2009-07-14 05:17:08 UTC
DEVIL's ADVOCATE/Frederick Noronha
There's no point getting defensive about the realities of the
past. But what happens if these 'realities' are not quite
accurate, and, in fact, based on a whole lot of myth?
Goans have long debated the Inquisition. Once again, a debate
broke out in cyberspace about this very aspect of Goa's past,
and, as usual, brought up a whole lot of defensive responses,
I've long wondered over the identity and ideology of a small
set of people who have shaped the globe's understanding of
the Goa Inquisition. Recently, because of such recurrent
debates, one ran into more critical views that challenges
our traditional understanding of the Inquisition. This only
made one more puzzled.
About Anant Kakba Priolkar, it is a bit of a puzzle to
understand the man and his ideas. It was he who played the
most important role -- at least in the sub-continent -- in
shaping our understanding of the Inquisition. Priolkar wrote
around the 1960s, quite some time ago, and often in Marathi.
I wish I had been more fluent in that language!
Priolkar's book "The Goa Inquisition: The Terrible Tribunal
for the East" was published in 1961, and printed at the
Bombay University Press (Fort, Bombay). It was reprinted in
Goa this year. In between, the Hindutva-oriented Delhi-based
Voice of India press also published a second impression in
1991. To look at the VoI's ideology, google for a list of
books published by it, or check the Geocities page here 
Historian Dr Teotonio R de Souza writes:
A.K. Priolkar was a Bombay-based Goan Saraswat
Brahmin who produced literary output as linguist
and historian in the 1960s. His research served
to buttress pro-Marathi and pro-Hindu interests.
he emphasized the excesses of [the] Inquisition
and the cultural backwardness of Goan Christians
and their Conkani 'dialect'. He reserved to
Marathi the distinction of being the true literary
and cultural language of Goa.... I wish to classify
this type of writings as "Priolkar-Angle
One may not agree with some of the categorisations above, but
there's hint enough about the interest-groups who give
current-day fuel to the Inquisition flames. (The Angle being
referred to is Prabhakar Angle, another writer who didn't
mince his words and spoke out his feelings on a number of
issues, from economics to culture and inter-community
In his book, Priolkar relies heavily on the accounts of
Buchanan and Dellon, the latter who was caught up in the
Inquisition. Who were these persons, really?
Dig a little and one finds that Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815)
was "a Scottish theologian, an ordained minister of the
Church of England, and an extremely 'low church' missionary
for the Church Missionary Society."  Nothing wrong with
that, of course, as every man has the right to hold his
But for more interesting insights, you need to go here .
Keep reading around these pages, as it's not easy to
capture the essence of a book in a few cut-and-paste
Buchanan apparently had a problem with anything that didn't
fit in with his own views on religion.
We learn, among other things, that Buchanan "resorted to a
simple juxtaposition to demonstrate the superiority of
rational Christian life to a morally repugnant Hindu culture.
Christianity and Hinduism were [to him] inverse reflections
of one another, but Christianity had demonstrated its effects
and the civilizing power to overcome all the crimes and
superstitions that tormented India."
His "encounters" while touring India are interesting too. He
meets native Syrian Christian communities along southwestern
India's coast, who trace their lineage to a legendary
first-century visit by Jesus' own apostle, Thomas. Buchanan
wanted to see the Syrian branch transplanted on the Church of
England. He visits Roman Catholic populations in the south,
and is shocked to find priests "better acquainted with the
Veda of Brahma than with the Gospel of Christ".
His encounter with the Inquisition is described from page 91
onwards of the book Was Hinduism invented?  by Brian
Kemble Pennington. As Priolkar mentions, he visited Goa at
the time when British troops were stationed here. (Or, in
Priolkar's words, "The forts in the harbour of Goa, were then
occupied by British troops [two King's regiments, and two
regiments of Native infrantry] to prevent its falling into
the hands of the French.")
Author Brian Kemble Pennington says Buchanan's "resulting
account of Catholicism in India included not only clerical
abuse, empty ritual, moral laxity, and papal tyranny, but
even a hint of human sacrifice." Interestingly, Buchanan was
"not less indignant at the Inquisition of Goa, than I had
been with the temple of Juggernaut" (sic)
These are fine individuals through whose eyes we rely on to
understand our past (or to play political games in the
David Higgs (in 'The Inquisition in Late Eighteenth-Century
Goa', in Goa; Continuity and Change, edited by Narendra K.
Wagle and George Coehlo (sic), University of Toronto 1995)
gives us another perspective when he acknowledges the role
Priolkar's 1961 study played in shaping the debate.
Higgs writes: "Priolkar drew heavily on secondary sources in
his sketch on the Goan Inquisition, especially on a late
seventeenth-century Frenchman, Gabriel Dellon, arrested in
Goa, whose case was made famous by the denunciatory account
of his experiences published after his return from France."
He calls Dellon's version an "exuberant account of his
misfortunes." Likewise, Higgs points out, Priolkar also used
the "over-imaginative account of a British clergyman, C.
Buchanan, who wanted to think that what he was not allowed to
see in Old Goa in 1808 was what Dellon inveighed at more than
a century earlier."
I see no reason why current day debates/battles in Goa should
be fought through the biases of North European colonisers
versus Southern European ones. The long-time (and often
unfair to the latter) Christianity-versus-Judaism bitterness.
The Protestant-versus-Catholicism tug-of-war and more.
And Hindutva's post-1925 attempts to score points against
The Other at any cost whatsoever.
Both Buchanan and Dellon get quoted copiously in Priolkar's
In the book 'Histories of heresy in early modern Europe' ,
author John Christian Laursen writes:
From the moment it appeared, Dellon's work aroused
great interest by reason both of its content and of
the discursive and exotic nature of the
Jansenists and Gallicians found here an
illustration of the brutality and hypocrisy of the
judicial processes of the Holy Office.
Pro-Protestant and anti-Spanish Frenchmen who
abominated the Inquisition -- whether Spanish or
Roman -- for a variety of political and religious
reasons were also avid readers of Dellon's work.
Accused of pro-Calvinism, but above all identified
with the Gallican policy championed by Louis XIV,
to whose court Dellon had been admitted, the text
was subject to a variety of interpretations and
underwent significant alterations in the course of
the author's revisions.
So, who's taking up this strong language of polemic and using
it for today's purposes? When you come across counter-views
that challenge past perspectives and claims on the
Inquisition, it's time for a re-think. More so when we have
ample documentation  about the Black Legend created (for
instance, by the Dutch about the Spaniards, their rivals) in
centuries past, due to colonial and religious rivalries.
 See, 'The Inquisition: Another Point of View'
First published in Herald, Goa.