens by dwelling on the intrinsic nature of the Gospel. He says that evangelization was not optional even in the earliest times and thus, “The Good News…possessed qualities that were also intrinsically disruptive and revolutionary.” Frykenberg asserts that the ideology of the Gospel, “by its very nature, [is] expansive, trans-cultural, and globalizing. Yet, its spiritual and universalizing claims also required flesh and blood – incarnation – concrete expression in the particularities of each ethno-local culture.” Since the Gospel needed an “earthly manifestation”, it was “altered and remoulded with each successive wave of expansion without contradicting itself or departing from what became the sacred canon or established Scripture.”
It is through the work of such historians like Frykenberg, that we have learnt not to treat the history of Christianity and Christianity itself as foreign to India or Goa. Now what does this mean for the people of Goa (and not just the Catholic population)? Surely there needs to be a rethink on how the history of Goa has been written and the way Catholicism is being perceived.
For some time now, Fr. Victor Ferrao of the Rachol Seminary, Goa has been devoting himself in the project of creating a theological response to colonialism, conversion and the challenges that Christians are facing in contemporary Goa. In fact, his book Being a Goan Christian dealt with the above mentioned issues. Our Goan-ness and Christian-ness is informed and influenced by perceptions of the past and hence theology plays a role as a response of the church to the existing, dominating and hegemonic discourses of Goan history, particularly those post-decolonization discourses that have come from upper-caste, Hindu locations.
During a two-day seminar organized by the Pedro Arrupe Institute, Goa, (on 22 and 23, June, 2013) on “The Challenge of Being a Goan Christian,” Ferrao asserted that till now theology has “bracketed” the colonial past and hence it is important to understand colonialism from a theological point of view. Because Goa was exposed to Portuguese orientalism (which is different from a British one), we have a unique position from which we can understand ourselves as well as understand and theorize about India. Thus, this opens a unique space to develop a theology in and from Goa owing to different experiences of colonialism and post-colonial times, whereby Goa becomes or is the ‘other India’. The sense that the participants got was that such a theology needs to emerge from a marginal location (i.e. Goa) which then can offer alternate theoretical positions to critique dominant discourses not just in India, but also in Asia as a de-historicized theology is not just an Indian problem but an Asian one too, as Ferrao asserts.
There were some interesting strands that emerged from the seminar. Take the issue of ‘conversion’, for one. Along with a therapeutic dialogue that would enable healing due to the trauma caused by conversion to both Hindus and Catholics, it was pointed out that we also need to inculcate such claims like the ones made by many Christian tribals (Gavddis) of Goa that conversion left them landless while their Hindu counterparts possess land today, in the theologizing. On the issue of conversion we can profitably look towards alternate narratives such as those provided by Mahabaleshwar Sail’s nagri-scripted, Konkani novel Yug Sanvar, where a ‘social inquisition’ that operated within the then ‘Hindu’ society can be observed.
Much of the thrust towards developing a new theology depends on how we understand and read history (or at least this is how Ferrao operates). Therefore, a key strategy that emerged was the need to take responsibility for our past. This becomes imperative because, as Ferrao claims, the Hindus as well as the Christians are forgetting history (both for different reasons) and are also suffering as a result. Thus, it becomes important for us to understand our pre-Portuguese past; how this past was not Hindu but was composed of multiple and fragmented identities and in this sense the Christians can own their past, rework and rewrite it. While emphasizing the fragmented identities of Goa’s pre-Portuguese past, Ferrao should also think about the Christianities other than Roman Catholicism that are existing in contemporary Goa as subjects for a theological response as well.
Although Ferrao recognizes that the dominant, upper-caste discourse understands the colonial experience and conversion as ‘polluting’, caste does not form part of the schema for a theological response. We need to stress on this point as sooner than later the Church in Goa needs to own up to the subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination meted out to the so-called lower-castes; a sense of discomfort that the laity as well as those of the Church experience must be remedied.
One eagerly hopes that much more progress will follow from the start made by people like Ferrao. One also hopes that Ferrao is not an only and marginalized voice in the Church.
Thanks to Alito Siqueira and Jason Keith Fernandes.
Dale Luis Menezes is currently pursuing a Masters degree in medieval history at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is from Goa.
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