Some of the pioneering women in Goan politics and education….

By Rajan Narayan

AMONGST the pioneering women’s liberation women in Goa the most outstanding woman is Libia (Libby) Lobo Sardesai. Libby Lobo was the voice of Goa during the last phase of Portuguese rule. Portugal’s dictator Salazar had an iron hold over Goa and did not want to grant Goa any freedom, dissent was not tolerated. There was tight censorship of the media in Goa at that time. But then came the freedom fighting times and the “voice of freedom” from the air was that of Libby Lobo.
With her husband advocate Vaman Sardesai they set up a powerful radio transmitter in the jungles of Londa which was part of independent India. From there Libby spoke eloquently on the need to liberate Goa. The Portguese tried hard to shut them down but they did not succeed and Libby Lobo refused to be silenced.
She brought news of the freedom fighters who were shot at by the Portuguese army soldiers in the crucial years of the fight for liberation from Portuguese colonial rule. Libby brought together all the freedom fighters of Goa and reported about them when they were arrested and sent to jail.
Eventually when Goa won its liberation it was the voice of Libby Lobo announcing it from a helicopter hovering around Goa. She was throwing down leaflets about the progress of the Indian army as it entered into Goa. Libby asked the people to cooperate with the Indian army coming in. Libby and Vaman later got married. After Liberation he was the first director of tourism of Goa. Vaman Sardesai was later appointed as India’s ambassador to Angola. The rest is more of Goa’s history and when she lost her husband she to this day continues to live in their flat where Kamat Hotel is located down town Panaji. She continues to cherish and celebrate her husband’s memory annually.
I come to the late “Mummy” Victoria Fernandes who was amongst the women activists in post-Liberation Goa. Victoria of Santa Cruz took active part in the Liberation movement of Goa and was later in the forefront in the movement to make Konkani the official language of Goa. She fought many battles against corruption . She is one of Goa’s memorable woman achievers in politics and became a member of the legislative assembly in a newly liberated Goa. Popularly called “Mummy Victoria” by everyone her life story is synonymous with women’s activism.
Then are two women who moved out of their husband’s shadow to establish an independent identity for themselves. They are Deepti Ambani Salgaocar and Pallavi Dempo. Deepti’s father was the Bombay industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. Both Dhirubhai and Vasudev Mahadeva Salgaocar from Goa owned flats in Usha Kiran, the name of Bombay’s tallest building then on Peddar Road. Dhirubhai and Vasudev were both first generation entrepreneurs and bonded together.
Dhirubhai’s daughter Deepti and Vasudev’s son Dattaraj would often meet in the lift of Usha Kiran while going up and down to their respective flats. Love blossomed over eight years, according to Raj, he and Deepti dated for eight years before tying the marital knot. Both Dattaraj and Dhirubhai’s elder son Mukesh had gone to Stanford University in USA to do an MBA degree. Deepti went off to a finishing school in Switzerland. The marriage of Deepti and Dattaraj had the blessing of both sets of parents later on and Dhirubhai welcomed the opportunity to holiday with his daughter’s in-laws in Goa often.
On her relocation from Bombay to Goa Deepti told a Bombay magazine in an interview, that it was like moving to the Hanging Gardens of Goa! The Salgaocar home estate of Hira Niwas at Chicalim in port town Vasco da Gama is a veritable oasis of palm trees. In Goa Deepti got active in the setting up and running the Sunaparanta, Goa Centre for the Arts located at Altinho in Panaji. She also plays an active role in the management of Sharada Mandir, Goa’s top senior Cambridge school. It is located on the green lawns facing Panaji’s beachside Miramar beach. The school was built up by another pioneer in education, Nirmala Rebello who was the founder principal of Sharada Mandir and later helped establish the Nirmala Institute of Education at Altinho in Panaji.
Pallavi Dempo is a management graduate who married Shrinivas Dempo, heir to the Dempo industrial empire. She too was not content to live in her husband’s shadow, she herself comes from a top industrialist family herself. Pallavi plays an active role in the Dempo businesses (of mining, steel, education and more) founded by grandfather Vasantrao Dempo and father Vasudeva Dempo . Shrinivas’ grandfather started the first higher education colleges in Goa, starting with the Dempo college of Commerce and Economics and later the Dhempe College of Arts and Science. The Dempos called themselves the Dhempes before Liberation.
More recently, Shrinivas Dempo decided to leave the management of English daily “The Navhind Times” and media group to Pallavi Dempo. “The Navhind Times” started in February 18, 1963 soon after Liberation when there was need for an English newspaper.
Two other outstanding women of Goan industry are Mimi Menezes, the wife or Cesar Menezes; and Sylvia Albuquerque, the wife of the now late Victor Albuquerque. Mimi Menezes worked hand-in-hand to further build up their legacy of the Carter Wallace pharma company. Maria Emilia Dias Menezes or Mimi was teaching in the Nirmala Institute of Education and married Cesar, eldest son of the late pioneering pharma giant Pascoal Menezes. It was Pascoal who laid the foundation of the CMM empire in Goa and abroad.
Tragically, Mimi and Cesar lost their only son Prateek at the age of six years to blood cancer. A tragedy which led to Mimi supporting the setting up a home for terminally ill cancer patients in Loutalim in south Goa, it’s called the Shanti Avedhna Sadan. She also supports several charitable institutions in the field of cancer research and to a larger extent education. In this respect she works together with Cesar who built up Carter Wallace pharma company which he inherited from his father Pascoal and grew phenomenally several times over. The company is inherited by the daughters of Mimi and Cesar and their sons-in-law.
As for Sylvia Albuquerque, the wife of the late Victor Albuquerque, I remember that Victor jointly with Anil Counto (or Khaunte) formed the Alcon Victor group of companies. “A” stood for Albuquerque and “K” for Khaunte. Both men were junior engineers in the PWD and they left to branch out to start their own partnership company of Alcon. Anil once recounted to me how in those early days of the business he used to stand outside the GPO at VT in Bombay, dictating tenders to the free-lance typists working there on the pavement space. Their first major contract was given to them by architect Ralin de Souza. The two good friends went on to build several hotels including the Dona Sylvia at Carvellossim in south Goa and the Ronil Hotel in Baga in north Goa. Later Anil and Victor broke up and generation next has taken over now.
Coming to the younger generation of outstanding women in politics today, we think of Delilah Lobo, MLA from Siolim. She adopated a low profile for years unlike the wives of Atanasio Babush Monserrate and Vishwajit Rane. Delilah Lobo came unto her own when she was appointed vice-chairperson of the Entertainment Society of Goa last year. The ESG jointly hosts the International Film Festival of India in Goa annually. ESG’s senior officials admit in confidence that the Delilah Lobo made a difference to the management of the film festival and was the trouble-shooter for several problems. Like solving the problem of media people who complained that they had to park their two-wheelers so far away to cover ESG conferences. She made sure the media was given exclusive space outside the ESG complex on the pavement, it was reserved only for media two-wheelers during the duration of IFFI.
Delilah was no longer shy in projecting herself and was photographed with visiting Bollywood icon filmstar Salman Khan and many other visiting VIPs and VVIPs and she also hosted the concluding grand dinner out at Anjuna for IFFI delegates and guests.
We also remember Babita Angle Prabhudessai who was the mayor of Margao city for some years. Babita and husband Dilip have been part of the Goa Forward party since Vijay Sardesai founded party. Dr Babita is a pathologist with her own lab in Margao. She is active both in politics and the Konkani literary scene in south Goa and makes for an excellent presenter for events she is associated with. She would make for an ideal woman candidate for the south Goa parliament seat for the Congress joint INDIA alliance. She is one of the few outstanding women in Goan politics as is the far more senior Pramod Salgaocar.
Pramod Salgaocar is the better half of Geno pharma company owner Dilip Salgaocar and a woman of enormous substance in her own right. Dilip Salgaocar is linked with the VM Salgaokar family and Pramod Salgaokar has been a Congresswoman for many years, she is a woman with a mind of her own and is both generous and forthcoming.
Amongst other women we cannot forget a top social activist and advocate Padmashri Norma Alvares. Norma is responsible for winning many of the Goa Foundation public interest litigation cases for the larger cause of conserving Goa’s environment and traditional lands of the people. Norma trained with Supreme Court outstanding activist lawyr Indira Jaising in Delhi for many years and she is also closely associated with Maneka Gandhi who fights for animal rights and their welfare. Norma Alvares is a winner all the way and both sensitive and sensible.
We also mention here Ritu Sarin who played an active role in the Goa Bachao Abhiyan. The GBA was started to get Babush Monserrate’s Regioinal Plan 2011 revoked because it practically sought to sell off Goa to builders and investors. Rita played a major role in educating Goans on the dangers and pitfalls of the RP2011 and how it would impact the green Goa which everyone loves to enjoy.
No feature on women achievers would be complete without recording the contribution of Sabina Martins. Sabina Martins along with her Bailancho Saad women played a key role fighting for women’s rights in Goa. Bailancho Saad is an informal organisation with no hierarchical issues. Sabina Martins has been teaching at Sharada Mandir School and her husband is a trade union activist working in the banking system.

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