Let us reflect on the pre-liberation era. Some Portuguese men migrated to Goa without their wives. This had a significant implication on the lifestyle of Goan women. Native women were involved, maybe forced into all kinds of relationships with Portuguese men. Women did not go to school. Majority of them remained uneducated. The attitude of State, Church and society at that time was responsible for the neglect of education amongst women. A woman’s life was centered round bearing and rearing of children. Lack of education affected a woman’s culture, self-development and upbringing of children.
During the 450 years of Portuguese rule the concern for the upliftment of women gave birth to legislations which were enlightened ones and were meant to prevent gender discrimination. Hindu women from the New Conquests followed the code of customs and practices as they were more conservative and only much later opted for the Portuguese law. It was the Christian women who benefitted from the reforms by the Portuguese.
Women in Goan society enjoyed several rights before their counterparts elsewhere i.e. the right to property. On the death of her husband, the woman inherited half of the property of her husband while the children inherited the other half which was equally divided irrespective of the sex of the child. Dowry or ‘Dote’ was also given to the daughters by way of jewellery and personal belongings. But ‘Desistencia’ was used against the daughters to keep property wholly for the sons. It is very well to say that women inherited rights to an equal share in the property of her father or husband. A daughter – in – law was denied rights to her husband’s property by making her sign a prenuptial agreement whereby she agrees to forego her rights to her share of her husband’s property. The Portuguese civil code (1867) raised the age of marriage for both boys and girls. Some backward Goans would get their daughters married at the age of 12 and sons at 14 years.
Some ugly practices like ‘Sati’, tonsuring of widows, ‘Polygamy’ were later banned by the Portuguese. They introduced widow remarriage but prejudice and superstition attached to widows made only a few women opt for marriage and men were reluctant to marry widows. Polygamy though prohibited since 1567 but still persisted. Only it was made difficult by asking the man to obtain a written permission from the first wife and the state. There were double standards in society where a man could take more than one wife but a woman could not opt out of an incompatible marriage however bad, upto 1910 due to stigma and social censure.
During Portuguese times, prostitution existed and the authorities would turn a blind eye. Not only that, they have also been accused of associating with it. Prostitution was the cause of venereal diseases. Female slavery was also in existence at the time and female slaves were sexually abused by their owners too. We in Goa still follow the Portuguese Civil Code although in Portugal the code had been replaced in 1967.
Goans rightly, were so tired of the oppressive rule of the Portuguese and they decided to send them back to where they came from. The freedom movement took birth gradually in a non violent way and later was more strongly joined by the Indian freedom fighters as a result of which Goa was liberated on 19th December 1961.
In the last 50 years, Goa has made tremendous progress in the fields of education, science, infrastructure development, healthcare and others. More and more women began enrolling for the professional courses which until then were exclusively male dominated. With liberation, women began to enjoy their rights and freedom.
But certain practices which were meant for the welfare of the family like the dowry system is being misused. Dowry is now directly related to dowry harassment, torture, bride burning, suicide etc. It is one of the reasons for sex determined abortions. The ‘monster’ of dowry has reared its head to swallow women and also is a cause of the decrease in female ratio. In the past years there are several reported deaths of women in the jurisdictions of Panaji, Bicholim and Agassaim police stations.
The State government has brought in legislation to protect women from such crime. The ‘Streedhan’, the Prohibition of Dowry Act, protection of women from domestic violence, etc are the acts available for their security and safety. It is the code of practice and customs that sometimes is responsible for women and families to report such cases.
Since liberation cases of violence against women appear to be on the rise. However our oppressors could have suppressed atrocities committed against women by their soldiers. What we need to address is the dress code for the foreign women as those women have become victims of ‘ogling’ by domestic tourists. The beaches have to become safe for women tourists with regard both to their possessions and person. The indecent portrayal of women, especially on hoardings all over the state, and their portrayal as sex objects should stop!
There is a growing need to come down heavily on those trafficking in women and children for sex as well as prostitution rackets, the drug business and each and every illegal activity which is anti- women has to stop.
In the field of women empowerment, the government is doing its best, but much still needs to be done to restore the golden Goa of our dreams! A tourism policy needs to come up that would issue advisories to the tour operators with proper guidelines so as to ensure the safety of women and children in Goa.
I sincerely hope that in the next 50 years we will return Goa to its natural glory, beauty and make it absolutely safe for women and children be they tourists or natives!!