Jason Keith Fernandes, "Citizenship in a Caste Polity: Religion, Language and Belonging in Goa" (Orient BlackSwan, 2020)


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In the mid-1980s, Goa witnessed mass demonstrations, violent protests and political mobilising, following which Konkani was declared the official language of the Goan territory. However, Konkani was recognised only in the Devanagari script, one of two scripts used for the language in Goa, the other being the Roman script. Set against this historical background, Citizenship in a Caste Polity: Religion, Language and Belonging in Goa (Orient BlackSwan, 2020) studies the contestations around the demand that the Roman script also be officially recognised and given equal status.

Based on meetings and interviews with individuals involved in this mobilisation, the author explores the interconnected themes of language, citizenship and identity, showing how, by deliberately excluding the Roman script, the largely lower-caste and lower-class Catholic users of this script were denoted as less-than-authentic members of civil society.

As citizens of a former Portuguese territory, the Goan Catholics’ experience of Indian citizenship does not fall entirely within the framework of British Indian history. This allows for a construction of the post-colonial Indian experience from outside of the British Indian framework, and its focus on Catholics enables a more nuanced study of Indian secularism, while also studying a group that has remained largely underrepresented in research.

The weaves together multiple disciplinary, conceptual, historical and empirical threads to give us an insight into how citizenship and political subjectivities are constructed, negotiated and experienced in Goa, especially when it comes to fixing and contesting identities around the Konkani Language, its dialects and scripts. Lucidly written and brilliantly argued, this book is a unique critical historical and ethnographic account of the politics of Konkani language, and will be valuable to scholars of History, Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology, Citizenship Studies and Cultural Studies, and beyond that also to the policy makers working on state and citizenship policies.

Ali Mohsin is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva. His research focuses on the politics of poverty, inequality and social protection in Pakistan. He can be reached at ali.mohsin@graduateinstitute.ch

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