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Friday 19 September 2014
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'Xavier was aware of the brutality of the Inquisition'

One of the darkest chapters in Indo-Portuguese history, ‘the Inquisition’ deserves far more comprehensive research to bring out the truth from an Indian perspective, says historian Teotonio R de Souza.

Teotonio R de SouzaHead of the department of history, Universidade Lusofona de Humanidades e Tecnologias, the Lisbon-based De Souza who has published 10 books spoke to Devika Sequeira of Deccan Herald. Excerpts:


This year marks 500 years of the Portuguese arrival in Goa in 1510 which set the stage for one of the longest colonial dominations in history. Academically, how significant is this anniversary?


While the Portuguese had already started their commercial links at Cannanore-Calicut-Cochin about a decade earlier, the conquest of Goa marked a turning-point in their policy, namely the decision to secure a land-base of their own with full sovereignty. Two decades later it was made the headquarters of the new empire, which from 1505 was named Estado da India. As Afonso de Albuquerque wrote to his king, the settling down in Goa of casados (married settlers) would send a signal to all in India that the Portuguese had come to stay!

Given the complex and often bitter political relationship between Goa and Portugal post the 1961 Liberation, Goa has given the event a complete miss. How should it have responded in your view?


It was unfortunate that the Salazar regime (Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar) was not flexible enough to compromise and dialogue with newly independent India. It was a regime that was also blind to world developments and survived till 1974 causing much heartache to the Portuguese themselves. Goans cannot though deny the fact that Goa owes its unique identity, and consequently its statehood, to the colonial experience —- albeit that identity might have come from both good and bad experiences. The Portuguese republic in 1910 reduced the earlier restraints upon the Hindu population and extended to them the political benefits of liberalism. Goa could join Portugal this year in commemorating 100 years of this event. Goans should know that Portugal too has grown through harsh experiences of their own people. It would benefit Goans and the Portuguese to share these mutual experiences.

Can you throw some light on the Goa Inquisition?

The Goa Inquisition has been studied, but most studies concentrate upon the victims of Jewish descent. They were the main targets of the tribunals of Inquisition everywhere. However, the number of native victims, though less harshly treated, was proportionately much larger. Even the lighter sentences were traumatic for the natives and disrupted their family and social lives. Many spent years in forced labour in galleys and gunpowder factories, which needed cheap labour for the needs of the empire. But the fear and panic caused by the Inquisition procedures drove many out of the territory. A lot more incisive research would be required to trace these cases.

Those accused of religious heresies and who refused to retract, or those accused of relapses in sodomy were the prime targets of death penalty. Many others were imprisoned and released with lighter sentences.

The Inquisition was established in Goa in 1560 at the behest of St Francis Xavier. Was he aware of the brutality of the Inquisition tribunal?

Francis Xavier and Simão Rodrigues, two founder-members of the Society of Jesus were together in Lisbon before Francis Xavier left for India. Both were asked to assist spiritually the prisoners of the Inquisition and were present at the very first auto-da-fé celebrated in Portugal in September 1540, at which 23 were absolved and two were condemned to be burnt, including a French cleric. Hence, Francis Xavier could not have been unaware of the brutality of the Inquisition.

There was a debate a few years ago about excavating the well of the Inquisition that lies buried under the lawns of the See Cathedral in Old Goa. The issue was never pursued for fear of hurting religious sentiments. Is historical truth not obscured by such an attitude?

All research related to the Inquisition that played havoc in the lives of Goans needs to be welcomed. The fears are generally unfounded. The Inquisition was not a religious institution, but essentially a political institution for disciplining all colonial subjects. I have more than once proposed the creation of an Inquisition Museum that could be a wonderful instrument of education and would even add to the income of cultural tourism. I think only a prolonged debate over this issue could clear the minds from unwarranted fears and sectarian prejudices.

Across Goa priceless stone carvings and ruins of pre-Portuguese temples lie unprotected and abandoned. What should be done about these?


The situation is much better today. Gritly von Miiterwalner, a German archeologist/anthropologist collected dozens of rare old stones — satikal and viragal — all over Goa, and handed them over to the Archaeological Survey of India in the mid 60s. This effort has to continue and perhaps local panchayats could be involved in protecting and displaying their cultural heritage. That could help carry cultural tourism to the hinterland.

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