Be it the ghar wapasi campaign or the attacks on churches in North India or even the statement of Mohan Bhagwat demeaning the work carried out by Mother Teresa, the right-wing groups affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party appears to be constantly and systematically trying to attack the minorities in the country. In the last assembly election the minorities in Goa, particularly the Catholics voted in large numbers for Bharatiya Janata Party to bring a change in the State. Most of them are hurt and completely disillusioned over the turn of events in the country. The ban on beef in neighboring Maharashtra further added to the discomfiture. Speaking to The Goan Edwin Fonseca, President of the Goa Catholic Association said that Catholic community is not safe either in Goa or elsewhere in the country. He said that there was never a difference between a Hindu, Christian or a Muslim in the State and all of them lived in harmony but feels that this unity too appears to be threatened after BJP coming to power.
The Goan: With the caustic comments coming from the right-wing elements affiliated to the ruling party in the State and Centre, how safe, secure and comfortable does an average Catholic feel in Goa at this point in time?
Edwin Fonseca: I feel the Catholic community is not at all safe in Goa and elsewhere. And now, time has come where the right-wing elements have become emboldened and have started to attack in the capital city. Further, as of today nobody is arrested in the case of the 72-year-old nun who was recently raped in West Bengal. Someone going and raping a 72-year-old nun in a convent is a shameless act and it is not acceptable that so far there is no headway made in the investigation, when 90 percent of the students there are Hindus. Why is the government unable to catch hold of the rapist? The catholic institutions produced big leaders in Goa as well as in India. I feel the Catholic institutions should be treated as the Saraswati Goddess and people should worship them because many students have studied in these institutions and have become big leaders and officers, who are still keeping quiet which is surprising. I feel in today’s situation for safety and security of a person one has to learn to self-defend to protect himself and his belongings. Sometime back Pramod Muthalik came and told his followers to hold Gita in one hand and a sword in the other hand, which is not a religious teaching and is unacceptable.
TG: What would you attribute this sense of uneasiness to – the ruling BJP at the state as well as the Centre, the noncommittal MGP, GVP or Congress who are not speaking even a word to put the apprehensions of the minorities to rest or rightwing Hindu outfits ranging from Shri Ram Sene to VHP to even RSS?
EF: In London, many churches are being sold to Hindus and have been converted into temples but nobody says anything and there is no trouble over there. I don’t understand why in India and in Goa in particular for small things the Ram Sena and VHP raise unnecessary issues. It is better to ask the government of Goa why they have banned Ram Sena from entering into Goa. I blame the central BJP government as well as the State government because they do not have the power to administrate.
At least in Goa we have unity amongst us. For example, Hindus go to worship in many churches and even Catholics are going in temples. Our Archbishop wishes Hindus, Christians and Muslims on their respective festivals but why has the prime minister made Christmas day as a Good Governance day in spite Christmas holiday. Goans believe in all religions, we all are one, just separated by class and nothing else.
TG: Days before the Parliamentary polls last year, your association had invited Fr Cedric Prakash from Gujarat whose claims of marginalization of minorities were not only pooh poohed by Goa’s then Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar but also proven wrong by minorities voting en masse for the BJP. Is there really any reason to feel insecure about under this government?
EF: Actually if you see, you do not know what is going to happen. There are so many Sanghs that are coming here in the State and all over the country. This BJP government had made many promises during the State as well as the parliamentary election to minorities and they had told them that ‘ache din aayenge’ so Goans thought that real change will come because the Congress had become very corrupt. But now we have realised that everything has taken a U-turn and now we say ‘aab kab ache din ayenge’? Actually there are many things which are happening in Gujarat where Fr Cedric Prakash recounted the facts and nothing else but facts, such as not allowing the Christians to have churches. They only give permission for a prayer hall. Likewise there are many things that are objectionable to minorities.
TG: Attacks on minorities have been happening all over the nation but in Goa aren’t we safe considering that the Defence Minister himself has said that ‘ghar wapasi’ is not applicable to Goa?
EF: Why that word ‘ghar wapsi’ has come? This has come only in BJP ruled states in the last few months. I don’t think they should use this word in India. India is a democratic country and everyone has a right to live as per his or her choice. Nobody should make any attempt to convert forcing them or tempting them with an assurance of finance and a house. For Christians or Muslims, India is a secular country and people have a right to live as per their own wish. The amount of money which is flowing in this mission by these people for conversion is a responsibility of the present government to probe, from where this money is coming and for what reason.
TG: The Church has traditionally been seen as an upholder of faith as well as one of socio-political thought, why do you feel that the Church is not intervening more strongly more vociferously when its own flock is being subjected to such attacks?
EF: Christians are very mild people. They are not aggressive and they don’t indulge in bloodbath and we have not gone to the extent of kurbani and halal. As opposed to other groups we are very quiet and harmless people. Our religion does not support killings and is against the principle of eye to an eye. Everything has got its limit, when time comes church may also intervene in such crucial matter. It is not that church is blind or they are not seized of the matter. We will react at a proper time, right now we are examining.
TG: The ban on beef and its restricted supply in Goa, the entry of Shri Ram Sene and allowing them to attack minorities as well as Goa’s unique cosmopolitan culture, the government’s silence when first an RSS camp in Ribandar during St Francis Xavier’s Exposition and then VHP talked about Ghar Wapasi in Goa do you feel that there is sinister undercurrent of religious intolerance building up in Goa too?
EF: Yes, Manohar Parrikar himself has said that ghar wapsi will not enter Goa in a speech in Margao but we cannot ignore the fact that soon after that statement a ghar wapsi meeting was held in Fatorda. There are so many different right-wing units affiliated to the BJP like the VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Sanatan Sanstha. In fact a person from Sanatan tried to plant a bomb during the narkasur competition a couple of years ago during the Congress regime with the intention to attack the then Digambar Kamat government. The alleged accused found a safe place to hide in Santan Sanstha. Even the killers of Mr Dabolkar from Pune were hiding in the Sanatan Sanstha in Ponda. So there is lot of undercurrent in Goa and I feel the people of Goa have to take care of themselves. Even the banning of beef in Goa was intentionally done and the shortage of beef was artificially created by the traders to jack up the price which was against the wish of the common man especially minorities of Goa. As it is beef is the staple food of the minorities in Goa and one of the cheapest meats available.
TG: Goa’s minority communities especially Catholics have never seen to be aggressive or militant. Is this perception of attack scaring or making them feel more antagonistic?
EF: We are people who have never engaged in any fights any time in the past, and we won’t even want that label. You must have seen the way of protests that we carried out have all been in peaceful manner. We carried out candle light protests with the intention to brighten the minds of people instead of engaging in a fight. We pray to the almighty to safe guard the entire community across all religions.