Picture this: A 25-year old man, just married; driven by fervour and patriotism for our country, takes off to join the Satyagraha march from Pune to Goa – a peaceful protest to demand the liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule. The Portuguese Army opens fire on the protestors and the young man in an act of valour takes on the bullets to his chest to save his friends. His dies fighting for a Goa – an integral part of India – that is free from Portuguese imposition and evils. This act of bravery happened in 1955 on August 15th – India’s Independence.
Today, Punjab – the state in which Shaheed Karnail Singh was born – remembers his contributions in the Goa Liberation Movement every year by paying floral tributes and organising programmes where speeches are delivered extolling people to emulate this young martyr by different political parties in Punjab. But in Goa – the state he died for to liberate – he is not even mentioned by any political leader on Independence Day – which coincidentally is day of his martyrdom – in their speeches, let alone offering a floral tribute. To remember this martyr in 2015, Goa government placed his half bust statue, at the Patradevi Primary school. After that the Goa government has remained silent.
Floral tributes, half-bust statues and fiery speeches appear to be mere capitalization on the martyrs name and act of valour for political prominence; but the truth however is far graver.
Shaheed Karnail Singh was born on 9th September 1930 in the Issru village of Punjab. He had four sisters and three brothers.
The martyr was inspired at a young age by freedom fighters Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Lala Rajpat Rai. His village elders will tell you that he was a young man who would recite revolutionary songs and stage plays on great Indian martyrs. He was a patriot.
After school completing his schooling, he took up a job as a primary school teacher to meet his college expenses and supplemented his family income by working at a shop as he came from a poor economic background.
In 1955, the Goa Vimochan Sahayak Samiti which was founded in Pune gave a clarion call for the Goa Liberation Movement and invited patriotic Indians from all over the country to join the Goa Liberation Movement.
Shaheed Karnail Singh – a patriotic Indian – heeded to that call. He wanted to see Goa free from Portuguese oppression and see it as part of India. He enrolled in the Satyagraha movement.
In 1955 on August 15, large processions of members of the Satyagraha movement began to march towards the Goa border. In one such procession, Karnail Singh participated.
As the Karnail Singh’s procession reached Patradevi – a village on the Northern border of Goa in Pernem Taluka – the Portuguese army ordered firing on the unarmed Satyagrahis. One bullet hit Sahodaradevi’s arm – a young widow leading the procession from Madhya Pradesh. She collapsed to the ground holding the flag.
When Karnail Singh saw this cowardly and insensitive act of the Portuguese soldiers firing at Sahodaradevi, he rushed forward, tore his shirt and challenged the Portuguese army to shoot at him if they had the guts instead of firing at an unarmed woman.
The Portuguese shot him on his chest, Karnail Singh fell to ground and died. His martyrdom saw Goa be liberated a few years later in 1961.
The lack of respect and gratitude shown to Shaheed Karnail Singh’s act of martyrdom can be assessed from sorrows and plights of his family which is living in poverty for the last several decades. The family’s only role in the eyes of the politicians is that of an unknowing and unwilling brand ambassador on August 15th every year; to promote their political declarations and score brownie points with the people, and to be forgotten for the rest of the year.
Shaheed Karnail Singh left behind his wife – Charanjeet Kaur – a 17-year old girl he married in May 1955. His wife and sister-in-law continue to live in neediness at the martyr’s ancestral house in Issru. Only recently, Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amarinder Singh, announced a grant of Rs 2 lakh for his family. The family is yet to see the grant materialise.
Shaheed Karnail Singh in his dying moments ensured that the Indian flag be hoisted in Goa but today is family is anguished over the indifferent treatment meted out to them. Till today no political leaders has ever visited the house of the martyr personally to see for themselves the plight of the martyrs family.
In fact GoaChronicle.com has learned that the family – wife and sister-in-law – is never officially invited to attend the function paying tribute to Shaheed Karnail Singh by successive governments, they come on their own. Speeches are made praising and extolling the martyr while no one cares for the family that lives close to the location where at most times the commemoration ceremony takes place.
“I come, every year, to attend the function paying tribute to my martyred husband on my own, like I am just another person in the crowd. They have never sent an invitation to me. Even if I don’t come here it won’t matter anybody,” his wife painfully and angrily expressed.
The wife lives on Rs 2000 pension from the state government. The money is not sufficient for the family to survive.
It is interesting to note the sacrifice of the wife, who was married to Shaheed Karnail Singh at the age of 17. She decided to live with the honour of being his wife and never remarried.
Since its liberation the people of Goa have lived free from Portuguese oppression. The government remembers the freedom fighters from within the communities from Goa and has ensured the get the rightful benefits of a freedom fighters family, but it shocking that it does not accord such a status to Karnail Singh, who lost his life liberating Goa.
Today Goa as a state is progressing economically and socially as part of India because of brave-hearts like Shaheed Karnail Singh who put India and Goa before self and family; even proved it by laying down his life, but our children are not being taught about the sacrifice of this brave patriot in our books in schools. Forget about school, our ministers and MLAs do not even acknowledge his sacrifice in Goa in their Independence Day speeches.
It is sad and disturbing the value we accord to those who lay down their lives in love for the country.