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Fr Bismarque Dias and Greta Thunberg

Luis Dias

Fr Bismarque’s Kindness Manifesto pledge begins with this line: “I confess on behalf of all the adults of the world, for our wrongdoings, to all the precious children and our beautiful home, Earth.”

This would have been drafted by him in the run-up to his 2012 Cumbarjua election campaign. Such a statement would have gladdened the heart of Swedish teenage environmental activist on climate change, Greta Thunberg, whose campaigning has gained international recognition.

Thunberg minces no words when flaying adults and earlier generations for, as she puts it, “shitting on my future”.

Born in 2003, she would have been barely nine at the time of Fr Bismarque’s Kindness Manifesto. But she had already heard about climate change a year before, and could not understand why so little was being done about it.

She burst upon the international stage only in 2018, three years after the brutal murder of Fr Bismarque, Goa’s environmental martyr, around the time he was finally laid to rest after the courts failed to give his family justice and his killers still roam free.

I often wonder what Fr Bismarque (May 23, 1964- November 6, 2015) would have made of the feisty teenager. Although decades apart in age, they were simpatico in so many ways.

The thrust of Thunberg’s message contains four interwoven themes: that humanity is facing an existential crisis due to climate change; that the current generation of adults is responsible for climate change; that climate change will have a disproportionate effect on young people; and that too little is being done about the situation.

Fr Bismarque’s focus, although local, could easily be extrapolated to the wider world, and their ideas would have converged.

His Kindness Manifesto was a watershed not just in Goan politics, but for the whole country. Many scoffed at it, as too philosophical, as empty platitudes out of sync with on-the-ground issues. But he was driving at something much deeper, much more revolutionary, which went to the core of our collective mindset. In his Manifesto, rather than another predictable list of promises, it begged forgiveness from the Mother Earth for our transgressions against her and her children and living beings. He was asking us to change, to treat each other, all living beings and the environment with kindness. He asked us to pledge to: “Be Kindness, live Kindness; to be Kind to ourselves, to others and to the environment.”

Fr Bismarque’s message presciently anticipated the core philosophy of our current Pope Francis’ revolutionary second encyclical ‘Laudatosi’ (subtitled ‘On Care for Our Common Home’), of May 24, 2015, literally months before Fr Bismarque was murdered. In it, the Holy Father critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming and calls on all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action”.

Just last month, Pope Francis weighed in again on the subject, saying it was time for “predators” to stop plundering the Earth for financial gain, and denouncing those wielding power who look down on others: “considering them backward and of little worth, they despise their traditions, erase their history, occupy their lands and usurp their goods.” Some 184 Catholic bishops had gathered at the Vatican with representatives of indigenous peoples and experts to discuss a multitude of regional concerns, from the destruction of the rainforest and the global climate emergency, to land-grabbing and the exploitation of indigenous peoples.

Here in Goa, the recent monsoon season has seen some of Fr Bismarque’s most dire prophecies, if we didn’t arrest the environmental degradation, come true. He had predicted flooding, including the inundation of the beautiful islands that the Portuguese called Ilhas, in particular his beloved home, Santo Estevão.

Coincidentally or otherwise, after Fr Bismarque’s murder, several ill-planned ‘infrastructure’ projects have been bulldozed through all over the ecologically once-rich, now-fragile state, splintering waterways, disrupting the hydrology of the affected regions, causing unimaginable misery to residents of towns and villages and commuters, aggravating the potential for flooding, and rendering swathes of fields uncultivable.

Fresh disasters loom on the horizon, with the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, Blue Flag certification, proposals for a marina and Sagarmala projects threatening our coastline and beaches, and marine ecological balance and livelihoods and of the traditional fishing community.

As Down to Earth magazine reported in an issue earlier this year, the Coastal Zone Regulation notification has been amended 34 times in 27 years, not to protect the coast but to open it up for development. So environment watchdogs have reason to be nervous.

At a time when the rest of the world is turning its back on coal as a source of energy, our government continues to push to turn Goa into an ever-greater coal hub; this involves deepening the Mormugao Port channel to increase its handling capacity (but which will affect fish breeding as larger vessels will disturb an already busy fishing ground), four-laning of highways, and doubling of railway lines, cutting through hectares of pristine forest land. Already, as things stand, the effect of coal dust disseminated by sea breezes has taken a huge toll on public health, especially in neighbouring Vasco, affecting the quality of air, water and soil. But far from taking measures to curb an already bad situation, the push seems to be to increase the port capacity to a projected 26 million tonnes annually, despite widespread public outrage.

As if Goa didn’t have enough on its plate where environmental disasters present or future are concerned, we’ve had a ticking time-bomb in the form of the highly flammable naphtha-laden 3000-ton chemical tanker Nu Shi Nalini go adrift in the recent cyclonic weather and run aground off Dona Paula, a result of the lethal combination of bureaucratic bungling and nature’s fury. What turn this fresh horror will take, out there in unpredictable seas and weather, is anyone’s guess.

“We will never stop fighting for this planet, for our futures, and for the futures of our children and grandchildren,” said Thunberg at an Extinction Rally earlier this year in London.

Fr Bismarque was the living embodiment of that fight as well, fighting with every ounce of his strength until his last breath was savagely beaten out of him. He gave up his life for our futures, and for the futures of our children and grandchildren. May he rest in eternal peace.

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