Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fr. Bismarque Dias: martyr of our times

Given the contentious nature of the issues Fr. Bismarqe Dias was fighting for it is no surprise that malicious rumours are being spread about him, that the cause of his death dismissed as accidental, and worse even born of his own negligence. One has to merely look at the backgrounds of the persons spreading these rumours to know that the inspiration lies either in the Hindutva groups, or those who seek more ’development’ in Goa.  That these rumours emerge from these two camps is, once again, no surprise. Ever since Modi has seized the reins of power it is increasingly evident that Hindutva mobilizes all manner of people to push an agenda that will disempower the very people who form the rank and file of the Hindu nationalist movement. Hindutva under Modi is geared solely to the benefit of the corporate princes who have bankrolled Modi’s rise to power.

But we would be no better than the rumour mongers if we only flung muck, albeit well-deserved, at these persons. Rather, we need to address the crux of the issue, rather than engage in non-issues. The issue therefore is: does it matter if Fr. Bismarque was killed or died accidentally? I would argue that it does not. The manner of his death itself makes no difference to the fact that Fr. Bismarque is now a martyr and a symbol for right-thinking Goans everywhere.

What makes Fr. Bismarque a martyr is not the fact that he may have been killed, but the fact that he died in the field, with his boots on. His death has left us with the sense that his was a life snuffed out, whether accidentally or by design, well before his time had come; that he left us when his promise was as yet unfulfilled. 

Fr. Bismarque is a martyr because his departure has animated us even further. His death may have deprived us of a charismatic leader, but in the upheaval that has followed his passing has demonstrated that there are many who are willing to carry his cross. This churning has also demonstrated that these followers are not entirely lacking in the persons willing to lead them forward.

Indeed, like many martyrs, Fr. Bismarque’s passing has made us aware of the larger problems with the system that we need to fix if Goa,  Bismarque’s beloved, is not completely laid to waste. Take, for example, the facts shared by the leaders of the movement for justice for Fr. Bismarque. A complete forensic evaluation cannot be completed in Goa because the state does not have an equipped laboratory. In what must surely be a bad joke, the state of Goa has an empty building with some amount of equipment recently arrived. Nor has there been an appointment of skilled staff to effectively make use of this equipment As Caroline Cola├žo, one of the lawyers following the case lamented that a state ought to have had this infrastructure in place, especially in the scenario where crime rates are increasing. To ensure that these rates are kept down it is imperative that justice is quickly served. Unfortunately, not only does policing seem to be lax in our state, but we lack the essential systems necessary to maintain basic law and order.

The biblical lesson that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” highlights that the human body is a poor vehicle for the spirit it bears. There is often much that we would like to do, but are unable to undertake because of the limitations of our physical frames. When trapped within his physical frame Fr. Bismarque was able to undertake a variety of activism spread across the face of Goa. And yet, even he would have acknowledged that his actions were not enough. Goa, which was once a simpler place, is no longer innocent, and the forces that threaten us are overwhelming.  The fact that Fr. Bismarque’s death is being used not only to address the issues that he addressed in life, but to take on issues that he did not have the physical capacity to do is testament to the power of his death. This is the mark of a martyr, where death does not simply mean an end, but the seed for work in the future.

There is another manner in which Fr. Bismarque has achieved martyrdom.  Before it was imbued with religious meaning, the word martyr was used to identify one who has given witness. As we all know, Fr. Bismarque’s relationship with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Goa was somewhat troubled. Various restrictions were placed on him such that people have often come to the belief that he was not a priest anymore.  This is, however, not true. The teaching of the Catholic Church, however, is that once consecrated, one is a priest for life until actively laicised by papal decree. This was not the case with Fr. Bismarque. On the contrary, through his daily actions, where he poured out his time and energy for others, Fr. Bismarque gave witness to his faith, both as a Christian and as a priest. In his dying while actively involved in what he clearly saw as his mission, he has died a martyr. If his death is established to have been caused by murder his passing will only bring us more grief, it will deepen our commitment to see justice done; it will not, however, take away from the fact that he died a martyr.

Thank you for your music Fr. Bismarque.

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo on 13 Nov 2015)

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