Caste War In A Goa Church Hots Up Again

Pamela de Melo, Asain Age, Bombay Edition, 19th March 2000. Re-Edited

Panaji, March 18: A simmering caste battle within a Catholic parish in South Goa, has reared its head again, 20 years after upper caste Christians attempted a threatened secession from the Goa Church.

Some upper caste Chardo1 Desai 2 families, who had converted to Christianity around the sixteenth century, have launched a "back to the roots" campaign here. This came after the official Goa Church began insisting that 'lower caste' Catholics also had a right to be allowed to hold posts in the Church 's governing body.

One vocal section of the Kshatriya Christians of the Cuncolim village are attempting to embarass the Catholic Church here, in apparent retaliation for its stance. They have threatened to reconvert to Hinduism and seek the support of their Hindu castemen. Harking back to history, they claim that their ancestors had fought India's "first war of independence" against the Portuguese, for which their cheiftains were brutally killed, and the village land confiscated.

Parts of Goa had been ruled by the Portuguese since the early sixteenth century, so cases of opposition to foreign rule have also come in earlier. The Desais who finally converted to Christianity however maintain brotherhood links with their caste equals among the Hindus, and participate in the local temple's umbrella (sontreo) festival of the village goddess.

The idol of the goddess had been shifted to an area outside of Portuguese control, but which later came to be included into Portuguese territory. But its devotees bring it back yearly to Cuncolim in a colourful festival in which Goan Christians and Hindus alike participate. This has been studied as an outstanding example of syncreticism. Hindu Desais control the village temple, while, until recently, the village's parish church was similarly controlled by the Christian Desais.

But the Desais (also called Gaoncars3) are now outnumbered by Shudra Christians and the official Chruch is backing the latter's moves to accede to governing bodies.

In the early 1980s, angry Gaoncars even exhumed a dead body of a non-Gaoncar buried in the parochial cemetery.
1. Chardo, pl. Chardos; the Konkani version of the name Kshatriya, the warrior caste. The second caste of Hindu Apartheid or Color System (Varna Ashrama), below the priests or Brahmin (Konkani, Bamon) and above the peasants or Vaishya and the menial Shudra, who are the lowest. A fifth, even lower, group exists, generically the Mlechhas, or Barbarians, outside the Caste System.

2. Desai, the traditionally land-owning Kshatriyas, the warrier and governing caste. From Desh, country.

3. Gaoncar, the constituent of the village community. Only the three upper caste members have the privilege of being 'Gaoncars.'
Pamela de Melo, Asain Age, Bombay Edition, 19th March 2000. Re-Edited
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