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The Paravars: Chapter 9 – Seeking Help from the Portuguese


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 8 – Arrival of the Portuguese in India

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Afonso de Albuquerque (1453 – 1515), Captain-Major of the Seas of Arabia, second governor of Portuguese India, First Duke of Goa. (Source – Palácio do Correio Velho)

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In 1509, Afonso de Albuquerque was appointed the second governor of the Portuguese possessions in the East. In 1510, he defeated the Bijapur sultans with the help of Timayya, on behalf of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, leading to the establishment of a permanent settlement in Velha Goa (or Old Goa). From then on, the Southern Province, also known simply as Goa, became the headquarters of Portuguese India, and the seat of the Portuguese Viceroy who governed the Portuguese possessions in Asia.

A new fleet under Marshal Fernão Coutinho arrived with specific instructions to destroy the power of the Zamorin of Calicut. The Portuguese captured Zamorin’s palace and destroyed it and set the city on fire. Zamorin’s forces rallied to kill Coutinho and wound Albuquerque.

In 1513, the wounded Albuquerque relented and entered into a treaty with the Zamorin of Calicut to protect Portuguese interests in Malabar. The Zamorin and the Portuguese signed a treaty giving the Portuguese the right to trade as “they pleased“.

At this point in history, one of those curious figures,  unimportant in themselves,  by whom at a given point the course of history would be changed stepped on to the stage.

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Dom João da Cruz

In 1513, as part of the treaty, the Zamorin sent a fifteen-year-old young Chetti as his agent to the court of King Manuel in Lisbon. Some writers claim that this youngster was a Nair and a relative of the Zamorin. The young man spent three years (1513-1516) in Lisbon and learned to read and write Portuguese. He became popular with King Manuel. and he got baptised with the name Dom João da Cruz. On March 12, 1515, he was knighted, made a fidalgo (a noble), and along with the title of nobility received the habit of the Order of Christ and a life grant that went with it.

Sometime between 1515 and 1518, hostilities were renewed when the Portuguese attempted to assassinate the Zamorin.

João da Cruz returned to Calicut from Lisbon in 1516. The Zamorin dismissed him from his service as he had changed religion and appropriated some properties of da Cruz.

At that time, private trade was thriving in the Portuguese settlements. To earn his livelihood by trading, da Cruz obtained a loan of 7400 pardaos from the Portuguese feitoria of Calicut. Since he occupied a privileged position as a knight of the Order of Christ, he received the necessary licences to export pepper and ginger to Portugal for three years till the Portuguese crown officially monopolized spice trade in 1520.

In 1521, the ship carrying his cargo drowned and he was unable to repay his loans.

In 1525, the Portuguese crown gave João da Cruz permission to send 100 quintals of pepper and 30 quintals of ginger to Cambay.

From 1516 until this time the Zamorin had extracted 35,000 pardaos from  João da Cruz for becoming a Christian in Portugal.

João da Cruz shifted his residence from Calicut to Cochin probably against the background of the strained relationship between the Portuguese and the Zamorin. In Cochin, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Portuguese for not having paid back the loan, which then came about 4000 pardaos.

However still hopeful he placed certain requests before the Portuguese crown that would safeguard his entrepreneurial activities, and which would ultimately help him to improve his financial position. In one of his letters, he expresses a variety of desires:

  1. The post of captain and factor of Quilon, which, if conferred upon him, would enable him to prevent pepper-smuggling to Vijayanagara kingdom;
  2. The monopoly right of selling horses to Rey Grande (king of Cape Comorin), to the king of Travancore, to the kingdom of Tumbichchi Nayak and to the kingdom of Vettumperumal who resided in Kayattar and the neighbouring principalities which were involved in wars with Vijayanagara and Bijapur;
  3. The office for collecting the tribute of the Pearl Fishery Coast which was lying in the territory of Rey Grande (king of Cape Comorin).

The Portuguese crown granted João da Cruz only his second request.

In the first quarter of the 16th century, the Paravars of the Pearl Fishery Coast paid a small tax to the state for permission to scour the deep for pearls. This contribution which was paid to the Pandya kings till then came to be shared by the two powers between whom the coast was divided namely King Chera Udaya Martanda, the king of Travancore who annexed the southern half of the coastal territory and the Vanga Tumbichi Nayak, who possessed himself to the north.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, the Paravas had to contend with the demands of a variety of rulers. Both the Chera and the Pandiya kings were not far away. The king of Vijayanagar still claimed a rather shadowy sovereignty as far as Cape Comorin, though effective power was exercised by Visvanatha Nayakar, who from the city of Madurai claimed dominion over the northern villages of the Paravas. A new crisis appeared on an already complicated scene with the arrival of a race of Moors (Arabs) who made the ancient port of Korkai their headquarters. These Moors who had considerable experience in pearl-fishing started monopolising the traditional pearl harvesting trade of the Paravars. They converted many Paravars to Islam and married Paravar women.

In 1516, the tax dues for the Pearl Fishery were farmed out by a Muslim who became the virtual master of the coast. This personage must have been a descendant of Takiuddin Abdur Rahman (See The Paravars: Chapter 5 – The Pre-Muhammadan Period). Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese factor at Cochin in the early sixteenth century mentions in Volume II of his book “The Book of Duarte Barbosa“:

A wealthy and distinguished Moor has long held the farm of the duties levied on seed-pearls. He is so rich and powerful that all the people of the land honour him. as much as the King. He executes judgment and justice on the Moors without interference from the King.

The fishers for seed-pearl (the Hindu Paravars) fish all the week for themselves save on Friday when they work for the owner of the boat, and at the end of the season, they fish for a whole week for this Moor, whereby he possesses a great abundance of seed-pearl.

The Portuguese managed to wrest out a share of the profits by way of a tribute from the local kings against threats of attack.

In 1523, Joao Froles, appointed as the first captain and Factor of the  Pearl Fishery Coast was sent to Tuticorin to take control of the area. All dwellers on the Pearl Fishery Coast became aware of the new power that had emerged in their midst.

Joao Froles succeeded in farming out 1,500 cruzados as the tax dues for the Pearl Fishery for a year. The Muslims who couldn’t farm out that much retaliated by attacking the poor Paravars. In consequence, the Portuguese had to maintain a flying squadron to ward off the attacks of the Muslims.

From 1527, the Hindu Paravars were being threatened by the privateers of the Zamorin of Calicut aided by the offshore Arab fleets, the local Tamil Muslim Paravars, and by the Rajah of Madurai who wanted to wrest control of Tirunelveli and the Pearl Fishery Coast from the hands of the Rajah of Travancore. In due course, the Rajas themselves joined the Moors, anticipating great advantages from the pearl trade which they Moors carried on, and from their power at sea.

In 1528, following a defeat of the Moors by the Portuguese, retribution had to be paid to the Portuguese. The Muslims coerced the Hindu Paravas to pay additional tributes during the pearl fisheries. Soon the oppressed Hindu Paravars were reduced to virtual slavery, and for the first time in history, the Paravars lost their right over the pearl fishery.

In 1532, during a pearl fishery near Tuticorin, a Muslim man taunted a Parava woman selling homemade savouries. She went home immediately and told her husband of what happened. The enraged husband accosted the Muslim. During the ensuing brawl, the Muslim cut off an earlobe of the Parava who wore large ornaments on his ears.

This incident provoked the Paravars who felt that the honour of the entire Parava community compromised. After some days of secret plotting, the Paravars without warning attacked the Muslim quarters of Tuticorin. The rest took off from the city for their lives and committed themselves to their little boats. These events sparked off a civil war between the Paravars and the Muslims.

According to a report dated December 19, 1669, written by Van Reede and Laurens Pyh, respectively Commandant of the coast of Malabar and Canara and senior merchant and Chief of the sea-ports of Madura:

“they (the Paravars) fell upon the Moors, and killed some thousands of them, burnt their vessels, and remained masters of the country, though much in fear that the Moors, joined by the pirates of Calicut, would rise against them in revenge.”

The revenge of the Muslims was terrible. The Muslims of the neighbouring towns joined the fracas. The rich and mighty Muslims then swore to exterminate the Hindu Paravars. They collected an army, made an alliance with all the petty rulers of the neighbouring areas who were dependent on the Viceroy of Madura, and advanced against Tuticorin by land and sea. The Nayaks of Vembar and Vaipar, far from joining this confederacy with the Muslims, defended the Paravar territories.

The Muslims offered a bounty of five panams per Paravar head to the mercenaries most of whom belonged to the Maravar caste.

The gold coin called panam was of light 15-carat gold. It was the main monetary medium used for exchanges in Calicut, Cannanore and Cochin, where 19 panams formed one Portuguese cruzado.

The Paravars of Tuticorin and its vicinity were pitilessly massacred on this occasion. The persecution lasted for some considerable time. As the heads of Paravars piled up, the bounty paid to the mercenaries was reduced to one panam.

The Hindu Paravas had nowhere to go and were in a dire situation with no hope for the future. Some writers feel that a little exaggeration can be seen in these accounts since the Muslims who had the pearl fisheries under their control needed the Hindu Paravars to eventually go out to sea and continue with their occupation and pay them the taxes for harvesting pearl oysters.

The Hindu Paravars were much in fear that the Moor pirates of Calicut might help the local Paravar Muslims to take revenge on them. In this situation, the Paravars thought of the Portuguese, the new power that had mushroomed amidst them, and seek their protection.

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Next: The Paravars: Chapter 10 – Conversion to Catholicism

Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 8 – Arrival of the Portuguese in India

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Map - Goa to Jaffna
Map – Goa to Jaffna

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In March 1686, Joseph Vaz left Goa secretly and set out on foot to go to Ceylon without informing anyone. However, he obtained the blessings of his Prefect and the Cathedral Chapter of Goa.

Father Paulo de Souza, Brother Stephen, accompanied Joseph Vaz along with his loyal domestic servant John.

They traveled to Tellichery where people told them that the Dutch were ever vigilant and might deem Father de Souza to be a European because of his fair complexion. Moreover, Vaz noted that it would not be possible for them to land in Ceylon as a group without arousing suspicion. So, Vaz sent his two companions, Father Paulo de Souza and Brother Stephen back to Kanara.

Vaz proceeded to Cochin (now Kochi) with his servant John carrying a bag that contained sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass.

From Cochin, they traveled on a Moorish ship to Quilon (now Kollam). The ruthless captain of the ship demanded more as fare. Since they had no more money to pay the extra sum, the captain started scolding them. With great patience, they bore the affronts and the insults. The captain then seized their only possession – the bag containing the sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass. A Christian from Quilon was about to help him, but the Episcopal Governor of Cochin who was there  paid their fare.

In the 17th century, the Portuguese maintained their power in Kerala with their settlements and trade centers. They concentrated mainly on the port towns of Cochin, Calicut, Cannanore, and Quilon. In 1663 due to the Dutch Invasion Portuguese Empire declined. The Jesuits in Kerala transposed their Vaippicotta Seminary to Ambazhakad (Sambalur). The Jesuits started a house of Jesuits, Vidyapeeth (St. Pauls’ College) and a seminary for Christians of St. Thomas.

When Joseph Vaz and John reached the Jesuit College, the Jesuit priests received them cordially. They advised Vaz that if he wanted to enter Ceylon he should put aside his torn, threadbare soutane, and dress like a “coolie”. The Jesuits offered them coarse loincloth like the ones used by the slaves of the Dutch. Vaz humbly accepted their advice and the loincloth.

After reaching the Coromandel Coast, Vaz studied the Tamil language assiduously for that was the language spoken in the Northern part of the Island of Ceylon.

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View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672.  'Tutecoryn' by Philip Baldaeus, from 'Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon', Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)
View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672. ‘Tutecoryn’ by Philip Baldaeus, from ‘Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon’, Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)

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By the end of March 1687, Joseph Vaz and John reached the Coromandel Coastal town of Tuticorin captured by the Dutch in 1658. The harbour in Tuticorin was even then well known as a pearl diving and fishing centre of the Paravar community.

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'Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni' from 'La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.', published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)
‘Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni’ from ‘La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.’, published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)

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The Paravars used the thoni, one of the oldest known indigenous country sea vessels for pearl fishing. The thoni was also used to transport goods and people between India and Ceylon in the Palk Strait. So, Vaz envisaged to board a thoni from Tuticorin to go to Ceylon. But, the town of Tuticorin and the harbour were under the control of the Dutch.

In Tuticorin, Vaz met a Jesuit priest who had been his companion in the College of St. Paul in Goa. On knowing the reason for Vaz’s disguise as a coolie and to maintain the camouflage, the Jesuit priest treated Vaz like a bondservant. Whenever Vaz ventured out he went about disguised as a mendicant.

A hawk-eyed Dutch officer in charge of the harbour area suspected the furtive ways of Vaz. He presumed that, Vaz in disguise, was waiting for the opportunity to travel to Ceylon by sea. He ordered his subordinates, not to allow anyone to embark for Ceylon without his permission. However, the Dutch officer died shortly. The new officer who took charge, not knowing the reason for the order given by his predecessor allowed Joseph Vaz and John to board a thoni that set sail to Ceylon.

The thoni met with a storm and drifted away from the normal course. After several days of drifting, the vessel reached the island of Mannar. Joseph Vaz, John and the others on the vessel were reduced to skeletons for want of food.

There were many Catholics in Mannar, but Joseph Vaz was not aware of this fact. He and John begged to sustain themselves.

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Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)
Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)

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Two months later, Joseph Vaz and John were taken in a kattumaram (catamaran)  by local fishermen to the town of Jaffna, located at the Northern tip of Ceylon.

When Joseph Vaz and John landed in Jaffna, they were famished and almost half dead. Since they needed food and a place to rest, they knocked on many doors, but were chased away by almost all the Tamil households there.  Finally, a woman allowed them to spend the night in a dilapidated hut near her house.

As a result of fatigue, hunger and thirst, Joseph Vaz suffered from an acute form of dysentery. As dysentery often led to epidemics and death at that time, any form of dysentery was much dreaded by the people both in India and Ceylon. When the neighbours saw that Vaz was not even able to walk, they carried him on a litter to the nearby forest. They left the ailing man there exposed to the intemperate weather and to the mercy of the wild animals.

John looked after his master, day and night. During the day, he went to the town and begged for food to feed the sick man. Eventually, John too contracted the disease.

Without any other alternative left for them, they prayed to God and awaited death.

Their faith was rewarded in the form of a lady who had come to the forest to gather firewood. Out of pity, she supplied them daily a bowl of kanji (broth). After some days, thanks to the kind-hearted woman, their health was restored.

However, Joseph Vaz knew that greater trials and tribulations were in store for him on the island.

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Next → Part  6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

← Previous: Part 4: Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch

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Sterlite Industries Back in Business


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its judgment upheld its interim order of May 31, 2013, and has allowed the Tuticorin Copper Smelter of Sterlite Industries to continue to operate.

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Sterlite’s copper-smelting unit in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. (PTI File photo)
Sterlite’s copper-smelting unit in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. (PTI File photo)

Based in Mumbai, India, Sterlite Industries (India) Limited, a unit of London-listed resources conglomerate Vedanta Resources is a diversified and integrated metals and mining group operating in Tuticorin, India. It has the country’s largest copper smelter which produces 30,000 tonnes of refined copper a month – or more than half of India’s total production. The company produces copper cathodes and cast copper rods for use in the transformer and the wires and cables industries. It markets its copper products directly to original equipment manufacturers and traders.

The company has diverse operations. It mines bauxite, and produces aluminum conductors and various other aluminum products; mines zinc ore, and produces zinc ingots and lead ingots. In addition to these products the Sterlite Industries produces various chemical products, such as sulphuric acids, phosphoric acids, phospho gypsum, hydrofluosilicic acids, and granulated slag.

Further, the company is involved in paper business as well as in trading gold. It markets its copper products directly to original equipment manufacturers and traders.

The Sterlite Industries’ copper smelter was commissioned in 1996. From the beginning, the plant has been mired in controversy. Originally it was planned to erect the plant in Maharashtra and Goa, but it faced severe opposition from the people there. However, the AIADMK regime under Jayalalithaa welcomed the project by allotting land at Tuticorin. Since then, Mr. V.Gopalswamy (Vaiko), the general secretary of MDMK party has protested against the project.

On March 23, 2013, massive gas leak, suspected to be Sulphur dioxide or trioxide, caused suffocation and panic around the Sterlite Copper plant between 5 am and 8 am. One Sterlite contract worker, Shailesh Mahadev, 35, reportedly succumbed to exposure to the gas. Following the alleged leakage of noxious gas, residents of Tuticorin town, New Colony, market area, Perumalpuram and SIPCOT area said they experienced sneezing and a few complained of asphyxiation.

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Following the incident, environmental activists blamed the Sterlite Industries. They staged a demonstration near Rajaji Park on Palayamkottai Road and sought the closure of the copper smelter. Officials from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Joint Chief Inspector of Factories, Revenue Divisional Officer K. Latha, and Tuticorin Tahsildar Alwar reached the Sterlite company and inspected the copper smelter unit.

TNPCB officials said a sensor in the smelter’s smokestack showed sulphur dioxide levels were more than double the permitted concentration at the time emissions were reported and had “breached limits prescribed by the Board”. TNPCB ordered the shutdown of the smelter with immediate effect until further notice.

However, Sterlite Industries denied the smelter was the source a gas leak. The smelter’s general manager of projects said there were no emissions at the time because the plant shut down for maintenance from March 21st to March 23rd was starting up after two days of maintenance, not producing copper, and high readings in the smokestack were likely a result of workers recalibrating the sensors.

Ashish Kumar, Collector of Tuticorin, said that preliminary inquiries suggested that there was a leak of sulphur dioxide.

The TNPCB issued the order to shut down the plant with immediate effect and the power utility on Friday night disconnected the power supply to the plant. We are in the process of stopping operations

The process of shutting down the plant began on Friday (March 29) night with the disconnection of the power supply to the plant.

MDMK’s general secretary Vaiko, thanked Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa for ordering closure in the interests of the public and to protect the environment.

National Green Tribunal (NGT), a fast-track court hearing the case on allowing the plant to reopen, set up an expert committee to measure emissions and check the working condition of machinery, among other things.

On May 31st, the NGT had, in an interim order, allowed Sterlite to commence operations under the supervision of the expert committee set up by the tribunal.

The expert committee submitted its report on July 10, 2013. “The emissions from all the stacks were well within the permissible limit prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board when the plant was in normal operation. … Upon stack sampling or ambient air quality monitoring, it is not being found that the industry was emitting sulphur dioxide gas or substances when the plant was in normal operation, which were in violation to the prescribed standards,” the report states,” said the report by P.S.T. Sai and Ligy Philip.

The apex environment court said further in its order that the expert committee had made certain recommendations to improve the working of the plant. It also noted that Sterlite Industries has agreed to comply with the recommendations within a time-bound schedule.

Justice Swatanter Kumar
Justice Swatanter Kumar

On August 8, 2013, the National Green Tribunal headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar suppressed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board closure notice served to Sterlite Industries. It upheld its interim orders of May 31 and July 15, which permitted the Vedanta Group’s Sterlite copper smelter factory in Tuticorin to resume full operations on the basis of the report submitted by the expert committee appointed by the tribunal. The National Green Tribunal gave its final clean chit to the Sterlite Industries’ copper smelter plant in Tuticorin. At the same time, keeping in mind the issues raised by the state pollution control board, the tribunal has issued a host of conditions which the factory must comply with. It has also set up a committee to check the health of people around Tuticorin and Sipcot industrial area in the district.

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