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The Portuguese came to India with a Cross in the one hand and a sword in the other. King Joao 111 (1557-1578) was particularly anxious about the spread of Christianity and wrote to the Viceroy Joao de Castro demanding that all power of the Portuguese should be directed to this purpose. ‘The great concernment which lies upon Christian princes to look to matters of Faith and to employ their forces for its preservation makes me advise you how sensible I am that not only in many parts of India under our subjection but in our city of Goa, idols are worshipped, places in which our Faith may be more reasonably expected to flourish; and being well informed with how much liberty they celebrated heathenish festivals WE command you to discover by diligent officers all the idols and to demolish and break them up in pieces where they are found, proclaiming severe punishments against anyone who shall dare to work, cast, make in sculpture, engrave, paint or bring to light any figure of an idol in metal, brass, wood, plaster or any other matter, or bring them from other places; and against who publicly or privately celebrated any of their sports, keep by them any heathenish frankincense or assist and hide the Brahmins, the sworn enemies of the Christian profession- –.It is our pleasure that you punish them with the severity of the Law without admitting any appeal or dispensation in the least.’ (K M Panikker, Malabar and the Portuguese, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1977.)                            

Panikker’s statement that these missionaries were iconoclasts number one is testified to by their own writings. Let us see how Francis Xavier found himself ecstatic at the images and idols of the Hindu gods being broken to pieces. Xavier writes:

Following the baptism, the new Christians return to their homes and come back with their wives and families to be in their turn also prepared for baptism. After all have been baptized, I order that everywhere the temples of the false gods be pulled down and all idols be broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before this spectacle of pulling down and destroying the Idols by the very people who formerly worshipped them. (Letter dated 8 February 1545.  See H. J. Colridge, Life and Letters of Francis Xavier, London, 1861, Vol. I, p. 10)

Surprisingly, Xavier did this ungrateful act soon after the Hindu King of Kollam had given him a large grant to build churches. He was also highly critical of the Brahmin priests who were traditionally instrumental in teaching and spreading the Hindu religious tenets. In another letter he wrote:

There are in these parts among the pagans a class of men called Brahmins. They are as perverse and wicked a set as can anywhere be found, and to whom applies the psalm, which says: ‘From an unholy race, wicked and crafty men, deliver me Lord’. If it were not for the Brahmins, we should have all the heathens embracing our faith. (Ishwar Sharan, The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, New Delhi, 1991, p. 80).

The archenemy of Hinduism, its followers and gods, Xavier did all he could to denigrate Hindus and destroy their idols of worship. His bigotry was, no doubt, to evoke the hatred of any native king committed to the cause of Hindu religion.

Once the Christian missionaries arrived, the religious practices of the Portuguese turned oppressive after an initial period of indifference and all Hindu temples were ordered closed in 1541. Over 350 temples were destroyed by the year 1559 and even the private idol worship was banned. When Francis Xavier the famous missionary demanded the setting up of Goa Inquisition, a religious tribunal for suppression of heresy and punishment of heretics, things got worse.

The first demand for the establishment of the Inquisition in Goa was made by St. Francis Xavier. In a letter addressed from Amboina (Moluccas) to D. Joao III, King of Portugal, on May 16, 1545, he wrote:

The second necessity for the Christians is that your majesty establish the Holy Inquisition, because there are many who live according to the Jewish law, and according to the Mohammedan sect, without fear of God or shame of the world. And since there are many who are spread all over the fortresses, there is the need of the Holy Inquisition, and of many preachers. Your majesty should provide such necessary things for your loyal and faithful subjects in India.

The eminent Jesuit historian, Fr. Francisco de Souza, describes in the following passage an incident which served as the immediate cause for the introduction of the Inquisition in Goa:

Whilst in the island of Goa, heated efforts were made to destroy Hinduism, father Provincial Gonslavo da Silveira and bishop Belchior Carneiro were moving about in Cochin persecuting the insidious Judaism. These priests came to know how in that city were living some descendants of the Israelite people, rich and possessing much, but infected with Judaism…

The Inquisition set up in 1560 was notorious for using brutal torture and lasted till 1812 and this was the Golden age, according to Portuguese missionaries, where the power of life and death of ordinary People was held by a Christian priest. If people were unable to pass ‘act of faith’ (autos – da – Fe), they were stretched on the rack and also some people were burnt on the stake.     

The Goan Inquisition was documented in bestseller Guardian of Dawn by Richard Zimler who called it a ‘machinery of death’ – the most merciless and cruel ever developed. Dismembering the children limb by limb in front of their parents whose eyes were taped open till they agreed to convert was particularly an effective method.      

On the faintest suspicion of heresy, thousand died during the 252 years of the Inquisition. If a small idol was kept at home or a non-Christian prayer whispered, anyone could be arrested and tortured in special Inquisition prisons. It is estimated that by the end of 17th century the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Muslims was complete as there was less than 20,000 that were non-Christian out of the total Goan population of 2,50,000.
Commenting on the atrocities, Historian T. R. De Souza writes:

At least from 1540 onwards, and in the island of Goa before that year, all the Hindu idols had been annihilated or had disappeared, all the temples had been destroyed and their sites and building material was in most cases utilized to erect new Christian Churches and chapels. Various viceregal and Church council decrees banished the Hindu priests from the Portuguese territories; the public practices of Hindu rites including marriage rites, were banned; the state took upon itself the task of bringing up Hindu orphan children; the Hindus were denied certain employments, while the Christians were preferred; it was ensured that the Hindus would not harass those who became Christians, and on the contrary, the Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in Churches to listen to preaching or to the refutation of their religion.

Francois Pyrad, a French traveler, was in Goa during the period of July 1608 to January 1610. In his account of his travels he gives the following information of the Inquisition in Goa:

The Inquisition consists of two fathers, who are held in great dignity and respect; but the one is much greater man than the other and is called Inquisitor Major. Their procedure is much more severe than in Portugal; they often burn Jews, whom the Portuguese call Christianos noeuous, that is to say, ‘New Christians.’ 

It came into existence in 1560. The Jesuit historian Father Francisco de Souza tells us that the goal of the Inquisition in India was to destroy Hinduism and also persecute Indian Jews who had lived peacefully with the Hindus for centuries. Francois Pyrad, a Frenchman who lived in Goa from 1608-1610, tells us that the number of victims persecuted was very large. We have eyewitness accounts telling us that it was far worse than in Europe. J C Barreto Miranda, a Goanese historian, in his book (Quadros Historicas de Goa p.145), wrote of the Inquisitors sent by the Pope:

The cruelties which in the name of the religion of peace and love this tribunal practiced in Europe, were carried to even greater excesses in India, where the Inquisitors, surrounded by luxuries which could stand comparison with the regal magnificence of the great potentates of Asia, saw with pride the Archbishop as well as the viceroy submitted to their power.  Every word of theirs was a sentence of death and at their slightest nod were removed to terror the vast populations spread over the Asiatic regions, whose lives fluctuated in their hands, and who, on the most frivolous pretext could be clapped for all time in the deepest dungeon or strangled or offered as food for the flames of the pyre. 

Alan Machado-Prabhu records how the Portuguese conquered Goa and ruled by terror:

In its two and a half centuries of existence at Goa, the Inquisition burned at the stake 57 alive and 64 in effigy. Others sentenced to various cruel punishments totaled 4,046. The people who were converted but still continued secretly to perform Hindu rituals were treated even more harshly… The manner in which the Church enriched itself was just scandalous. Half the property of a person found in possession of idols went to the Church…The Church acquired urban and rural properties on an impressive scale. The open performances of Hindu ceremonies were replaced by great public processions on Christian feast days. One of the worst criminals was Francis Xavier, later to be made into a saint. 

The Anglican historian Dr. Fryer wrote:

In the principal market was raised an engine of great height, at top like a Gibbet, with a pulley …which unhinges a man’s joints, a cruel torture.

Portuguese also inaugurated slave trade by seizing able-bodied men and women in the neighbouring Indian territory and selling them. They opened a slave market in Goa. (The Syrian Christians of Kerala, 1963, p.31).

Apparently this market not only served the export trade but was in much demand by the local Portuguese whose lifestyle was extravagant and profligate. But we are also told that there was a lively trade in Kaffirs, a derogatory term for the natives of the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. The girls, who, we are told, were very much in demand, were paraded for sale in the nude. (B. Penrose , Goa, Queen of the East, p.67).

In 1592 the viceroy of Goa proclaimed that slaves of infidels who converted themselves to Christianity would be freed. (Cunha Rivara – cited by Priolkar, The Goa Inquisition, Delhi, 1962, p.141).

Those who have escaped death by their extorted confessions, are strictly enjoined, when they leave the prisons of the Holy Office, to declare that they have been treated with great tenderness and clemency, in as much as their lives, which they justly merited to lose, should be spared. Should anyone, who has acknowledged that he is guilty, attempt to vindicate himself on his release, he would be immediately denounced and arrested, and burnt at the next Act of Faith, without hope of pardon. (Dellon, quoted by Priolkar, The Goa Inquisition, Sec.2, p.34).

Dr Dellon described the Archbishop’s prison as:

The most filthy, dismal, and hideous of all I ever witnessed, and I doubt if there can be any other in the world more repulsive. Another particularly odious Edict of Faith was the obligation of Goa’s citizens to spy on behalf of the Inquisition. [Its] infamy never reached greater depths, nor was more vile, more black, and more completely determined by mundane interests than at the Tribunal of Goa, by irony called the Holy Office. Here the Inquisitors went to the length of imprisoning in its jails women who resisted their advances, and after having satisfied their bestial instincts there, ordering that they be burnt as heretics. (A India Portuguesa, Vol.11, Nova Goa, 1923, p.263)

Christianity in India had finally succumbed to the authority of that pseudo-Christian religion of the papacy. Tradition and dogma were elevated above God’s Holy Word. (H. H. Meyers, The Inquisitive Christians, New Millennium Publications Australia, 1992, p. 40)

The Goa Inquisition thus forms one of the black chapters of Indian history which speaks about the tortures the non-Christians especially the Hindus underwent. Instituted in the name of God, it was the gruesome and inhuman weapon in the hands of the devils, an instrument of oppression in the hands of the most intolerant fanatics who massacred in the name of their God and faith. It was the worst of all the instruments of fanatical oppression humanity ever witnessed.

(Author is the former Kerala State President, Unnatha Vidyabhyasa Adhyapaka Sangham, higher wing of Akhil Bharatiya Rashtriya Saikshik Mahasangh in Kerala.)


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