Goa would probably topple over if you tried to fit it on a pinhead on the map of western India. Yet, the world has managed to fit itself into this tiny state.
At some point over the past several centuries, Goa has been ruled by the Kadambas from Banavasipuram in Karnataka, the Kadambas from Halshi, the Adil Shahi Sultans from Bijapur, the Sounda Rajahs, vassals of the Wadiyars of Mysore and the Portuguese colonists from Europe with their retinue of slaves from other parts of India, Africa, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China and Japan.
Influences from the erstwhile British-ruled Bombay Presidency over the region that the Portuguese referred to as the New Conquests cannot be denied. Arab horse traders and Dutch, French and English travellers have also left an impact on the state.
Under these many different rulers, Goa imbibed widely varied influences in its food, dress, language, architecture and civil administration.
The most recent rulers, the Portuguese, ruled over most of Goa for the longest period – 451 years. Hence, although Goa was liberated from Portuguese rule by the Indian Army in 1961, many visitors to the state perceived its society as “being influenced by the Portuguese”.
Victim of misconceptions
The champions of Goa’s economy have capitalised on this perception and have, in fact, promoted its “European-ness” where “European-ness” blurs with the state being “Westernised”. As a result, Goa was perceived, wrongly, as being tolerant of anti-social behaviour and even libertine, its beach culture (confined to a few kilometres of its tourist belt) and highly visible Catholic presence (defined by its high-walled Catholic churches, chapels and wayside shrines) reinforcing this misconception.
Today, we are increasingly seeing a deliberate, planned and well-orchestrated obliteration of this part of Goa’s history through the planned neglect and aggressive assault on its colonial monuments.
To cite a few examples of this neglect, let us take a look at the old Hospicio or hospital at Ribander that served as the Goa Institute of Management until three years ago. This heritage building was summarily shut down without any alternate purpose earmarked for it.
Take the case of the old Public Works Department building on the bank of the Ourem Creek in Panjim, an ideal location for a community centre, art space and performing gallery standing there, now abandoned. The old Lyceum or school, which functioned from 1854 to 1961 – known the Liceu Central de Nova Goa at first and later the Liceu Nacional Afonso de Albuquerque – served as the High Court of Bombay at Panaji until a few months ago. The building now stands orphaned and neglected, without being repurposed.
The old Adil Shah Palace that once served as the Viceroy’s Palace and then the Secretariat for the government of Goa is now abandoned, bereft of activity. The old Goa Medical College, Asia’s oldest medical college, built in 1927, is used as a venue for the International Film Festival of India for a couple of days in the year and then stands silently watching over the lapping waves of the mouth of the river Mandovi.
For the sake of argument, let us say that these monumental colonial buildings are a case of neglect by accident. What has happened recently up the river Mandovi, however, can neither be termed neglect nor accident. In July, during the lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19, heritage lovers in Goa were in for a shock when they saw a concrete structure coming up in the close vicinity of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the St Cajetan Church in the Protected Zone, on the land that was once the garden of the Viceroy’s Palace in Old Goa.
Early morning walkers assumed, at first, that it was the Archaeological Survey of India Goa Circle that was building something. They then discovered that the Archaeological Survey of India Goa Circle officials, had in fact, found out (a year earlier) that it was a private party that was building a concrete structure on a plot where a small thatched hut once stood surrounded by coconut palms in violation of ASI rules.
How building permissions from the Town and Country Planning Department were obtained, how a No Objection Certificate from the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority was obtained and how the Archaeological Survey of India Goa Circle was completely ignored is nothing short of a well-orchestrated, fraudulent and deliberate plan to undermine the importance of a World Heritage Site.
A double-storeyed house, one hour 10 minutes away from this site, in the village of Parcem in Pernem taluka, was shown as a house located at the site in Old Goa that needed repairs. Armed with that fraudulent permission, the thatched hut at this site was demolished and a concrete double-storied new construction commenced.
On March 10, 2020, Archaeological Survey of India officials went to the house in Parcem and submitted a comprehensive report to their superiors and a “stop work” notice was issued to the project proponents who happened to be the husband of a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson from neighbouring Maharashtra and the wife of a senior member of the Goa Forward Party.
The deliberate neglect of the colonial monuments all over Goa, the urbanisation of the Kadamba Plateau without any consideration for the impact on the world-class monuments of Old Goa that are located at the foot of the plateau, the proposal to widen the road between Old Goa and Pilar at the cost of heritage homes lining it and the beginning of the urbanisation of the Protected Zone around World Heritage Sites and within less than 100 metres from the banks of the Mandovi river are all indicative of a planned obliteration of Goa’s colonial history.
It is time we saw the larger picture, a canvas that looks like it is being cut away bit by bit but is actually being torn up in one swift heap.
Heta Pandit is a co-founder of the Goa Heritage Action Group in 2000. She is the author of nine books about the state.