Goa

Bloody Lords: In the heart of the Khase kingdom

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In the 18th century, the Ranes became the proprietors of the land and the villagers came under their domination. The Portuguese left but the villagers continued to be ruled by the Ranes. The ages of suppression and oppression finally raised the revolt against the Rane clan in Saleli village. Preetu Nair tries to find out why a ‘God’ fell off the pedestal.

The young Krishnarao Rane, pioneer leader of Azad Gomantak Dal, was a man who appealed to his fellowmen and rarely disappointed them. He was their King, their “God”. As a freedom fighter, he had secured for himself the love and attachment of his people, sought gratitude and won respect. He had a tender place in their hearts and was welcomed into their homes with open arms.

The villagers are still filled with tales of the young Khase, who used to hide in their homes and eat ordinary bhakri (chapatti) prepared by the village folk, during the struggle against the Portuguese rule. “Khase used to move from place to place and hide in the forests. We used to ensure that he gets food and water. Once we even hid him in our house,” revealed Devgo Gawas, a veteran of freedom fighter from the village.

However, he admits that the times were different then and Krishnarao was an altogether different man. “He was very loving towards the village folk and treated us like a friend. He used to say; “You are helping me so much, I will always remember your favour”. However, now all the promises are forgotten,” said the much-agonised man.

His frustration and anger against his “God” is evident when he added, “If the subjects are not happy, what good is the King and the kingdom.”

Just like Devgo, for long, Saleli villagers’ love for their “God” was true, sincere, pious, pleasant, gentle, strong, patient, faithful, prudent, even long-suffering. For long, they had lived on their knees and had been the “good” subjects. However, those who love too much can also hate in the like extreme, especially when they realise that their “God” has wronged them.

Even though Goa was liberated in 1961, freedom for them is as elusive as the rainbow’s end. They still find themselves in chains with torn thoughts. It is a fight for freedom from fear, freedom from oppression, freedom to live and earn. As a young boy in the village said, “Goa was liberated long back, but we feel liberated only now”.

But why did this subaltern group silently adopt the powerless and voiceless world provided to them? “Because we neither had the courage nor the strength to stand up against powerful forces. Money and power was used to suppress and oppress us. We rebelled due to our utmost need of existence,” explains Chhaya Gawas.

The villagers, mostly Nave Marathas, recollect stories of the continuous exploitation and harassment they had to endure at the hands of the landlord and his two sons. “When we complained, they beat us up. When we threatened to boycott work, they cooly said that we could leave the village as they can easily get ghattis to work for them. We are poor and no one is ready to help us, not even the village panchayat nor police” rues Rajaram Goankar.

The landlords may claim that they had always loved and helped the villagers as their own kith and kin, but reality seems different. Such was the atrocity that seven years back when few youth revolted against the Rane rule and stood for the Panchayat elections, they were threatened with dire consequences. “After that no one has dared to stand against the family,” said a villager, who refused to reveal her name.

What has hurt villagers the most is that the Rane family, whom they believed and worshipped, are depriving them of their livelihood. According to the villagers, whenever someone tried to spread their wings and reach beyond their shores, their wings were clipped.

When it became a do-or-die situation for them, thousands of villagers who had been divided and repressed for long took such a decisive trial of strength. After all, life was getting tough. The innumerable stone crushers in area, which had been given on lease by the Rane family, was responsible for pollution, bad public health and environmental problems. Many villagers were struggling because their crops were destroyed and many small-time farmers were put out of business and forced to work as a daily wage earners. Several requests from the villagers to shut down the stone crushing units fell on empty ears. The final stroke came when Prithviraj Rane (villagers called him Bhai), decided to start a stone-crushing unit.

However, the Nave Marathas’ consciousness marks a certain kind of innocence, a certain kind of fear and a certain kind of humanness when they admitted that Bhai shouldn’t have been killed. “What happened was unfortunate but how much could we bear in silence,” echoed the villagers.

Tenancy or Torture?

Originally, the Saleli Comunidade was an absolute owner of the village. And the villagers as its members enjoyed the proportional rights in the land. But the Portuguese regime apparently dissolved the comunidade and assumed the ownership, which it subsequently transferred by way of mocassos inamas (state grant or proprietorship title) to the Ranes. Subsequently, they became inheritors of the right vested in the government. Based on this, the owner of the village (Ranes) was collecting rent from the original occupiers as entitlement.
Legal experts say that the grants of this nature all over India are abolished, except in Goa. The people have become strangers in their own land as they have no papers to support any claims they may want to make. Ignorance of the law has also resulted in their sorry status.

The Law…Out law

The Rane’s were enjoying the Mocassos inamas from 1746 from the Portuguese without paying any tax in return of a favour. The Rane family have been the proprietors for nearly 300 years and owned almost all the village (800 plus square hectare) by virtue of the grant, except the areas, which are owned by the Forest department.

In the past, around 1365-odd persons (census 2001) who used to stay in the land and till it had to pay rent to the Ranes. After Goa’s liberation in 1961, a majority of the people stopped paying the rent.

Even in Form I and XIV, their names are not included as tenants. The Rane family is shown as the main occupant. Only a few educated persons were able to put their names as tenants. But majority of them are not even registered as tenants.

The villagers revealed that they had difficulty in getting a loan from the bank to build a house or start a business, as the land was not in their name. So when they approached the Ranes they would be beaten and harassed mentally and physically, revealed a youngster, who didn’t want to reveal his name.

Crushed and Conquered

As the building lobby became powerful in Goa and more and more buildings started springing up there was an urgent demand for meta-granite and meta-basalt that was found in large quantity at the Morlegad (hillock) owned by the Rane’s. This was some 15 years back. Rane’s gave the hillock on lease and started a chain of around 20 stone crushers in the area. The Rane’s grew richer, but it destroyed the peace and tranquillity of the villagers. Check this:

* The fields were destroyed. Once after a farmer complained to Krishnarao Rane that the stone crushers were destroying his cashew cultivation, he had to face dire consequences. The same night his plantation was completely destroyed by miscreants. He complained but no one listened.

* In another incident, a year back when a girl was working in the field an explosion occurred and a stone pierced her lower abdomen. She had to be immediately rushed to the hospital. “When my parents complained to khase, all he said, “Ok, she didn’t die”.

* In 2000, the course of the river also changed and the river became very narrow. Reason: the massive stone crushing in the area, the mountain had become weak and huge stones came crushing from the hill and fell in the river, probably changing its flow forever.

Finally, it was Prithviraj’s decision to install a new stone crusher very close to the village that angered the villagers and led to the uprising.

Jitendra Deshprabhu, Pernem MLA

“We are the natural protectors of the tillers and we have been naturally shielding the community. It is really unfortunate that people who have been protected have now turned against their protectors.”

Vishwajit Rane, son of Krishnarao Rane

“I had family like relationship with the villagers. We always helped them. I don’t know why they killed my brother. They have been instigated by outsiders, people outside the village”.

(Article appeared in Gomantak Times,Panjim edition, India)

(Credits: Preetu Nair GT)

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