While statues fall elsewhere, in Goa, the rise of two statues, both of the Maratha warrior king Shivaji, is keeping the government and police establishment on their toes. In less than a week, there has been a protest, a threat and a complaint lodged with the police over the statues.
It all began a year ago, when a “Hindu crowd” gathered in Hathwada, a Muslim neighbourhood in Valpoi, North Goa
district, on the night of February 18, 2017, and started shouting slogans hailing Shivaji. Police records say they had got along a brass statue of Shivaji and wanted to install it right at the centre of the traffic square in Hathwada.
Soon, residents of the neighbourhood and the crowd got into a verbal fight that ended in police “taking custody of the brass statue”. A few banners were torn and a few stones pelted in the direction of Muslim homes, but police managed to disperse the crowd and send everyone home.
Early morning on February 19, 2017, people woke up to see a new statue of Shivaji at the main junction in Hathwada, a locality with a sizeable Muslim population and whose ring road is lined with homes of Catholics and Hindus.
The statue, police records state, “must have been erected at 2.30 am”. When police went around asking “familiar faces in the crowd” who installed the statue, all over Valpoi they got one answer: “must be a Shiv premi”. A complaint was filed against “unidentified persons”.
No one came owning the statue and no one knew how, by5.30 am that day, Shivaji was riding his horse in the middle of a traffic junction. A probe by the Valpoi Municpal Council, backed by a police report, then identified the statue to be “illegal”.
“We thought ahead. One stone.or any scratch to this new statue and our homes would be the first to be attacked. We are a very peaceful neighbourhood. Hindus, Muslims and Catholics live here in peace,” recalls Menino Fernandes, a retired sailor who was one of the first to see the new statue early that morning last year.
By afternoon that day, Fernandes recalls, Muslims too joined hands realising that the statue in such close proximity to their neighbourhood was “sensitive” and had to be a “political move”. The previous night’s events were seen as “apt history” and none ventured near the statue.
“We knew we had to move fast… before someone put a saffron flag on the new statue, before a religious colour was added. We had to stake claim (to Shivaji) and say he is our ruler too,” recalls Fernandes, who, with the backing of a priest and “like-minded Catholics”, went to meet his “Muslim and Hindu friends”.
“We didn’t use any propaganda and we worked fast, and together made a committee called Shiv Jayanti Utsav Committee,” he recalls, adding that the agenda was to fight for a “better Shivaji statue” than the one at the traffic junction.
Soon, the “Muslim-Hindu-Catholic” group was made official with equal participation from all sects and faith, with names such as Fayaz, Abdullah and Noor in the top hierarchy.
They soon hit upon an idea. Hathwada already had a decade-old, two-foot Shivaji statue inside the Valpoi Garden, 800 meters away from the Hathwada traffic junction.
“We quickly proposed a taller Shivaji statue in place of the small Shivaji statue inside the garden. A resolution was passed in the Municipal Council, of removing the statue at traffic junction only after a new one was installed in the garden,” says Sayyad Sarfaraz, member of the Shiv Jayanti Utsav committee and vice-chairperson of the Valpoi Municipal Council.
“Community outreach” and funding by residents of the locality ensured that a new, taller Shivaji statue was brought to Hathwada.
On February 19 this year, exactly a year after the statue came up at the traffic junction, the weathered statue of Shivaji in the garden was replaced with a taller, 12-foot statue. The event, “a fully-funded ceremony”, was attended by all the councillors from Valpoi, the sarpanches of all villages in the sub-district of Sattari and several religious heads.
A week later, on March 3, the government, after imposing Section 144 (no gathering of five or more persons), removed the statue at the Hathwada signal. “No one was allowed to take pictures or videos,” says an official who monitored the removal of the statue.
But matters didn’t end there. Now, a different group has come forward, officially calling itself “Shivpremi” and challenging the removal of the statue at the junction. The local Shiv Sena unit has backed them and filed a “complaint of theft”.
Cynthia Mesquita, Chief Officer of the Valpoi Municpal Council, whose office probe had held the statue at the signal to be illegal, says, “Now, when there is a new statue, a few people want the old one back. What is wrong with the new statue? If you love Shivaji, then you should love his statue inside a garden too.” Mesquita’s office maintains the garden.
Police are still probing Mesquita’s complaint from last year when she walked into Valpoi Police station at 8 pm, after the initial brass statue was taken into custody, and said no permission had been taken to install the statue at the junction.
While ‘Shivpremi’ is busy dispatching complaints to the office of Collector, Deputy Collector and Goa Police against Mesquita, the Shiv Jayanti Utsav group is busy too. “We are working to declare February 19 as Valpoi Peace day. It started with a statue, it should end with a statue. A taller Shivaji is always good,” says Fernades.
The Shivpremi group says things are not that simple. “Last year, when a brass statue was brought, only the Muslims had problems. They tore our banners – they will not tell you that. Shivaji was a ruler of all communities and religion. His sardar was a Muslim. Why then do they have a problem,” asks Dashrath Mandrekar, a journalist and a spokesperson for the group.
“Also, we don’t want our Shivaji inside a garden. Nobody goes to gardens these days. A traffic signal is more public. In fact, they are asking us why do we want two statues of the same leader. I would say we want Shivaji statue to be made compulsory at every house in Goa. His values are relevant today, even more so because of this incident,” he adds.
Mesquito is undetered. “They are claiming they installed the statue officially in the presence of government officials. But we have official correspondence from the office of the collector and police to get it removed. Where have you heard of a statue being istalled at 2 am? Where have you heard of a king (Shivaji) who likes traffic? We have a given him a garden. This year, the garden maintenance committee is going to make sure we have flowers, roses.”