Immigration debate stirs unrest in Goa's beach village

Image of beach in South Goa (AFP Photo)

Over the last few weeks, Benaulim, a sleepy beach village in South Goa, has emerged as a classic showcase of Goa’s social faultlines, thanks to a standoff between locals and migrants, specifically members of the Lamani tribe, over the share of tourism industry spoils.

Legend has it that Sage Parshuram’s searing arrow reclaimed the land on which Benaulim stands today, by pushing back the sea, but the ongoing pushback against migrants by the agitated local community, has only accentuated rising differences between the natives and ‘outsiders’ across the spheres of employment, business, politics and land ownership.

The tussle between the two communities started in December last year but caught momentum just ahead of the state’s international tourism season which sees Benaulim transform from a languid pastoral postcard to a vibrant Russian Rouble-driven conclave.

A taxi service operated by a Lamani, allegedly in contravention of rules, was the trigger which set-off the conflict, which has now seen locals refusing to allow Lamanis to conduct their business in the village jurisdiction.

Last year, the Benaulim village panchayat had resolved to ban Lamanis from carrying out business activities in its jurisdiction following the taxi service controversy. Goa has a politically powerful taxi lobby, whose promoters claim, driving a cab is a predominantly "traditional" occupation for local drivers. 

“The village has decided to take this decision to not co-operate with the Lamanis because they indulge in illegal business and harass tourists,” a local Francis Fernandes said, justifying the 'social boycott' of the Lamanis. 

Lamanis are traditionally nomads and part of the Banjara community. Banjaras are mostly involved in the seasonal tourism trade, selling trinkets and handmade clothes along the coastline to tourists. Including the thousands of descendants of Banjaras who have settled in Goa over decades and their floating population, there are nearly 1.5 lakh members of the Banjara Samaj in Goa, which includes Lamanis.

Sub-divisional magistrate for the Salcete sub-district Uday Prabhudessai who on Wednesday submitted his report on the social rift in Benaulim to the state administration, said, “nobody would be allowed to stop anyone conducting a business legally”.

Speaking to Deccan Herald Suresh Rajput president of the Goa Banjara Samaj, the standoff was unfortunate. "The locals from Benaulim think we are against them and are taking their business. But no one wants to go against the local people. We do not want to do business by upsetting local customs. But this incident is unfortunate because it started with one taxi operator. And now others from the community are being made a scapegoat," Rajput said.

While Benaulim, where some of the locals are now planning for a long term resistance against the Lamani traders in order to force them to shut shop, has emerged as the face of the growing sense of unease between the natives and Banjaras, several coastal villages and towns in Goa over the last few years, have been witness to niggling and sporadic tiffs between the two groups.

This unease is often articulated by politicians, who appear only too keen to drum up the rhetoric of the fast-dwindling population of Goans in their own land.

“On the contrary day by day, we are shrinking and their (migrant) population is increasing in large numbers. It is time for Goans to wake up. Unless we start a small business from our home or our village until then it will not be possible. Today, we are dependent on other states for all our needs,” Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said on October 5.

While the insider versus outsider debate rages across political and social spectrums, there are rational voices like that of Sanjay Dessai, principal of the Cuncolim Education Society’ College of Arts and Commerce, who says that the presence of Lamanis in Goa is only on account of out-migration of Goan youth for better prospects. Migration, globally, he says, follows a demand and supply principle.

 

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