‘Language controversy may communally polarise Goa’

Panaji, Oct 17 (IANS) A brewing controversy over instruction of medium in schools, where factions backed by Goa’s Roman Catholic Church and the RSS are at loggerheads, could polarise Hindu and Catholic communities, Padma Shri awardee Maria Couto has warned.

Expressing fear that the prevailing air of intolerance could do an “irreparable damage” to Goa’s secular fabric, the 2010 Padma awardee in a statement, said: “I pray they do not get derailed into converting their stated position on MOI (medium of instruction) into an ugly polarisation between Goa’s two major communities.”

“Intolerance which is vitiating the air nationally will do irreparable damage to Goa’s legendary secular ethos,” the noted writer and academic said.

Two groups, Forum for Rights of Children to Education (FORCE) backed by the influential Roman Catholic Church, and the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are currenly at loggerheads in Goa over the choice of language of instruction in junior schools.

While the former group backs English, the RSS-led faction is advocating for indigenous languages.

The BJP, which won the 2012 state assembly elections, thanks to a strategic alliance with leaders of the Catholic community – is now caught between promises the party made to the minority community and the BBSM over the issue of medium of instruction.

According to the 2011 census, 25 percent of the 1.5 million population is Christian, while 66 percent are Hindus. The Christian population is “almost entirely Catholic” and Goan Catholics form a significant ethnoreligious group.

After coming to power, the Manohar Parrikar-led Bharatiya Janata Party government via an ad hoc decision in 2012, had decided to give grants to only minority institutions which were using English as a medium of instruction, with new schools being denied the privilege.

The RSS-backed BBSM believes that the Parrikar in his pursuit of political pragmatism, let them down.

Couto fears the prevailing atmosphere of intolerance over sensitive issues like beef ban and murder of rationalists and writers, could infiltrate Goa’s congenial social space.

“Debate and dissent by all means but do not vilify an entire community and its leaders. The communal virus if allowed to infiltrate the Goan psyche will not leave a Goa we wish our children to inherit,” Couto said in the statement.

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