His Majesty the king has ordered that there shall be no Brahmins in his land and that they should be banished.”
“In the name of his Majesty I order that no Hindu can or shall perform marriages…”
“The marriages of the supplicants are superstitious acts or functions which include Hindu rites and ceremonies as well as cult, adoration and prayers of Hindu temples…”
“I order that no Hindu temples be erected in any of the territories of my king… and that Hindu temples which already have been erected be not repaired…’
Anybody familiar with the brutalisation of Hindu customs and practices, indeed Hindu faith and belief, could mistakenly believe these extracts have been taken from royal decrees issued during Muslim rule. The harshness with which suppression is prescribed in these decrees, the callous disregard that is advocated for the other’s sentiment, the cruelty that is so palpable in both thought and action, suggest that thesefirman could have been issued by one of the “shadows of god” who ruled this land, laying to waste Hindu lives and temples.
But these are not extracts from firman issued by the Mughal court of, say, Aurangzeb. They have been taken from firmans issued by the Portuguese who ruled Goa and recognised no religion other than Christianity as the legitimate means of communion with god. It was no secular rule that they imposed, but a ruthless system of pillage disguised as trade and a cruel administration for whom Hindus were nothing more than “supplicants” to be crushed into submission or exiled into oblivion.
The horrors inflicted on Galileo Galilei by the Inquisition — the Vatican has now admitted that the Church was wrong and Galileo was right — are well known. Not that well-known, and tragically so, are the horrors inflicted by the Goa Inquisition. Every child reads about Galileo’s trial and how it is symbolic of the triumph of science over faith. But there is no reference — indeed, all reference is scrupulously avoided — to the brutal attempts of the Church to stamp out Hinduism in the territories controlled by the Portuguese in India.
And this silence is not because there exists no evidence: There exist, in full text, orders issued by the Portuguese Viceroy and the Governor. There exist, in written records and travelogues, penned not by the persecuted but by the persecutors, full details of the horrors perpetrated in the name of Christ. Hindus who dared oppose the persecution were punished, swiftly and mercilessly. Those who were fortunate, got away with being banished. The less fortunate had their property seized and auctioned — the money was used, in large measures, for furthering proselytisation. The least fortunate were forced to serve as slave labour on the galleys that transported loot from Indian shores to Portuguese coffers.
Viceroy D Constantine de Braganca issued an order on April 2, 1560, instructing that Brahmins should be thrown out of Goa and other areas under Portuguese control. They had a month’s time to sell their property — it is obvious who gained from such distress sale. Those found violating the viceregal order, it was declared, would have their properties seized. Another order was issued, this time by Governor Antonio Morez Barreto, on February 7, 1575, decreeing that the estates of Brahmins whose “presence was prejudicial to Christianity” would be confiscated and used for “providing clothes to the New Christians”.
The attitude of the Portuguese administrators in India and the Church hardened over the years, to a point where each fiat, each decree, each order, each letter, became an instrument of religious persecution. The Third Concilio Provincial — a gathering of bishops and other clerics — met in 1585 to review, among other things, the progress of converting the “heathens” to the “only faith”. The Concilio adopted a resolution which said, ‘His Majesty the king has on occasion ordered the Viceroys and Governors of India that there should be no Brahmins in his lands, and that they should be banished therefrom together with the physicians and other infidels who are prejudicial to Christianity, after taking the opinion of the Archbishop and other religious persons who have experience in the matter. As the orders of His Majesty in this regard have not been executed, great impediments in the way of conversion and the community of New Christians have followed and continue to follow.”
One can quote from many other orders, resolutions and instructions that resulted in the hideous Vatican-backed Goa Inquisition. The details are not unknown to most of us; they are definitely well known to the Vatican. The reason I have raised the issue of the Goa Inquisition is two-fold. First, Pope Benedict XVI should bear in mind the horrors inflicted on Hindus in the name of Christianity before he berates them for being intolerant towards Christians. Second, the Vatican owes an apology for the crimes committed during the Goa Inquisition; it must apologise and repent for its misdeeds against Hindus and gross attempts to stamp out Hinduism. Not to do so would amount to continued endorsement of the crimes and the unfair practices of missionaries.
Ten years ago, the Vatican issued a 14-page document, ‘apologising’ and ‘repenting’ for not doing enough to save Europe’s Jews from the Holocaust. While it is common knowledge that Pope Pius XII did not feel particularly appalled by Hitler’s ‘final solution’, the Vatican claimed in its 1998 document that he was unaware of the concentration camps, the mass slaughter, the gas chambers and the furnaces. The document, understandably, failed to impress Jews who have made it clear that Pope Benedict XVI is not welcome to visit Israel unless he offers an unqualified apology and makes public documents of that period which are now stored in the Vatican’s archives. The Vatican may have eliminated the phrase “perfidious Jews” from its liturgy and Pope John Paul II may have made it fashionable for the Pontiff to refer to Jews as “older brothers”, these are seen as no more than meaningless, insincere gestures.
The purpose of securing an apology for the Goa Inquisition is not to belittle the Vatican, but to drive home the point that it cannot seek to occupy the moral high ground till such time it has apologised and atoned for the sins committed against Hindus. If the Vatican can say sorry to others, there is no reason why it cannot say sorry to Hindus. Their faith is no less than those of the Book