March 3, 2006, Panaji (ICNS) —
Goa’s Member of Parliament in Upper House Shantaram Naik has demanded that devotees should be allowed to celebrate two annual Catholic feasts on the Anjediva Island, in keeping with the commitment made when the island was donated by the state government to the Indian Navy.
The Church of Our Lady of Springs situated on 1.3-kilometer strategic island of Anjidiva, along the West Indian coast, some 2,030 kilometers south west of New Delhi, was donated in 1991 to defense authorities for Asia’s biggest Naval base `Seabird project.’
Under the agreement of transfer, civilians would be permitted access to the island during the two days of the island feasts — February 2 and 4 October — feasts of Our Lady of Springs and Saint Francis of Assisi respectively.
Though efforts to deny access from Navy surfaced in 2002, on 10 July 2004, Rear Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Flag officer Commanding Goa area told presspersons that the Navy would continue to allow pilgrims to visit the church twice a year.
However, devotees from Goa who had ventured out on their own to distant Binga, in Karwar were stopped at the entry point, and asked to return back last year.
In 2004, Naval authorities granted access to devotees after much haggling, insisting on furnishing names of devotes, allotment of passes, but eventually permitting all devotes from Goa and refusing those from the locality, contending that under the agreement of land transfer only devotees from Goa would be granted entry.
However, the following year the island was barred for devotees.
Making a special mention in the Rajya Sabha on 1 March, Naik said that despite commitments made by the Indian Navy, devotees are not allowed to celebrate these two feasts.
He said, the Church and the chapel existing on the island were not maintained properly by the Navy.
He pointed out that even high security zones were open to the public, as a goodwill measure, on occasions like Navy Week, etc.
“Project Seabird at Karwar has been no exception, having opened its portals to the entire sundry during Navy Week for the last three years,” Naik told the Upper House, adding that peaceful celebration of two traditional feasts could also be handled, without hassle, by the concerned authorities.
“If people were allowed to celebrate the feasts, Indian Navy would be honoring the legitimate sentiments of the peace loving Catholic population of Goa,” said Naik adding that Archbishop of Goa and Daman has also written to Indian Navy on similar lines.
He demanded that the Defense Ministry direct the Indian Navy to allow celebration of the two feasts and to carry the maintenance of the church and the chapel there.
Last February, preceding the feasts, the Bajrang Dal, a right wing Hindu group, had threatened that the town of Binga would be in turmoil should Catholics be allowed access to the island.
Similar utterances were also made by Pramodh Muttalick, VHP (World Hindu Council) coordinator for South India, who declared in Karwar that if access to the island was granted to Catholics, Hindus should also be given access too because they claim that the island also had some temples.
He also threatened to storm the island with 25,000 Hindu activists.
Legend has that Goddess Arya Druga Devi was located on the island, but the Goddess sat on a banana leaf and went to Ankola.
Hindus claim that a temple dedicated to Arya Druga devi was located in the island.
However, no temple was in existence on the island after the Portuguese advent in 1498, and thereafter, even at the time Goa transferred the island to the Defense.
Father Britto D’Silva, parish priest of Saint Anne’s Church, Binga said: “The island was occupied by beef eating Arabas before the advent of Portuguese in 1498. Now, when the Goddess does not want to stay at Anjidiva, man is making her forcibly sit there.”