Renovated Goa heritage prison to immortalise Ram Manohar Lohia, ‘the lion of Aguada’

Fiery socialist leader and freedom fighter, Ram Manohar Lohia’s renovated prison cell in Goa, at the once dreaded Fortaleza da Aguada (Fort Aguada) would take centrestage, when Goa’s latest tourism avenue, the renovated heritage prison and a museum complex, is unveiled in March this year.

A life-size statue of the Faizabad-born Lohia, whose clarion call on June 18, 1946, lent urgency and impetus to Goa’s freedom struggle against centuries’ old colonial rule, would be installed in the Aguada Jail complex, which is being refurbished on the lines of the Cellular Jail complex, where freedom fighter Veer Savarkar was imprisoned in the Andaman & The Nicobar islands.

Speaking to IANS, veteran freedom fighter Nagesh Karmali, who was also jailed in the 17th century-built prison — a feared incarceration centre during the colonial times — said that Lohia was kept in solitary confinement for nearly a fortnight after his arrest in 1946, following the addressing of a public meeting in South Goa’s Margao town.

At the meeting, Lohia had given a clarion call urging Goans to rebel against the colonial rule. The grounds where Lohia addressed the historic meeting was later christened as the ‘Lohia Maidan’.

“There were just two rooms at the end of a dark line of barracks at the Aguada Prison facing the sea. Lohia was jailed in one of them and one of Goa’s most well-known thinkers and freedom fighters, TB Cunha, was in another. They were both in solitary confinement,” Karmali said.

After his incarceration, noted Goan poet Manoharrai Sardesai wove Lohia into local lore by dedicating a poem ‘Aguadachya Shiva Tuvem’ (The Lion of Aguada, you have…) to Lohia.

The latest acknowledgement by the Goa government to Lohia’s contribution to the region’s freedom struggle comes in form of a renovated prison cell, an in-house museum putting the spotlight on articles and events related to the colonial period and even a ticketed sound and light show.

According to Ports Minister and local MLA Michael Lobo, the renovated heritage prison complex has potential to boost the tourism economy in the area and also serve as centre for education of the region’s history and freedom struggle.

“Details related to historical events and the role of freedom fighters in the struggle for independence will be highlighted at the museum and the renovated prison complex, so that the future generations do not forget such contributions,” Lobo said.

Noted clay artist Zilu Harmalkar has been roped in to create two life-size statues of Lohia and Cunha, which will be placed in their solitary confinement cells, he also said.

“The statues will be life-size and fashioned so, to show as if the two freedom fighters are sitting in their cells. Some personal articles of Lohia and Cunha will also be replicated in the cells,” Lobo said.

The Aguada fort was originally built in the 17th century by the Portuguese colonists, to serve as a coastal sentinel to guard against roving Dutch and Maratha navies and as a water-refilling station for passing ships, before it was subsequently put to use as a high security prison by the colonial administration.

After the liberation of Goa, the facility also served as a central jail, until a more modern prison facility was built at Colvale village in North Goa. Part of the prison complex was leased out to a five star hotel group decades back.

Previously, the Goa government had intended to build a museum dedicated to former Defence Minister and former Chief Minister of Goa late Manohar Parrikar at the heritage prison complex, but the plans were withdrawn, after a freedom fighters’ association slammed the government’s plans.