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The armed assaults of the bravehearts

The armed assaults of the bravehearts

The noted freedom fighter, PRABHAKAR SINARI, who was a leading figure during the last phase (1946-1961) of Goa’s liberation movement, has recently released his memoirs, ‘From Darkness to Dawn’ narrating the first person account of the militant struggle against the colonial power. THE NAVHIND TIMES brings you excerpts from this book, describing the first armed attacks taken up by the Azad Gomantak Dal on the Portuguese institutions

 

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The last phase of Goa’s struggle to end Portuguese rule began on June 18, 1946 and came to an end on December 19, 1961. The entire over-16-year period saw severe atrocities on the Goan population, especially the freedom fighters by the Portuguese administration. Prabhakar Sinari, who participated in this struggle right from the beginning, first as a Satyagrahi and then as a revolutionary, encountered many risky incidents. As a member of the then newly formed Azad Gomantak Dal, he was involved in the attack on Fazenda, the revenue building in Mapusa, closely followed by an attack on the cash transportation of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino, a Portuguese bank. Sinari describes both these risky assaults in an engrossing manner, which endangered the lives of the involved young revolutionaries.

 

Excerpts from the book

Attack on the Fazenda

Since finances were our top priority, it was decided to attack the Fazenda (the revenue building in Mapusa). We managed to collect adequate quantities of kerosene and gun powder, besides the small weapons we had acquired earlier. The weapons were very old and we were not sure whether the ammunition would fire, but our minds were made up.

On the night of July 21, 1947, we marched from Assagao to the Fazenda, the Mapusa revenue building. According to the intelligence we had gathered, there was only one sentry posted at the entrance of the building along with four additional policemen, who stood guard inside the building. Dattatreya Deshpande and Betu Naik sought to distract the sentry by pretending to be passersby, who needed a matchbox to light their cigarettes. Before the sentry could respond, they attempted to disarm him. The sentry resisted and cried out for help. In the scuffle, Narayan Naik shot at the sentry, injuring him in the leg. The alarm sounded by the sentry attracted the policemen inside the building.

The policemen in the building came rushing out and pointed their rifles at Lawande. I rushed and fired at the policeman, injuring him badly. This was the first time I had fired a weapon; I was just sixteen. Lawande suddenly decided to call off the attack and retreat. We were all very immature and did not have any experience of using armed weapons. The scuffle with the police had rattled all of us. Our original aim was to capture the building and set it on fire after disarming the police guarding it. We could also have looted some cash had we found any. Having decided not to pursue the attack, we took the kerosene and gun powder back to Assagao. Though the attack failed, it sent shock waves through the Portuguese administration. We achieved our larger objective of making people aware that the police were not invincible.

Though Lawande, Narayan Naik, Tukaram, Kunde and I reached Assagao safely, two other comrades Deshpande and Betu Naik did not. We subsequently learnt that Deshpande, who was carrying the snatched rifle from the sentry, managed to escape to Aldona. Betu Naik lost his way in the dark and had a nasty fall, which had left him badly bruised. He had to spend the night on the verandah of a nearby building as he was being pursued by the police. The assault on the Fazenda building was a great learning experience for us. Though we did not succeed in our goal of capturing the building, our morale was at an all time high.

Targetting the Banco Nacional Ultramarino

By this time we had realised that mere enthusiasm was not a substitute for rigorous training in guerrilla warfare and the use of fire arms. Fortunately, we were lucky to secure the services of Mukund Dhakankar, a former officer with the Indian Navy. Dhakankar not only provided us the training needed to handle explosives and fire arms, but also came up with an ambitious plan to strengthen our finances. Dhakankar proposed that we target the bank officers who carried cash daily from the Mapusa branch to the head office of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino in Panjim. The Portuguese colonial bank for overseas operations then had a monopoly over banking in Goa. The Mapusa branch staff used to carry the cash in a bus, rather an old-fashioned version of the bus called the carreira. The plan was for me and a comrade to travel by the same bus in which the officers were transporting the cash. The bus was to be intercepted by other members of the group at Porvorim at a predetermined point.

As per the plan, on December 4, 1947, Tukaram and I took our positions in the rear seats of the bus in which the officers were transporting the cash to the head office. At the spot agreed upon for the interception, we waved our handkerchiefs to confirm that the officers were travelling by the same bus. At Porvorim, Lawande and some others who were part of the group stopped the bus on the main highway, near the present-day O’Coqueiro. Unfortunately for us, the bank officers had seen us signalling our friends and forced the driver to speed up. One of the officers pushed the bag carrying the money under the seat of a young girl. We were only able to snatch the other bag which was filled mostly with cheques and very little cash. Our adventure did not yield us much by way of funds.

Disappointed, some of the group went to Assagao to Kunde’s place while Mukund Dhakankar and I went to his relatives’ home in Verem. The next day, we returned to our homes. To our misfortune, a person from Merces had identified Narayan Naik and Tukaram Kankonkar. As per our plan, Narayan Naik had gone to Betim to find out if the police had any clue to the identity of the people behind the dacoity. We were not aware that an agent of the Portuguese regime from Betim had been following our comrades. The police became suspicious of Narayan Naik and Dhakankar’s movements. Their suspicions were confirmed when they intercepted Narayan Naik and Dhakankar, who were cycling back from Madkai after the annual jatra. To our misfortune, the police found weapons in a bag they were carrying. Narayan Naik and Dhakankar were promptly arrested and taken back to the police station, where they were subjected to severe torture.

The attack on the vehicle carrying the bank remittances took place on December 4, 1947. On December 8, Babla Singbal came to my house looking haggard and extremely anxious. He informed me of the arrest of Narayan Naik and Mukund Dhakankar in connection with the raid on the vehicle carrying remittances to the Banco Nacional Ultramarino. He expressed the fear that the Portuguese police were likely to arrest the rest of us as well. We decided to go to the other village of Goa Velha to consult Lawande, who had however already left the house the previous day; nobody knew of his whereabouts.

When we were passing through the Goa Velha market area, we saw a large number of Portuguese police officers in the verandah of a popular bar. I suggested to Singbal that we should leave the cycle behind and hide. Singbal did not agree, so I began peddling faster, in the hope that we could escape. But it was too late as we had barely reached Siridao when three vehicles surrounded us. Policemen alighted and pointed their weapons at us. They warned us that they would not hesitate to shoot and kill us. We had no chances of escape. We were handcuffed and taken straight to the Panaji police headquarters. Along the way, in the vehicle, both of us were beaten black and blue.

At the police headquarters, we were dumped in two different police cells. We were not given even a glass of water, leave alone food. Our interrogation started in the evening. I was flung to the ground and literally trampled upon. They kept on insisting that I reveal the names of those who had participated in the raids on the Fazenda and the Banco Nacional Ultramarino. When I tried to feign innocence of my involvement, they claimed that Narayan Naik and Mukund Dhakankar had revealed details of the entire conspiracy. Apparently, under savage torture, Narayan Naik had revealed the names of all the co-conspirators. They were infuriated by my silence. A White Portuguese officer pushed me down and asked a constable, whose name I later learnt was Musa from Valpoi, to take off the shorts and vest I was wearing. They then subjected me to strokes of the palmatoria (rod of seasoned wood with a square head) on my buttocks and the soles of my feet. I was even lashed with a hippo whip or the cavalo-marinho. I was determined not to reveal the names of any of the members of the Azad Gomantak Dal, out of fear of endangering the lives of those who had escaped.

My fears came true when, the following day, I found that two more of my friends had been picked up by the police. I felt bad as they were innocent and had not played any role in our revolutionary activities or even in the freedom movement. Their only crimes were that they were my friends. Apparently, my innocent friends Gaitonde and Kolvalkar had been picked up at the jetty when they had gone to see off some of their friends who were going to Bombay by the steamer. The police thought they were attempting to escape. They were kept in custody for several weeks before being released.

Every night, some more people were arrested and brought to the prison. Among them was Sitaram Mane. He was a known wrestler in those days. He was asked to persuade me to confess my role in the two incidents. He could not extract any information from me, so he was subjected to police torture. Poor Sitaram, though an athlete, could not bear this torture and with every stroke of the cavalo-marinho, he would shriek so loudly that he was given another one to shut his mouth. As they did to me, they tried removing Sitaram’s clothes. Sometimes, different officers took part in this act of sadistic savagery. This happened every evening, and went on till midnight.

Days passed and weeks flew by. One day, finally, I was taken out at noon. I saw a group of people, men and women from Vazari, gathered around Tenente da Costa’s table. Tenente da Costa was leading the unit of officers who tortured me and other freedom fighters. He told the villagers of Vazari that it was me who had killed the Fazenda constable, who hailed from their village. Each villager was given a stick. I was escorted to the table and placed on it, stomach down. They were asked to show their anger by hitting me. All the villagers, men and women, pounced on me and hit me for almost 15-20 minutes, till they were exhausted. I was bleeding from head to toe. Somebody poured water on me and then I was dragged to my cell and locked up. No doctor or compounder attended to me.

The Portuguese learnt that Jaiwant Kunde, besides having participated in the armed raid on the Fazenda, was also providing shelter to freedom fighters and printing a bulletin on behalf of his uncle, Prof. Laxmikant Bhembre and his brother Narayan Bhembre, who were active in the freedom struggle. On learning this, the police raided his residence and recovered the printing press. This led to a chain of arrests of office bearers of the National Congress (Goa). Those arrested included Guilherme Ticlo, Advocate P P Shirodkar, Dr. Vinayak Mayenkar, and Gandhian Nilkanth Karapurkar. With the printing press as evidence and their own admissions, the Portuguese charged them and sent them to the Fort Aguada jail.

After the raid on the carreira which was transferring cash collected at the Mapusa branch to the head office of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino on December 4, 1947, the Portuguese police resorted to mass arrests in an attempt to catch the revolutionaries responsible for the daring attempt to loot. Many of those who had participated in this raid had managed to escape and take shelter on the Goa–India border at Matnem, Dodamarg, Maneri and other places. Some of them like Vishwanath Lawande, Tukaram Kankonkar, Mario Rodrigues and others chose to seek sanctuary in Ambedgaum on the Indian side of the Goa border. Later Janardhan Shinkre, the editor of Jwala and other nationalist literature, also crossed the border to escape from the Portuguese police. Though they had fled Goa and crossed over to Indian territory across the border, they continued the struggle.

January was almost over, but our torture in police lock-ups continued. In this way, more than one month had passed, with each day being a nightmare. We never knew when we would be taken out of our cells for a fresh round of torture. We were all confined in such a way that we couldn’t see or speak to each other. The food supplied to us was both insufficient and inedible. We were staring at starvation. In present-day independent India, anyone arrested by the police has to be produced before the magistrate within 24 hours; but, as mentioned earlier, there was no such provision in the Portuguese law. The police could keep us in the lock-up for as long as they wished, without having to answer to anyone. The more they tortured freedom fighters, the more impressed the Portuguese government was with their ‘loyalty’ and ‘patriotism’. This was more so in the case of revolutionaries.

In the last week of January 1948, we were taken to Mapusa and lodged in one police lock-up cell. There were seven of us; there was barely enough place for all of us to lie down. To make our lives even more miserable, we were handcuffed in pairs. I was paired with Mukund Dhakankar. Magan Colvalkar, whose wrists were thin, had his ankles handcuffed instead. No bedding or mattresses were provided, but we attempted to put our other comrades at ease and made the best of our common misfortune. Not satisfied with this brutality, the police refused to provide us any meals. Senhor Quadros, who was the procurador (attorney) of Mapusa, was also holding charge of jails under his jurisdiction. When he visited us, we tried to communicate our agony to him.

Instead of finding a solution, he taunted us that we should have realised the consequences of fighting against the Portuguese regime and killing the police. He even tried to extort money from us telling us that since we were not poor, we should bring our food from our homes. This was not practical as all our homes were way far away from the lock-up, except for Mukund Dhakankar, whose house was one-and-half kilometre away. The Dhakankar family sent us food and tea. One of Mukund’s brothers had the courage to carry food-filled cans and utensils to the lock-up. Even the policemen guarding us sympathised, but dared not do anything out of the fear of impending arrest and meeting a similar fate. Capitão Guimarães, who was the chief of police in Mapusa, and his wife, stayed in the nearby police quarters. His young wife reprimanded her husband for starving us. In spite of his objections, she would cook food for us. She even visited the lock-up to see that all of us had our share of the food that she had prepared for us.

We were taken to the toilet only twice a day. Even while in the latrine, our handcuffs were not removed. The result was that, while cleaning our private parts, the hand of the other person was also dragged along. To our further misfortune, the whole lock-up was full of white lice which feasted on our blood. One fateful evening, a sub-chefe, Sagun Naik, brought us the news that Mahatma Gandhi had been shot dead by a Hindu fanatic. All of us felt sad over the irony of the messiah of non-violence dying such a violent death.

Initially, Gandhiji’s doctrine of non-violence was not understood by the people, who took it to mean a weapon of the weak and timid. His movement against the British had borne the fruit of independence. Gandhiji was respected during the struggle for India’s independence and he continued to command respect after India achieved independence. This earned him the title of ‘Father of the Nation’. But his weapon of ahimsa was beyond the comprehension of the Portuguese. He was mocked in their writings and in their utterances. Even when Gandhiji was assassinated and the world bowed in respect, the Portuguese were guarded in their comments about him.

 

(‘From Darkness to Dawn’ is published by Goa 1556 and available at Rs 400)

 

 

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