Goa gets tough on immigrants taking up Portuguese surnames

6:59 PM, August 14, 2019

India(Goa):Violators of name-change law can be punished with three years in jail.

Goa state in western India has tightened laws targeting people wanting to change their surnames to be more Portuguese Catholic sounding.

The law was strengthened following complaints that immigrants from other states have been increasingly adopting names common among Catholics in Goa, a Portuguese colony for 451 years until 1961.

The state legislature on Aug. 10 passed the amendment — Goa Change of Name and Surname (Amendment) Bill, 2019 — which prohibits individuals from changing names without following a set of stricter procedures.

Under the amendment, changes are allowed only if names are written wrongly in the birth register, misspelled or if the names are unusual or unpleasant. Violators can be punished with three years in jail.

“Only people born in Goa can change their names under the amended act,” Law Minister Nilesh Cabral told the legislative house, local media reported.

Prior to the amendment, the process of changing a surname was uncomplicated, making it easy for immigrants to the state to take up typical Portuguese Catholic surnames unrelated to their place of origin.

The government move comes in the wake of complaints that hundreds of immigrants from other parts of India changed their names.

Viriato Fernandes of Goencho Avaz (Voice of Goans), a group that has been campaigning against such name changes, told that they estimate each year more than 1,600 people illegally change names.

Fernandes said before the amendment an application was filed before the state registrar, who approves the change of name after some verification of documents. The applicant then needs to publicize the change in a local paper to make the change effective.

He said each year an average of 2,100 such notices appear in newspapers. They estimated some 75 percent of them were from non-Goans taking Goan names.

The amendment now makes it necessary for an applicant to submit proof of name, date of birth, parents' name, name of spouse and residential address among other details to prove the version of the name one wants to change to.

Benefits of a Goan Catholic name

Local people have said that many immigrants prefer having Goan Catholic names for social acceptance, jobs or government benefits.

Valentino Vaz, a labor contractor who refused to divulge his earlier name, claimed he got quicker contracts after he adopted a Catholic surname because people generally trust and find local Catholics reliable.

Name changes have also assisted some people conduct property frauds by using the name of people who have died and then selling off their property.

Opposition legislators told the house more recently that lower caste Hindu names are also taken by immigrants to make themselves eligible for state’s social welfare schemes meant for poorer castes.

The adoption of Portuguese Catholic-sounding surnames began in the 1970s with people claiming Portuguese ancestry to gain Portuguese citizenship so as to migrate to Portugal and onwards to other European nations.

Under Portuguese law, citizens born in the former Portuguese territories of Goa, Daman and Diu before 1961 are eligible for Portuguese citizenship. Their children could also claim citizenship. Goa ceased to be a Portuguese colony in 1961.

With the Portuguese embassy exercising stricter verifications, dubious claims came to an end a decade ago, observers say.

Source: UCAN

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