Goa’s Freedom Movement

By: Lambert Mascarenhas
Co-Founder & Former Editor of Goa Today, Panaji.

  • This account is taken from
    Bibliography of Goa
    and the Portuguese in India

    By Henry Scholberg
    with the collaboration of
    Archana Ashok Kakodkar
    Carmo Azevedo
    1st edition – New Delhi, Promilla, 1982
    xix, 413p., 4 leaves of plates: ill 25 cm
    includes index. Rs 300.00 (in 1982)
    Publishers: Promilla & Co,
    30F Kalkaji, New Delhi 110 019
  • This article is displayed in good faith. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of GOACOM.
  • This display has been prepared with the assistance of Joseph (Boogie) Viegas in Goa.

Since the Portuguese were the first European power to arrive in India and the last to depart, the effort to dislodge them by those whose land they conquered and occupied could not but be a long process that was fraught with bloodshed, grief, sacrifice and frustration. This process began from the day the Portuguese set foot here in 1510 and was completed in December 1961 when they were driven away.

From the time of the conquest by Albuquerque in 1510, hostility suppressed in the inner recesses of one’s being at the presence of foreigners lording over the people of Goa was bound to exist but organised revolt was well nigh impossible in view of the superior weapons of the colonial power. Nevertheless, in 1550, the brave people of Assolna, Velim, Cuncolim, Ambelim and Veroda launched an attack on the colonialists but they failed in their attempt. Their properties were confiscated. Their leaders were arrested and executed. Even today the whole of Cuncolim is considered an evacuee property and the local people, the known “Gaoncares” are deprived of their ancestral right of owning the lands jointly as “Comunidade”.

Then came the well known and well organised plot, called the “Pinto Revolt” in 1787. The leaders of the plot were some prominent priests of Goa who had the support of some military officers of Goan origin. It is said that if the plot had not become abortive, the leaders would have established a sovereign republic based on the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”. A large number of arrests were made and criminal proceedings launched. Finally, 47 persons were prosecuted as plotters out of whom 17 were priests. It was a planned revolt to overthrow the Portuguese regime.

In 1835, a Goan, Bernardo Peres da Silva, was appointed Prefect by the King of Portugal. The European elements did not like the appointment and he was compelled to relinquish his post. He took refuge in India but did not get disheartened. He organised an expedition assisted by British authorities who even provided him naval and military personnel. The expedition ended in failure.

The history of Ranes of Goa is well known for their several attempts to dislodge the Portuguese from Goa. In all there were fourteen rebellions out of which the one in 1852 led by Dipaji Rane proved formidable. He carried on the fight against the Portuguese forces for three and half long years; eventually the Portuguese government were compelled to make peace with the rebels. The Portuguese agreed to extend protection to village institutions, abandon repressive religious measures and grant amnesty to all rebels. Dipaji Rane was awarded a sword of honour and the honorary title of Captain.

Again people’s wrath against the Portuguese regime became manifest when Dada Rane organised a revolt in 1895.

The last revolt of the Ranes took place in 1912, two years after the proclamation of a republican regime in Portugal. This time there were two distinct groups, one led by Morya Sawant from the northern side and the other by Jil Sawant from the southern area. They were joined by one Christian, Custodio, popularly known as Quistulo, who was a toddy-tapper. by profession. In order to put down the revolt of these two groups, the Portuguese government was compelled to order a contingent of Negro troops from Mozambique. Even they could not succeed in suppressing the revolt.

However the Portuguese ultimately succeeded in liquidating the organisers. Quistulo was shot dead at Assonora in the house of his mistress. She was bribed by the Portuguese for this purpose.

Morya Sawant was beheaded whilst asleep; and Jil Sawant was trapped and caught, imprisoned and finally deported to the island of Principe, Portuguese West Africa, where he died in exile.

So for nearly four hundred years the Portuguese ruled Goa with a high degree of repression, converting Hindus to Christianity by force, so much so that many Hindus fled to neighbouring territories. It is to the credit of the Portuguese, however, that unlike the British particularly, they never discriminated against the native population on account of colour.

In view of this good relationship, the press in Goa was somewhat free and if at all they gave expression to any demands in the later part of the 19th and early 20th century, it was for administrative and financial autonomy. Freedom from Portugal was not an issue in those days.

It was only in 1926 when Portugal, after. a short spell of Republican Government, came in the iron grip of dictatorship that the people of Goa began to chafe. Such was the control on the press, on any printed word, that all newspapers and even invitation cards had to be submitted for pre-censorship. If any newspaper disobeyed this order, the Governor was empowered without any reference to the judiciary, to suspend the newspaper, close down the printing press and impose heavy fines. Newspapers and periodicals were to function only as mouthpieces of government.

Mahatma Gandhi’s movement in India for independence, intensified as it was in the thirties of this century, filled many people in Goa with the hope that with India free, it would be only a matter of days for the end of Portuguese rule in Goa. These expectations were belied: it took India, after her own independence in 1947, fourteen years to dislodge the Portuguese by military action, reluctantly ordered by India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after his failure to convince Portugal’s Premier Dr. Antonio de Salazar to depart gracefully after coming to an amicable settlement with India, similar to that arrived at by France.

The suppression of liberties in Goa and the intolerable conditions created by the dictatorship brought the great Indian socialist leader Dr. Rammanohar Lohia to Goa. At a public meeting in Margao he launched a movement for civil liberties which set in motion a mass movement for freedom from Portuguese rule. This can be termed as the beginning of the last phase of the freedom struggle of Goa. In the context of the political conditions then prevailing in Goa, Dr. Lohia’s attempt was unique. It was a message of freedom to the Goan people: people in thousands from towns and the remotest corners of Goa converged on Margao, long before the appointed hour.

There was nervousness on the part of the authorities. They did not know how to face the developing situation. The police and military personnel were posted at strategic points, fully armed with machine guns and other weapons of war. Before the arrival of Dr. Lohia on the spot, the police attempted to disperse the crowd, but none dispersed. They only shifted their positions and continued to be on the spot.

The whole episode was high drama. For the first time the people of Goa had witnessed one man defying the Portuguese government. Dr. Lohia truly kindled the flame of freedom in the hearts of the Goan people, as a result of which all shops and business establishments put down their shutters and expressed their solidarity with the cause. Eighteen June 1946 thus remains a memorable and sacred day in the history of Goa. From then on for four days together, men, women and even children came out in rnorchas and processions expressing their deep desire for freedom.

The satyagrahamovement continued up to November 1946 during which period a number of leaders were arrested for defying the ban on civil liberties. However by the end of 1946, the satyagraha movement had died down: a general political depression followed. At the same time, the Portuguese government adopted more and more repressive measures to root out the movement from Goa.

Life having become difficult in Goa for the anti-Portuguese and freedom lovers, the scene of operations to oust the foreigner had perforce to be shifted to across the frontiers into India which was about to earn its long fought freedom from Britain. The National Congress (Goa) which was already functioning in Goa began its operations in Bombay; the other parties formed were the Azad Gomantak Dal, the United Front of Goans, the Goa Liberation Council, the Goan People’s Party, the Quit Goa Organisation, etc. The National Congress as well as the Liberation Council believed in non-violence while the Azad Gomantak Dal which had pledged to fight the regime by means of arms set out to obtain weapons and, infiltrating into Goa, began to attack the Portuguese troops guarding the frontiers, blowing ammunition dumps, blowing police stations and harassing the Portuguese in every way. The Portuguese Government in the meantime had brought into Goa white and African troops and large quantities of war material: it seemed that the Portuguese Government was poised to declare war on India, apart from creating great fear in the population.

Portuguese Dictator Salazar refused to negotiate with India
The Government of India strictly followed its policy of peaceful negotiations with Portugal and made attempts to solve the problem of Goa without the use of force. But every such attempt was turned down by the Portuguese. In January 1953, the Government of India sent an aide memoirs to the Portuguese government pointing out that “political barriers artificially created by ,an accident of history for which no justification existed at the present time can no longer stem the rising tide of the national urge for unity.” Further the Government of India gave assurances to the Portuguese Government that it would “maintain cultural and other rights, including language, laws and customs of the inhabitants of these territories and make no changes in such and like matters except with their consent.”

The Portuguese Government did not send any reply to the aide memoirs. As a matter of fact, they took advantage of the peaceful attitude of the Government of India and adopted such an autocratic policy that they refused to discuss the problem of Goa with the Indian Government. The Government of India, therefore, felt that the Diplomatic Mission in Lisbon would serve no purpose; the Government of Portugal was informed accordingly, and the Indian Mission was withdrawn on 1 1 June 1953.

Goan nationalists took the first opportunity to attack the Portuguese at its weakest point and succeeded without any fight. The United Front of Goans under the leadership of Mr. Francis Mascarenhas successfully drove the Portuguese out of Dadra on 24 July 1954; subsequently, the bigger territory of Nagar-Haveli with its capital at Silvassa was liberated by members of the Azad Gornantak Dal on 2 August. The Goan Liberation Movement, which for about eight years was dormant, suddenly got a great impetus and began to show signs of activity.

In order to bring the various political organisations functioning in Bombay, each one acting independently, the need to have a single body co-ordinating operations was felt: thus the Goa Action Committee was formed in 1953 under Dr. T.B. Cunha. This formation received wide acclaim in India; a number of Goans and non-Goans came forward to enroll themselves as volunteers to offer satyagraha in Goa. But Prime Minister Nehru, in his traditional peaceful policy, just two days before the first batch was to enter Goa declared that he would not permit non-Goans to go to Goa. Consequently on 15 August 1954, India’s Independence Day, three small batches of Goan satyagrahis entered Goa and as was to be expected were arrested, beaten up and after a trial sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. When it was reported that some of the satyagrahis who were brutally treated in the jails might be deported to Portugal and the Portuguese colonies of Africa, the Government of India lodged a strong protest with a threat of serious and far reaching repercussions. Somehow this had immediate effect.nehru

People in India in general and Goans in particular, depressed over Government of India’s ‘soft’ policy were demanding strong action. But Mr. Nehru hoped that Dr. Salazar would see reason and withdraw peacefully. In view of Nehru’s reluctance, Indian political parties, namely, the Praja Socialist Party, Kisan Mazdoor Sabha, Hindu Mahasabha and Communist Party of India organised their groups to send satyagrahis to Goa, Daman and Diu. On 15 August 1955, some 3,000 volunteers, including women, entered Goa from different points on India-Goa borders. The Portuguese military and police not only lathi-charged the unarmed and non-violent satyagrahis but also opened fire on them. As a result, a number of satyagrahis were shot dead, hundreds were wounded, some of them seriously. The Portuguese forces resorted to firing without giving any warning. When the newspapers flashed the news of killings of unarmed satyagrahis, the whole of India was terribly shocked and extremely agitated.

Prime Minister Nehru speaking in the Lok Sabha on 16 August 1955, described the firing by the Portuguese on unarmed and non-violent satyagrahis as “brutal and uncivilized in the extreme.” The satyagraha movement continued for some days more, but subsequently, the Government of India imposed restrictions on people going to Goa as satyagrahis.

Thus from 1955 to 1961 the Goan and the Indian political parties were left only to organise public meetings and adopt resolutions condemning Portuguese rule. The national newspapers in India and the papers started by Goans, namely, the Goan Tribune, copies of which were mailed to members of Parliament in England, members of Congress in America, and to leaders all over the world, the Free Goa, and many Konkani weeklies, gave wide publicity to happenings in Goa and made the people in India and abroad aware of the terrible conditions obtaining in Goa.

Mr. Nehru and the Congress Party’s stand of ‘waiting and watching’ caused much frustration in the people, until a seminar on Portuguese colonialism was held in New Delhi in October 1961 which, attended by representatives of foreign countries, especially of Africa, brought about a change in the thinking of Prime Minister Nehru. It was an epoch-making occasion. At the conclusion of the four-day seminar a mammoth public meeting was held in Bombay at which Mr. Nehru for the first time said: “We have to think afresh now because of the happenings in Goa; particularly in the last few months, cases of torture have come to our notice and the terror that is spread there by the Portuguese. When I say afresh, I mean that we have been forced into thinking afresh by the Portuguese to adopt other means to solve this problem. When and how we do it cannot be forecast now. But I have no doubt that Goa will soon be free.” The statement of Mr. Nehru was received with thunderous cheers by the audience.

Indian troops enter Goa.
In spite of this Dr. Salazar was adamant and paid no attention to the representation made by both U.S.A. and Great Britain to settle the issue of Goa. And so Mr. Nehru had no alternative left but to launch military action on 18-19 December 1961 to liberate Goa. This was swift and met with little resistance from the Portuguese forces. When the army marched into Goa, the people welcomed it with shouts of joy: thus Goa rejoined Mother India.