Anthony Veronica Fernandes, From Coconut Trees to Oil Wells: Journeys, Links, and Solidarity between Goa and Kuwait. Saligao, Goa, Goa 1556, 2016 144 pp. Rs. 200 paperback.
“During these tense moments, while was running for dear life with gunshots heard from behind, I was constantly praying to God. My plea was to save me if only to see my ailing mother who was on her death bed at the time, and who had given me as much as was possible within her very limited means as no other mother in my locality did for their sons. I wanted to escape from this torturous moment to survive and to take care of my beautiful and loving wife Fatima, my beloved son Ashton and my darling daughter Aveshah.”
This book covers exciting ground documenting formidable grounds covered by the author Anthony Veronica Fernandes from Candolim, Goa. The book is extraordinary in its scope covering theses which are mostly brushed asides in scholarly reflections. The book written with all the characteristics of humility has the core theme of work. People from Goa migrated to gulf over the past six decades. One of the destination countries was Kuwait. Over here is the spatial placement with immediate international characteristics.
The international character of this book documents indomitable spirit of the author to stick out his neck and get into personal witnessing of justice – the value in his connects Global and Local at every juncture. There are shifting focuses on what is local though. Having spent 35 years in Gulf working for a private company under hostile labour condition the initiatives of Fernandes are extraordinary. In a days when mass of people are lethargic to take even minor initiatives in Goa when their jobs are secure Veronica’s case is really gutsy. It is but fitting that he has come out with this book that not only is rich documentation of what went on but also inspiring book of life in war and life in Peace that is nearly war. The book lets out springs of inspiration from the Author. Those sensitive will absorb and identify with the book very smoothly encountering harsh reality of Kuwait as well as Goa.
The book is masterpiece initiative of charity in most genuine sense. The book is not only in defense of Goans and other Indians working abroad in Kuwait including maids that are subjected to cruel treatments and even rape by Kuwaitis powerful due to Petro dollar, but book is also in defense of Kuwatis held as Prisoners of war. Goans under the fantastic humane leadership of Anthony Veronica Fernandes made global difference in international relations far sidetracking official Kuwait – India diplomatic relations. Anthony Veronica Fernandes personally flew into New Delhi from Kuwait in order to lobby for international support of world leaders stationed in New Delhi to seek release Kuwaiti prisoners of war held in Sadam Hussein’s Iraq. He also communicated this message in this regard to the United Nations.
Needless to say that this initiative is extraordinary in every sense from an ordinary man who has witnessed two political invasions so far in his life time ;Invasion of Goa - as he documents - by India on 17th December 1961 and 29 years later invasion of Kuwait in on 02nd August 1990. The life after Iraqi occupations ends after US led forces chased Iraq out after seven months on 26th February 1991.
It was during this time after the Indian work force in Kuwait was airlifted from Jordan and brought to Goa via Bombay that took most unusual political twists of the times. The minority of those who returned from Kuwait organized themselves with the support and guidance from many in Goa like Roland Martins that book records and launched movement creating long term influence on the foreign policies of India, Kuwait and Iraq. Mobilization not only was tough owing to perception of hopelessness of any possibilities of Iraq withdrawing from Kuwait and putting end to the Occupation. Few Goans even flew back into Kuwait when Iraqi government asked them to resume work under their regime in them middle for the war against USA. Most workers including maids stayed back in Goa due to various reasons. Anthony Veronica Fernandes himself had a narrow escape on two occasions. First was on the streets of Kuwait when Iraqi Soldier pointed gun and asked him to run for his life with hands up and secondly, inside his flat when soldiers came to search. On the first occasion Veronica ran for his life and heard a dozen gun shots behind him. But none hit Veronica who describes his state at this moment as that of ‘cockroach’. The second life saving instance he credits his saving of his life to Bible. When the soldiers noticed Bible in his room when soldiers were found to be descended into mental confusion and walked out of his room. He credits his faith to have saved him on both the occasions.
Fernandes has succinct description of both the Occupations – Goa by India and Kuwait by Iraq – in his book. He disapproves both of them. While Iraqi occupation of Kuwait has been global highlight and therefore protests and armed strikes made liberation possible, the case of Indian Occupation of Goa was clear in 1961 and subsequently has been on back burner of global publicity and discourse. This has postponed the possibilities of Liberation further in time. Moreover Liberation of Goa is contentions issue as now it has been well established that India itself is a colony of Eurasians invaders who took over power from British in 1947. Goa is no different these very Eurasians have firm grip over Goa’s economy and thought process. In this sense Liberation discourse needs refashioning of discourse is though a necessity Fernandes’ attempt to get the topic of Indian occupation of Goa is welcome political move. This issue has been long forgotten with deliberate diversionary discourse. What Fernandes calls as Indian Occupation of Goa has an international endorsement though the United Nations Security Council resolution no. 988 dated 18th December 1961. It is veto from USSR that has provided political legitimacy for the Indian Occupation of Goa. The formulation of Indian occupation of Goa needs to to undergo refinement into Eurasian occupation of Goa just as the current case of Eurasian occupation of India itself. It needs clear cut examination as to the subtle motives as to why USSR supported and vetoed in favour of Indian occupation of Goa. Fernandes provokes his readers to ponder deeper into this these that is largely remains self-censored under the discourse of nationalism. Lets venture into reflection as this book provokes us. Indian military it is estimated has over 66,000 acres of land under its control in Goa with several military bases in Navelim, Ponda, Bambolim etc. Indian armed forces has control over civilian airport at Dabolim, has claimed its control over controversial Mopa airport and has got huge track of land under defense ministry in Quitol in Betul Panchayat jurisdiction for permanent venue of Defense Expo beginning from March 2016. The local opposition has been ignored and process of colonialism under what Fernandes calls ‘Indian occupation of Goa’ has been further penetrated and Goa integrated into Global war economy.
He also is very blunt in his criticism of caste system on only in Goa but also practiced by Goans in Kuwait. Fernandes’ contribution to Konkani movement, and Konkani journalism in Goa; aspect that very often gets glossed over in intellectual circles. What is glossed over is actually the contribution of overseas Goans particularly the Gulf Goans and this book is meant to assert and fill this gap. Fernandes makes a point that he is an advocate of Raman script of Konkani. This point is made in the context of how Christians in Goa using Roman script were used as political mob by Eurasians or bamons to fight the bhahujans using Marathi and fighting to get Marathi the status of official language of Goa. Christian and bhahujan clashed with each other and both lost. Bamons skillfully got their concocted language devnagri konkni as official language of Goa. This was done in order to keep Christians as well as bhahujans – the masses of Goa weak so that minority Eurasians seeks to rule Goa in perpetuity. In terms of religions they had already permanent exclusive control over major temples with Mhajan Act that is being under fire with bhahujan revolt in Madkai. For a long time Christian and bhahujans in Goa regarded each other as enemies. This architecture of enmity was founded by Eurasian bamons for their selfish ends. In 1986 leadership of Christians as well as bhahujan failed to see through the game plan of bamons the way politics of language was played out and both staged surrender to the Bamon Raj only to realize it two decade later with the contribution from Ramnath Naik and his book ‘Berlin Wall’.
Life of Goans in Kuwait is tough and hard. Labour laws during his time in Kuwait were very harsh. There was no job security and one can be fired from the Job anytime legally. It is purely based on goodwill of the management of the companies in Kuwait that working was possible. Anthony Veronica describes his own job harsh reality. His management has two Europeans, a German and a British. German had trained Nazi mindset and directly humiliated Veronica on workplace on several occasions. His British did the same thing but diplomatically. Book records in more details.
The rise of Kuwait as centre of Oil exploration is the base of Goan labour force overwhelmingly mulnivasis attraction into Kuwait. This book is also about the tribute paid to Kuwait for providing jobs to Goans and expression of deep gratitude. This gratitude has expression in extreme from Anthony Veronica Fernandes – Fight for the rights of Kuwaitis taken as Prisoners of war after the Liberation of Kuwait. General tendency is to forget the welfare of the destiny country of employment and focus solely on one’s personal welfare. Most Goans surely must have taken this approach and worked for themselves and family and found their way into oblivions of History. Veronica and his colleagues made a difference because of his ability to demonstrate his concern not only for the welfare of Goans but also welfare of Kuwaitis. He particularly is not has this privilege of unique contribution to history in Goa but also in Kuwait.
When the war was being fought in Iraq in 1990 – 1991 Anthony Veronica Fernandes took lead on his own to organize meetings and marches in defense of Kuwait and against Iraqi invasion of the land that has provided with gainful employment and prosperity. Protests under Goa – Kuwait Solidarity Centre covered in international media. Iraqi government contacted Fernandes to stop this initiative. The protests in Goa supporting Kuwait was going contrary to Indian foreign policy tilt towards supporting the invasion. The tilt changed gradually to oppose the invasion. It was not just USA and England that played in freeing Kuwait in 1991 but also people of Goa even though attendance was less than 10 per cent of 10,000 who retuned to Goa after invasion between August – December 1990. Media highlights of the protests in Goa singled out Goan labour force in Kuwait for the political action. The message of Goans’ support to Kuwaiti freedom struggle not only reached Indian Government and Iraqi government but also reached to Kuwaiti government in exile functioning from a territory in Saudi Arabia. At this time life of Anthony Veronica Fernades was in danger in Goa. Goa Police put him under watch even though he did nothing against Government of India. The political mobilization in support of Kuwait in Indian by returnees from Kuwait at his juncture was the only one even though people from several States in India worked in Kuwait and were deported. But none galvanized themselves to support the country that has helped them to prosper financially. Kuwait was betrayed by rest of Indian workforce and this is well recorded the book.
Even though Kuwaiti Amir was aware of the Goans public demonstrations in support of his country rest of the Kuwaitis were not. It took innovative media offensive from Anthony Veronica Fernandes to reach the message to Kuwaitis. Goans do not control Kuwaiti television or newspapers. Yet Goans has presence in every Kuwaiti home in the form of maid. These very maids were contacted by Veronica after the war was over and after back in Kuwait working and photo documentation of protest in support of Kuwait was prepared. The photo albums numbering 1,000 were prepared. These albulms one each was given to each of the Goan maid to be handed over to their Kuwaiti employers. This changed the views of Goans by Kuwaitis. Maids carried on political task in formidable manner under the tutelage of Fernandes. Suddenly entire Kuwaitis came to know about the support of Goan employees publicly. 1,000 Kuwaiti families influential discussed Goa support. Anthony Veronica Fernandes rose up in stature as the leaders to such extend that Kuwaitis began to treat him as India’s unofficial ambassador in Kuwait. Kuwait government and elites offered lucrative offers to Fernandes as the gesture of their gratitude. Fernandes rejected all the personal favours and simply said “I want Job prosperity to People from Goa in your country.” This surprised not only Kuwaitis but also Goans but established relationship of brotherhood amongst Kuwaitis and Goans. Very soon Video of Goans supporting Kuwait was aired on Kuwaiti national television and Indian Embassy was found itself at receiving ends for not reporting anything of Goan support to Kuwait.
The uprightness and courage of Fernandes comes out very clearly when in his book he critics Kuwaiti males for committing atrocities on Indian females working as maids. Specially when Kuwaitis males are alone at home with their wives and children away these sexual assaults takes place. Fernandes describes this as ‘Animal Power’ of the Kuwaitis.
Book has several insights into Goa and lifer here. Caste system is severely attacked. Fernandes observes that in North Goa Aldona was a worst Parish in terms of caste discriminations. It may not be a co-incident that Goa’s current Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao hails from Aldona and carried caste based discriminations into the lifeblood of Goa Archdiocese with sale of Vanxim island as show case piece of this nature.
Two other important themes dominate this book very prominently. One is sports and second is konkni theatre – tiatros. Sports is in life blood of the ancestors of Fernandes and details are recorded on book. Fernandes himself was sportsman in his youth with athletics and football as his passion. Fernandes was fastest in Goa in 100 meters covering in under 11 seconds in 1966 representing St. Joseph School, Arpora. I had a telephonic discussion on this point with the Author and raised this aspect. Fernandes told me “Caste did dot gave us advantage, for I was ‘low’ in their calculations. Sports gave us social respect and we capitalized on it. We never allowed Brahmins to have an upper hand over us. We crushed their attempts to dominate us and sports was the way out.” So there are names not only of his ancestors who shined in sports past decades but also his brothers Peter, late Josemarie and Mickey find their sports carriers mentioned and ultimately comes across as stepping stones to political expression: the theme that is seldom touched and discussed. Sports as path to political power and social respect are new insight for me. He married his long time girl friend Fatima and has two children Aveshah and Ashton. Their sports history is recorded in this book too.
The second theme is of theatre that Fernandes is so passionately involved in commenting upon. His comments are taken very seriously in Tiart fraternity. His comments are there in this book in the interview by Gasper Crasto attached towards the end of the book.
Fernandes worked in Kuwait from 02nd August 1975 to 16th December 2013 with Behbehani Motors Company. At the end of his time in Kuwait there is nothing special that he foresee coming up. This is mainly so because present generation of Kuwait Goans is not as enthusiastic as we were for the cause of Goa and Goans. What his generation has done looks final, book claims. Lets hope this is proved wrong and many more Goans take initiative like that of Fernandes.
There is so much more to write about and distill from this book. Readers are will certainly find this book useful tool for variety of purposes and destine to make difference to the course of understanding of History of the place beloved to Fernandes and to many of us – Goa.
Fernandes has been one of the founders of Goan Overseas Association (GOA) with Raymond D’Sa and relentlessly promoted Konkani and Football. It takes credit for winning statehood for Goa. Book however escapes to note that the first cabinet resolution after statehood to Goa in 1987 was release of master plan for tourism development in Goa. Statehood was granted in order to protect India from criticism when it will take over huge tracks of lands in Goa. State administration could serve as buffer to ward off the criticism of India. Master plan was master sale of Goa’s coast to big capital interests from across the globe and if allowed could render Goans as slaves and minority of hardly any political significance. Everywhere statehood has double agenda – one is open declared one and second one that is hidden from masses – corporate and Bamon agenda. This bluffing trend continues till date now in terms of call for special status for Goa. The same bamons who are involved in selling Goa’s land are asking for special status for Goa. If anyone responsible for ruining Goa they are bamons. Various protests movement that come up are essentially to provide cover for these very bamons. Until they are exposed there is no hope for Goa. Enemy is within Goa and we are looking elsewhere in Delhi. This must change.
The book comes out as master piece on criticality. Let’s see some of the comments for their razor sharp impact:
“Generally speaking, sometimes those who pray the loudest can be the biggest hypocrites.”
“The Portuguese security personnel would scream at Goans with anger for any mistake, or even if we didn’t commit one, calling us “Goesa” (Goans). In a like manner, Kuwaiti Police would shout at us with anger and disdain not only for any small fault or no fault. They would yell at us, using derogatory remarks like “Hindi gauvad” (Indian donkey). The way the Portuguese security personnel inculcated a fear complex in our minds was similar to what the Kuwaiti security personnel did.”
“This was crime not only against Christian Mary but against Islam itself. He hurt and disgraced the greatness of his religion. It was a shame to commit such a rape in the holy month of Ramadan. Such rapes and crimes are very common in Kuwait in all seasons. Islam’s enemies are not just the Zionists, but their own Muslims who bring dishonor by committing un-Islamic acts against poor maids in the Gulf in general and in Kuwait in particular.”
“But later on, almost every Kuwaiti started selling visas for a very fat amount. Visa selling has now become very lucrative business associated with lot of cheating and duping by the section of Kuwaitis.”
“Earlier there was no ID card, but later on one called the hawiah was introduced. This document now plays very important role in anything and everything”.
“In Kuwait too, caste beliefs were very strong among Goan Christians. Even jobs were filled in by some casteist Goan managers after analyzing one’s caste status. One Brahmin bhatkar from (landlord) Saligao, holding a top post in a prominent company, did so. His bias favored ‘high’ caste job-seekers, even if others were fit educationally and professionally.”
“As for me, the caste factor is irrelevant. I am not shy of my humble, poor and ‘low’ background. But I maintain my dignity and lead a decent life without cheating my wife. I have not cheated the community or robbed the trust of the society. I am involved in so many associations but not a single association dismissed me for committing any breach of financial irregularities. This is my dignity which is much higher than the cheapness of caste system.”
“Already terrified by this scene, I noticed one soldier nearby was pointing his gun at me.”
“What a mighty fall for Kuwait. Within a minute, so to say, Kuwait had lost its independent identity, Kuwaitis became countryless, homeless and passportless. Overnight, a dazzling and magnificent country, one of the richest in the world in per capita terms, collapsed like a pack of cards in front of the military might of Iraq.”
“None of the Arab armies and their military arsenals were powerful enough to withstand the military might of tiny Israel, which was implanted in the Middle East by the Zionist lobby in collaboration with imperial British by uprooting innocent Palestinians from their rightful homes and homeland.”
“In 1961, when Indian troops annexed my beloved Goa, I was a young boy doing my schooling at a Portuguese primary school.”
“According to the stories going around, in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, anybody purchasing typewriter could find himself under surveillance; such people were seen as having the potential to write against the system. Saddam was said to have abhorred the intellectual class of society.”
Copy of the book can be purchased from the Author. His mobile number +91-75-07-394349.