Tuesday, 12 April 2011

SETEMBRACHE EKVISAVERI... A TRAGEDY

The memories of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy are still fresh in the minds of Indians. It was on this day that thousands were killed on the orders of General Dyer. However, nearly three decades earlier, Goans had also suffered a similar fate but of a lesser magnitude, here in the very heart of Margao.

During the close of the nineteenth century, elections to the Parliament and local bodies were bitterly contested, with attempts at booth capturing and rigging, fuelling much enmity. In such an environment two new political parties emerged. The party around which gathered many Goan intellectuals was known as ‘Partido Indiano’ (Indian Party). The other, ‘Partido Ultramarino’ (Overseas Party) adopted a pro-government stance.

Dr. Olivinho Gomes, in his painstakingly researched book, Goa gives us a detailed account of the bloodshed that took place at the fiercely contested Municipal Elections in 1890.

On the 21st of September, 1890 large number of people had gathered at the Old Municipal Square (present Church Square), to pledge their support to the ‘Partido Indiano’. The supporters of the party came from distant areas and their sizeable number terrified the ‘Ultramarino’ party men and the troops. They blocked the voters from casting their votes and entry was granted only to those loyal to the government. Whips were cracked against their leaders. The supporters could not bear this insult to their leaders and retaliated. The soldiers fired indiscriminately on the people; killing as many as 22 and wounding many more.

The bullet mark is seen between the extreme right and the middle window
Dr. Gomes writes in his book, ‘The shots that were fired on that fateful day still show their marks on the adjoining buildings, in one of which at least that the hole the shooting caused, has been framed in wood and marked 21.9.1890 to commemorate that date.’

This inhuman act of violence was condemned by Goans from all walks of life. Vasco Guedes, the then Governor of Goa took highly repressive measures against the local nationalists. Many of the printing presses were closed down and the leaders fled to Karwar and sought political asylum in British-controlled India.

Camera in hand, I stared at the bullet marks on the building next to the Holy Spirit Church. I was transported back in time when the soldiers of the Governor fired on an unarmed crowd in the Church Square.

The incident moved the hearts of the local poets and composers as well. The bloodbath was soon immortalized in the mando titled, Setembrache Ekvisaveri. Words from the pages of ‘Song of Goa – Mandos of Yearning’, by Jose Pereira and Micael Martins, reverberated in my mind and their poignant lament found its way to my soul:
“Vasco Guedes dug graves and turned Morhgoun into a pool of blood.”

(A Version of this article appeared on GOA PLUS, a weekly supplement of the Times of India and the Economic Times, dt: September 21-27, 2007)

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