Despite Goa being liberated from the Portuguese rule way back in December 19, 1961, the Goans who spent most of their life under the foreign regime expressed a complete sense of freedom on August 3, 1991. What was it that though politically liberated, many Goans felt emotionally attached to Portugal for 30 long years? The answer lies in one word – Jewellery (most of it in Gold).
With land not fetching that high price as it does now and Goan economy mainly depended on agriculture, those in need of loan mainly depended on moneylenders or the banks who would lend them money against family jewellery. Well-known Goan writer Carmo Azevedo has penned down an interesting narration how the pledged jewellery was taken to Portugal on a ship named ‘India’. According to Azevedo, as the Indian government moved its armed forces towards the Goa borders in an operation to liberate Goa on December 12, 1961, the General Manager of the braches of Portuguese Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU), Jorge Esteves Anastacio was summoned by the Portuguese Governor General, Manuel Antonio Vassalo e Silva. It was with the BNU that the Goans had pawned their ancestral jewellery.
In the wake of the movements by Indian army Anastacio was asked to ship whatever he thought was best in the interest of the bank to Portugal. Wasting no time, on December 13, 1961, he packed all the jewellery deposits and shipped it across to Portugal, five days prior to the attack by the Indian army. A mention of assets taken to Lisbon was made in the Goa, Daman and Diu Bank’s Reconstruction and Regulation Act, 1962.
It was in the year 1977, the Member of Parliament from South Goa, Eduardo Falerio brought up the issue of the jewellery belonging to Goans lying with Lisbon. Former external affairs minister himself in the PV Narshimha Rao government, Falerio followed took up the issue with the concerned authorities from time to time. It was finally in 1991, the Portuguese ambassador told him that the gold can be returned back to the Goans, the protocol for which was signed during Falerio’s stint as the Union External Affairs Minster.
Finally, on August 3, 1991, the much awaited jewellery sealed into 5,584 packets landed at Dabolim airport. What followed in the coming days was one sight to watch out for. The gold packets were assigned to the State Bank of India, who paid BNU $47,384 in return. For several months, the SBI branch situated opposite the famous Mandovi River witnessed senior citizens coming up with the original receipts issued way back during the Portuguese regime to reclaim their pricey possession. It was a sight no less then meeting a near and dear one, who had returned back home after several years of separation. Later, those who could not locate their original receipts but could prove their identity were also handed back their ancestral jewellery. The bank then collected the principal amount borrowed but did not charge any interest while handing back the treasure.
SBI on their part continued to advertise in the local papers asking people who had deposited their jewellery with BNU to come forward with their claims. Portugal had with them total 6,531 sealed packets of jewellery out of which 5,584 were returned back to Goa. The balance, 947 were collected by Goans personally going to BNU headquarters in Lisbon. It was one great homecoming!