They are fighting a lone battle- Villagers of Saleli in Goa

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Villagers of Saleli in Goa yearn for support, but there is none coming now.

When the villagers rose in revolt on December 28, 2005 against their Khase (landlord) and the stone crusher operators, they had a reason to be angry. But now a year later, the attitudes here are complex and results stark.

After the initial hue and cry, for many, the pain of Saleli villagers stayed largely invisible, rarely touching the consciousness. Even the Saleli Anyay Nivaran Kruti Samiti established to give villagers justice and comprising of “popular” human rights activists have failed to support them, leave aside ensuring justice. With the initial euphoria over, the hapless villagers are now fighting a lonely battle. “Now, we are fighting a lonely battle, with very few people to help and support us,” said a villager N Gaonkar.

Still theirs is a tale of lives shattered, young men suddenly disappearing and families getting split due to financial problems. Now they find themselves on the crossroads. Living under grave limitations, knowing that the risks that they run are many, the villagers have started to feel the heat. Majority of them, especially men want to take the easy way out. While women like Radhika Gaonkar want to take the less travelled route, filled with unlimited struggle for survival.

Perhaps experience has taught 70-plus Radhika that this is their last chance to save themselves and the village. “If we fail now. We will never be able to raise again,” she said. This wisdom comes from the bitter experiences she has had in the past.

The story goes like this. More than 30 years ago when the powerful Khase Krishnarao Rane sold off the kaju (cashew) plantations, on which the poor villagers depended for their livelihood, to the Forest department, they had united to fight against the decision and ensure that they get their land back. But their Khase, who promised them tenancy rights and jobs, divided them. Several years later, they are still trying to get tenancy rights.

“We were illiterate then and trusted our Khase. But he never helped us. Our literate youth should never fall into the divide and rule trap. If we are united, then sooner or later our demands will be met,” opined Radhika. She and other women know it is time for them to continue the fight. If they don’t, no one ever could.

However, her brave words fail to hide the fear that has gripped the village, which is reeling under the shock of the sudden disappearance of a young man with three children. Besides, since last one year, there have been two suicides and one accidental death in the village. This has left the villagers scared and they believe that the village is under an evil influence. “Such things ought to scare us and with no help in sight, things are only getting worse for us,” said Chaya Gawas.

Moreover, they are disillusioned by the system and don’t trust it anymore. No wonder when the government officials went to inspect the stone crushing units, the women gathered and demanded, “Before you start the crushers, please throw us in the Mandovi”.

What really upsets the villagers most is that the uncertainty continues, as some people with the help of powerful local politicians indulge in divide and rule. And a walk in the village reveals a bigger and shocking reality: they have almost succeeded.

(Article appeared in Gomantak Times, Panjim Edition, December 29,2006)

(Credits: Preetu Nair GT)

One Comment

  1. Good research article

    1. Eric De Costa on January 1st, 2007 at 5:10 pm

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