The East Indian Community

Original Inhabitants of Bombay, Salsette & Thana.

Field of Co-operation

East Indians in the Field of Co-operation

By D. E. Pereira, A.C.R.A.


India has often been called the land of the poor despite the rich resources in raw materials at her command. Hardly a village is there in which poverty does not loom large. This problem has been a sore one and several measures and schemes have been devised to ameliorate the condition of the peasant.


In recent times, money and energy is being diverted into the channel of village upliftment not only by Government, but even by non-official bodies.


As in the age of committees and commissions, so too half a century ago, experts were appointed to delve into the problem of agriculture indebtedness. Government passed a few legislative measures for the protection of the peasant from the usurious sowkar. Despite the legislation, however, “the illiterate peasant was subject to all manner of extortion and was constantly putting his thumb print to questionable documents he could not read”


In order, therefore, to combat such evils and to rescue the agriculturist from the depredatory marwari and pathan, co-operative societies were evolved. These societies were to be purely unofficial affairs, untrammeled with technique and red tape. It was co-operation of the people, with the people, and for the people themselves. This organization was going to be a foundation stone for the future participation of the people in the administration of their country.


The first Co-operative Societies Act passed in 1904 and was restricted to operations in credit or loans. This movement which was initiated for the benefit of the peasant class chiefly did not easily catch. Government and honorary workers had to carry the message of “co-operation” into the villages. Moreover, as the movement was confined to the formation of credit societies other avenues of economic needs of other classes were unprovided for.


It was then, after about eight years of experience of the working of the first Co-operative Act, that a more comprehensive legislation was enacted. The Co-operative Societies Act of 1912 provided for the promotion of any society tat catered for the economic welfare of the people. This Act was sponsored by the Government of India and was under the control of the Central Legislature. But under the reforms, as Co-operation became a transferred subject, each province took charge of the subject. His in Bombay, the Bombay Co-operative Societies Act of 1925 was passed embodying the principles of the All-India Act as well as introducing further legislation necessitated by the experience of the working of the previous Acts.


Co-operation – its meaning and classification- Co-operation is understood to be “ a voluntary organization of persons who associate on equal terms for the satisfaction of their economic needs.” The needs of a community are indeed various, yet under the Co-operative Societies Act, it is possible to open up a Society for each one of such, needs provided it is to promote the economic welfare of the community.


For this purpose the Co-operative Societies Act has classified the carious spheres of economic activities into five heads viz. (1) Resource Societies (2) Producers Societies (3) Consumers Societies (4) Housing Societies (5) General Societies.


Before dealing with each of the types of Societies. I believe there is a vast field for the improvement and uplift of our Community through the establishment of Co-operative Societies conducted by sincere and selfless workers. Leaders who have the real interest of the Community at heart, should concentrate their energies for opening up Co-operative societies in a large village or in a group of small villages.


Thought it may at first sight appear, that the taste of promoting a Society  may involve enormous labor and staking of initial capital, it is definitely certain that under the provisions of the Act, the floating of the Society can be easily carried out by the ordinary layman. Moreover, the special privileges attached to the Societies, e.g. exemption form stamp duty, registration fees, income tax on profits, etc. are a good reason why our Community should start a chain of Societies from Bassein to Bombay and Thana to Trombay.


Various Classes of Societies


(1)   Resource Societies – provide the necessary resources or funds to members.


Thus under this head are classified credit and loan Societies which provide the resources to the farmer for the business he plies. Of such Societies we have the Bassein Catholic and the Salsette Catholic Co-operative Credit Societies.


(2)   Societies which undertake production are classed as Producers Societies. Thus any Society that buys material and machinery on a co-operative basis for the purposes of manufacturing finished articles for the benefit of its members will fall under this head.


(3)   The function of a Consumers Society is distribution. In order mainly to eliminate the middlemen’s profit and secure to the buyer-member the cheapest price, Societies of this nature are formed. These Societies purchase at wholesale rate and distribute the margin of profit among their members. In Bandra, the Salsette Catholic Co-operative Stores, now defunct, was a model of such society.


(4)   Housing Societies need hardly any comment. It is nevertheless generally believed that the function of  Housing Societies is to construct and sell houses. It is decidedly not so, for id it did then such a Society would be classed as a Producers Society. Housing Societies under this head are to provide habitation for its members on a co-partnership tenancy or tenant ownership. The St. Sebastian Homes and the Salsette Catholic Co-operative Housing Society at Bandra and the St. Anthony’s Homes, Chembur, fall under this category.


(5)   General Societies – Other Societies which have for their object the general economic uplift of the community they serve, fall in here. There are several other spheres of activity, which Co-operative Societies may serve best, for example, education, art, social work, etc. As far as can be ascertained, in our Community we have the Bombay East Indian Educational Co-operative Society for assisting, by granting of loans, students who desire to pursue higher studies.



Scope in Our Community


Having given a thumb-nail sketch of the co-operative movement and its history, I shall proceed to examine how far such societies may be established for the benefit of the community.


“As far as Credit Societies are concerned, there exists at present only two Societies,  one at Bassein and the other at Bandra. Both, of these have vast area of operation and the former Society had recently to cut off the District of Thana and some parts of the Bombay Suburban District, because it was felt that it was felt that close contact with these areas was very difficult.


Especially in Credit Societies, it is most essential that there should be constant touch between the borrowers scent that the hold of the Society. As soon as the borrowers scent that the hold of the Society on them is loose, installments lag behind and irregularity in payments become a feature. Interest accumulates and the burden increases with the result that the borrower finds great difficulty, if not impossibility, to wipe out the accumulation.


It is thus that the morale of a Society suffers and overdues become a millstone on the debtor and the Society too. It is really unfortunate that the majority of our people do not fully realize the value of thrift and punctual payments. They are ever ready to incur debts by borrowing and pledge most solemn their promise to be most punctual in their installments. But hardly have a few months elapsed than they get into the rut of defaulters on the smallest of excuses.


For a Credit Society to be a perfect success, there must be a regular circulation of capital. Locking up of capital sends a Society into stagnation and the borrowers should be ruthlessly brought to book for creating an impasse. While there are sometimes real deserving cases of unforeseen mishaps, many are there who in times of plenty fritter away their income on luxuries.


There are vast possibilities for the expansion of trade and the uplift of the Community through the establishment of Credit Societies throughout the length and breadth of Salsette, Bassein and Thana. But it would be futile to open Credit Societies if the idea of thrift is not inculated at the very outset. It is a sad fact that many a family inn our Community has been driven to penury because of the lavish expenditure on festivities and unnecessary pomp and show at weddings, christenings and funerals. Loans are easily drawn for such occasions.


If only every young East Indian could be taught through Societies to save at the very least, one rupee per month, the whole financial status of the Community would be raised and there would be less indebtness among our people. This golden Jubilee would in truth then be the corner stone of golden age.


It is rather a mater of surprise that there exists not a single Producers Society in the Community. In these days of industrial awakening, when the cry for cottage industries is predominant, this is the time for the establishment of a Society for the production of finished articles from the raw material at hand. It would not be difficult for a group of villages to band together and pool their small savings and invest it in machinery in a “petite” factory.


In certain parts of the Dharavi Island, the manufacture if coir articles was a speciality and the demand for this was great in former days. But in recent years, with the advance of machinery, Malabar has been dumping coir rope, doormats and other coconut by-products to the detriment of the village industry of the Dharavi Island. I believe that at present the manufacture of the choir rope is carried on by just a handful of people and that too only of a quantity to suffice their own needs.


If therefore leasers of the Community took up this question, a Co-operative Society could be started somewhere in Gorai or Utan and all the coconut fibre and shells sent to this central factory. This factory, even on a small scale, would be able not only to consume the raw material, at present used merely as fuel, but also give employment to a large number of inhabitants. I understand there is enough raw material  in the coconut groves of the Dharavi Island to support a coir industry and compete in local markets.


Coming to Consumers Societies there existed one at Bandra with a cosmopolitan membership and was considered as a model society. But evil days came and the Society died a natural death. The object of this society was to purchase at wholesale rates and sell at retail, distributing the profits among its members. It carried out the function of the grocer.


I do believe that the establishment of Consumer Societies at Bassein, Bandra and Andheri and other places, would prove a great boon to the community. For, the large margin of profit, which is now pocketed by the grocer, will remain with the members of the Society and moreover there would be a guarantee of the quality of the goods.


I recollect a small grocery shop started at Kandivli on an informal co-operative basis. It proved a roaring success and patronized by the village folk. Unfortunately as the enthusiasm among the young pioneers waned with the months of existence of the stores, the business had to close down. If only perseverance prevailed, that store would have been a model affair.


The need therefore of Consumers Societies in the various centres is a great need and will be a source of relief to many a village.


Housing Societies – The Housing problem had been an acute one for the last decade or so, despite the building boom of recent years. One beneficial result has been that rents have been brought down by the boom.


Our community would be better for the establishment of Housing Societies. There are the glaring examples of Vile Parle and Juhu when our people have been ousted out by Non-Christians who have purchased their lands and erected cottages and mansions. The influx of outsiders is growing and if the disposal of land by East Indians is not checked, the Community will be wiped out from its very land of birth.


The Salsette Catholic Co-operation Housing  Society at Bandra is a splendid example of how the inrush of non-Christians has been stemmed. This Society is a  model Housing Society and has drawn the admiration of Sir Frederick Sykes on his visit to the Society.


To the south of this scheme, the St. Sebastian Homes Society has preserved to a great extent the land which might have passed into other hands. But the vigilant “father of Co-operative Societies”, the late Mr. F. A. C. Rebello, was wide awake and anticipated Government by opening up the St. Sebastian Homes Co-operative Society.


There are yet some very valuable areas in Salsette which are an eyesore to the public and which in the near future may be absorbed by non-Catholics to the detriment of the people of the land. Tempting offers to poor landowners will be a bait as happened at Vile Parle and we shall have the sad plight of the cultivators and petty landowners left to look out for themselves.


General Societies – Classifies under this head come Educational Societies. There is in our midst to the best of my knowledge on the East Indian Educational Co-operative Society. This Society had seen some troublous days, but under the present management, it is serving a great need. Form the epitome given later one can judge the great benefit this Society has conferred on needy students as well as the vast possibilities in raisin the roll of educated members in our Community.


Besides Educational Societies, Insurance Societies could be started. Considering that the Community can boast of a Chairman of the Board of Directors of one of the leading Insurance Companies in India, there will be but little difficulty in laying the foundation of our Community who are holding most responsible posts in Insurance Societies and their valuable experience and advice would be a bulwark to such a Society.


Great potentials await the Community in the field of Co-operation. Young men who would otherwise emigrate from the village to serve as quill-drivers would be well occupied in the offices of Co-operative Societies. Men, who have retired from active service would be rendering most valuable, service to the Community if they extend their help as honorary workers in Co-operative Societies.


On the whole the bonding together of common interests would make of the Community a factor which at the end of the next half century of progress, would be an achievement worthy of the East Indian Community.


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