Danuska Da Gama
In December 2014, Mohan Ranade, then 85-years-old had flamboyant memories of Goa’s liberation movement, his solitary confinement of six years, and time spent in prison in Lisbon. His hearing was slightly impaired, but he full of gusto despite a bad cough, relived his life and experiences with NT BUZZ.
He also spoke about a charitable organisation he ran that sponsors the education of students from economically backward backgrounds.
Though he made Pune his home for over 25 years, when in Goa, especially on June 18, Revolution Day, and on December 19 to celebrate Goa’s Liberation Day, Circuit House in Altinho, Panaji would be his preferred choice for his stay.
Q. What was it like to be a part of Goa’s freedom struggle back then?
It was just a normal feeling before liberation to join the freedom struggle. There was nothing that could be learnt before joining it, it all came naturally. In 1947 at the age of seventeen, I came to Goa from Sangli on the pretext of being a Marathi teacher. I was teaching Marathi at Verem as Marathi was the medium of instruction in most institutions across Goan villages. Marathi teachers back then were highly respected and honoured. I was anti-Portuguese and hence took up the cause to liberate Goa from the clutches of the Portuguese.
Q. Tell us about the work you did by leading other like-minded people?
I got involved in secret activity against the Portuguese regime. We realised that satyagraha wouldn’t help and thus were part of the arms struggle, which became our mantra under the Azad Gomantak Dal. We started gathering people and soon began our armed attacks against Portuguese police posts in Goa. We led an attack on Nagar Haveli on July 28, 1954, and liberated it on August 2. The successful annexation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli provided the liberation movement in Goa with renewed vigour and motivation to continue the liberation struggle. On August 15, 1954, hundreds of people crossed the Portuguese Goan borders, defying a ban by the Indian government on participating in satyagrahas.
Q. And then?
We needed arms and ammunition to attack police stations. Finally, we attacked the Banastarim police station on January 1, 1955, which was our way of celebrating New Year in Goa. It was not astonishing then to watch farmers and peaceful people take arms and shoot. We managed to attack ten police stations.
Q. Tell us about the attack on Betim police station which led to your arrest.
I carried out an armed attack on Betim police station in October in 1955. One policeman was severely injured after both sides opened fire, while I managed to shoot down one ‘hawaldar’. I got a shot below my lungs and collapsed. My colleagues wanted to take me away. However, I ordered them to go away before they could get arrested. I thought that was my last day, but I was caught alive in spite of suffering from the gunshot wounds. I was taken to the Medical College at Ribandar and was treated well, which happened to be on the day of Dusshera. On the tenth day after recovering, I was sent to solitary confinement and was locked up for five years.
Q. How did you spend five long years in solitary confinement?
You can’t even imagine what it is like. I lived a very very lonely life. I was deprived of my fundamental needs; not ‘roti’, ‘kapda makan’, but that of living in society among people and having interaction. At that point of time there were three things which haunted me constantly: going mad, killing the police, or killing myself. My hands were handcuffed and I was all by myself with no one even to talk to. In police custody, you know the standard of food served and I remember eating food supplied by Aram hotel, as it used to be the lowest bidder for supplying meals.
Q. Share with us your memories of being behind bars in Lisbon, even after Goa’s Liberation?
After being tried here in Goa, I was sentenced to twenty six years of imprisonment. In 1960, I was sent to Portugal on a cargo vessel which took forty three days to reach Lisbon. I remember that we reached Lisbon on October 5, but I was pleased for I was not alone in prison and was mixed along with prisoners who were fighting Portuguese dictatorship. It was here that I realised that people at large favoured democracy and didn’t want dictatorship. And thus there was a common cause for which I, along with other Portuguese nationals, was jailed. It was a good change to be a prisoner in Portugal as compared to the solitary confinement in Goa. Here I was one among many and I became sane, whereas in Goa I was lonely and desperate. My mother and brother wanted to come to visit me, but they were denied visa.
Many in India tried to get me released, but it didn’t happen as the talks with the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, failed. That was the time I felt let down. The then Chief minister of Tamil Nadu also pressed for my release through a letter sent to the Pope. I was released on another auspicious day, on the eve of Republic Day in 1969. I was thirty nine then and I celebrated it in Rome with over a hundred Indians living there in the Indian embassy.
Q. How did marriage happen to Mohan Ranade a year after coming to Goa?
I always wanted to get married. It was a very funny actually, because Vimal wrote a letter to me asking for my hand in marriage and I sent back a letter sanctioning her demand. I remember the whole ministry in Goa came in to help and make my marriage a grand affair in 1970. But the truth is we discovered each other and began loving each other only after marriage.
Q. Why did you decide to leave Goa?
I left Goa in 1992. There was no special reason to leave Goa. However, I wanted to start an NGO and I got a lot of support for it in Pune. I now run my NGO, Swami Vivekananda Jeevan Jyoti Sansthan. In the past twelve years, `1 crore has been generated for the good work we are involved in.
Q. Do you not miss Goa?
That goes without saying. I make it a point to be in Goa on June 18, Revolution Day, and on December 19 to celebrate Goa’s Liberation Day.