On 7 November, the Dias’s body was discovered near the sluice gate of river Mandovi in north Goa. Reportedly, the priest had gone missing on the previous day, after he had gone for a swim. Ruling out any possibility of foul play, the Goa Police stated that the death was an ‘accident’. The first post mortem report also corroborated the Goa Police’s findings. However, when relatives found injury marks on the body, incongruent to those usually found on the body of a person who has drowned, they questioned the report. Furthermore, they alleged that several observations that the panchnama made from the Father’s dead body weren’t included in detail in the first post mortem report. For instance, the findings from the panchnama noted that there was a 3 cm long and 1 cm wide depression on the right side of the forehead. It also found that about 5 cm square area below the neck was blackened.
“I was on the spot when his body was fished out of the river,” says Sudeep Dalvi, a close friend of Dias and the convener of Musical Warriors, a protest group, of which Dias was a member. “His face had a depression similar to that of a knife mark that you would see on a tender coconut. The first round of police findings stated that the priest had consumed 12 bottles of beer before he had gone for the swim. But, the first autopsy report did not reveal any trace of alcohol. I am a paramedic and I have seen enough bodies during my college days. This isn’t just a case of accidental drowning.”
Rejecting the first autopsy findings, activists and Dias’s relatives and friends came out to the streets in large numbers to hold a silent vigil against police inaction in Panaji on 21 November. Since Panaji was also hosting the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at the time of the protest, the government had imposed Section 144 in the city. To prevent the crowd from protesting, the police also beat up some of the activists. “It was quite unsettling to see how they were suppressing the protest,” says Victor Savio, an activist. The next day, newspapers across Goa noted the day as a ‘black day’ while videos showing the police brutality were widely circulated on social media.
Forced into action, Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar announced that an investigation would be conducted by the Crime Branch to probe the death of the Father. “The irony is that the CM ordered the Crime Branch to take over the case even when there was no FIR to begin with,” says Perreira. He also reveals that Dias had received death threats on many occasions for his activism. “During his election campaign, his house was vandalised by goons. However, the police did not take these circumstances into consideration when they investigated the case. Furthermore, while they collected evidence, such as those bottles that the Father allegedly drank from, they weren’t even wearing gloves.” When the Goa Police was contacted for comment, they evaded all responsibility by stating that the ‘investigation has been taken over by the Crime Branch’.
Meanwhile, the struggle to fight against the land mafia in Goa has gained momentum since Dias’s death. The people, who are dissatisfied with both the ruling BJP government and the Congress Opposition are now looking forward to create a third front so that Goa is kept away from the hands of the land mafia and their political allies. “While the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the CPM are active in Goa, grassroots activists, along with other people cutting across classes, have now come together to fight for a cause. The atmosphere is almost similar to the uprising in Delhi in December 2012 after the Nirbhaya rape case,” says Perreira.
Goa is a dreamland for investors. People from across the world eye properties in the state in a bid to have a slice of the ‘tourism’ pie. Consequently, real estate prices have soared in the past few years and the stakes are higher than ever. This has had serious repercussions for the local communities — largely the farmers and the fishermen — and the environment. While outsiders laud the state for being the ‘ultimate tourist destination of the world’, Goa has been putty in the hands of its government, which, more often than not, as Father Bismarque had pointed out on many occasions, aids the real estate mafia of the state. Given that the state government and the clergy are hand-in-glove with the realtors and ‘agents of development’, it seems that the death of Father Bismarque Dias would ultimately be the rallying force for the people of Goa.