The body of Bismarque Dias — who had been protesting against a string of controversial, land intensive projects across Goa — was found in the Mandovi river on Saturday. Dias, who was a priest with the Roman Catholic order of Blessed Sacrament Fathers until a few years ago, was found more than 24 hours after he was reported missing. Krishna Sinari, police inspector in charge of Old Goa police station, said police were looking for Dias since Thursday after they found his clothes, mobile phone and other personal effects at the river bank.
Father Bismarque Dias
Police says they have recorded the statements of two youth, one of them said to be a minor. They claim they were partying by the river bank and drinking beer with Dias. The autopsy has confirmed death by drowning.
Father Bismarque Dias’s first tryst with social activism came into state-wide prominence a few years ago when he opposed the Catholic Church establishment in Goa for selling a small island, Vanxim, close to Old Goa, to be converted into a resort. He was promptly expelled from the priestly ranks. In the last Goa assembly elections in 2012, he again opposed the Church’s allegedly “secretive directive” to Catholics to vote for the BJP, and himself contested the election from his native Cumbharjua constituency. During campaigning, his house had been stoned.
But that didn’t stop him or his “Catholic conscience” from opposing what he termed as dubious land sales which usually went against local agricultural tenants. In recent days, he was in the forefront of opposing the new airport at Mopa, a golf course at Tiracol and an electronics city, besides opposing some “illegal” developments in his native village, St Estevan in Old Goa. He had formed a music band, the Musical Warriors, along with Sudeep Dalvi and some others, which would hold protest demonstrations, singing songs, at the site of the disputed projects. They were to hold a protest concert on the site of the proposed electronic city in a few days time. His death has left everybody shell-shocked.
One of the most prominent NGOs fighting to save Goa has been the Goa Bachao Abhiyan (GBA). Its convenor Sabina Martins has demanded a thorough probe into his death. “He had received threats to his life and the police must find out whether his death is a manufactured incident,” she says. There are also those who see him as a bit of a Don Quixote, tilting at imaginary windmills. Madhav Chodankar, a hotelier from his native St Estevam, said, “He had this habit of getting drunk in the night and talking rubbish.”
His family members were numb with shock. His cousin, Teo Dorico D’Mello, who had lodged a missing complaint with the Old Goa police on Friday, said they suspect foul play because it’s impossible that Father Bismarque, who was a good swimmer, would drown.