12 Jan 2009 12:00am IST
Not only politicians break promises
It’s not only politicians that break promises. It seems the Indian Navy does too! It took over the island of Anjediv in 1987 from the Government of Goa. As per the terms of the order of December 1987 on the handover of the island for use of Project Sea Bird, the Naval authorities are required to allow pilgrims to visit the Church of Our Lady of Springs and the Chapel of St Francis D’Assissi on the island on the feast days of 2 February and 4 October.
They are also required to make arrangements for cleaning the precincts of the Church, to provide safe drinking water, mobile toilets, and to permit a half day visit preceding the feast day to enable priests from Goa to make arrangements for the Mass on the Feast day. Unfortunately, after 2004, this promise has not been kept.
It is the Navy’s contention that the island is a ‘high security’ area. A request to allow the celebrations this year by a private citizen has been turned down by the Department of Defence, on the ground that the last time the pilgrimage was allowed, there was a ‘law and order’ issue. The Navy has also claimed that the District Magistrate of Uttar Kannada is not in favour of the pilgrimage being conducted.
Unfortunately for the Navy, the island, though it is near the villages of Binaga and Arga near Karwar in Karnataka, is a part of the Canacona taluka, under the District Magistrate of South Goa. It is within the jurisdiction of the Goa government. The Karnataka government comes into the picture only to make arrangements for the safe transportation of pilgrims from Goa to the gates of Project Seabird.
It seems that not enough people, especially in the Navy, know about the importance of the Church of Our Lady of Springs (Nossa Senhora da Brotas), which is on the island. Anjediv is the place where Vasco da Gama stopped on his way back from Calicut to Portugal in 1498, after his epic voyage of discovery of the sea route to India. He wanted to repair his ships and take on water for the long voyage ahead. The springs on the island had excellent water, and it became a regular watering stop for returning Portuguese ships.
A small thatched chapel was built on the island in 1502, which was then made into a more permanent structure in 1506. The Church of Our Lady of Springs at Anjediv, therefore, is probably the oldest Christian church in India outside of Kerala.
It is not only a place of worship for Christians, but for the Hindus in Karwar as well, who celebrate the feast of ‘Zorichi Saibinn’ on the same feast day. In fact, it was the deliberate refusal of the then Commanding Officer of Project Seabird Commodore Rao in 2004 to allow the Hindus to worship on the island that caused the alleged ‘law and order’ issue that seems to concern the Navy so much. And what was the actual incident? Fr.
Britto D’Silva, a priest, staged a solo ‘dharna’ at the gates of Project Seabird to proterst against Hindus being denied the right to their traditional worship!
This is not a Christian issue, it is a Goan issue. In 2002, the BJP’s Manohar Parrikar had donated Rs25,000 for repairs to the church. It would be a shame if the present Congress government does not exert itself to secure the rights of its people.
If the Navy can so blatantly break its promises, like our politicians do, it is only because of inaction on the part of the Goa government and the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman, which ought to assert the rights of their people to their traditional pilgrimages. Yes, security is an issue. Seabird is a high security area. But if the numbers of pilgrims is controlled, a number of services are held in the Church instead of just one, access is restricted to only those who can produce a government-issued photo identity card (voter card, PAN card, driving license, passport, etc), and only one batch of pilgrims is let in at a time, one does not see any problem coming up.
Our MPs and Chief Minister Digambar Kamat need to personally intervene and impress upon the topmost Navy officials that their promises must be kept.
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