Local Goans, residents of India’s Goa State, claim that a recent series of cross desecrations and hate speeches are meant to divide their historically united community. Attacks on Christians and other religious minorities across India is becoming more and more common. Goa State has remained somewhat of a refuge from these trends, but not it seems that outside forces are seeking to divide the community along religious lines. Starting with a mass rally of Hindu nationalists, hate speeches against religious minorities were made out in the open to thousands of people. Then attacks on Christian graveyards and crosses began. Will the local Goan government be able to stop the trend of religious intolerance from taking hold in their state?
08/07/2017 India (Hindustan Times) – It was a Saturday morning in July. Agnelo Fernandes, a retired seaman and resident of Goa’s Curchorem village was dressed to go out, but decided to call a staff member of the local church before doing so, to check with him the schedule for a Mass to celebrate the local MLA’s birthday. The committee member told him about desecrations at the church cemetery. Fernandes rushed to the cemetery – one of his daughters is buried there.
“When I reached, I found bones lying near the entrance. Some crosses had been broken and niches damaged. I made my way to my daughter’s grave and the niche we had made in her memory. The granite stone covering the niche was broken. Still it didn’t strike me. Then I saw the satin bag on which I had written her name, her date of birth and the date of her death, before putting her bones in it to preserve her memory, lying on the ground. It was then that I realized that the bones lying near the entrance were my daughter’s,” he says, with barely concealed pain.
Last month Goa was jolted by a spate of desecration of crosses, causing grief and alarm to Catholics in the state. There were also reports of a temple being vandalized. “The method of destruction was the same everywhere – the base of the cross was broken by hitting it with some heavy implement. More than 40 structures were damaged,” says Father Savio Fernandes, executive secretary of the Council for Social Justice and Peace, which has been engaged in fact-finding studies into the desecrations. In some places the headstones on the graves and niches – where families preserve the mortal remains of a departed member – were broken.
Goa Police has arrested Francis Pereira, a resident of Curchorem for the desecrations and claimed that he has confessed to the crime. But more desecrations were reported after Pereira’s arrest.
The mood in Goa is one of apprehension. The breaking of the crosses is being viewed as only a manifestation of the actual danger, the danger of an attempt being made to divide Goan society on the basis of religion, the danger of the shrill communal rhetoric being projected across the nation disturbing the peace also in Goa. “With or without the incidents of desecrations, even if this incident had not taken place, there is a threat to the social harmony of Goa. Fanatical elements are getting emboldened and empowered,” says Prabhakar Timble, former president of the Goa Forward party. Timble resigned from the party when party MLAs decided to align with the BJP after the 2017 elections.
Goa, says writer Brian Mendonca, means a “certain acceptance, a certain kind of flexibility to be able to look at life holistically and to be able to accommodate various cultures and views.” But now “I think the Hindutva people are desperately trying to find a toehold in Goa,” he says.
In June, Goans say, inflammatory speeches were made against minorities at the All India Hindu Convention organized by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, allied to the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha. Sadhvi Saraswati had reportedly made a statement that she would request the central government to publicly hang people who eat beef as a mark of social status.