ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Power and the Politics of a Hindu Upper Caste in Colonial Goa (1740–1961)

The relationship between the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins and the Portuguese state has not drawn much scholarly attention. This paper examines the transformation of the numerically marginal, yet most highly placed GSBs in the Portuguese Goa. It focuses on the amicable and conflictive strategies of the community with the Portuguese imperial agents, the colonisers of Portuguese origin and the Goan Catholics. It studies internal contradictions, the caste networks and institutions in the context of competitive conditions in the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. These processes, the paper suggests, are critical in understanding the cultural and political prospects of the scribal communities; they help trace a complex history of language practices, the kind of influence their position and skills enabled, and the formation of a Hindu polity.

The author is grateful to Remy Dias, Koshy Tharakan, Seema Risbud, Rochelle Pinto, Salil Chaturvedi, and the referees for offering valuable comments and suggestions on the earlier drafts.

The study of the impact of Portuguese colonialism has often been mired in debates of forced conversions to Catholicism. While this so-called “domination model” highlights the workings of colonial power, it invisibilises the dominance of local social groups. Only recently have scholars started paying attention to the role of Goans at the local level who sought connections with the Portuguese for their own interests (Bastos 2001; Pinto 2007; Xavier 2008). However, these works are more concerned about Catholic Goans. Historians have been slow to realise the importance of the contradictions and tensions among the indigenous societies and the complexities of the cultural matrix within which they operated. While the earlier scholarship had focused on Gaud Saraswat Brahmins (GSBs) as a monolithic community, recent studies show how this caste fashioned itself (Conlon 1977; O’Hanlon and Minkowski 2008).1 Yet, we know little about the entanglements between the GSB and the Portuguese power structures. What did this relationship entail in the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century?2 This paper seeks to understand the profound political transformation and the ascendancy of the new GSB middle class, outlining the resources they employed to support their careers and aspirations. These practices and processes offer us new ways to understand the sociocultural changes in which a pan-Indian Hindu identity was forged and caste divisions were papered over, through cultural mechanisms.

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Updated On : 16th Aug, 2022
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