I had been to Vanxim (Capao) island almost ten years ago with Joel D'souza and together we had done a story. It was beautiful and mesmerizing. The story is till available online if you click here. It was still enchanting and appealing today when I visited the island today August 8, 2010 with the team of around 15 people from all over Goa. But there was a difference. The island had turned into a commodity, property. Ten years ago it was a homeland of the 80 odd or so islanders. Today vocabulary had changed and it is aptly described in a letter written by Fr. Victor Rodrigues, Procurator, Archdiocese of Goa to Mahendra Gaunekar, chief broker and architecture drop out besides son in law of Architect Kurade of Aldea de Goa in Bambolim-Nauxi. In the subject itself of this letter dated 10th November 2009 states "Ref: immovable property - Vanxi at Capao." Church very clearly has been co-opted in the capitalist economy. This was a letter that first time gave a sense that I had run into more than a conventional social problem that can be solved with some quick-fixes. His letter was revealing. Here is a complete text of the same:
As we were re-arranging our records, files and documents in our office, we came across some notices issued by the mamlatdar to us under the Goa Agricultural Tenancy Act in respect of the above mentioned property.
We immediately applied for the certified copies of the relevant papers to the mamlatdar which are received on 4th Novemeber, 2009.
Since the said property has already been sold to you we enclose herewith the said papers received by us to enable you to initiate appropriate steps is so desired."
This letter first time gave me a sense that land has been sold to Gaunekar.
Then further investigation revealed further details: One lakh eighty five thousand square meters of land is sold by the church to Gaunekar on February 11 2006 at the rate of Rs.20/- per square meter. Total value paid to the church in this transaction is Rupees thirty seven lakh two thousand and five hundred.
In another separate transaction total land of 74.16 Acres (three lakh two hundred and seventy five square meters) belonging to Patriarchate of East Indies, the Church was sold via registered deed of Transfer and Assignments of rights on the same date February 11 2006. This time Church was paid Rs. 18,01,650/-. Fr. Arlino de Mello - attorney of Patriarch of East Indies Rt.Rev. Felipe Neri Ferrao - has signed the official documents at the sub-registrar, Ilhas. The other party is of course Mahendra Gaonekar.
The total land amounts to 4,85,275 square meters. For this land on record church has received total of Rs. 55,04,150/-. So here we have a deal. Church selling entire Vanshi (Capao) island to a broker Mahendra Gaonekar.
It is now a matter of history as to what Church in Goa did in 2005. On the one side it propped up Goa Bachao Abhiyan and put in its might behind it to force the government to retract on plans get RP 2011, on the other side it parleyed with broker Mahendra Gaounekar to crystallize the deal in 2006 February 11! No one can beat Church in its diplomacy! It's 2000 years of experience is at work here for sure.
And this is not all. Mahendra Gaonekar received his reward from the massive economic interests involved here to set up tourism villas, golf course and amusement park - Ozone Propex Private limited based at No.38, Ulsoor Road, Bangalore - Rs.30 crores as security deposit. So besides being sole inheritor of wealth massive riches of his father-in-law Kurade from Cuncolim - not only from mushroom trade but also from all the tribal and otherwise in legal possession in post colonial Goa - this is an additional bumper crop. Unconfirmed reports point out that it is business tycoon in kingfisher beer trade Vijay Mallya who is behind all this. Vijay Mallya has already has investments in beer factory in Ponda taluka of Goa and real estate in Candolim.
So its interesting cocktail of alliance between traditional caste-class elites of Goa: Church and merchant capitalists - brahmins with mega capitalists interests of India that can afford to pay Rs. 30 crores as security deposits. Many decades ago Frantz Fanon wrote in his famous book "The Wretched of the Earth" that the newly freed colonies would be turned into neo-colonies via tourism investments. This is so amply true in case of Vanxim (Capao) island in Mandovi river.
Villagers had settled land records according to the Mundcar Act as well as Tenancy Act. Now villagers are lifted to the office of Bicholim deputy collector and negative declarations made to sign under co-ersion and ignorance. Well church is not doing this. It is the agents of the brokers who are doing this. Church only sold the land at twenty rupees and thought it will go scot-free.
Land titles needs to be drastically changed: villagers must be legally deprived of their titles to land if the crores of investment must see the day of light and make sure that globes rich and famous begins their jaunts on Vanxi island in near future. This process has began. Villagers are served with notices from the office of Collector after stable land titles for a decade and half! Even people from Vanxi who works in Mumbai are made to make special trips to Goa only to appear before the hearing on these cases. This is at a time when law commission of Goa headed by Ramakant Khalap has recommended that all the mundcar and tenancy cases be upgraded to full-fledged ownership. But these trends in Vanxi is clearly designed by Church-capitalist nexus towards accumulation of wealth through dispossession of the same from people. Currently it is with people of Vanxi and various techniques including the State offices like Collector, deputy collector of Bicholim and inducted to serve this purpose.
Church is Goa too is headed by an Archbishop and he cares a hoot if Vanxi people are rendered homeless. He can very easily get some nuns and priests to do more charity after people from here are thrown into the gutter. It may even make few people saints. Church has a history full of instances. Brazalian Archbishop once famously remarked "When I serve the poor I am called saint. When I ask why poor I am called a communist!" I wonder what Goa's Archbishop has to say now when he had committed sinful blunder by selling off the island to few merchants of death, death to the Vanxim villagers? Is he aware and conscious what what he has done? I condemn this totally, unequivocally.
If the church in Goa profess to stand in the side of justice then this alliance with the oppressors is totally unexplainable. One side it has deputed full time priest and full time office for Council for Social Justice and Peace (CSJP) and on the other hand involves itself in these nasty and dangerous action putting lives of entire people of Vanxi into danger? To whom is Archbishop of Goa going to confess your sins to? I sincerely feel Church in Goa is like a headless chicken that has lost all the brains and common sense.
Yet this is a beautiful example of secularism: Catholic and Hindu uniting together for a common purpose - to sell Vanxim island and put its residents and their future generations into grave risk. Perhaps it is co-incident that both the buyer and seller of the island - Archbishop as well as Mahindra Gaunekar are brahmins with common intention. One catholic brahmin sells the land to his fellow hindu brahmin at Rs.20/- per square meter. I paid Rs. 35/- today to take my decent vegetarian lunch. Land sold is cheaper than my lunch! In Panjim rate of land is Rs. 18,000/- per square foot. Not sure it was a gift or more money has exchanged hands off he record. After all Gaunekar has received Rs.30 crores it is unlikely that Church would satisfy itself with Rs.55,04,150/- unless Gaunekar has bullied the Archbishop.
This is second second church scandal that I have came across involving land of Santa Monica society. The first scandal took away land of tribal people in Dulapi and Mangado in Tiswadi and today stand Syngenta pesticides factory that is clicking time bomb that will take in its stride even the Old Goa world famous churches.
Why do church in Goa goes on getting into these scandals? After deep pondering I come the conclusion that Goa has entered into the era of neo-colonialism. The days of social problems are over. Just like Church came to Goa with Portuguese Colonialism, it is today very strong ally of new colonialism whose aim is all round exploitation and expropriation. What is happening in Vanxim (Capao) is exactly this. Church will have to make up its mind if it wants to continue siding with the neo-colonial forces hoping that traditional fear and respect it enjoy is going to overshadow these shady and shameful deeds or go in for drastic overhaul and reverse its alliances and go for full fledged committed alliance with the exploited by pushing for cancelling of the sale documents? Option lies before the church authorities themselves. If it does not reverse its position then it will be turning itself into an object of ridicule every time it speaks of justice. Action is louder than words. Goa's articulate and suave Archbishop would do well to learn this if he does not know as of now.
Any case irrespective of what the church decides the confusion is eroding rapidly. It is no longer a problem of corruption alone, land rights alone, ecology alone. It is a problem of power. It is a problem of tiny minority in Goa all out to sell Goa on a platter. It can be challenged with all the strategies needed to counter neo-colonialism. And today I saw the glimpse of this already. Goenchea Xetkarancho Ekvott (GXE) representative there declared protest at the Lohia Maidan for 15 August 2010. Goa's freedom movement against neo-colonialism has arrived in its twilight. It will become stronger and bolder as morning descends and sun begins to shine bright in the day. People of Vanxim are the children of this twilight of yearnings of freedom and my salute and support to them from the deepest bottom of my heart! I commit myself in their struggle. Their struggle is my struggle too.
Today there were several people from all over Goa who came to support Vanxim villagers. There was GAKUVED President Durgadas Gaonkar outlined history of Santa Monica since 1710 in relation to getting land under their control. He expressed support to the struggling people. he also shared as to how their agricultural land in Dulapi and Mangado had been similarly handed over to industry - Ciba of India limited after being held by Santa Monica Society.
Ida Coutinho of GXE spoke about how villagers in Salcete coast has been cheated by hoteliers and real estate and asked Vanxim people not to fall prey to land sharks. Diego Francis Rodrigues from Terekhol, Pernem in his speech declared that Mudcar law and Tenancy laws are meant for the protection of people and Revenue department is all out to rob people's land title to give them to land sharks. He said that tenancy lands cannot be sold and that why instruments such as MoU, Agreements, and Power of Attorney is used to circumvent the hurdles of land transfer. He pointed out that already 42,000 mundkar cases and 57,000 tenancy cases are languishing in various courts in the State of Goa, and Law Commission chairman Ramakant Khalap has recommended that this be upgraded to full fledged ownership status by December 2012. Dilip Hegde, President of GXE declared his support to the struggle of Vanxim people. Sebastian Rodrigues, Convenor of GOAMAP identified various actors in the great sale of Vanxi island and declared support to the struggle. Number of villagers also spoke. One declared "we need Vanxi to die here". Second one crossed him "If we are driven away from here then how are we going to be able to die here?". "We will make sure that island remains with us to die and also future generations to live" replied the elder man of the village. "We will die while we fight together, we are ready for this". "We are against sand extraction that is going on in Mandovi river very close to the island."
This meeting was just outside the Vanxim Church and was well attended by the villagers. I noticed at least some fear from the few faces had disappeared from the faces of those present. The fear because it is the head of their catholic faith Archbishop himself had sold their land for peanuts. This is an insult as well as shock at the same time. Religion had made them so fearful and unquestioning and now they have to survive only with fearlessness and questing authorities - however mighty and powerful they may be. Church has aligned itself with neo-colonial forces and there is something as drastic in the worldview as the earth shaking volcano. I noticed it when I was there amongst the people in Vanxim.
Even though I shared good respect to Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao over the past 18 years I though I have a bigger responsibility to stand up for Truths and Justice. I leave it up to the Universe and History to judge me. I need to side with the truth and justice with all my might with scant respect for the consequences that may follow. Truth is what Jesus stood for. Jesus preached Kingdom. Church preaches Jesus. It has forgotten who Jesus is. Otherwise Church would not have sold Vanxim Island. For how much worth Judas had sold Jesus? Jesus can be re-discovered amongst the exploited like the Vanxi people. He seldom enters Palaces like the one that Archbishop lives in.
May the good sense prevail on all the concerned.