Goan Christians' historic emigration continues

The statue of Christ at Panaji

A curious but not surprising detail has been brought to light by the Goa Migration Study 2008. That seventy-four per cent of those who emigrate from Goa are Christian.

Considering the size of the community, this is an “extreme concentration”, the study notes.. Catholics comprise only a quarter of the state’s population, but the emigration rate within the community is 42 per cent for 100 households compared to just five per cent among Hindus. Every third Christian home in Goa has an emigrant.

Is there a reason for the established pattern of mobility in the Goan Catholic community? Historical circumstances and the Portuguese presence were perhaps the major contributory factors.

Goa became the earliest territory in the non-western world to be exposed to western culture. Migration from here began in the early 16th century when Goans helped the Portuguese to penetrate the inhospitable territories in Africa, says the study. “Rich cultural syncretism endowed Goans with a more inclusive identity which facilitated their migration, adaptation and integration into new cultures.”  Though the Portuguese spent 541 years in Goa – making it one of the longest colonial dominations in history – the regime unleashed its proselytizing zeal only on its ‘Old Conquests’ in the talukas of Bardez, Salcete, Tiswadi and Mormugao, leaving three-fourths of Goa predominantly Hindu. The ‘New Conquests’ were in fact annexed to Portuguese rule only in the last quarter of the 18th Century.

 The Old Conquests were densely populated, but the Portuguese did little to set up industries or generate employment in these areas. “Consequently, nearly one-tenth of the population was forced to migrate.” In the 1930s 70,000 Goans had moved out of Goa in search of work, 55,000 of them settled in British India.

Hindu resistance to conversion
Hindus who resisted conversion initiated around the 1540s moved out to settle in Karwar, Belgaum and Mangalore. “Migration was preferred to abandoning traditional religious and cultural practices. Heavy taxation was another reason for leaving the land.”
 By the eve of Goa’s Liberation in 1961, 17 per cent of its 5.89 lakh population had migrated. The Portuguese sensed opportunity in the large outflow of Goans in search of employment, and began levying an ‘emigration tax’ on those leaving as also on those returning home on vacation. In 1933 the emigration tax of 10-12 tangas (approx Rs 1) per person fetched the colonial regime Rs 60,000 in revenue. Dismissing local protests, a ‘military tax’ was also imposed on those leaving the state, and a property tax on those who lived outside, but retained properties here.

The property tax compelled entire Goan families to emigrate permanently selling off ancestral properties here. As a consequence, Goan settlements came up in Santa Cruz in Mumbai, in Kolkata, Karachi and Aden, highlights the study carried out by the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram for Goa’s NRI Commission. The established trend of Catholic migration from Goa and the pronounced inflow of people from other states in recent years has produced a demographic complexity that will require enormous adjustments as Goa approaches the 50th year of its Liberation in 2011.

According to the 2001 Census, Goa’s Christians have declined from 38.07 per cent in 1961 to 26.68 per cent in 2001. The reason for this is attributed to the huge influx of people from other states. Based on the last census, Goa’s Economic Survey 2008-09 says migrants make a fifth of Goa’s population. That proportion would be closer to one-third today, given that the state’s ethnic population has reached a sub-replacement level.

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