He died unsung. In the present times, most do not know of his contribution to the present day Goa. He visualized what would happen to Goa 50 years back. In those years along with his tirade for the underprivileged, he fought to preserve the ecology and environment. Today there are movements to preserve the greenery and the countryside of Goa. He lit the spark then, the fire is still on. He lived in times when movements shaped the country and the society.
Fr Braz Conceiçao Faleiro had no formal degree in architecture, but called himself a “glorified mukaddam”. He supervised the construction of the Institute of Management at Bhubaneswar in Odisha, Jesuit House in Panjim and the Pedro Arupe Institute in Raia. He was a builder not only of concrete or institutions but also a mukaddam to safeguard the greenery and champion the cause of the underprivileged of Goa.
Fr Braz was one of a kind–different from others, because he dared to swim against the tide of his times. His support of the unprivileged like the Ramponkars and his fight against all odds for social justice saw that he went beyond his calling of being a spiritual leader. He was a guru to Matanhy Saldanha and Christopher Fonseca, the former who was then a school teacher and the latter a student. He decided to join the Society of Jesuits at the young age of 18 and remained faithful to his vocation till he passed away at the age of 86 on 14 May 2023.
Goa has witnessed a number of social movements. Zuari-Agro Chemical and the Nylon 66 Anti-Pollution Movement, Ramponkar struggle, Student’s Agitation, SEZ (Special Economic Zones). Anti-Regional Plan movement and the anti-mining struggle. The Ramponkar Movement was basically the struggle between the traditional fishermen who owned boats against the mechanised trawler owners, supported by the Government of the day. Fr Braz was well known in the social action groups of this period, as he spearheaded these movements. He was a common face in morchas and spoke at public meetings fearlessly! This resulted in police beatings which resulted in five stitches on his leg and ultimately landed him in prison.
Fr Braz even signed up to work with the refugees in East Timor.
Late Dr Sharon D’Cruz in her article entitled, ‘One sea... Three contenders: The struggle between the Ramponkars, Trawler Owners and the Government in Goa, has written what was reported in the then local dailies. When the bill was unanimously passed by a voice vote of all the MLA’s as the Marine Fishing Regulation (Amendment) Bill of 20 July 2000 that extended the monsoon ban on fishing from 1 June to 25 July, the very next day a truckload of prawns were delivered to the Secretariat and each MLA was given a 3 kg bag of prawns! The movement for the rights of traditional fishermen continues to dog us even today!
The Jesuits have a history of having inspired many non-violent social movements to help the unorganised, especially of the Central Indian tribes. It was the non-violent movement led by the Jesuits Savari Muthu of the Hazaribag province, Dharamsheel Kujur and Cyprian Ekka of the Ranchi province that guided the tribals of the hills of Netarhat to safeguard the displacement of 252,853 persons and 245 villages. This was against the acquisition of forest land for the building of a Field Firing Range Project of the Indian army. On March 23, 1994, about 1,000 men and women sat in front of the armoured vehicles and forced the army to retreat.
The second successful people’s movement was against a hydro power project in the Gumla district of Ranchi province, guided by the Xavier Institute of Social Service–a premier B School in the country. The Jesuit leadership was of Michael Van den Bogaert, Christopher Lakra and Alexius Ekka. There was no resettlement and rehabilitation policy (R & R) even though the project was in progress. The public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court, resulted in the suspension of the project. In 2010, the cabinet cancelled this project.
There are many such examples of Jesuit inspired people’s movement, like in the Dumka Raigang Province against the use of tribal land for coal mining.
Jesuits Tom Kavalakatt and PA Chacko led this movement. In this movement a dynamic social activist Sr Walsa John was murdered in 2011.The fight still goes on…Everyone remembers Fr Stan Swamy, the ex-Director of the Jesuit run Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, from 1975 to 1986 and who in the sunset of his life worked relentlessly to safeguard the land of the tribals. The JESA (Jesuits for Social Action), of the Central Zone Provinces in India are taking forward the work of the justice mission for the tribals.
Fr Braz taught in Our Lady of Grace School, Bicholim. It was here that he saw poverty first hand as some of his brightest students could not afford education. He promptly decided to organise the mine-workers of Bicholim. He mentored and was proud of his student Amrut Kansar, who was then in Std VIII. He went on to be a Parliamentarian and a well-known social activist. He always stood steadfast to the principles of his mentor and the mentor was very proud of his disciple.
In an interview with Fredrick Noronha, Fr Braz fondly referred to Matanhy Saldanha when he was in his 20’s, as a “political animal”, but his later ‘betrayal’ was never forgotten. He felt let down by his disciple. I am reminded of George Fernandes who also switched sides much later in his life, became a minister and betrayed his lifelong socialist friends. The Socialist International never forgave him. One can imagine the fall from grace when one’s own comrades disown you!
I have fond memories of meeting Fr Braz for programmes either in the Xavier Centre of Historical Research or the Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendra. He had the ability to effortlessly hold a running conversation with strangers. His pet topic was always politics and social justice. He would find commonalities, like the moment he knew the person was in the field of education, the conversation would be spiced with his rich experiences in the school at Bicholim. In short nobody felt bored when in conversation with Fr Braz.
According to Fr Anthony da Silva, the Director of Xavier Centre, “he could speak with the Chief Minister of Goa with same comfort level that he could speak to a poor fisherman”. His communication skills were par excel lance! His niece, Jessica Faleiro who delivered a well written speech at the end of the funeral mass, said that, “He had the qualities of a philosopher, lawyer, historian as well as the street smartness of someone who had fought for the causes of the common man”.
Fr Braz, however, died a loner. The active years as a crusader had taken their toll. The love and care provided by the Xavier Health Care Facility in Porvorim made his last years comfortable. He had the courage of conviction; few of us can match. An honest and righteous man is always respected even by his adversaries both in life and death. He has left behind a rich legacy of courage and determination in the area of social justice and of course to protect the very idea of Goa.
(Prof (Dr ) Sushila Sawant Mendes is an Author and Professor in History, Govt College of Arts, Science & Commerce, Quepem)