PAGE 02: Asmitai Dis – The Opinion Poll Day of Goa

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By Damodar Mauzo

Though unintentional, the date chosen by the organizers to inaugurate the 51st IFFI, is a significant day in the history of Goa. It was on this day that the world witnessed the first and the only referendum ever held in India. 

Soon after the liberation of Goa in 1961, Goa was a Union Territory, when Maharashtra staked its claim over the territory of Goa, a persistent demand supported by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party was met with an equally vociferous resistance from within Goa, which prompted the Central Government to determine the future of Goa by consulting the people of Goa most democratically. 

As there was no provision in the Constitution of India for referendum, a special Act was passed to hold an Opinion Poll. The people of Goa were given a choice either to vote for merger with Maharashtra or to opt for status quo i.e. to retain the status of Union Territory. After some frenzied political activity, the future of Goa was sealed when the Opinion Poll resulted in victory for the anti-mergerites. Today, the people of Goa realize how wise they were to protect their Goan identity, which otherwise would have been lost. This day,  16th  January, is popularly called as Asmitai Dis, or Identity Day, because on this day the people of Goa not only retained their Goan identity but also paved their way to obtaining official language status forKonkani and Statehood for their territory that came their way soon after.  

The 51st IFFI also coincides with the Diamond Jubilee Year of Goa’s Liberation. 19th December 1961 was indeed a day to cherish, for Goa was finally liberated on this day, albeit 14.5 years after India gained her independence from the British Raj. The Portuguese adamancy tried the patience of the then Congress government which was not ready to compromise their Gandhian approach. Ultimately, when all the peaceful and non-violent methods yielded no results, India ordered military action, Operation Vijay, and annexed Goa with very little bloodshed. I wonder if there is any parallel to this liberating event anywhere in the world. We are happy that the Goa government declared that the state will celebrate the 60th year by holding various programmes to highlight the struggle that the now liberated Goa has seen.  

We all agree that films help preserve and document historical events, which otherwise run a risk of falling prey to failing public memory. At this juncture, as we step into IFFI 2021, I wonder why Goa’s freedom movement has not been captured so far in the celluloid reels. The struggle to retain Goa’s independent entity in the face of the merger threat from expansionist forces, the 555-day long language agitation led by Konkani Porjecho Avaz that turned violent, forcing the Government to enact the law bestowing Official Language status on the language of the soil, and later including Konkani in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, has hardly been documented in films, except, perhaps, in a few government documentaries.

As I belong to the world of letters, I can vouch for quite a few existing literary works, including Lambert Mascarenhas’ voluminous narrative Sorrowing My Land. We have a number of books in Konkani written on historical and contemporary topics. So too in Marathi. Our cultural traits are fast fading and unless they are documented we shall lose them forever. We need strong research and development models, without an eye on making money, that will showcase Goa’s rich heritage. I hope, by the time Goa hosts the 52nd IFFI, the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations Committee will have something tangible to screen which will be a valuable take-home for viewers.

IFFI is said to provide a common platform for the cinemas of the world to project the excellence of film art; contributing to the understanding and appreciation of film cultures of different nations in the context of their social and cultural ethos. A number of questions haunt the minds of most Goans. How is IFFI going to benefit our state? Is IFFI helping us project Goa in the right perspective? Will IFFI help us amend the wrong notions prevailing amongst the visitors? Will it give a boost to our creativity? One noticeable advantage is the evolving film culture. Though Goa Film City looks like a distant dream, a few film academies and a number of studios that have sprung out of private initiatives are encouraging developments.

I sincerely feel that IFFI will promote trust and cooperation among film lovers and work towards the advancement of film culture in Goa.

Damodar Mauzo is the pre-eminent author of Konkani literature.

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