Herald: From free-thinking to nationalism
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From free-thinking to nationalism

22 Jul 2014 09:03pm IST

Report by
Teotonio R. de Souza

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22 Jul 2014 09:03pm IST

Report by
Teotonio R. de Souza

There has been no dearth of writers and speakers of calibre among native Goans in colonial times, and quite a few of them certainly excelled in these skills even as compared with the metropolitan elites. Obviously the colonial ambiance made it an uphill task, if not almost impossible, for most of them to gain the recognition they deserved.



There has been no dearth of writers and speakers of calibre among native Goans in colonial times, and quite a few of them certainly excelled in these skills even as compared with the metropolitan elites. Obviously the colonial ambiance made it an uphill task, if not almost impossible, for most of them to gain the recognition they deserved. 

The problem of colonial subalternity implied cultural superiority and political dominance to contend with, and not just a parroting ability of the natives. From the early 19th century. It meant the use of the printing press as an instrument of the colonial bourgeoisie to denounce the hidden motives or the sham of its own social and political goals. 

The ability to denounce required courage to face consequences  that could extend from socio-political marginalization, to economic deprivation and physical elimination. Relatively few Goans who had gained the means to confront the colonial agents and institutions had been able to do so by benefitting from the same colonial patronage. 

This colonial patronage was represented to a great extent by the Church, which by its very nature, promoted subservience to “legitimate” authority. So it was from the time of the self-proclaimed Apostle Paul, who recommended to the slaves to please their masters. The practice of sacraments, particularly confession, trained the faithful from very young to denounce themselves if they violated the laws. 

The early manuals of making a good confession required an examination of conscience. A village clerk had to confess if he cheated in keeping accounts. Hence, serving loyally the authorities was a moral obligation and a religious duty. That is precisely what Antonio Gramsci would later classify as the bourgeoisie domination through hegemony, and in our times the Western liberal-political culture calls it civil society. 

The West loves this concept of civil society and its role of self-censorship, defined as responsible citizenship, rather than utilizing police-force or uniformed military to keep law and order. It was not for nothing that Salazar co-opted the Church, instead of antagonizing it as did the Portuguese republicans during the decades that preceded his Estado Novo.

Within coming weeks we can look forward to the published results of a doctoral thesis in history by Dr Sushila Sawant Mendes, presently in-charge of the Department of History of the Government college in Quepem. Entitled Luis de Menezes Bragança: Nationalism, Liberalism and Free-Thought in Portuguese Goa,  the book is sponsored and published by the Directorate of Art and Culture, Government of Goa. 

This book contributes greatly to a better understanding of one of the Goan stalwarts, who deserves to be recognized as a Goan version of Edmund Burke, the great English political thinker and legislator, who could be very radical in the parliament as a critic of the treatment of Ireland, but abhorred the violence of the French Revolution as contrary to the British tradition of legal change.

Dr. Sushila Sawant Mendes has dedicated her research to her father, Advocate Luis Mendes and to his colleague Dr. Julião Menezes, both of whom lived, worked and died for the cause of Indian nationalism. The author can surely take pride in having taken further the ideals of these two family figures who left a mark on her upbringing. 

Dr. Sushila Sawant Mendes has worked in great detail through the plethora of writings of Luis de Menezes Brangança and studied his times and reactions of his contemporaries to provide us with a critical analysis of his personality and contribution to free-thought and kindling of nationalism through a life dedicated to journalism.  The order of key-concepts in the subtitle of the book may need more reflection, but that can be done more satisfactorily now with the help of inputs of this research. Good research always raises new questions and calls for new research. 

The author has traced well the inherited strengths of Luis de Menezes Bragança. Despite health problems that did not permit him to complete formal education at a higher level, the inherited social and economic means allowed him to perform as he did. It is clear that his convictions about free-thought and “neutral” education meant growing out of conditionings imposed by the colonial church, but also by cultural impositions of the caste-system, and political restrictions of State censorship. 

I regard as a novel feature of this research  the great transformation in the thinking and activism of Luis de Menezes Bragança in the closing decade of his life. While he was still defending the rights of the Portuguese Padroado in India during his visit to Lisbon in 1924, pleasing obviously the Portuguese metropolitan politicians, he had courage to make a turn-about after participating in a session of the Indian National Congress in Kolkata in 1928. His ambiguities about Goan self-determination were getting better defined. His response to Colonial Act of Salazar in 1930 marked a break and a new  political stance in favour of Goa’s autonomy within India.


(Teotonio R. de Souza is the Founder-Director of the Xavier Centre of Historical Research (1979-1994). Fellow of the Portuguese Academy of History since 1983. Tweets @ramkamat)

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