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Memorial of a sacrifice long forgotten

Sanjeev V Sardesai

As we proceed towards Sawantwadi town, along the NH 66 we have to cross over into Maharashtra, from the Patradevi – Banda Border Crossing. It is about 40 kilometres from Panaji and a scenic drive along broad roads, flanked by greenery and passing over the meandering Chapora River at Colvale.

Today the general Goan lifestyle in these regions is joyful and tension-free but between the call of revolt sounded by Ram Manohar Lohia in 1946 till 1961 when the Indian Armed Forces rolled in and took over Goa there was a period of tension, mistrust and mortal fear of the Portuguese forces.

The Goa Vimochan Sahayak Samiti decided to march into Goa on 15th August 1955. This set the Portuguese military machinery into a high gear owing to the insecurity caused by the actions of the Indian Government and the Satyagraha-inspired people of Goa.

The news of Indian atrocities in Portuguese held Goa, Daman & Diu, spread and thus the western world had tilted towards supporting the Portugal administration in colonised India.

It is highly recommended to listen to the 7 hours 48 minutes long, record breaking speech of the then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon, on January 23, 1957 at the United Nations destroying the perceptions of the world and deflating the egos of many super powers.

The call by the Samiti did not have support of any kind, military or otherwise. The Indian Administration had explicitly warned the agitators not to enter Goan borders and restricted transport. This built up the momentum and the western world waited with bated breath to see the outcome of this peaceful Satyagraha.

As August 15, 1955 approached, the list of volunteers increased. Many nationalist leaders took charge. The cities selected as bases for these volunteers were Pune, Belgaum and Karwar. The plan was to enter Goa simultaneously from all the sides. It was thus decided to make smaller groups and spread them to many points, while the main groups were to enter Goan borders via Banda (Maharashtra) – Patradevi (Pernem, Goa), Tiracol Fort; Majali and Polem Check Post in the south and Tunnel No 10 at Sosoli, Kanakumbhi, Castle Rock, along the eastern borders.

The World Press covered this event and the two reporters, John Lava Safe of The United Press of America and Arthur Bonner of the Colombia Broadcasting Services were present at this border site. They were to play a major, spontaneous role in this incident and can be credited with saving the lives of many Satyagrahis.

It was the peak of the monsoons, the pathways were damp and marshy, but the Satyagrahis marched over 75 kilometres from Belgaum via Kanakumbhi and Surla. The Satyagrahis, who were to enter from Patradevi, gathered on the evening of August 14, 1955. The following day at about 10 a.m. an avalanche of people started to move from Banda wading through the swollen river waters and reached the border. This group of about 2500 volunteers was led by Vishnupant Chitale and a fiery young lady Sahodaradevi Rai. Among these volunteers was a young man of 21 years, from Punjab – Sardar Karnail Singh Banipal.

The people continued shouting slogans as they reached the border. There was a Portuguese border check post about 20 metres away, and unknown to these Satygrahis the officials had a very deadly agenda. At the given time the unarmed platoon carrying the Indian Tricolour stepped forward. They had barely entered into the Goan borders towards a village cross (which still exists), when the Portuguese soldiers without warning opened fire on them. Many Satyagrahis fell victims to the initial hail of bullets.

The people on the other side and the two correspondents were shocked at this inhuman act. The Satyagrahis fell to the ground to save themselves, but held the Tricolour aloft. It is said that approximately 22 Satyagrahis were martyred that day.

One Satyagrahi who exemplified bravery and sacrifice was Sardar Karnail Singh Banipal. While the leader of the group Comrade Chitale reached out to Sahodaradevi who was badly hit in her arm, Karnail Singh realised that the Portuguese military guns were trained onto the leader. He then ran forward, created a human shield and took the hail of bullets on himself, and died instantly.

It was only when the foreign correspondents ran in waving their arms and shouting “Don’t shoot! They are unarmed!” that the military stopped shooting, seeing two white men and possibly the cameras. These correspondents then lifted the dead Satyagrahis and carried them to the Indian side.

Today a state memorial is constructed about 200 metres away from the actual site and 100 metres from the Goa Border, right by the national highway; sadly there is no sign board informing the people enroute to Goa about this memorial.

While the nation rises to the call for a “Swacch Bharat”, I am ashamed, after visiting the actual site of supreme sacrifices – where many Indians bled for Goa’s freedom. There is only a small laterite stone marking the spot! The locals use this place to dump and burn garbage. This is how ungrateful we are to those people who sacrificed their lives for us!

We need to visit this place, keep it clean and show it to our younger generation Goans. The site is just between the old Banda-Patradevi road and to the west of the Patradevi border point.

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