Com­mu­ni­ties that shaped In­dia’s fi­nan­cial hub

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Manoj R Nair

To put it at the out­set, it is not pos­si­ble to list six re­li­gious or caste groups that pi­o­neered Mum­bai’s growth and de­vel­op­ment with­out risk­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing ac­cused of ig­nor­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of other com­mu­ni­ties.

Many of the big­gest busi­ness pi­o­neers and phi­lan­thropists came from a hand­ful of groups like the Par­sis, Bha­tias and the Bagh­dadi Jews.

Au­thor and city his­to­rian Sharada Dwivedi said that while it well known that groups like Par­sis, es­pe­cially fam­i­lies like the Tatas, Jee­jeeb­hoys and Cawasji Je­hangirs set up in­dus­tries, pro­vided em­ploy­ment, cre­ated ed­u­ca­tion and med­i­cal ser­vices, the con­tri­bu­tion of other groups are not well known.

“Look at the Ma­ha­rash­tri­ans. Peo­ple like Bhau Daji Lad not only helped their com­mu­nity, but also con­trib­uted to the city’s wel­fare. All com­mu­ni­ties con­trib­uted, but some led the way,” said Dwivedi.

“Few peo­ple know that two of the most im­por­tant schools in the city, JB Pe­tit and Bom­bay Scot­tish, were funded by Prem­c­hand Roy­c­hand, a Gu­jarati Jain. Roy­c­hand do­nated Rs4 lakh for the univer­sity li­brary.”

Groups, like the Kho­jas, in­clud­ing tex­tile mag­nate Ebrahim Cur­rimb­hoy, are sim­i­larly un­ac­knowl­edged. Dr MD David, for­mer head of his­tory at Mum­bai Univer­sity, said Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties were prom­i­nent in the ship­ping trade es­tab­lish­ing the pi­o­neer­ing Bom­bay Steamship Com­pany and the Bom­bay Marine School.

Mum­bai grew on the trade of cot­ton and opium. Most trader com­mu­ni­ties that made it big in the early cen­turies of the city’s his­tory prof­ited from cot­ton trade. “Mum­bai’s growth was de­pen­dent on the cot­ton trade and later the tex­tile in­dus­try. An­cil­lary in­dus­tries, en­gi­neer­ing, rail­way work­shops grew from the cot­ton trade,” said Dr David. Ba­nias: They came in the 18th cen­tury from Gu­jarat and were the back­bone of the city’s cot­ton trad­ing busi­ness. Pro­fes­sor Agnes De Sa, head of depart­ment of his­tory at LS Ra­heja Col­lege, said that af­ter the Bri­tish took over the is­land in 1665 AD, they in­vited traders from the hin­ter­land to the new set­tle­ment. The first Ba­nia to heed the call was a tex­tile dealer named Bhimji Parekh, said De Sa who stud­ied the Su­rat Fac­tory Records at Ma­ha­rash­tra State Ar­chives at El­phin­stone Col­lege for her the­sis. “The Bri­tish in­vited him from Su­rat and even gave him land to build a house,” she said. The Man­gal­das Mar­ket is built on land given by Sir Man­gal­das Nathubai, a Kapol Ba­nia. Bha­tias: The Bha­tias too were in the cot­ton trade. The Bha­tias had a big role in the city’s me­ta­mor­pho­sis to an in­ter­na­tional port. Pro­fes­sor Man­gala Pu­ran­dare, head of depart­ment of his­tory at Bha­vans Col­lege who is do­ing a study on the Bha­tias, said the com­mu­nity has left its legacy in the city’s old tex­tile mar­kets like the Swadeshi mar­ket. “They were orig­i­nally from the coun­try’s north west. They moved to Ra­jasthan and from there to Kutch and later came to Mum­bai,” said Pu­ran­dare.

Prom­i­nent among them was Gokul­das Te­j­pal, whose fa­ther moved to Mum­bai from Kutch in the 19th cen­tury. Te­j­pal pros­pered in cot­ton trade. His legacy in­cludes GT Hos­pi­tal, Gokul­das Te­j­pal Board­ing House and San­skrit Pat­shala which housed free­dom fight­ers and was the birth­place of In­dian Na­tional Congress. Mar­waris: They came in the 19th cen­tury as money len­ders. They be­came prom­i­nent in the city’s busi­ness only af­ter the world wars. Ac­cord­ing to Dr David, there was an in­for­mal line of suc­ces­sive dom­i­na­tion in busi­ness by trade. The Par­sis and Jews who dom­i­nated the city’s com­merce were joined by the Bha­tias in the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury. “These three groups ruled in­dus­try and trade. Around 1870s, Mus­lim fam­i­lies like the Rahim­tul­lahs came into promi­nence. All of them grad­u­ally sold out to the Mar­waris,” said Dr David.

“The Mar­waris were also in­volved in the opium trade, but were largely cot­ton traders. They be­came in­dus­tri­al­ists in the 1920s when they bought sev­eral tex­tile mills from the Rahim­tul­lahs and Sas­soons. They are now the main hold­ers of Mum­bai’s wealth,” he added.

The Ram­lal well near the Bom­bay high court was built by a Mar­wari fam­ily and sup­plied wa­ter to res­i­dents of the Fort area. It is still in use. Par­sis: They came to the city from south Gu­jarat in the 18th cen­tury. Though they dom­i­nated the opium trade along with the Euro­peans, they were prom­i­nent in the tex­tile and ship-build­ing busi­ness. The first In­di­ans to set up bank­ing in­sti­tu­tions were Par­sis and when the Bom­bay Cham­ber of Com­merce was set up in 1836, all the 10 In­di­ans among the 25 pro­mot­ers were Par­sis.

Dr Nawaz Modi, joint hon­orary sec­re­tary of the KR Cama Ori­en­tal In­sti­tute who has authored two books on the com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing a four­vol­ume study on its legacy said: “They first worked as agents for the Bri­tish and helped them to deal with other groups to get work done. Later, they branched out to other trades. They were in the ship-build­ing busi­ness and this was one of the main rea­sons why they were asked by the Bri­tish to come to Mum­bai,” said Mody. Pathare Prab­hus: Ac­cord­ing to Dr David, the small com­mu­nity was dom­i­nant till the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury. Among the ear­li­est im­mi­grants to the city, they were ad­min­is­tra­tors and clerks dur­ing the Maratha rule and later dur­ing the ear­lier days of Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion.

Though they were not prom­i­nent names in busi­ness, they were cul­tural trend-set­ters in cloth­ing fash­ions and the per­form­ing arts. “Along with other groups like the Palshikar Brah­mins and the Panchkalshis, the Pathare Pradb­hus were the first mi­grants to the city, hav­ing come to the is­lands in the 13th cen­tury along with king Bhimdev. They gave the city an iden­tity for the first time,” said pro­fes­sor Pu­ran­dare. Bagh­dadi Jews: They came to Mum­bai from Bagh­dad around 1830. The Sas­soons were the most prom­i­nent Bagh­dadi Jew fam­ily. “Of course, the Sas­soon fam­ily looked af­ter the Bagh­dadi Jewish com­mu­nity, their syn­a­gogues and other in­sti­tu­tions. They and the Cur­rimb­hoys owned tex­tile mills that pro­vided em­ploy­ment. But their phi­lan­thropy was un­be­liev­able,” said Dwivedi.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr David, Flora Sas­soon, a mem­ber of the fam­ily, was the first prom­i­nent woman in busi­ness.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.