The image of Thought and Human Rights in Colonial Goa

The image of thought behind human rights depends on what is perceived as human and what is assumed to be proper to humans. To decode human rights under Portuguese Goa, we have to enter this zone that will open us to what was considered human and proper to humans in Goa during that time. Therefore, the image of human rights during the Portuguese colonization depends on the question that asks: what was thought to be proper of being human under the Portuguese era? What was considered proper of being human kept changing with changing times? There are several epistemes or paradigms at work in Goan society that changed over time. We can at least identify two general epistemes or paradigms in this context. In the beginning, the Portuguese considered it proper to be an overly zealous catholic. Hence the episteme or paradigm at work was one of Christendom. The next paradigm is dominated by the Enlightenment of the West and saw Religion as superstition. The suppression of the religious orders under Marquis de Pombal is the chief indicator of this new secular pragmatic paradigm. We may find the resonances of the dual paradigms in what King Manuel said on the return of Vasco De Gama’s return 1n 1499: ‘ For our forebearers, the basic principle of this enterprise was always service of God, our Lord and our profit’.

Goa was under Vijayanagar Empire until it was conquered by the Bahmani Sultanate in 1474. A decade before 1500 the Bahmani Sultanate and Goa came under one of the five successor states, Bijapur. It was conquered by the Portuguese in 1510 and remained under them till 1961. Under the Bahmani Sultanate, Goa was reeling under the heavy weight of taxes and it was some upper caste leaders like Mal Pai of Verna in collusion with Vijaynagara commander Timoja who invited the Portuguese to overthrow Muslim rulers. The victory of the Portuguese ushered in much-needed peace and stability (Pax Portuguese). In the early days the Portuguese married local women manifesting that there was no racism that operated at the time. Darwinism is yet to come and hence racism practically did not exist. What existed was existential pragmatism. The Portuguese kept their numbers stable by marrying local women.

During the Portuguese era religion, politics and trade intermingled. Right from the time when Vasco Da Gama set sail to the East, the conversion drive was one of the important motives for the Portuguese expansion. The belief that without conversion people will be condemned to eternal hell was one that led the Portuguese missionaries to undertake difficult voyages and face several hardships. This enthusiasm had an impact on the local communities. Some of the communities converted while others migrated with their deities to adjoining territories that were under the rule of Bijapur. Here it seems that the Portuguese operated with the belief that it is proper for humans to be Catholics (Christians) and they left no stone unturned to achieve this end. It is this also a belief that later persecuted the converts who showed tendencies to return to beliefs and practices of their previous faiths through the institution of the inquisition. The events of conversions were complex. The individual self was yet to be born. Goa was yet to be touched by modernity. Hence, there were mass conversions as the self was communitarian or the self of the multitude. This also means that the people belonging to the local cults and faiths like Vaisnavism and Saivism (who we refer to as Hindus in hindsight) also had to undergo the ordeal of temple destruction and migrations for safety.

Another important contribution of the Portuguese was the establishment of courts and a justice system. This perhaps replaced the village councils of the elders ( ganvkarias) which was caste laden and often unjustly favoured the upper castes. The justice system was so valued that even a conflict between the Saivaites and the Vaisnavaites was sought to be settled by the court of the King in Portugal. At that time patriarchy and caste prevailed and education was a prerogative of the upper caste and man. Yet we can trace three institutions for women’s education in Portuguese Goa. The three important institutions that educated women during the time of Portuguese were Santa Monica Convent, Homes of Nossa Senhora and of Santa Maria Magdalena. Later several schools where girls were founded from 1854 onwards.

As enlightenment gripped Europe, Portugal also came under it. Foreign Minister Marquis De Pombal suppressed all the religious orders in Goa, beginning with the Jesuits on 19th January 1759. He also converted the institution of the Goa Inquisition into a toothless tiger. All work of conversion was stopped. Human freedom was considered as the highest value. This is why even after colonization that lasted 450 years, Goa does not continue as a majoritarian Christian place. Later the institution of the Inquisition was cancelled and its building was destroyed by the Portuguese. Political pragmatism prevailed over everything as the colonial power was diminishing and survival was becoming the thing for the Portuguese. We can see this in the enactment of mazanias act in 1933. This act is said to have favoured the influential Sarasvat community as they remain Mahazans of almost all important temples in Goa until today. As the Portuguese sighted the end of their colonial rule, they promoted six influential Hindu families for Mining in the 1940s so as to prolong their colonization in Goa.

Under both paradigms, we identify limited human rights during the Portuguese era. This is expected in so far as human rights were yet to be declared for most of the time under the Portuguese era. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights took place in Paris in 1948. Therefore, we see that the image of thought of human rights kept shifting under Portuguese. We have identified at least two epistemes or paradigms: Christendom and Secular pragmatic. One may discern several other micro epistemes or paradigms at work in Goan Society during this time. During the operation of the first episteme or paradigm, the self was the self of the multitude and the individual self was not given basic human dignity. All this occurred without any moral qualms. During the operation of the second episteme or paradigm, we can see a steady rise of an individual self in our society and hence, we can also consequently discern the rise of the dignity and honour of an individual.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao