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An "Upper" Caste System so deep rooted

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Upper caste Catholics demand special rights, threaten to reconvert

PANAJI, NOV 23: More than four hundred years after the first Catholic
was established in Cuncolim, relations between it and the upper caste
Christian Gaonkars continue to be strained. Attempts by the present
priest Soccoro Mendes to devolve administrative functions to lay
from the lower castes have resulted in him being threatened by the
The Gaonkars are village rulers since pre-historic times hailing from
kshatriya community.
In a letter to the Director of the Holy See, Jacquine Nevarro Valls, the

Gaonkars have demanded that the Pastoral Council constituting lay
parishioners comprise entirely of their members as was the practice in
past. With the Catholic Church coming down hard on the caste system
its members Mendes appointed two members from the backward castes into
Pastoral Council in January this year. Though they are less than 3,000
in a
community of 20,000 Catholics, the Gaonkars comprising twelve clansare
opposed to sharing power.
"We are under a lot of pressure from the kshatriya community to maintain
old practices," Father Mendes told The Indian Express. He has been given

police protection after he complained of threats to his life.
However, the Gaonkars insist that the land on which the Church stands
originally belonged to the community. "Though the Portuguese converted
us by
force they respected our confraternity rights," says Josico Fernandes,
spokesperson of the Gaonkars. The community has now threatened
to Hinduism if the non-Gaonkars are not withdrawn from the Council,
Fernandes said.
Incidentally, the Catholic kshatriyas of Cuncolim share a strong bond
their Hindu counterparts. The famous procession from the Shantadurga
at Fatorpa attracts equal participation from both communities.
Emancipation of the lower castes does not seem to have touched the
of the temple either. The managing committee of the temple
by the State Government comprises entirely of Gaonkars.
The dispute within the Church has also cast the spotlight on historical
events, which occurred here five hundred years ago. In 1583, attempts by
Portuguese army to convert the people of Cuncolim by force failed with
Gaonkars repelling the attack. Five Jesuit priests accompanying the
Portuguese army were killed in the skirmish. They were subsequently
beatified. In retaliation the Portuguese lured 15 chieftains of the
to Assolna fort nearby on the pretext of holding talks and massacred
The event which still stirs up passions in Cuncolim is being raked up
afresh. Gaonkars, Christian and Hindu, have set up a chieftains memorial

committee to honour the slain defenders of Cuncolim. The memorial will,
however, come up in the vicinity of a memorial for the slain priests
is venerated by the minority community. "It will surely hurt the
of Christians," says Father Mendes. He,however, feels that the memorial
the chieftains should be put up at Assolna where they were massacred.
The site of the proposed memorial is a disputed land with the Gaonkars
the descendants of a Portuguese count claiming it. A 50-year-old case in
matter is still being heard at the Quepem civil court.

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