Tristao de Braganza Cunha – Father of Goan Nationalism

Tristao de Braganza Cunha

First Day Cover issued in Goa; September 1998~ Courtesy Jerry Menezes

1891 ~ 1958

Father of Goan Nationalism

This account is abstracted from the book ” FRANKLY SPEAKING, The Collected Writings of Prof. Frank D’Souza” Editor-in chief Mgr. Benny Aguiar, published by the Prof. Frank D’Souza Memorial Committee, Bombay 1987.

Tristao de Braganza Cunha, an illustrious son of Chandor, Salcette, was born on April 2, 1891. His father, Dr. Ligorio da Cunha, was the editor of the paper “Nacionalista”. Tristao remained a bachelor all his life, wedded to one cause —– the ultimate liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule.

After completing his school education at Panjim, he joined the French College at Pondicherry, where he obtained his Baccalaureate (B.A.) and proceeded to Paris for advanced studies at the celebrated Sorbonne University, where he qualified as an electrical engineer. He worked in France as an engineer for some years. At that time, France was the intellectual centre of Europe. Tristao with his powerful nationalistic leanings, wielded his trenchant pen to propagate the cause of the freedom of Goa, a Portuguese colony hardly one-third the size of a British Indian district of the time. Tristao de Braganza Cunha is rightly regarded as the Father of Goan Nationalism.

While he was in France, the national struggle for the freedom of India under the charismatic leadership of Mathma Gandhi, was in full swing. Its vibrations reached Tristao in France, and he became a regular contributor the French papers Clarte and L’Humanite, reporting news from the Indian political scenes. The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, highlighting the brutal sadism and barbarism of the British military brass-hats, was first made known in all its gory detail, through the forceful pen of Tristao. He also wrote a biographical study of Mahatma Gandhi in serializes form; it became the source material of Romain Rolland’s biography of Mahatma Gandhi.

During his time in France he came under the spell of the conflicting ideologies of Lenin and Mahatma Gandhi, and was, by some miracle of genius, able to achieve a synthesis between them. He had, however, pronounced Leftist leanings. After a long sojourn in France, he returned to India in 1926, and carried on his noble mission of rousing the political consciousness of the people and mobilising them for the struggle against Portuguese oppression. India’s historian, Sadar K.M. Panniker, had paid him a high compliment by describing him as in effect, nationalist India’s first ambassador in France where he generated an awareness and created a lively interest in India’s struggle for freedom.

Once back in India, he did not let the grass grow under his feet. He founded the Goa Congress Committee in Portuguese India in 1928, to strive for the liberation of Goa, Daman and Diu, against overwhelming odds. With is writings, he sought to inspire the Goan intelligentsia to organize themselves to struggle against the brute might of the Portuguese colonial power. His booklet, Four hundred years of Foreign Rule, and his pamphlet, Denationalisation of Goa, were to be proven eye-openers to the Goans themselves to the painful oppression that had been forced upon them. Messages of sympathy, expressing solidarity with the Goans in the struggle for freedom, were received by the Goa Congress Committee from Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, and several others.

12th October, 1938 was a historic date for the Goa Liberation struggle. T. B. Cunha with other members of the Goa Congress Committee met Subhas Chandra Bose, the President of the Indian National Congress, and on his advice, they opened a Branch Office of the Goa Congress Committee at 21, Dalal Street, Bombay. The Goa Congress was affiliated to the Indian National Congress. T.B. Cunha was selected its first President. He gave a clarion call to all Goans to join the liberation movement.

In June 1946, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, the great Indian Socialist leader, entered Goa on a visit to his friend, Dr. Juliao Menezes, a nationalist leader, who had founded in Bombay the Gomantak Praja Mandal and edited the weekly, Gomantak. Tristao and other leaders were also with him. As a result of this visit, there was a great political awakening among the Goans, and shouts of “Jai Hind” reverberated in Goa for the first time. But the Portuguese authorities, with their usual political myopia turned a blind eye to the writing on the wall, and a deaf year to the clamour for independence. When they woke up to the gravity of the situation, they brutally assaulted the Goan Satyagrahis, by bayonetting them, and T. B. Cunha carried the mark of the bayonet to the grave. He was arrested and kept in a dark damp cell in Fort Aguada. He was tried by a military tribunal (the first civilian to be so tried) and sentenced to eight years imprisonment in the Fort of Peniche in Portugal. After his release, he returned to Bombay in 1953, to take up the chairmanship f the Goa Action Committee and editorship of the fortnightly, Free Goa

After five years of valiant swordsmanship with his powerful pen, he died on September 28, 1958 — three years before the liberation of Goa, cause which he so zealously espoused. The National Congress (Goa) in a condolence resolution described him as “The founder of the Goan Liberation Movement.” In a message, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru remarked,

” What is worth remembering is that a small territory has produced a relatively large number of men and women who have sacrificed much for the struggle. Among them that stands out is that of Dr. T. B. Cunha”

Belated recognition came to him from the World Peace Council at Stockholm in 1959. Posthumously T. B. Cunha was awarded a gold medal for his contribution to the cause of “Peace and Friendship among People.”