Pro-Hindu government targeting peaceful dissent in Goa

Catholics say increasingly hard-line polices threaten constitutional freedoms
Pro-Hindu government targeting peaceful dissent in Goa

Activists held a rebel music program to protest a state-run music competition in Goa that only allowed government promotional songs. Critics say the pro-Hindu state government is trying to curb free speech and democratic spaces across the country. (Photo by Bosco Eremita) 

The pro-Hindu government in western Indian Goa is intolerant of criticism and uses state power to silence dissent, say church leaders and activists.

Goa state's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is attempting to "curb the secular, socialist and democratic spaces of citizens," said Father Savio Fernandes, executive secretary of the Goa Archdiocesan Council for Social Justice and Peace.

"The right to peaceful dissent and opposition against various forms of injustice is a fundamental right in the national Constitution," he said via a recent statement.

The priest’s statement followed state efforts to halt peaceful protests against a defense and aero expo being held in the state later this month.

Church and activists also say the state has increasingly tried to silence protests against government policies that they say help businesses take over ecologically fragile lands.

They are also concerned about the unresolved death of environmental activist Bismarque Dias, a former Blessed Sacrament priest.

Dias’ body was found floating in Mandovi River, Nov. 7. Suspecting murder, his friends and family postponed his funeral and demanded a thorough probe. However, the government has refused to further investigate the death of the activist who criticized state polices on land use.



Songs for the state

Activists also say the state government tries to promote itself at the expense of the people. Earlier this month the state used traditional tiatr methods of song and drama that are mostly practiced by the region’s Catholics.

As part of a state sponsored singing competition, the competitors were only allowed to sing songs in the local Konkani language that lauded state schemes and policies. 

"How are we to keep quiet about this nonsense?" asked Wilmix Mazerello, a senior Konkani stage artist.

Mazerello said that tiatr and songs associated with it have traditionally been critical of government. 

"Here the government wants us to sing its own hosannas which goes against the very principle of tiatr and free speech," said Mazerello.

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Joe Rose, another senior artist said he turned down an invitation to judge the competition because the government was using it to promote itself.

Across the country minority groups say there has been a rise in intolerance towards them. Much of it has been fueled by the Hindu nationalist government, which they say is increasingly becoming more hard-line.

Christians, mostly Catholics, now comprise about 25 percent of Goa's population, close to 70 percent of whom are Hindus. Goa, a former Portuguese colony, was once considered a Catholic stronghold with Catholics making up 64 percent against 35 percent Hindus, according to the 1851 census.

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