Catholics in the Indian state of Goa are feeling unease amid calls by the state’s Chief Minister, Pramod Sawant, to “wipe out” signs of the Portuguese presence in the region.
Newsroom (09/07/2023 19:00, Gaudium Press) While most of India achieved independence from Britain in 1947, Portugal ruled Goa as a colony from 1510 to 1961, when the recently independent Indian Union invaded, sounding the death knell for European power on the subcontinent.
Some Goans, mostly Christians, left for Portugal or for its remaining colonies, especially Angola or Mozambique, but the majority stayed behind, and Goa remains one of the most Christian states in India, with Catholics accounting for around 20% of the population.
In the Indian region of Goa, home to a substantial Christian community, fears are mounting as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promotes a Hindu nationalist agenda. The BJP controls both the central government in Delhi and the local government in Goa, fueling concerns among Christians about the erasure of their cultural and religious identity.
Goa, known for its vibrant Christian presence, boasts a population where Catholics comprise approximately 20%. The Archbishop of Goa holds the prestigious title of Patriarch of the East Indies, underscoring the significant influence Goan Catholics have had on Indian Catholicism. Surprisingly, a closer examination reveals that there are more bishops with unmistakably Portuguese surnames in India than in Portugal itself, reflecting the deep historical ties between the two nations.
However, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s recent comments have stirred unease. Sawant expressed a desire to eliminate Portuguese influences in Goa, sparking concerns that this rhetoric may escalate to the destruction of churches, Portuguese architecture, and even the persecution of Christians.
While Christians in Goa are not currently facing the severe persecution experienced in other parts of India, instances of tension and conflict between Hindus and Catholics have emerged due to the rise of fundamentalism. Educated individuals have been heard proclaiming that India is primarily for Hindus, heightening anxieties about the future of religious harmony in Goa.
Renowned local historian John Lobo, himself a Catholic Goan, emphasizes the significance of embracing both Indian and Portuguese influences as part of Goan identity. Lobo argues that Goans are unique and their amalgamation of cultures has made Goa India’s top tourist destination. However, he warns that attempts to erase the Portuguese legacy would dilute the Goan population and strip away the essence of Goan identity.
The Portuguese government, which has traditionally maintained cordial relations with its former colonies, including India, has thus far remained relatively silent regarding the situation in Goa. However, a senior official in the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs assures that they are closely monitoring developments, viewing the inflammatory statements as primarily intended for domestic consumption rather than a reflection of Portugal’s relationship with India.
The apprehension remains that the growing Hindu nationalist rhetoric may lead to the marginalization of Goans, the erasure of cultural heritage, and a demographic shift in the region. The unique blend of Indian and Portuguese influences that has defined Goa’s rich history and vibrant culture hangs in the balance as Christians in the region navigate an uncertain future.
- Raju Hasmukh with files from The Pillar