Conversions & Convulsions

By Radharao Gracias
27 March 2013 16:08 IST

The Portuguese conquered Goa beginning from 1510. The first decree that Afonso de Albuquerque passed after the conquest was to ban Sati, the practice of cremating widows, on the funeral pyres of their husbands. However the Portuguese felt that Sati was barbaric and banned it. It was for the first time a conqueror had dared interfere with local religious/cultural practice. The Muslims, who had conquered large parts of the country over the preceding seven hundred years had either converted the people to Islam or permitted them to continue with their practices on payment of Zezia.

The Portuguese came to India as traders of goods, material (spices) and spiritual (souls) and wherever there was local reluctance to trade, force was used to procure the goods. Those were the days my friend, which the Portuguese thought would never end!

The Portuguese had not encountered religions other than Islam before venturing into India. The local people did not have any religion in the European sense of the term. The response of the people to the question on their religion was that they were either Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras or any of their sub-castes. All these people did not cumulatively identify themselves as followers of a common religion. The Portuguese could not comprehend the religious practice which came to be called “Konkanne” after the locale. Thus, there were no “Hindus” when the Portuguese conquered Goa. The name “Hindu” itself was similarly coined by foreigners, to identify the religious practices of Indians.

The Portuguese genuinely believed, that the local people needed to be saved and for them, the only way to do so, was to Christianise them and they spared no efforts, in this direction. The Portuguese certainly did not mean to harm the local people, but, invested manpower and money in trying to make them mirror images of themselves. If the Portuguese were not to concentrate on conversions, they would have been a stronger trading and military power, than the British, French and Dutch, who did not waste energies on spiritual activities.

The question before us, is not whether the Portuguese did use force, for conversions, but was force needed at all? The record of conversions in Salcete is pretty clear. The first person to embrace Christianity was the Escrivao of the Communidade of Cortalim who was a Brahmin. Upon conversion he was christened as Pedro Mascarenhas. His descendants continue to live at Raia and one of them was married to a former Union Minister. Soon Gaonkars in various villages met and resolved to convert to the new religion. Everything went on smoothly till the Kshatriyas of Cuncolim offered resistance about the year 1583. And what happened five hundred years ago is identical to what happens in Goa, now.

Today religious conversion is hardly an issue, but political conversion is. Goa has set national, if not international record, in defections. And defection is nothing but conversion from one ideology to another. Look at Ramakant Khalap, Churchill Alemao, Ravi Naik, Wilfred Mesquita, Digambar Kamat, Wilfred D’Souza and a host of others. They have moved seamlessly, from the far right to the far left, from Hindutwa to secular politics and back again. And their supporters have followed them, wherever they have gone, all in the name of development. Our ancestors also did the same thing. It is a natural trait in us to join the winners. No force is required.

The Portuguese won and we kowtowed to them. Had Tipu Sultan succeeded in defeating the British in 1799, his Sultanate would have perhaps extended to Goa. All of our ancestors would have embraced Islam, without demur.

The Gaud Saraswat Brahmins in Goa, till about the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, were all Shaivites (Aadve). Around that time, a Shankaracharya came to Goa and converted a section of the Brahmins to Vaishnavites (Ube). Today, the majority of the Brahmins in Goa are Vaishnavites. Right now, among the Catholics, number of people are converting to “Believers”. Conversion thus is not something new, but a part of growth of civilisations.

The use of force, if it is perceived to be for the good of the individual and society, has always been the rule. I can distinctly recall my own resistance and that of several classmates, for vaccination against small pox, when I was a primary school student. All who resisted were then brought under control, by older students who physically held us, to facilitate the vaccination. The result is that not only were we immunised against small pox, but the dreaded disease was eradicated. The vaccination was for our good, according to the WHO and so was conversion, according to the Portuguese!

If there is something or someone to be blamed, then it is our way of life which did not prepare us to face the world. Foreigners marched in and trampled upon us, century after century. Despite forewarnings we did not organise our defences. No forts were built to guard the passes that provided entry into the country, from the north-west. Our superstitions prevented us from venturing into the high seas. Anyone who did so became unclean and an outcaste. And so, the foreigners came sailing over the “polluting” seas and colonised us. If we do not acknowledge our faults, our future is as dim as our past.

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Radharao Gracias

Radharao F.Gracias is a senior Trial Court lawyer and ex President of the South Goa Advocates Association. He is also former independent MLA of Goa. He has been an activist on issues related to Goa for more than three decades.

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Adv Radharao Gracias seems to be attracted to other Goans holding Portuguese Passports , but does not mention about the Passports /Nationality held by his clients, like the Churchill family, who he defends.

so come on Radharao...what`s the deal on the Alemaos.?

- N.Fernandes, London | 14 th January 2014 14:19

 

Mr. Gracias seems to be totally and conveniently forgetting to mention the topic of Portuguese Inquisition in Goa. The burning at the stake of Hindus non compliant with accepting Catholicism (refusing to convert). The spiritually destitute Portuguese who came with guns were not able to comprehend the hierarchy of the Hindu Gods and fathom the depth of philosophical truths they were exposed too. They likened the idols hindu's chose to relate to God to the lower civilizations of Africa's tribes who also have idols and for them it was nothing more than "Devil's" worship. Yes the Indian culture did have its ills in the practice of Sati, the degradation of the classification of profession into a caste system, but its not like there is any religion on this planet that is perfect. America a mostly Christian nation had Africans for slaves and treated them lesser than human beings and also did not let women vote till 1920. Christianity itself is split into various sects and beliefs, each believing the others to be lower and lesser.Muslims are split up into Sunni's and Shias and so on. You should be ashamed of yourself comparing the forced conversions of Hindus to the forced vaccinations of school children.

- Ghanashyam Prabhu, Seattle USA | 12 th January 2014 05:42

 

Frustrated lawyer like Mr. Radharao Gracias. Nothing better than worse. Such lawyer have nothing to do only mess whole systems of the country, by doing these they engage ike hero. Mr. Radharao and Valanka talks issue of Portuguese nationality what benefit they a have just bang empty drum. Both of you better stand outside courtyard and pray to have cases.

- Sanjay Kumar, Margao | 16 th April 2013 18:26

 

How do Goa's politicians change sides?

2 possible reasons

1) The more ponderous one from Eric Berne MD(author of games people play)

People are unable to understand how ardent Nazi, police men in East Germany could become equally ardent communist police men, Since the two parties seemed directly opposed. But all that is opposed are adjectives. The Nazi position was I + (Nazi), He - (traitor), Therefore kill him. The communist position was I +(Communist), He- (traitor), Therefore kill him. The rule is that a change in predicates, No matter how radical, does not change the position... For this reason nothing is easier.................. under proper guidance to change sides.

2) The more likely one.

The US presidential candidate who was asked, What are issues in this election quipped, "No issues here. He has the job I want it"

No ideologies here, Just give me the election ticket.

- Dr A Dsouza, Calangute | 03 rd April 2013 15:20

 

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