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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Goa's Catholics under threat?

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC correspondent in Goa

Forty years after the Portuguese left, the western Indian state of Goa hangs on to an unusual legacy of imperial rule.

Goan temple
Mangesh temple tower: Hinduism has co-existed with Christianity for centuries

It is India's only state with a uniform civil code.

This means that the Hindus, who make up 60% of the population, the Catholics, who account for 35%, and its tiny minority of Muslims are governed by just one, uniform, set of family laws.

The code has worked well enough for centuries - but now there are fears for Goa's fabled communal harmony.

Despite its strong Catholic cultural roots, Goa currently has a right-wing Hindu nationalist government.

For Goans, Christianity has long been a fact of life.

But sections of the Hindu community have begun making increasingly bold - some say dangerous - statements expressing the view that Christianity is an alien faith, imposed on Indians during the colonial era.

A Hindu cab driver told me: "All Goans were Hindus before the Portuguese came here."

He had a simple explanation for why the state's Catholic population was increasing: "You know, when children are born into Catholic families, they are converted to Christianity after a week or so."

Father George of Candolim Church in north Goa is worried: "There is that impression that Catholics are pro-Portuguese and anti-national, which is not true. We are very much for our motherland. We are not Portuguese. Nothing should divide us."

It is a defensive plea for calm. And many say it's a vain attempt to head off the gathering storm.

'Saffronising' the system

Goa's Hindu nationalist Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is often accused of marginalising Christians when it comes to key government jobs.

Goan chief minister
Chief Minister Parrikar says his critics are spreading lies

Rajen Narayan, editor of the English-language Herald newspaper, believes Mr Parrikar has launched a campaign to promote Hindus to high places in the state.

"After Parrikar came to office, he's been making systematic attempts to saffronise the education system, to put people in key areas of cultural, intellectual penetration, like heads of libraries, heads of educational institutions, heads of cultural bodies."

Some also allege that the Catholics were ignored during the recent recruitment of 6,000 policemen - as much as one-third of Goa's police force.

But Mr Parrikar denies this. He insists that Goan Catholics traditionally don't apply for low-level jobs in the police force.

He accuses his critics of spreading lies about him. "It's almost three years now and nothing of what was told to them [Catholics] is happening. They were told that your churches will be burnt down, crosses will be burnt. But nothing has happened."

Normal service

Worshippers leaving church in north Goa on a bright Sunday morning are serene about whether they see the BJP as a threat.

A Catholic woman said: "Everything is quite peaceful here. Somehow everybody is very strong in their faith here":

Dancing couples
Catholic culture and Portuguese customs live on in Goa's bars

Another one added: "We are on our own, we're not interfering with anybody. They are not interfering with us".

But many, including Goa's best-known cartoonist Mario Miranda, believe far-reaching changes are underway and the Goan Christian is simply giving ground.

"I blame the Catholic Goans themselves because most of them are emigrating. They are leaving Goa," says Mr Miranda.

For the moment though, it is Sunday service as usual in the hundreds of ancient, white-washed churches dotted across Goa.

Tensions, if any, have yet to break through the tranquil surface.




SEE ALSO:
India's BJP takes over in Goa
03 Jun 02  |  South Asia
Analysis: BJP swings to the right
01 Jul 02  |  South Asia
Reviving Goa's Portuguese past
25 Jul 03  |  South Asia
India says Pope welcome
27 Oct 99  |  South Asia


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