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March 16, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Kanchan Gupta

Recall the Goa Inquisition to stop the Church from crying foul

His Majesty the king has ordered that there shall be no Brahmins in his land and that they should be banished.'

'In the name of his Majesty I order that no Hindu can or shall perform marriages…'

'The marriages of the supplicants are superstitious acts or functions which include Hindu rites and ceremonies as well as cult, adoration and prayers of Hindu temples…'

'I order that no Hindu temples be erected in any of the territories of my king… and that Hindu temples which already have been erected be not repaired…'

Anybody familiar with the brutalisation of Hindu customs and practices, indeed Hindu faith and belief, could mistakenly believe these extracts have been taken from royal decrees issued during Muslim rule. The harshness with which suppression is prescribed in these decrees, the callous disregard that is advocated for the other's sentiment, the cruelty that is so palpable in both thought and action, suggest that these firmans could have been issued by one of the "shadows of god" who stalked this land, laying to waste Hindu lives and property.

But these are not extracts taken from firmans issued from the court of say, Aurangzeb. They have been taken from firmans issued by the Portuguese who ruled Goa and recognised no religion other than Christianity as the legitimate means of communion with god. It was no secular rule that they imposed, but a ruthless system of pillage disguised as trade and a cruel administration for whom the heathens, especially Brahmins, unless they embraced Christianity, were nothing more than "supplicants" to be crushed into submission or exiled into oblivion.

The horrors inflicted on Galileo Galilei by the Inquisition -- the Vatican has only recently admitted that the Church was wrong and Galileo was right -- are well known. Not that well-known, and tragically so, are the horrors inflicted by the Goa Inquisition. Every child reads about Galileo's trial and how it is symbolic of the triumph of science over blind faith. But there is no reference -- indeed, all reference is scrupulously avoided -- to the brutal attempts of the Church to triumph over Hinduism by seeking to destroy all that was Hindu in territories conquered by the Portuguese in India.

And this silence is not because there exists no evidence: There exist, in full text, orders issued by the Portuguese viceroy and the governor. There exist, in written records and travelogues, penned not by the persecuted but by the persecutors, full details of the horrors perpetrated in the name of Christ. Yet this silence has been maintained -- a silence willed by secular historians and politicians; an illegitimate silence legitimised by the popular belief that missionaries and their patrons were, and remain, a benign lot who could never hurt a fly.

Hindus who dared oppose the religious persecution by the Portuguese administration or the Christian clergy, were punished, swiftly and mercilessly. Those who were fortunate, got away with being banished from Portuguese territory. The less fortunate had their property seized and auctioned -- the money was used, in large measures, for furthering proselytisation. The least fortunate were forced to serve as slave labour on the galleys that transported loot from Indian shores to Portuguese coffers.

Viceroy D Constantine de Braganca issued an order on April 2, 1560, instructing that Brahmins should be thrown out of Goa and other areas under Portuguese control. They had a month's time to sell their property -- it is obvious who gained from such distress sale. Those found violating the viceregal order, it was declared, would have their properties seized. Another order was issued, this time by Governor Antonio Morez Barreto, on February 7, 1575, decreeing that the estates of Brahmins whose "presence was prejudicial to Christianity" would be confiscated and used for "providing clothes to the New Christians".

The attitude of the Portuguese administrators in India and the Church hardened over the years, to a point where each fiat, each decree, each order, each letter, became an instrument of religious persecution. The Third Concilio Provincial -- a gathering of bishops and other clerics -- met in 1585 to review, among other things, the progress of converting the "heathens" to the "only faith".

The Concilio adopted a resolution which said, 'His Majesty the king has on occasion ordered the viceroys and governors of India that there should be no Brahmins in his lands, and that they should be banished therefrom together with the physicians and other infidels who are prejudicial to Christianity, after taking the opinion of the archbishop and other religious persons who have experience in the matter. As the orders of His Majesty in this regard have not been executed, great impediments in the way of conversion and the community of New Christians have followed and continue to follow.'

It is apparent from the resolution that the Brahmins stood as an obstacle between the Church and the masses, preventing the former from converting the latter by exhorting the people not to discard their ancient faith to embrace an alien god.

It is also evident from the operative portion of the resolution that the Church had no compunctions about using the administration to remove this obstacle. The Third Concilio Provincial ordered that 'from now onwards at certain times in each year the archbishop should obtain information regarding Brahmins, physicians and any other infidels who might be prejudicial to conversion to Christianity, and in consultation with the Christian priests, prepare a roll of their names which should be signed by him. This should be presented to the viceroy or the governor in order that the latter might issue orders for banishing them from the lands of the king, as His Majesty has ordered…'

However, to the great dismay of the Church, threats of banishment, loss of estates and forced slave labour on galleys did not quite break the spirit of the Hindus. So, the bishops, the viceroy, the governor and the prelates had to come up with something more draconian, something which would reduce the religion of the heathens into one that could neither be practiced nor preached. For this, they decided to ban all Hindu rites and rituals.

One of the orders, issued on January 31, 1620, to achieve this goal, declared that '…no Hindu, of whatever nationality or status he may be, can or shall perform marriages in this city of Goa, nor in the islands or adjacent territories of His Majesty, under pain of a fine of 1000 Xerafins.' The Hindus petitioned the king and he agreed to let them conduct Hindu marriage rituals behind the closed doors of their homes, but prohibited Christians from attending these marriage ceremonies.

The Holy Office was incensed and wrote to the viceroy: 'The marriages of the supplicants are superstitious acts or functions which include Hindu rites and ceremonies as well as cult, adoration and prayers of Hindu temples…' The king hastily withdrew permission to Hindus to conduct their marriage rituals even behind closed doors.

One could quote from endless such orders, dictated by the Church and implemented by the state, that sought to destroy the Hindu way of life root and branch, supplanting it with Christianity. For instance, the Third Concilio Provincial recommended a ban on the traditional thread ceremony and the ban was imposed with great vigour. Those who tried to beat the law by going outside Portuguese territory for the ceremony were prevented from doing so with the strength of a viceregal order that said 'I hereby order that no Hindu subject proceed beyond the borders of the state to celebrate the thread ceremony…'

Another order was issued prohibiting Hindu women from wearing a bindi on their forehead. Yet another order, issued by Governor Francisco Barreto, barred Hindus from seeking employment -- all officials were instructed not to 'utilise the services in any way whatsoever of any Brahmin or other infidel in matters of his office.' The most blatant abuse of state power by the clergy to increase the number of its faithful was to issue an order that allowed the Church to baptise all orphans.

Compare these excesses, these crimes against an entire race and religion, committed in the name of Christ, though not decreed by the man who Christians believe is god's own son, with the shrill cry of denunciation we hear today about 'excesses' against Christians. Compare the record of the Goa Inquisition with the popular belief, so assiduously fostered by our 'secular' establishment, that the Church and its missionaries came to India to preach the Gospel and serve the poor.

The history of Portuguese rule, and that of the Goa Inquisition in particular, is nothing short of sustained war against Hinduism and Hindu society. You may say that all these terrible things happened hundred of years ago and have little relevance today. But, it is precisely such thinking that has enabled the perpetrators of religious persecution in India in the name of Christ to get away without even an apology. And, emboldened them to make threatening noises against the government of sovereign India over stray incidents of protest against the revived zeal among missionaries who continue to believe that the heathens need to converted -- an official trade delegation from Portugal is believed to have raised more than an eyebrow during a recent visit to Delhi.

The Vatican has apologised for the agony inflicted on Galileo Galilei. But the terrible agony inflicted on the Hindus of India during the Goa Inquisition remain buried in the carefully crafted history of the Church as a benign institution. It is time India demanded and secured an apology from the Vatican for the Goa Inquisition. In fact, we should go a step further and demand reparation from Portugal.

Kanchan Gupta is a political analyst based at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in Delhi and editor of the party's official organ, BJP Today.

Kanchan Gupta

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