‘Devchar’ a word that has been with me like most of us in Goa right from our childhood. However its notions differs depending upon the family in which the upbringings are effected.
I have grown in Catholic home and notion of ‘Devchar stood for all that is bad, evil force that must be feared. I was told this at home so often. Then in the church sermons I heard the same notions being repeated infinite number of times. Church in Goa wrongly equated ‘Devchar’ to European theological ‘devil’. By the time I grew up and just about entered my thirties, something extraordinary happened to my life: notion of ‘Devchar’ turned upside down!
Suddenly I was confronted with completely opposite notion of ‘Devchar’ – as protector of the communities, especially tribal communities of Gawadas and Velips. It was long conversations with Durgadas Gaonkar, then (2004) an activist of Gawda, Kunbi, Velip and Dhangar Federation (GAKUVED) that compelled me to recognize ‘Devchar’ as well as tribal communities of Goa.
Gaonkar told me that ‘Devchar’ is a deity of his tribe it is their community’s protector, in the event of emergency it this spirit that they call for in supreme faith. And spirit never fails to rescue the community. It has been the protector of the community for thousands of years. Tribes share a relationship of dialogue with the spirit and not the relationship of obedience that is characteristics of many organised religions with professional clergy in place.
I have been unlearning notions of ‘Devchar’ for nearly half a decade now; continuously learning something fascinating from Tribal communities in Goa. One of insights that I have gained is that by equating ‘Devchar’ to European theological ‘Devil’ may be either mistake of the translator of the theological texts into Konkni or it may be deliberate attempt to suppress tribal identity in Goa. To me latter seems more of possibility as Church - like other organised religions - also been involved in paganizing and suppressing tribal traditions and culture. The latest instance has been to denounce the tribal cultural practices such as Jagor and Intruzz.
In early 2008 Ambaulim village in Quepem taluka reclaimed their cultural space and organised Intruzz after it was closed down by one Catholic priest posted in Ambaulim parish 15 years ago. Similarly Church like many tribal villages in Goa is instrumental in physically closing down of the institution of Mand. Ambaulim’s mand space have been faced with similar fate and cross has been erected.
The examples to cite are so many more. All of them however point out towards only one conclusion: it is the proselytizing arrogance of the Catholic Church in Goa that has robbed adivasi communities of their identity as tribes. It has led to severe modifications in their cultural practices and spiritually destabilized communities. Tribal spirits are the least understood entities and most misunderstood entities. Arrogance of the Catholic Church and all other hindu religious sects such as various Swamis attached with various Mutts in the country, number of organised sects attached to various denominations of Sanatan Sanstha has completely failed to understand the logic of the tribal system and are continuously caring on painful process of imposing monolithic view of religions.
Recognition of ‘Devsar’ is holistic recognition of tribal communities in Goa. With this recognition identity and spiritual autonomy of tribal communities stands severely compromised. A critical look at past conversion drives by the church in Goa amongst tribal communities in Goa is required. My first hand information reports from these communities in Balli, Fatorpa and Ambaulim suggests that tribal communities converted to Christianity has very high rate of alcoholism and large number households are headed by Women after their husbands have died as alcohol addicts.
This is something very serious and it cannot be tackled simply by providing superficial solutions like starting of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) groups. The root causes of this needs to be investigated. My opinion is that it is the combined assault of modernity: organised religions in league with Development paradigm that robbed tribal communities of their ‘Devsar’ - their supreme spiritual identity – and their community lands by the landlords, Communidades, State for various so called development projects and Forest department, Church and Temples in numerous processes since beginning of Portuguese colonial rule in 1510 that continues till date.
During this period few converted tribal communities have completely forgotten ‘Devsar’ under Church indoctrination, Some communities are in the middle of crises as any memory of ‘Devsar’ and its honor attracts reprimand from the Church forcing guilt consciousness that needs to be eroded only by confession. All these meant huge turmoil to adivasi communities that organised religions could hardly find insight into due to various reasons. This particularly needs serious attention from one and all especially now that we will be completing 500 years Portuguese Colonial rule that began in 1510. Church came to Goa as part of Colonial project of exploitation and domination. ‘Devsar’ that has been insulted all these years, adivasi communities that have been margins of our society seeking to make the world hear its perspective of all that went on for this entire period. Anyone interested?