Goa liberation: Relatively bloodless but indelibly etched in mind (December 19 is the 50th anniversary of Goa’s liberation)

December 15th, 2011 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

(ATTN NEWS EDITORS: This is the first in a series of stories on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Goa. This story deals with the effect on the psyche on Goans who lived in those days.)

Panaji, Dec 15 (IANS) It was a cool morning on December 19, 1961, when two companies — 600 troops — of the Indian Army’s Sikh Light Infantry marched into Panaji, then Panjim, the capital of the Portuguese-held state of Goa, their jackboots crunching on the crunchy laterite gravel-lined streets.

Operation Vijay, which lasted less than 36 hours, was ordered by the Indian government to oust the last vestige of colonial rule from Indian soil. It was a relatively bloodless campaign (nearly 50 soldiers were estimated killed on either side and a couple of hundred injured according to official figures), but one that has remained forever etched in the minds of the Goans who lived in those times.

Life was peaceful for 19-year old medical student Francisco Colaço, who like many of his batchmates then, wasn’t too concerned about geo-political anxieties and diplomacy, until the war actually broke out between the two nations.

“For quite some time there were rumours that India was going to invade Goa. These things were always being put over the air (radio), and being spread by word of mouth, but usually nothing would take place. This time we expected it to be nothing different,” said Colaco, a renowned medical practitioner who is now a septuagenarian.

“I remember we had our medical ball (a social gala organized by the local Medical College) and the governor as usual attended the ball,” he said, adding that intelligence inputs and rumours had suggested that India would invade Goa on December 15.

Finally, after last-minute diplomatic efforts by Portugal to stall the inevitable failed, the Indian Army marched towards Goa on December 18. Terrified Goan families fled from the cities and took refuge in rural villages and remote hills. Among them was Colaço and his family.

“The troops started advancing. We were all fearing for our lives. Nobody knew where it (the land) was mined. Besides, we were terrified of the Indian Army. They were known for looting, plundering, rapes etc… after all they were the victorious army,”Colaço recalls.

He clearly remembers seeing the Indian troops crossing the Zuari River near Raia, a village 50 km from here.

“Both the Borim and Banastarim bridges were destroyed by the Portuguese. But the Indian Army had their own vessels. I remember very well the crossing. We were in the house, quietly watching it. Hordes of people were coming to greet the Indian army. However, the saddest thing is that those very people who were falling at the feet of the Portuguese were today greeting the Indian Army,” Colaço recalled.

Another witness to the Indian Army’s march into Goa, Anthony Almeida, says it was because of the graciousness of the then Portuguese governor Vassalo da Silva and the bishop of Goa, Dom Jose Pedro da Silva, who decided not to retaliate, that Goa was saved from destruction.

“The bishop had already taken a decision that the (Portuguese) army would not retaliate, because their army was 3,000 against the Indian Army of 26,000. It would be suicide. Besides, the Portuguese soldiers had no experience of fighting and were not equipped for it,” he said.

Almeida however said that despite being a freedom fighter himself, 50 years after the liberation of India, things were not very optimistic in Goa.

“We wanted liberation but not this type of thing, something more of a peaceful transition. Independence did give us advantages, but the state was not ready for this,” he said.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

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