This is a bronze bust of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. It is enshrined in our family temple in Goa. He was one of the five men who saved the sacred idols of the deities from Portuguese invaders in the 16th century.
This is our temple, the Ramnathi temple, in Ponda, Goa. It was originally in Loutolim, but was destroyed by the Portuguese. A new temple was consecrated to the deity in Ponda, 11 km away across the Zuari river.
This is what my ancestors who lived in Goa at the time of the Goa Inquisition in the 16th century were up against. The Goa Inquisition by A.K.Priolkar is a well-researched book that chronicles details of that time.
To begin with, the Portuguese had a 41-point code for Goans, some of which were:
- No worshipping their own deities
- Ban on wedding-related activities like distribution of betel leaves and flowers, serving a wedding meal
- Restriction on wearing Indian garments
- No observing religious fasts, performing obsequies
- No growing tulsi in their backyards
- No building or maintaining temples; violation was dealt with by demolition of the temple and confiscation of its wealth for pious (?) work by the Portuguese.
Those who flouted these and other random rules – something that was bound to happen, because all the things on the Portuguese’s list of bans were a normal part of life for Goans – fell afoul of the Goa Inquisition. They would be tortured in the presence of their families by being beaten up, having their eyelashes yanked out, or bones broken. . .
By 1570 they had a law that said people who did as they were told didn’t have to pay taxes for 15 years, as long as they used their brand new Portuguese names and erased all memories of who they used to be!
The moral of the story of the persecution of my forefathers in Goa by the Portuguese, as I gathered in bits and pieces over the years, was this: “Everybody has his own idea of God and that’s okay, because nobody’s seen God. What the Portuguese people did was wrong. They were ignorant. Our forefathers left our homeland because it was important for them to be independent, not live like slaves”. In other words, accept that every religion is okay and don’t impose your beliefs on others. But hold on to your convictions, because they make you who you are. An independent person.
If every child learns this there will be less distrust and hatred among people in the future. Since a large number of wars have been fought over religion, there may be fewer wars too. And perhaps people wouldn’t feel it their duty to torture those who worship god by a different name.
In theory, it would be best if people could be ‘good’ without theism. In organized religions, rules for good conduct are laid down on the premise that people will fall into sin without them. Does that mean a majority of people need a God to stay their course in that direction? The fact that thousands of places of worship exist in every country, maintained by thousands of religious heads, makes me think that’s likely; of course there are social, economic and political reasons for the existence of places of worship too, but I’ll ignore that for the moment.
Obviously then, theism will not go away. The only way forward would be to allow everyone their own brand of theism.
Just as I will not blindly accept someone else’s beliefs, I won’t foist mine on others by any means, blatant or subtle. Should I induce a person to adopt my religious beliefs, depriving him of the inner growth that comes with thinking things out, I would be stunting him. He would be the human equivalent of a Sequoia tree in its bonsai form. I can’t feel good about it, nor can I score brownie points with my god, if he’s a fair god.
I know that what my forefathers went through is exactly what indigenous populations everywhere went through when explorers decided that they owned not only the lands they ‘discovered’ or ‘conquered’, but the human beings who lived there as well. Any reader can look back at the history of his own land to know I’m right.
Shouldn’t we try to change the status quo? How? By teaching kids to be tolerant, and never telling them, “Our God is the only true god, other religions have it wrong.” By telling them instead, that religions are different paths that lead to the same god. Or, if we are mature and secure enough, telling them that religion isn’t about god at all, it’s just a way of life.
Others’ thoughts on the topic: