India is a land of diverse cultures. You find Tamilians in Tamil Nadu, Kannadigas in Karnataka, Malayalis in Kerala and Hindi speakers in the North. But you find the Konkani speakers are spread across the entire western coast of the nation and not concentrated in just one state. The reason for this disparity has deep connections with the Portuguese oppression in Goa which dates back to 16th Century. An unfortunate era of injustice that the nation tends to forget.
The Dark Ages
It was in 1510 Portuguese troops conquered Goa from the Sultan of Bijapur. Soon the Portugese began forced conversion of the local Hindu and Jewish residents to Christianity. Within next thirty years, in the heat of fanaticism, they plundered more than 300 Hindu Temples. In 1545 came the real threat. A Spanish-Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, petitioned the Portuguese Crown to establish the Inquisition. Francis Xavier died in 1552 without living to see the horrors of the Goa Inquisition.
The King’s approval was soon secured for the Inquisition. The Hindu population of Goa found themselves under the mercy of the church. Simply keeping a Tilak on the forehead or possessing god’s idol in their house was considered a serious crime. According to the new law all the residents were supposed to follow Christianity. Those who violated were tortured, their properties were confiscated and they were imprisoned in dungeons. Several of them were burnt alive in public. This process which started in 1545 continued all the way to 1812. By the end of 1851 Hindus constituted only 35% of the total population.
The Christian population rose quickly with the new laws. But the fate of the converted Christians weren’t that great either. They were in turn forced to convert their family and friends. Those who denied did not receive any privileges from the church. The converts were forced to change their names. Though the caste system was not prevalent in Portugal but was introduced in Portuguese in India. The administration introduced three castes Bammon, Chardos and Sudhhirs corresponding to the Clergy, Nobles and Peasants that was prevalent in some parts of Europe.
Significant number of Jewish Migrants had settled in Goa since ancient times. Those who refused to convert to Christianity were burnt alive in public. Very few managed to migrate to the other provinces.
The Inquisition was not just limited to Hindu community. The land of Goa had significant number of Jewish migrants who had settled since ancient times. Prior to Portuguese invasion they had all freedom to follow their religion. They built synagogues constructed Jewish cemetery. The Jews and Hindus lived harmoniously. As soon as the Inquisition was passed all the synagogues were destroyed. All the Jews were forcefully converted to Christianity. The Jews were heavily spied to ensure they do not continue their old practices. Simply whispering a Hebrew prayer over the grave of a loved one would be a serious crime.
The Portuguese rule was economically and culturally destroying Goa. Significant efforts were made by the Hindus to safeguard their tradition and culture during the fanatic rule. The temple shrines were hidden in secret places or transferred to regions without Portuguese control. These were brought back only after the abolition of Inquisition in 1812. Several secret routes to escape to neighboring states were made and people were encouraged to migrate to neighboring states to protect themselves. Thus a significant number of Goan people migrated across the coast and settled in now Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.
The conquest for freedom
It is always interesting that the nation just prefer to forget these instances of injustice. Though India got freedom in 1947 the region of Goa still remained under the control of Portuguese. Even the France left India, it was expected that Portugal would leave soon. But the Portuguese refused! Across the nation people began demanding that Goa be liberated with force. In 1955, a satyagraha was launched by several volunteer groups for the freedom of Goa. When the satyagrahis entered Goa, the Portuguese opened fire, killing 20 Indians. It was only then the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought about rescuing the Goan people. The government imposed an economic blockade. But this did not deter the Portuguese as it had steady oversee supply. Nehru simply hoped that the popular movement in Goa and the pressure of world public opinion would force the hands of the Portuguese authorities. But the Portuguese who used to massacre millions gave a blind eye for any non-violent movement.
The UN resolution of December 1960 asked all the European nations to free their colonies in Asia and Africa. The Portuguese paid no heed for the call. Now it was time for India to take military action. In November 1961, the Portuguese provoked India by firing at Indian steamers and fishing boats, killing one fisherman and they also tried to pull out villagers and take them hostage. The plan for the attack had already begun. On December 16th, 30,000 Indian troops with full air and naval support were deployed for the Police attack. The Portuguese army with less than 3000 ill-equipped soldiers was left with no option. On December 19th, The Governor General of Goa, Vassalo e Silva, signed a document of unconditional surrender. In less than 48 hours, Goa was liberated from oppressive Portuguese rule.
The annexation of Goa brought back the lost religious freedom of non-Christian residents in Goa. The shrines hidden in secret locations were brought back. New temples were erected. People began their joyous life of freedom.
In the month of December, while the world is busy with Christmas and New year, the people of Goa celebrate their unforgettable battle against colonial rule.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. These opinions do not reflect the views of The Awakened Indian and The Awakened Indian neither endorses nor assumes any responsibility or liability for the same.
The article was first published on 20th December 2018 and has been republished again on the eve of Independence Day.