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Monuments of sacrifices Goan satyagraha

Sanjeev V Sardesai

Having taken our footfalls in the historic lands of Cuncolim village, let us continue to pursue the lands and sites where many brave individuals have valiantly laid down their lives, in the pursuit to gain freedom of our Goan lands.

It is a sad reality that in pursuit of so-called development and modernisation, the present Goan populace, at every level of society and administration, has downgraded the valiant acts and supreme sacrifices of hundreds of brave citizens, to a mere few minutes of a ceremony near martyrs memorials; rather than take pride and inspiration from the scores of valiant acts that took place at various sites in Goa.

Today, a couple of days after the 71st Independence Day of my country, I dedicate this article to those known and unknown people, who had bravely stood in the face of pain and death, to sacrifice their present, so that we Goans would be able to breathe the air of freedom, and take the helms of these lands, in their own hands.

The words of the first Prime Minister of India, in the first ever free Indian Parliament, at the stroke of midnight on the memorable day of 15th August 1947, made the world stand up and realise that “a new nation was born”. It was freed from the clutches of a long era of British domain, and its peoples were free to govern themselves according to their own choices and volitions.

The French had already departed their domains of Puducherry (Pondicherry), Yanam, Mahe and Karikal in South India, on 1st November 1952, and the lands were classified as a union territory and became part of India. But in fact, this transfer was officially accepted by the French government, who ratified this treaty with India, only in 1962.

The only foreign power, on the Indian soil at that time, were the Portuguese in Goa, Daman, Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. However, in April 1954, a consolidated armed action through the various freedom fighters organisations, such as the Azad Gomantak Dal (AZD) and National Liberation Movement Organisation (NLMO), the lands of Dadra and Nagar Haveli were wrested from the foreign yolk and annexed, after a brief fire fight and were connected with India.

After this incident, the issue was to free the lands of Goa, Daman & Diu. The embers of fire of the satyagraha and pains of the freedom struggle of India were yet to subside and settle down. These embers of Indian patriotism were now fanned by a new objective – “of viewing a complete India, free from foreign rule”.

The image and perceptions of the powers of the world, was that the Indian government and its peoples, were the cause of administrative infringements and political interferences in the lands of the “peaceful Portuguese”. However, it was the ‘call of defiance’, given by Indian nationalist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, at Margao on 18th June 1946, which sparked the fire of revolution within Goa; and inspired Goan youth and the people to stand up and publicly voice their defiance against Portuguese restricted and curtailed civil liberties.

Lohia was in Goa for a ‘mundanca’ or ‘recuperation rest’, invited by his friend and colleague, since their academic years in Germany, Juliao Menezes (7th August 1909 – 2nd July 1980) of Assolna.

On 18th June 1946, he arrived, in a Victoria (Horse) carriage from the Margao railway station, to the present day Lohia Maidan, which was then just an open space, defying the administrative ban of holding public meetings. Even after being warned by the commandant of Margao police station, to refrain from his endeavour, Lohia defiantly walked to the demarcated spot and was about to start his speech, – when he was formally arrested.

He never got to express his written speech, which he had brought with him, to address the waiting eager crowds. When he was arrested and was being taken to the Margao police station, it is said that he handed this speech to freedom fighter (late) Vishwanath Lawande, who later read it out. The spark had been lit! The order of public meetings ban was breeched within Goa by Goans. The message was clear – “Do not expect the Indian leaders to come to fight for your freedom; fight for it yourselves”. Later this act took the shape of a tsunami. Resistance, against the Portuguese establishments in Goa, started on two fronts – peaceful and unarmed, as well as an underground armed revolt.

The word had leaked out of Goa, about the efforts being made by Goans, to free Goa from the foreign yolk. A wave, of a spirit of oneness and belonging, began to build up in the populace of India, in support of the people of Goa. On August 1954, an advertisement appeared on many Indian news dailies, by an all India committee, so formed under the name Goa Vimochan Sahayak Samiti under the leadership of Keshav Jedhe, seeking volunteers’ to come forth to proceed to Goa on 15th August 1955, and pressurise the Portuguese to leave the Indian soil. It was to be strictly an unarmed satyagraha, based on Mahatma Gandhi’s ethos of ‘ahimsa’ or ‘non-violent movement”. The date, 15th August, was chosen, as India was granted its independence on 15th August 1947.

As the date neared, more than 8,000 Indian people volunteered. The figure, as some say may have been 25,000 volunteers. There was even an individual Nityanand Saha, who came from far off West Bengal (presently Bangladesh). His name is seen etched at No 3, in Roman script and Devnagri, on the pillars on either side of the State Martyrs Memorial at Azad Maidan.

It was then decided that instead of this mammoth crowd of volunteers/ satyagrahis, entering the border from one location, that many smaller groups of 500 to 2500 volunteers would enter the Goan, as well as Daman & Diu borders from multiple points. Being a peaceful agitation, none were prepared to imagine the treacherous outcome at the hands of the Portuguese administration and military.

The citizen fuelled, massive assemblage of volunteers, with no visible support from the newly formed Indian government, had also attracted the press of the world. The United Press of America was represented in Portuguese Goa by John Lava Safe and the Colombia Broadcasting Services had their Arthur Bonner, along with the photo-journalist of the LIFE Magazine.

On 15th August 1955, the first two reporters had placed themselves near the Banda-Patradevi Border between Goa and Maharashtra. They wanted the exclusive photographic footage of the entry of peaceful satyagrahis into Portuguese Goa. But they were in for a ghastly shock! What happened on that fateful day, and reported candidly by these two photographers, was to become a very decisive occurrence, to the freedom movement of Goa, Daman & Diu and capsise the painted perspective of the world, to corner the dictatorial Portuguese regime of Antonio Salazar, at all diplomatic avenues.

Let us visit this site, at Banda-Patradevi border, as well as many other sites where has spewed the blood of those valiant Indians – of all faiths and all ages. We owe our freedom to their brave sacrifices. Our salutes to them all – known and unknown!

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