Two battalions of an expeditionary force volunteered to serve in Goa during the years that followed the Indian economic blockade, the beginning of the Satyagraha movement, and the unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to convince Portugal to leave Goa, Daman and Diu through negotiations.
Some of those who belonged to that expeditionary force belong today to a Liga dos Combatentes do Ultramar and sought to relive their experiences in India through a series of conferences in 2006. These conferences provided material for a printed book Revisitar Goa, Damão e Diu (Lisboa, Liga dos Combatentes, 2010).
Not all the participants in the conferences belonged to the above-mentioned battalions. One of them is Valentino Viegas, a Goan who chose to migrate to Portugal in 1963.
He, like other able-bodied youngsters, was forced on arrival in Portugal to serve in the Portuguese military, fighting to contain the independence movements in the Portuguese African colonies. A retired professor of History, he defends that there was a time when Goa was independent. Therefore, it retains its right to recover it. We are not told why it did not exercise this right during the centuries of the Portuguese occupation.
We also have a text of Narana Coissoró, another Goan, lawyer and University Professor, who has been in the Portuguese Parliament longer than any other living MP.
Professor Adriano Moreira who served as Minister of Overseas Possessions under the Salazar regime at the time of Goa’s Liberation accompanied the process of the repatriation of the Portuguese POWs in Goa through the services of Jorge Jardim, the Jekyll and Hyde of the Portuguese colonial diplomacy at the time. His testimony is also included in the book.
The book carries a Preface of General Ramalho Eanes, who passed through Goa with a brief stint of military service, but distinguished himself in the movement that led to the end of dictatorship and was elected President of Portugal after 1976.
He states in the Preface that the loss of Goa discredited for good the Portuguese political authorities in the face of the Portuguese military. He also refers to the diplomatic incompetence of Vasco da Gama during his first voyage to India (pp.11- 12).
Already in his Preface one can anticipate several gaffes that abound in the book, besides frequent misspellings of the names of the Indian politicians. The Charter of Afonso Mexia (1526) is mentioned as an initiative of Afonso de Albuquerque! It defines the culture of Goan Christians as a result of the mixed marriages of the Portuguese with native Indian women.
It is a pity that the General saw too late the injustice done to Goa by the Salazar regime and by the Portuguese civil society of those times (it included presumably the General himself) in failing to recognize the potential of Goans for determining their own political and economic future.
While several participants convey their patriotic frustration, the testimony of the retired Major-General Pedro de Pezarat Correia (b. 1932 in Oporto) who served in India during 1954-57, and is author of two books on Angola and the process of decolonization, marks a clear departure from the general tone of the book. Aged just 21, he volunteered to join the battalion of the Caçadores Vasco da Gama, following the occupation of Dadra and Nagar-Haveli by the Indian freedom fighters.
Major-General Pezarat Correia describes the composition of the battalion to which he belonged: they came from all over Portugal, almost all of them adventurers who were running away from family problems or from problems with justice. Some of them were prisoners who hoped to gain pardon with this gesture of patriotic generosity.
There were still others who had been bullied into joining with false promises. He states further that no prior training was provided to these volunteers to face a crisis when they were commissioned to fight. (pp. 212-213) It concludes with an honest and shocking revelation that the motivation among his comrades to fight was nil.
This raises also a very pertinent issue: What was the need for bringing troops from Portugal to fight for Goans? Why were Goans not trusted to defend themselves? In reality they were not interested. By implication: The Indian troops would not be the only occupation forces in the history of the territory.
Perhaps the most informative contribution in this book belongs to Col. Pereira Pinto who presents a detailed picture of the Portuguese military strategy in Goa.
Among other disclosures, we learn that among 759 native soldiers nearly 500 did not understand Portuguese at all (p. 264) as cites Maria Manuel Stocker who interviewed the then Under Secretary of Defence Costa Gomes who was sent to Goa by Salazar to sense the reality on the ground. On return he seems to have told Salazar that a plebiscite would not show more than 7 to 10 percent of Goans favouring Portuguese presence in Goa.
The interventions of Narana Coissoró and Adriano Moreira could be much more substantial and useful if they so wished. Both leave this reader unsatisfied.
Either their memory failed them or neither wanted to compromise himself by revealing any honest truths about their roles in the events. Perhaps Edila Gaitonde, the widow of P D Gaitonde, presently living in U.K, may have more to reveal about the personalities she knew and contemporary events she witnessed in Portugal before Dr Gaitonde moved to Goa for a fatal encounter with PIDE.
I wish her recent interview with Selma Carvalho (published by Goa Research Net) is only the beginning of more disclosures that could lift some curtains that still cover the final phase of Goa’s colonial past.
What none of the testimonies cared to mention was the role of the Territorial Military Court that jailed many Goan freedom fighters and deported quite a few. Fortunately the records are preserved in Goa and the Gazetteer Department of Goa Archives has published some selections of these records covering the cases of some better known freedom fighters. It has also produced two volumes of Who’s Who of Freedom Fighters (1986).
Incidentally, there seems to be a move afoot in Goa to hire the services of a UK-based firm of advocates, specialized in defense of human rights. Following their recent success in demanding compensation for the victims of the British authorities accused of torturing the Mau-Mau rebels in Kenya, they may be expected to repeat their feat in taking up similar cases in Goa of 50s and 60s and demand reparations from the former colonial authorities.
Perhaps Francis Dias, a local resident, could assist their efforts and show them a torture outpost allegedly used by the Portuguese police serving under Agente Monteiro in the vicinity of Forest Department, about 4 kms from the centre of Valpoi.
Previously published in Herald. Reprinted in tambdimati: the Goa review by permission of the author.