Culture

The Battle for the Beach

Shacks on the way to Baina Beach, on the seafront of Vasco da Gama, in central Goa. Credit: Vikram Gopal

Shacks on the way to Baina Beach, on the seafront of Vasco da Gama, in central Goa. Credit: Vikram Gopal

Goa: Baina Beach is unlike most other beaches here. To begin with, it’s not for tourists. A few fishing boats cluster at its northern tip, but the rest of the beach makes up the seafront of crowded Vasco da Gama, and the southern end lies right against international airport. Nearby is a Hanuman Temple, and a few metres south of it, a kaccha road that leads in to a cluster of huts.

These huts are home to about 205 households, who say they have lived on Baina beach for decades. In April of this year, however, the local municipal council began to make moves to evict them on ecological grounds. It was lost on nobody, however, that the dwellings marked for demolition belonged mainly to families originally from Karnataka. What might have been a routine, unnoticed eviction has thus escalated into a noisy political standoff between two state governments.

Avvamma Natikar, a Dalit resident of Baina, sits outside her home peeling garlic. Her hut is one the many listed for demolition, for falling within 100 metres of the High Tide Zone – a fact confirmed by the Collector of South Goa, Sachin Shinde. On April 17, the electricity and water connections to Avvamma’s home were cut off. The municipal eviction plan was challenged, and the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court has ordered that the status quo remain until its verdict. Meanwhile, Avvamma endures without power or water. “It is the peak of summer now,” the 55-year-old says, “And we have to sleep outside our huts.”

Chauvinist cosmopolitans

A sense of injustice is palpable in Baina, especially because another row of dwellings, behind the ones listed for eviction, has been exempted from the plan. Baina’s residents insist they are being targeted because they are Kannadigas, though Avvamma, for instance, says she has lived right here for over four decades. “My parent died here and now my grandchildren are growing up here,” she said. “We have no place in Karnataka. We are Goans.”

Sharanappa Chalwadi, who is 62, says he has lived in Baina since 1970. “We have no land in Karnataka,” he says. “We came here in search of livelihood, and there is no question of us going back. If we were to go back, we would be treated as horanadu Kannadigas [non-resident Kannadigas].”

The Baina residents’ suspicions grow more plausible in the context of current, heated debates over Goa’s cultural integrity and migrant influx. In 2013, the Goa government, led by the former chief minister Manohar Parrikar, sent a memorandum to Manmohan Singh, highlighting the effects of migration on the State.

Goa had a distinct culture, the memorandum said, which the people of Goa needed to protect. “Unfortunately,” it continued, “our open-hearted cosmopolitan character has been misunderstood to such an extent that the unrestricted immigration and wholesale transfer of land is beginning to submerge the unique Goan identity… It has now reached menacing proportions. The apprehension is that by 2021 the migrant population will outnumber the local Goans.”

Although the Constitution of India protects the right of Indian citizens to reside in any part of the country, the Goa government tried to finesse the point, saying that that right ‘cannot be at the cost of our existence, culture and unique identity, the protection for which was promised to us by the then Prime Minister of India Shri Jawaharlal Nehru.’

This is reason, Baina residents believe, that they are being evicted with no offer of rehabilitation. “The Goa government has told us very clearly that it is not possible for them to rehabilitate us,” Sharanappa said. “Many people have told us to go back to our land.” But most young people in Baina, he said, “don’t even know the names of their ancestral villages.”

Defenders across the border

Avamma Natikar, one of the residents facing eviction, says she has lived on Baina Beach for four decades. Credit: Vikram Gopal

Avamma Natikar, one of the residents facing eviction, says she has lived on Baina Beach for four decades. Credit: Vikram Gopal

The apparent chauvinism behind the Goa government’s decision has stirred Kannada leaders to rise to the Baina residents’ defence. The Kannada-language press has taken a keen interest in the case, and politicians and religious heads have been crossing into Goa to speak for Kannadiga evictees, in Baina and elsewhere.

R.V. Deshpande, Minister for Higher Education and Tourism in Karnataka, visited Panaji and reportedly threatened the Goan government with retaliation, warning, “If you start harassing people from Karnataka in Goa then do not forget that there are 15,000 to 20,000 IT professionals [from Goa] working in Bengaluru.”

The Deputy Commissioner of Uttara Kannada district, which adjoins Goa, has been instructed to keep a close eye on events. C.S. Nadagouda, a senior Congress leader and MLA in Karnataka, said the DC was instructed to “monitor the situation to make sure that best solution is offered to Kannadigas.”

A.S. Patil, another Congress MLA from Vijayapura, published a letter in a Goan daily, called the case a violation of human rights. “In 2014, Parrikar had assured us that the remaining households would be rehabilitated,” he wrote. “That promise has not been kept.”

Sharanappa is amused when I ask him about the wave of interest and visits from Karnataka leaders. “They come here, give us some food and then go back. We don’t need their food – we can take care of ourselves,” he said.

“Another person came here and gave us five litres of cooking oil,” Avvamma added.

“There are two hundred households here, what use can we have for five litres of oil?”

Other residents are concerned that the advocacy from Karnataka could work against their objective, which is to keep their homes. “There have been some rumours that the Karnataka government is willing to give Rs. 100 crores for our rehabilitation,” said

Pavdiappa Chalwadi. “We fear that the Goa government will then ask us to leave, since Karnataka is willing to pay.”

Some backlash is already visible. A letter written in a leading Goan daily said: “I congratulate the BJP government for taking action against the illegal hutments in Baina… Those evicted from Baina should be put on a train and packed off to the constituency of the Karnataka MLA who came out in support of them.”

Interested parties                                                      

Sharanappa Chalwadi, another resident who may lost his home, is nervous about the advocacy from the Karnataka government. Credit: Vikram Gopal

Sharanappa Chalwadi, another resident who may lost his home, is nervous about the advocacy from the Karnataka government. Credit: Vikram Gopal

The cultural and language politics between Karnataka and Goa seem to be aggravated by the rival parties in power in the two states. Sharanappa observed that there was a risk, now, of Baina being seen as a Congress votebank. He was quick to add that he had read the BJP’s manifesto for the 2014 General Elections and he believed firmly in Narendra Modi’s statement that all slums should be developed.

Milind Naik, Goa’s Power Minister and the local BJP MLA, recently announced his intention to beautify the beach at a cost of Rs. 2.2 crore. This would, he argued, help boost tourism to Baina. Naik declined to comment for this story, saying the matter was sub-judice. “But we too want to see Goa develop,” Sharanappa said. “Let the government beautify the beach. Our children would also enjoy it then. We are only asking them to rehabilitate us.”

Avvamma spoke of the fatigue that is setting in among Baina residents. “We have reached a situation where we will happily live in sheds if the Goa government just allots us land,” she said. “For eight months now we have been going to the Municipality almost every day, trying to petition the officials to make them see our plight. We want to get this over with so we can go back to work. It is very hard for us to miss even a few hours of work.”

“If the Karnataka government wants to help us at all,” she ended, “Let them join hands with the Goa government and come up with an arrangement for us to be rehabilitated here.”

Vikram Gopal is a freelance-reporter based in Bengaluru.