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Inquisition System in Goa – Its structure, purpose and functioning


How was the Court of Inquisition formed? The Court of Inquisition had 2 inquisitors, both were answerable only to the King. They were appointed only by the King of Portugal. They were not answerable to the Archbishops of Goa. They were not answerable even to the Viceroy of Goa who was the highest, secular authority of Goa. They had, their appointments were from the Pope, but they were answerable only to the King. The aim of the Court Inquisition was to punish new Christians who practiced the customs and traditions of their erstwhile faiths, be it Jewish, Muslim or Hindu. It is true that the Court of Inquisition was meant for the neo-Christians who kept lapsing back to the ways of their old faith. But the Inquisition also had the powers to punish any Hindu who would stop or who was perceived as somebody who tried to stop a conversion. So a grandfather who would send his grandchild to the mainland because he didn’t want the child to get Christian instructions. That grandfather, Hindu grandfather, the Inquisitor could just arrest the grandfather and imprison him. Such Hindus were not killed, but Christians could be killed, the Jewish people who embraced Christianity could be killed, Muslims who had embraced Christianity could be killed. But these people could be tortured, they could be beaten or they could be sent off to other Portuguese colonies as slaves, the Hindus.

So, what were the offences that made neo-Christians liable to be arrested by the Court of Inquisition? You must be wondering. right? Aisa kya tha? What were the big offences? The offences were, there was an edict published by the Court of Inquisition, which list the offenses liable, there are some 56 offences. I cannot list all of them. But I will narrate some of them. The list is very comprehensive and it lists offences like distribution of veedo, which is betel leaves. So, for any auspicious function Hindus distribute betel leaves. But Hindus who had become Christians couldn’t use betel leaves in any form. If they were caught doing that they would be arrested by the Court of Inquisition. Having a Tulasi plant anywhere in their entire property, not just in the Brindavan, not just outside their homes, but in their entire property, even if was a wild growing Tulasi plant, they were liable to be arrested. Singing traditional songs called Vovio, which the Hindus used to sing in weddings, anointing a bridegroom or bride with Haldi and coconut milk as part of the ceremony, celebrating sixth day ceremony which still a big thing in Goa and Maharastra, where they say that the Goddess of destiny comes and writes the child’s future. So people used to keep a vigil when the new baby was born. So anybody who kept vigil on sixth day of birth would be liable to be arrested. Holding of a feast in the memory of their dead ancestors, i.e., shraddh, using cow dung to polish the floor or walls of their houses, cooking rice without salt, observing fasts on certain days of the week or on eclipses, men wearing dhoti, either in public or in private, attending Christian festivals or processions wearing Hindu apparel like sarees or dhotis, wearing a bindi or wearing sandalwood paste on their forehead, using Hindu musical instruments like cymbals and celebrating traditional harvest festivals like Shigmo., all of these were considered huge crimes and for any, even a single one of these crimes, you could be arrested. Now, witnesses were encouraged to denounce Christians who had relapsed into heresy. So again as I said there was no onus on the witnesses to prove anything. So if you didn’t like somebody, you could just go to the Court of Inquisition and say that, you know what? This person was seen bowing before an idol and the Court of Inquisition would come and arrest that person.

Any person could report a neo-Christian of having committed any of those offenses. The witnesses were neither required to substantiate their charge or curse the accused. In effect anybody could report anyone. The Court of Inquisition would then arrest the person, take him away from their family and immediately, the first thing that they would do is to seize all the property of that person. So part of their property would actually go to the witnesses who denounced that person and part of it would go to the Crown. Torture was used by Inquisition to obtain confessions. There were two kinds of tortures mainly, torture of pol or torture of pulleys where the victim would be suspended mid-air with weights on his feet, the weight would be increased till the victim could not bear it anymore and confessed. There was a water torture, torture of potro, where the victim was placed on a port or a kind of a slanted treadle where the head was placed lower than the body and an iron band around the throat kept the persons head immovable while tight chords cut deeply into his or her flesh. An iron prong forcibly kept the mouth open as water was poured into the person’s mouth and nose to strangle and suffocate the victim. This was repeated several times till the victim confessed. There were other tortures like putting candles in the arm pits, leg beatings., you name it. Everything was there. Women were subjected to even worse tortures, you can imagine what they were like.

The Archbishop of Avera, Portuguese Archbishop had remarked in a speech that the Inquisitors went to the length of imprisoning in his jail, women who resisted their advances and after having satisfied their bestial instincts, ordering that they may be burnt at stakes as heretics. The worse torture, the final torture was of course burning them alive at public events called Auto da fe, meaning ‘trial by fire’. These Auto da fe’s were held once a year or maybe once every two years, where people who had not confessed and people who were convicted of heretical crimes were actually burnt alive at stakes.

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