The Unbelievable Story of Dadra & Nagar Haveli

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    On 2nd August 1954, the small Portuguese enclave of Dadra and Nagar Haveli sandwiched between Maharashtra and Gujarat was liberated by Indian freedom fighters. While Goa, was to follow later in 1961, what is interesting is how Dadra & Nagar Haveli went into Portuguese hands, in the first place.

    How did Dadra & Nagar Haveli pass on to the Portuguese?

    In the 16th century, the Portuguese were on a roll establishing their stronghold over India. In 1510, they conquered Goa from the Adilshahs of Bijapur. This was followed by quick conquests of the northern part of the west coast of India. The Portuguese acquired Daman (1531); Salsette, Bombay, and Vasai (1534); and Diu in 1535. Within 25 years the Portuguese province stretched from Chaul on the Konkan coast to the island of Diu, which they lorded over for 200 years, until the Maratha’s came. In 1739 the Portuguese faced a near wipe-out. In the Maratha-Portuguese war in 1739, the Marathas under Bajirao’s brother Chimaji Appa captured Vasai and with it most of the Portuguese territories apart from the little towns of Daman and Diu

    Ironically, Dadra & Nagar Haveli were never a part of the Portuguese colonies in India to begin with. They actually went to Portuguese as a part of a ‘compensation package’ and remained with them through a quirk of fate!

    The Portuguese were to return this territory back to the Marathas

    Till the 1780s, the pargana or administrative unit of Dadra & Nagar Haveli were under Maratha rule. Sometime in 1772, Janoji Dhulap, the commander of the Maratha navy had confiscated a Portuguese Warship named ‘Santana’ and sunk it. The outraged Portuguese had sent an ambassador to the Peshwa’s court in Pune demanding a compensation. At this time, the Maratha court was in turmoil with several claimants to the throne. Also the first Anglo-Maratha war had ended in 1782 and the Salsette Island had been ceded to the British. The Maratha courtiers didn't want added trouble, with the Portuguese mounting an offensive against them, or worse joining forces with the British. To counter this in 1783, as a ‘friendly gesture’ the Maratha court offered the revenue from the 72 villages of Nagar Haveli as ‘compensation’ for the loss of the ship Santana. This was followed up by adding the revenue of Dadra, to the Portuguese kitty two years later. The deal was that the Portuguese would recover the cost of the sunken ship from the revenue and then return Dadra and Nagar Haveli back to the Marathas.

    No one asked the Portuguese to return this area!

    Fate however had something else in store. The turmoil and infighting at the Maratha court meant that no one actually asked the Portuguese to return these areas. So busy were they fighting within, that they forgot to claim what belonged to them. The collapse of the Maratha Empire in 1818 after the third Anglo-Maratha war, closed this chapter and these areas remained with the Portuguese all the way till 1954!

    On the night of 22 July 1954, Indian freedom fighters under the leadership of Francis Mascarenhas and Waman Desai sneaked into the territory of Dadra and took over the local police station, which had only three personnel. Soon other volunteers overpowered the Portuguese authorities and started taking over the villages. On 2nd August 1954, Silvassa, the capital was liberated and finally the Portuguese rule in these areas ended.

    In the colonial history of India, the story of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, which were literally handed over and forgotten... is truly unique!

    Cover image courtesy - The tourism website of Dadra and Nagar Haveli

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