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Remembering a braveheart who showed meritorious courage against Portuguese


– Harshad Tulpule

Today is the 58th Goa Liberation Day. Goa liberation was a milestone in freedom movement of India without which, India’s independence would have been incomplete. Independence of Goa was an outcome of the sacrifices of all those warriors who religiously fought against the Portuguese rule to give India a complete freedom. On the occasion of the 58th Goa Liberation Day today, let’s know about one such woman warrior, who, despite being a good housewife, pushed herself into the battleground of Goa liberation movement, Sudha Mahadev Joshi.

Sudhataai Joshi is the wife of profound scholar of Vedas and the composer of Bharatiya Sanskriti KoshPt. Mahadevshastri Joshi. In his autobiographical book ‘Atmapuran’, Mahadevshastri has narrated the story of the period when his wife Sudhatai had taken an active participation in Goa liberation movement. 

It was 1950s when Mahadevshastri and Sudhatai were living in Pune and Goa liberation movement was in full swing with Goa Congress being the leading campaigner. Mahadevshastri was passionate to do something for independence of Goa as it was his motherland. He had been appointed as the chief of the Pune branch of Goa Congress. Shastriji, along with the then Goa Congress Chief Peter Alvares proclaimed Satyagraha against the Portuguese rule on January 26, 1955. 

A few days later, when Mahadevshastri, along with other freedom fighters were to decide the next action plan, his wife Sudhatai, who was a simple housewife then, suddenly interrupted him and said, “Not you but I will lead the further campaign. You have just undergone hernia surgery and doctor has suggested you not to make exertion. So I am ready to leap into the fire. I don’t even seek your permission. My decision is final.”

This was something shocking for Mahadevshastri but it was impossible for him to convince the determined woman. Peter Alvares was pretty happy with Sudhatai’s decision. He not only welcomed her but made her the Goa Congress chief. 

When Sudhatai, along with some few other people departed for Goa on March 1, 1955 from Pune, a news reporter cautioned her that a campaigner named Tony D’souza has been imprisoned by the Portuguese for 26 years. But Sudhatai was so determined and confident that she immediately replied, “I don’t bother. Portuguese will not be able to rule here even for 26 months.”

It was April 6, 1955, when Sudhatai, for the first time, organised a session of Goa Congress in the city of Mhapusa. Sudhatai, standing on a small stage right on the road, started delivering speech. A policeman suddenly came forward and stood in front of her, pointing a gun. As Sudhatai refused to stop the speech, the policeman grabbed the script from her hand. Some 10-12 campaigners immediately hoisted Indian tricolour flag with a shout of ‘Jai Hind’. Police stoned Sudhatai and few campaigners, arrested them and took them to jail. 

Sudhatai was having to live in jail under continuous abuse by the police. On April 28, 1955, there were gathered thousands of people in Shirgaon for a fair. Among the crowd, a lady suddenly stood up and hoisted the Indian flag with the slogan of Jai Hind. Police as usual arrested her, brutally beat her and took to the same jail where Sudhatai was kept. Sudhatai’s astonishment knew no bounds when she saw the new prisoner. She was Ashatai, her full sister! Came all the way from Buldhana to take part in the campaign, Ashatai was brutally abused by the police. Sudhatai’s elder brother Ghanashyam Phadke was also caught while found involved in some underground activities against the Portuguese. Thus, Sudhatai’s entire family had jumped into the battlefield.

Sudhatai had to live in jail for four consecutive years. The condition in jail was so dirty that nobody could have thought of spending even few minutes there. The only positive thing was that Sudhatai was not alone. There were three women to accompany her. 

Six months after Sudhatai was jailed, the trial started in the court. Right on the first day of the trial, the Judge asked Sudhatai:

“Why do you want Goa to be the part of India?”

Sudhatai replied, “There is nothing like making Goa a part of India…It is an integral part of India since centuries. It is you who has made its separation. Once you are removed from this land, it will automatically become part of India.”

The Judge then pressured her to apologise and sought a promise of not coming Goa again. However, Sudhatai courageously replied, “My lord, why should I promise you of not putting my leg in Goa hereafter? It’s my motherland! I can come here and go anytime. And, you don’t need to worry about my family. At this moment, my nation is more important than family. My husband is able to take care of my children. You can give me whatever punishment you want. I will never apologise and ask for mercy.” Finally, the Judge announced a 12-year imprisonment to Sudhatai and others. 

Actually the Portuguese were supposed to keep the campaigners in a well-conditioned jail. However, one year passed but no action was taken in this regard. Sudhatai was kept in the same dirty, ill-conditioned jail with utter miseries. 

Finally, Sudhatai proclaimed hunger strike against the brutal treatment by the Portuguese. She did one intelligent thing during this time. She wrote a letter to Pt Mahadevshastri in which she wrote – “Currently I am on life”. (In literary Marathi, the word ‘life’ means water). The half-mad jailers failed to understand the hidden meaning and the letter, without getting censored, reached Mahadevshastri. Shastriji immediately got that Sudhatai had proclaimed hunger strike and not having anything other than water. He immediately informed the press and right on the next day, the news spread like wind throughout India that Sudha Joshi is on hunger strike in Goa jail. Trembled by this defamation, the jailer had to shift Sudhatai and other fighters to a new good jail at Kepe. 

Sudhatai had to live in jail for many days. One day, she got a letter from Vinoba Bhave saying, “Consider your imprisonment as a fortune and utilise your time for some good learning. We appreciate your courage.” Sudhatai got emotional by this encouragement.

By that time, an MLA raised the issue of her imprisonment in the Parliament. India’s then Prime Minister Pandit Nehru assured of her rescue. At that time India didn’t have direct relationship with Portugal. Portugal was running its regime in Goa with the help of Brazil and India was looking after Goa with the help of Egypt. Pt Nehru sent an Egyptian official to Goa for the enquiry. He met Sudhatai, talked with her and was impressed by her brevity. Finally, after four years of tough life, Sudhatai was rescued from the Portuguese clutch.

Pandit Nehru had really taken serious efforts for Sudhatai’s rescue on national as well as international level. He himself wrote to Sudhatai – “I am pretty glad that you have been freed from jail. Your hardships for nation are impossible to forget. Now take rest for few days.”

Not only Maharashtra but the whole nation greeted the braveheart for showcasing an outstanding courage. She appeared on the front pages of the leading newspapers. Government of India proposed to offer her an honourary Lok Sabha seat. 

However, Sudhatai denied it and chose to live in family, helping Mahadevshastri in his big literature work, thereby becoming an icon of a good housewife!


First Published On 19.12.2019