FROM THE EDITOR

MISSION

DALIT HISTORY

DALIT REALITY

DALIT STRUGGLES

DALIT MOVEMENT

ACTION

RESOLUTIONS

DALITS IN THE MEDIA

FORUM

YOUR SUPPORT

LINKS & RESOURCES

GUESTBOOK

CONTACT

PRESS ROOM

 A GREAT SCANDAL WITHIN THE CHURCH-COMMUNITY IN GOA
Upper caste Catholics demand special rights, threaten to reconvert

Indian Express,
Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Reporter:  SHIV KUMAR  


PANAJI,
NOV 23: More than four hundred years after the first Catholic Church was established in Cuncolim, relations between it and the upper caste Christian Gaonkars continue to be strained. Attempts by the present parish priest Soccoro Mendes to devolve administrative functions to lay worshippers from the lower castes have resulted in him being threatened by the Gaonkars. The Gaonkars are village rulers since pre-historic times hailing from the kshatriya community.

In a letter to the Director of the Holy See, Jacquine Nevarro Valls, the Gaonkars have demanded that the Pastoral Council constituting lay parishioners comprise entirely of their members as was the practice in the past. With the Catholic Church coming down hard on the caste system among its members Mendes appointed two members from the backward castes into the Pastoral Council in January this year. Though they are less than 3,000 in a community of 20,000 Catholics, the Gaonkars comprising twelve clansare opposed to sharing power.

"We are under a lot of pressure from the kshatriya community to maintain the old practices," Father Mendes told The Indian Express . He has been given police protection after he complained of threats to his life.

However, the Gaonkars insist that the land on which the Church stands originally belonged to the community. "Though the Portuguese converted us by force they respected our confraternity rights," says Josico Fernandes, spokesperson of the Gaonkars. The community has now threatened reconversion to Hinduism if the non-Gaonkars are not withdrawn from the Council, Fernandes said.

Incidentally, the Catholic kshatriyas of Cuncolim share a strong bond with their Hindu counterparts. The famous procession from the Shantadurga temple at Fatorpa attracts equal participation from both communities.

Emancipation of the lower castes does not seem to have touched the affairs of the temple either. The managing committee of the temple thoughappointed by the State Government comprises entirely of Gaonkars.

The dispute within the Church has also cast the spotlight on historical events, which occurred here five hundred years ago. In 1583, attempts by the Portuguese army to convert the people of Cuncolim by force failed with the Gaonkars repelling the attack. Five Jesuit priests accompanying the Portuguese army were killed in the skirmish. They were subsequently beatified. In retaliation the Portuguese lured 15 chieftains of the Gaonkars to Assolna fort nearby on the pretext of holding talks and massacred them.

The event which still stirs up passions in Cuncolim is being raked up afresh. Gaonkars, Christian and Hindu, have set up a chieftains memorial committee to honour the slain defenders of Cuncolim. The memorial will, however, come up in the vicinity of a memorial for the slain priests which is venerated by the minority community. "It will surely hurt the sentiments of Christians," says Father Mendes. He,however, feels that the memorial for the chieftains should be put up at Assolna where they were massacred.

The site of the proposed memorial is a disputed land with the Gaonkars and the descendants of a Portuguese count claiming it. A 50-year-old case in the matter is still being heard at the Quepem civil court.

Copyright 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.