Islamic Perspective: A Biannual Journal. A special issue on Bohras, Khojas and Memons. Ed. by Asghar Ali Engineer, Bombay, Institute of Islamic Studies. vol.1, Jan 1988, pp. 192-211;
Chapter 9, Kutchi Memons (interviews):
The Kutchi Memons, who are Sunni Muslims by faith, are a business community from Kutch (Gujarat). This religious sect has similar bases as the other Sunnis. However, as the members of this community are converts from the Lohana community whose members had settled in Kutch, they called themselves Kutchi Memons. As Sunnis do not believe in any religious head, the Kutchi Memons are like other Sunnis, they maintain their separate cultural and social identity and practice endogamy.
Being traders during British colonial rule, the Kutchi Memons migrated to various parts of India and settled mainly in South India and Bombay. In South India they are found largely in Bangalore, Cochin, Coimbatore, etc. They also migrated to East Africa, South East Asia, Pakistan, Middle East, Singapore, etc. All the Kutchi Memons found in the different parts of the world are of Indian origin.
The Kutchi Memons form Jamat wherever they settle. They learn the language of the country they live in and integrate with the culture of the land of their settlement, but they do not forget to maintain social interaction with their own Jamat Members. They are an enterprising community, and have improved their standard of living wherever they have settled and entered into business and trade activties. Initially, this community was very orthodox and backward, though closely knit. Later, however, due to economic progress and encouragement of education amongst its members, the Kutchi Jamat gradually became catholic in outlook and also started interacting with the Jamats of other communities. Initially, there was a lot of opposition to inter-Jamat marriages, but later the leadership was forced to adapt to the changing times, particularly in Bombay.
We interviewed twenty households. Out of one-third of all the Memons interviewed and 7.8 per cent of the 255 households surveyed, eight households (i.e., forty per cent of the total twenty) are rich and the remaining are relatively self-sufficient. Half of the households are from Bombay and half from Gujarat. We also undertook case studies of Kutchi Memon community.
Lower and Middle Class
In Bombay, the Kutchi Memons live in Kutchi Mohallah (near Zakaria Masjid), Mohammedali Road, Pydone, Crawford Market, Byculla, Mahim, and Dadar. The richer classes stay in cosmopolitan areas as Peddar Road, Kemps Corner, Warden Road, Bandra, Bombay Central, etc.
The poorer Kutchi Memon families stay at Dongri, Mohammadali Road, etc. in chawls and old tenements. There are several rich Kutchi Memon families who prefer to stay in the Mohallas of the Kutchi Memons in Central Bombay instead of cosmopolitan areas of Bombay.
The very poor Memons live in the Maloni slums in Malad (Bombay). Many of these people have migrated to Bombay, leaving their families in their native places in Gujarat. In Gujarat, the Kutchi Memons reside mainly in Mandvi and Anjar. Some have migrated to other parts of Gujarat for business. On inquiry we were told that Kutchi Memons were not found in Godhra, Dahod, Sindpur, Dhoraj, Rajkot, Surat and that there was only one Kutchi Memon family in Surat. Only two Kutchi Memon families in Ahmedabad, one of whose member is a doctor and the other family has a Judge. Both are said to be living in cosmopolitan areas.
There is a sizable population of Kutchi Memons in Mandvi Anjhar. In Mandavi, the Kutchi Memons have charitable institutions. The Jamat in Mandvi is very poor, living mainly in rural areas in thatched houses. The members have never used soap. The 100 Kutchi Memon houses in Mandvi town are not well-off. The social strata is middle class, and a majority of the population is poor. In Mandvi there is a Kutchi Memon Mohallah.
In Anjar there are twenty-five Kutchi Memon families coming from the lower strata of society. These families reside in the Memon Mohallah in old houses on rental basis. Many Kutchi Memon families have migrated to Bombay and Cochin, and some to Pakistan in search of jobs to start their own business.
Of the total ten-Bombay families we interviewed, about eighty per cent live in self-contained blocks. Half the well-to-do families reside in cosmopolitan areas while the poorer families are equally divided between cosmopolitan and own Jamat localities. It is interesting to note that the three richer families residing in cosmopolitan areas do so, because they say they do not like their own Jamat. Half the poor families, on the hand, who stay in own Jamat areas, do so because they prefer their own community.
In Gujarat, however, ninety percent of the families stay in Mohallas, half in cosmopolitan areas and half along with the members of other communities. The main reason for choice of locality by the eighty per cent of households was reported to be their ancestral home. The members of one rich household, however, emphatically stated that they lived in a cosmopolitan area because they didnot like their own Jamat. In Bombay, the Kutchi Memons used to live in joint families earlier, but recently one finds that more and more upper class families are becoming nuclear. Two factors accounting for this seem to be the high cost of living and the acute housing problem existing in Bombay. Moreover, many men leave their families in their home towns. Besides, families with newly acquired wealth also prefer staying in ownership flats. Some of the elite sections live together because they have joint business and ancestral property, though the cooking is done separately. In Mandavi and Ahmedabad, the Kutchi Memons live mostly in nuclear families, though amongst the middle and poorer classes in Bombay and Gujarat (particularly Anjar) the joint family system is dominant.
There is also a tendency to live separately after the brother's marry, particularly amongst the professionals. Sometimes they may stay in the same building but cooking is done separately.. Amongst the poorer sections, those who migrated several years back stay with their families in rented places; on the other hand, the new migrants leave their families behind in the rural areas and towns of Kutch as they do not like their women staying in slums. Men stay with their close relatives or near the Jamatkhana. Most of the families are relatively large in Gujarat with seventy per cent having eight members each. In Bombay sixty per cent have five family members, thirty per cent eight members, and one more than eleven members.
Earlier, the Kutchi Memons in general did not pursue or encourage education as they were mainly businessmen and did not think it necessary to under go training in a school or college. However, since the last thirty or forty years, both girls and boys are sent to schools for education. Generally, the girls study up to matriculation standard, though some proceed for higher education. Yet, most of these educated women do not take up jobs after their marriage except a fe who become teachers. Girls are often stopped from completing school education after puberty, and ar married off at an early age.
In Bombay the elite of this community used to encourage education during the British rule. Some women amongst them had pursued higher studies and were influenced by Western educational ideas. Today one finds that the Kutchi Memon girls go in for higher education and there are a few women lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. amongst them. In several cases these highly educated women have to discontinue their professional careers after they get married as working women are liked down upon by their Jamat. In the past only a few children used to attend English-medium schools while most of them studied in Gujarati and Urdu medium schools. Now there is a tendency amongst the middle and upper strata members of this community to send their children, particularly the boys, to English medium convent schools. The sons of the lower strata members go to Gujarati and Urdu medium schools.
Another observation is that the sons of a section of the middle class which has no business of its own are sent in for higher education so that the social ladder can be climbed up. Therefore, one finds doctors, engineers, advocates, etc. among the Kutchi Memon members. The Madrasas (religious schools) are compulsory for all boys and girls of the Jamat as is the case with other Muslims. Children of all the social strata have to attend these Madrasas in the evenings in addition to the secular schools which they attend during the daytime.
In Gujarat, Madvi and Anjar, the children are sent to Gujarati medium schools and also to Madrasas. It is only the well-to-do families who sent their sons to urban schools and colleges in Bombay.
The general observations made above are, to some extent, verified by our field survey. All the rich families in Bombay send their children to convent schools. In Gujarat sixty per cent children attend mixed schools and forty per cent join Jamat schools, both of Gujarati medium. The choice of school in Bombay is determined mainly by the facilities offered for good education, while in Gujarat the determining factor is reported to be the community preference and also convenience. As the Kutch (Gujarat) economy was (and still remains) relatively backward, several Kutchi Memons migrated to Bombay, Cochin, Bangalore and other parts of India in order to start their private business. The Kutchi Memons were merchants in spices, cloth, leather, etc. The wholesale market in these business was in the hands of Kutchi Memons, but after partition of India many of them migrated to Pakistan, and the cloth monopoly went into the hands of other communities. The Kutchi Memons have also been involved in real estates. In trade, the Kutchi Memons have been financiers for the shipping industry. They have been government contractors, building and labour contractors.
The lower strata members of this Jamat are mainly vegetable vendors, hawkers, milk vendors, domestic servants, clerks and 'Bhangar' (waste) dealers in Anjar, Mandvi and Bombay.
In the rural areas, they act as petty businessmen, hawkers, shopkeepers, agricultural workers, etc. Their women do not work either in towns or in villages except under difficult economic conditions, and that to mainly in household industries. During the survey we came across two women professionals, one a journalist and the other a gynecologist in Dhoraji.
Sixty per cent of the Bombay families reported their occupation as business, i.e., 83.3 per cent of the rich and eight per cent of the poorer households.
The remaining families reported service as their main occupation. In Gujarat, all the rich families and only one poor household are in business. The main occupation of the poor household is unskilled labour and service (37.5 per cent). It is interesting to note that most of the households preferred, given a chance, to work with either their own Jamats or other Muslim Jamats.
Mr. Bawla is an educated man who comes from a middle-class background and lives in the midst of his community (Mohallah). His father had migrated from Kutch fifty years ago and settled in Bombay as a petty businessman, trading in cloth. The father used to participate in the community activities and wanted his son to be educated. The education of the daughters was not taken care of.
Mr.Bawla (Kutchi Memon, Bombay)
Mr. Bawla received scholarship and regular help from the Kutchi Memon community throughout his academic career in school and college. On the completion of his education, he took up a job in a multinational firm as a chemical engineer.
Mr. Bawla has been in close touch with the community members from the very beginning and has been an active Jamat leader. He is the ex-secretary of the Jamat and an active committee member of its Marriage Council. We found that he was always for reconciliation between husband and wife whenever any serious dispute would rise between them. His attitude towards marital dispute started from the assumption that the couple did not make enough efforts for adjustments in the family. So he would advise the wife to compromise with the husband and would provide community help for the couple whenever possible to ease tension, e.g., housing loans, business loans, etc.
He said that inspite of all the efforts of the Jamat, divorce rate was high and he held the wife responsible for it. He stated that, though Talaq-e-bidah was legally permitted, the Jamat members were in not favor of it.
Moreover, before the Muslim Divorce Bill was passed, the Kutchi Memon Jamat had distributed leaflets in favor of Talaq-e-Biddah. The Jamat intervenes and tries to recover the bride's belongings (which come in the form of dowry) after the divorce, but the Jamat is openly opposed to any maintenance for Muslim divorced women. He insisted that it was the responsibility of the parents to maintain their divorced daughter and, if that was not possible the Jamat's welfare Trust would look after the divorced women.
Mr. Bawla was very active on the Muslim Women's Bill issue along with his son and colleagues. He is neither a fanatic, nor is he ritualistic, though he attends the Mosques and goes to Dargah during religious festivals and fasts during Ramadan. He stated very clearly that he did not believe in the fundamentalist (Tabliq) group. He said that one or two of the Kutchi Memons had leaning towards Tabliq ideology, though these ideas do not dominate the Jamat activities.
Personally, he stands for the spread of education among women and also for their joining co-educational colleges. He tried to encourage his wife and sisters to take part in the social activities of the Jamat, but due to the Jamat's influence and backwardness, he failed in his efforts. Though there is no purdah amongst Kutchi Memon women, sex segregation is very much there and so women cannot take part in community affairs.
In the Cutchi Memon Jamat, there are two schools of thought. One is conservative and the other is progressive. The conservative section does not allow inter-jamat (non-Kutchi Memon) marriages, and the progressives are not opposed to a Cutchi Memon marrying a non-Kutchi Memon women. Till the late fifties, the conservative section was dominant. This was the period of the economic dominance of the Cutchi Memon Jamat in Bombay, but with the decline of its economic power after the partition of India, the power of the conservative section also declined. In other parts of India, such as, Bangalore and Kerala, economic position of the conservatives did not reflect such a drastic change. Even today their Jamat sticks to conservatism and does not permit exogamy. In cases of exogamous marriages, neither the spouses nor their offspring's are eligible for membership in the Jamat and thereby are not entitled to the benefits of welfare programs enjoyed by the Jamat members.
On probing further, we found out that Mr. Bawla happened to be a liberal and was ready to accept exogamous marriages. But at the same time he was not ready to accept the loss of his Kutchi Memon identity in the process as he considered that his community was far superior, economically and culturally, and more developed as compared to other Memon. He agreed that, of late, the Halai Memon had risen on the economic ladder, and they were very demonstrative about their wealth. On enquiry, whether or not the Cutchi Memon are part of the Memon International (which is an organization that unites all Memon irrespective of their subdivisions), he did not show much interest. This is contradistinction with the positive claims of the Halai Memon.
He was cynical and said that when Kutchi Memons themselves were still not united, how could all Memons come together? He said that recently there was a move made by the Kutchi Memons of Bombay to unite Kutchi Memons all over India. The Bombay unit of the Jamat being most dominant, Mr. B. was taking the main initiative.
The Kutchi Memons of Mangalore, Cochin and Madras, also enjoy economic weight like the Jamat of Bombay whereas the Jamat in Kutch (Gujarat) is not economically strong and is very conservative. Because of such imbalances among the Jamats, they donot want to unite with the Bombay unit. This is hampering the unity of Kutchi memons unlike the Halai Memon Jamat which has formed International memon federation wherein all the Halai Memons, Sindhi Memons and Surat Memons have come together. This federation wants all the Kutchi Memon Jamats in India and abroad to be a part of it. But except the Jamat in Bombay, none of the other Jamats is under its banner and ready to unite. The level of education among Kutchi Memons is also high in contrast with other Muslims of India.
The Bombay Jamat was influenced by the western social welfare philosophy and started many Trusts for the welfare of its members. The welfare programs of Bombay Jamat are not restricted to Kutchi Memons. The Kutchi Memons control the major Muslim Welfare Trusts in Bombay (e.g. Haji Ali Mosque, the Zakaria Masjid, the Muslim Ambulance), Noor Hospital, Institute for the Physically Handicapped, Haji Ali Orphanage, etc.. Halai Memons have lately become economically prosperous. The Kutchi Memons do not want to merge with other memons and lose their own identity and control over their vast charitable Trusts.
The women members of the Kutchi Memon community are educationally in a very backward state. Except of a few belonging to the upper strata, the vast majority of the women do not pursue higher education at all. Those who are highly educated find it difficult to get partners of equal standing. Thus many an educated women marries outside the Jamat. This tendency strengthens Jamat resolve to discourage from going in for higher education or pursue a career.
Mr. B said that his wife was not educated, but she encouraged their daughters to go ahead in their educational pursuit. Lately, due to favorable reaction from within the community towards women's education, all the families are taking interest in getting their daughters educated.
In spite of the impact of the Western cultural influence on the upper strata members of the Jamat, the broad masses of the people remain in cultural backwater, and the condition of women is the worst since they are uneducated, conservative and confined to their homes. The social integration of the women with their own Jamat members is very poor. They stay away from politics and are not involved in any kind of social work. Lately a group of women have come forward and started a women's wing in the Jamat. They organize cooking exhibitions, sewing, fancy work, embroidery, etc.
Mr. B is the Secretary of the Muslim League (Maharashtra), and attends to political problems of all Muslims, particularly Kutchi Memons. He is the chief political organizer of the Muslim League and plans its strategy of the during the elections. He actively campaigns for the party candidates. In his view, there is discrimination against the Muslims in India since they form a minority community therefore, according to him, there is a need for the Muslims to rally around the banner of the Muslim League.
Mr. B said that the Muslim League and the Kutchi Memon Jamat were two different organisation. Though he is active on both the fronts, he is keen on maintaining the separate identity of each of the organisation. The Jamat is not a homogenous political body as members of several political parties belong to it. No one political party can use the Jamat platform to canvass his political view. He said, recently, one Congress (I) member (of the Jamat) called upon a Congress (I) leader to address the Jamat after one of its meetings, but the Jamat promptly took action against him.
On the subject of communal riots, Mr. B opined that the riots were politically motivated; the Muslims have to unite and fight the communal forces. Today the number of riots have increased, and this has caused a sense of insecurity amongst the Muslims.
Mr. B said that the North Indian Muslims have been historically close to the Indian capital and have participated in Indian politics, either directly or indirectly. At one time, the rulers were Muslims, and thus there has been a political tradition among the Muslims in the North. The Western Indian Muslims are primarily businessmen. Muslims were earlier involved in political activity, since they wanted to expand their business interests which were hampered by British policies. Later, their political involvement diminished to a great extent as they found that political activity in a Parliamentary set-up affected their business. Today most of those who are active in politics come from the professionals, i.e., lawyers, doctors, service-holders, etc.
Mr. X (Kutchi Memon, Anjar)
Mr. X is a brother of the ex-President of the Kutchi Memon Jamat of Anjar, a small town in Gujarat. He lives in a joint family which includes his parents and the members of his brother's family. There are more than twenty five family members, all belonging to the poorer section of the society.
Mr. X and his brothers are engaged in scrap business, i.e., in buying discarded tin containers, bottles, iron scrap, etc. and selling them to scrap dealers in Anjar. The womenfolk, too, are engaged in some work to supplement the family income. The menfolk cannot afford to go in for modern school education because of their weak economic position; they can only attend the Madrasas (religious schools).
The family members are very religious. The menfolk visit the Mosque daily, while the womenfolk pray at home. They are conservative and backward.
The family lives in the heart of the Kutchi Memon Mohallah which is surrounded by big but dilapidated houses. The house next to their Jamatkhana is a poor and unmaintained structure.
Mr. X and his family members have close and friendly relations with Kutchi Memon Jamat. People respect Mr. X even though he is not wealthy. As he (is) honest and has worked for the welfare of the people in Anjar, he is respected even by the Hindus and non-Kutchi Memon Muslims. People of Anjar come to his house to get masala ground which provides him with some income in normal times when there is no communal tension in the area. People sell their waste (Bhangir) to him alone as he has established himself in this trade.
We were interested in meeting the prominent Kutchi Memons in Anjar. But when the President of the Jamat refused to co-operate with us and directed us to Mr. X we interviewed him as the Jamat representative. On asking why the President of the Jamat had refused to be interviewed by us, he said that in Anjar there was a big Mohallah of Kutchi Memons and also a two-storeyed Jamatkhana which was mismanaged since the ex-President's demise. We learnt that the President (not Mr. X's brother) was not interested in the welfare activities of the community and had misappropriated the Jamat's funds, resulting in conflict amongst the Fifty-one memon families residing in Anjar. Mr. X informed us that there were sufficient funds for the Jamat's welfare, but there had been neither any person nor any welfare programme to make proper use of the funds. He also commented that the Mandvi and Bhuj Jamat leaders were aware of the situation in Anjar but they too were hesitant to intervene in the Anjar local matter as the President was involved in anti-social activities and underhand dealings.
On enquiry about the role and the relations of the Bohras with the other Muslim Jamats, we were informed that in Anjar, the Bohras did not have any social interaction with the Muslims as Bohras were economically well off. Moreover, they are Shias who keep their separate identity to demarcate themselves from the other Muslims. They (Bohras) mix with the Hindus more than with the Muslims. In fact Bohras consider themselves superior to the rest of the Muslim population. Bohras (menfolk) attend non-Bohra Muslim weddings or funerals, but till today not a single non-Bohra Muslim has been invited to any religious feast or social occasion (death, marriage, etc.) of the Bohras.
The Khojas of Anjar are also poor and have their separate Jamatkhana and their close-knit community. But unlike the Bohras they mix freely and have mutual social contact with others. The Sunni Muslims in Anjar are united and they have close social interaction among themselves.
The majority of the Memon children receive free education while a few are awarded scholarships for further education up to SSC. Mr. X commented that Khojas did not read the Koran and did not come to the Madrasas; but the Bohra children also do not go to the Madrasas.
Earlier one Bohra child had attended the Madrasa; but the Amil disallowed the child. The Amil opened a separate Bohra Madrasa, and did not permit any non-bohra Muslim to attend it. One reason for this, we think, is the Shia-Sunni differences that exist today. Secondly, the Dawoodi Bohra Jamat religious leaders do not want Bohras to mingle with other Sunni Muslims (who have no religious head) a they fear that their mingling may lead to weakening by the Syedna's control over the Bohras.
None of the Kutchi Memons or Khojas is active in politics. No party politics. No party tickets, are given to Muslim candidates for the Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections as they belong to a minority community. Mr. X expressed the view that there was no charismatic Muslim leader to represent Muslim interests in Mandvi. Unlike in Gujarat, there are such Muslim leaders in Northern India an they are more active in politics.
Mr. X added that, as there was communal tension in Anjar, people were scared to move out of their houses. The houses of both the communities in Anjar are segregated. During religious festivals of either community, people avoid visiting each others' areas. The Muslims have joined their hands in Anjar under one Mr. Sayeedbhai's leadership, and for the first time, the Bohras have been drawn into the common front. When the Syedna was saved from the bomb blast in Bombay, all the Muslims in Anjar closed their shops and establishments in protest against the bomb blast and took out a demonstration joined by the local Bohras. But when Mr. Sayeedbhai's father, considered to be a Memon saint, expired and all Muslim shops were closed down, the Bohras kept their shops open, though they joined the funeral procession. Thus, the Muslims are sceptical about forming any front with the Bohras.
On the issue of maintenance to divorced Muslim women, Mr. X maintained that there was no movement for or against the Act. He added that there were several cases of divorce amongst the Kutchi Memons, and he was of the opinion that there was need for some measures to help the divorced women otherwise their fate would be miserable.
Mr. P (Kutchi Memon, Bombay)
Mr. P and his wife come from the upper middle strata of society. Both are graduates from St. Xavier's College, Bombay.
Both the grandfather and the father of Mr. P started as cloth merchants in central Bombay. Later they invested in Real Estate. Mr. P works as a Real Estate agent and a social worker in the area.
Mr. P and his brother's family reside in the same building which is an ancestral property cooking is done separately. The house is in the heart of the Kutchi Memon Mohallah in a Muslim dominated area.
Mr. P has no children of his own. He has adopted one of his brother's children.
"Both Mr. P. and wife are religious. They are convinced about the 'Purity' and 'Superiority' of the Cutchi Memon Jamat. According to them Cutchi Memon's are culturally, economically and physically superior to Halai Memon.
In the Cutchi Memon Jamat, dominated by the conservatives during the pre independence period, Mr. P and his brother worked for the conservative section against the progressives because the latter stood for the membership on non-Kutchi Memon (spouses) in the Jamat after marriage.
When voting took place on the issue (in 1956), the conservatives lost. Inter-Jamat marriages are no longer considered a taboo.
Mr. P and his brother look after the Kutchi Memon Trust and are the trustees of the Haji Malang Dargah Trust. They are both against the Tablig which is on a regular campaign against old beliefs, i.e., worship of tombs visiting Durgahs, worship of pirs (saints), etc.
Both the brothers and their family members are devoted Muslims and pray five times daily. The men pray in the Mosque and the women at home. Tlavat (recital) of Koran is a regular feature with them. They also frequently visit the dargahs of pirs (saints). According to Mr. P the Tabligh has adopted the grassroots approach. It contacts people individually and tries to convince each and every Muslim about the correctness of the Tabligh approach to Islam. As a result, about fifty per cent of the Kutchi Memons have fallen under the spell of Tabligh. But the major section of the Kutchi Memon Jamat leadership is holding its ground against this Tabligh. Hence Tabligh influence in not felt in the social welfare activities of the Jamat.
Mr. P said that the Haji Ali Trust had a huge fund at its command. The fund is used in several welfare programmes for the poor and needy Muslims. The Trust feeds the poor and has built Musafirkhanas for Muslims at Haji Ali; it renovates Mosques and provides freeships for poor students. During the period from 1933 to 1983 some 15,000 Memons including 5,000 girl students were benefited from the funds spent by the Memon Educational and Welfare Society on Education. Besides, there are several philanthropists among the Kutchi Memons who donate large sums of money to be spent on the poor of the Jamat. Charity is done for helping the poor of the Jamat. Charity is done for promoting education, marriage, new business, housing, etc.
According to Mr. P the Kutchi Memon Trust is a very big affair, with a large source of income from real estate property and buildings owned by it. The 'Pagdi' systems brings a lot of economic gains for the Jamat. The Trust supplies milk and bread to 200 families of Kutchi Memons every afternoon. There are orphanages, widow homes, etc. run by the Trust for the Jamat members.
The claims of the Trust, however, are not corroborated by the ordinary Kutchi Memons. According to them, milk and bread are distributed, but the benefits of other welfare schemes do not reach the less privileged Jamat members. They complain that Kutchi Memons do not have proper housing facilities.
Mr. P stated that, as Kutchi Memons were from Kutch, the Trust was also trying to do something for their Jamat members in that region of Gujarat by starting some welfare schemes with the funds at its disposal.
Mr. P is the Secretary of the Bombay unit of the Muslim League and has been the right-hand of Mr. Banatwala (Secretary of the All India Muslim League). They have been friends since their college days and have studied and worked jointly. Mr. P claimed that he had always been a supporter of the Muslim League. He speaks in Urdu, though he knows Gujarati. He was elected as a Municipal corporator on the Muslim League ticket in 1980. He stated that he had been a successful corporator and people were happy with his work. But he did not wish to participate in the recent elections as he did not have the necessary funds. He added that an honest politician did not charge money from the people for the services rendered to the society by him, and this did not make money to contest in elections. He added that the Corporator's job was a 'thankless job' and in Bombay one was at the mercy of goondas and people who were ungrateful. At night, people used to approach him for his help. If he could not be helpful, they used to harass him. A Corporator, in his view, is no better than the people's 'servant'.
Mr. P pointed out that the Bohra priests too used to contact him for help in some religious matters. He helped them and was highly respected for his services to the Bohra priesthood. But today no body recognises him as his past services have been forgotten. He also pointed out that during elections, volunteers were in the practice of taking money from both the parties contesting the elections. These corrupt and unprincipled political parties are demoralising he said. He wished to take part in clean and healthy politics only. He also stated that he was working hard to reorganize the Muslim League and make it a strong political party.
He pointed out that as a Corporator he noted that the communal elements of the majority community (Hindus) were 'fanatic' and that the Shiv Sena was communal to the core. Such communal organizations want to destroy Islam and the Muslim League is fighting tooth and nail against them he added.
Mr. P supported the Muslim Divorced Women's Bill vehemently. He stated that Shahbanoo should go to her parents who would look after her. He was very antiwomen and highly conservative in outlook. He stated that women were given too much freedom. According to him, a woman should observe purdah.
Mr. P is very active in the Muslim Personal Law Board. He said that he would oppose the Uniform Civil Code to the end.
He supported the boycott call of the Republic Day celebrations given by Janata Party leader Shahabuddin recently, though he hesitated to tackle an open stand on this sensitive issue.
In reply to the question why he and others who opposed the uniform civil code did not likewise ask for introduction of Islamic criminal law, Mr. P stated that the Muslim League had been demanding the introduction (of) criminal law for Muslims according to the Shariat of Islam.
On the subject of setting up a Board to cover the whole country so that divorced Muslim women are give financial help by it Mr. P stated that such a Board would start functioning soon.
Mrs. P has been very much sympathetic towards women on the issue of maintenance of the divorced women; but she hesitated to express herself in the presence of her husband. At the end of the interview, we informally discussed with her the above subject. She agreed that when talaq took place, it was the women who was the real sufferer. Most often, whenever a woman's husband would refuse to look after her and the children, she did not get the support of her family and her Jamat. Moreover, as the women are generally not educated and are not independent economically, several of them take to begging and prostitution. She said that there were cases of mental trauma resulting in nervous breakdowns. She cited a case of polygamy where the man had married a second time without letting his second wife know about his first marriage; when the second wife realized the existence of her husband's first wife, she revolted against him. Though Mrs. P seemed to be justifying the wife's bitterness, Mr. P justified the action of the husband saying that the second wife should not have left him as the Muslim men are allowed to take four wives and that in this case the husband was not at all on the wrong as he was in a position to look after both the wives.
Mrs. P holds that a divorced woman should be given a lumpsum amount of money as it is humiliating for the divorced woman to ask her husband repeatedly for alimony every month.
Mr. P felt that the Muslim League is the only political party serving the interests of the Muslim masses at present. He claimed that the Muslims in general have no 'faith' i the Congress (I), BJP, etc. He holds that the Muslim League is strong in Kerala, because the Muslim population is concentrated in that state. But likewise is not the case in Gujarat, because the Muslims are scattered over whole state and are relatively few in number. He informed us that the Muslim League had two Kutchi Memon members in Parliament elected from Kerala--Messers. Banatwala and Suleiman Sait.
By way of analysing the pathetic attitude of the Memons towards politics, Mr. P stated that Kutchi Memons did not take part in politics because of their involvement in business. He added that North Indian Muslims do not support the Muslim League.
Talking on the issue of talaq Mr. P stated that there should be arbitration by the Jamat in deciding the matter. Family court system should be permitted to give talaq at one sitting. He informed that the Muslim League had demanded a family court for the Muslims which would function in the same manner as the Kutchi Memon Jamat functioned. The Kutchi Memon Jamat has a Marriage Counsel Bureau and it does not allow any person to divorce arbitrarily.
Mr. S. (Kutchi Memon, Mandvi)
Mr. S has the middle class background. He has studied up to matriculation. He is a passport agent and a government contractor for roads, housing, etc. He is the leader of the Kutchi Memon Jamat in Mandvi town, and has been actively involved in most of the welfare activities introduced for Kutchi Memon upliftment.
He is honest, straight forward and a man of principles. Though without any academic or a professional background, he is a highly cultured, well-mannered, well-read and knowledgeable person.
His wife was educated in Bombay Kutchi Memon Jamat school. Compared to other Memon women she is more Catholic and knowledgeable. She discusses freely and confidently, though she refrains from taking stands on sensitive and controversial issues.
The children study in Bombay colleges. The younger son who accompanied us around Mandvi is intelligent and politically conscious. He is in the forefront of his college union activities.
Mr. S and all his family members are devoted Muslims and visit the Mosque five times a day. His wife too prays at home, and they all read Koran daily. Ramadan is observed by all, young and old.
Up to the late 1970s Mr. S was an active Congress (I) leader in his town. During the communal tension he began realizing that Congress (I) is too communal and an anti-Muslim party. He told us that Congress (I) suspected him of having leanings towards Pakistan, just because he was a Muslim. He mentioned several instances where he and many innocent Muslims were harassed by the Indian authorities (arrests, torture, etc.) and branded as Pakistani spies and agents only because the Kutch area was close to Pakistan border and because Mr. S had close social ties with Muslims from the Kutch-Saurashtra region of India.
Mr. S took the initiative in forming a minority front consisting of Indian Muslims to protect their interests. He said that, though there was ample opportunities for Indian Muslims to settle in Pakistan, they preferred to remain in India as they considered it to be their motherland and hence did not want to leave India. He felt that, in spite of their patriotic feeling towards India, the Indian Muslims were being systematically isolated from the national mainstream, persecuted and treated like second-class citizens. He also expressed his bitterness about the role being played by the Hindu communal parties, organizations, and Congress (I), accused them of creating rifts between the Hindus and Muslims, who had co-existed peacefully over the centuries.
Today an atmosphere of communal hatred exists in Mandvi and other parts of Gujarat. In fact, when our team visited Mr. S, he was very cautious and non-committal for a long time. But when he realized that we were secular in our outlook, had no vested interests in interviewing him and were sympathetic towards the plight of the Muslims, he came out with a lot of information about the situation in Mandvi and other parts of Kutch.
Mr. S informed us that when he was a contractor, he was very particular in giving employment to Muslims who came from the poorer sections. He is very much concerned about the welfare of the Muslims. He said that the Kutchi Memon Muslims were mainly involved in agricultural work. Women are also very backward. He said that, though in some places in Kutch, the Jamat had control over Kutchi Memons, in most places the Jamat's influence was weak. We presume that the reason for the level of Jamat's control over Kutchi Memons particular in areas is related to economic and social status of the Jamat members. In the areas where the Jamat enjoys control over large sums of community wealth, it is a well knit and organized body; whereas in areas where the standard of living of all the Jamat members is low, the Jamat organization is feeble, loose and financially weak.
He told us that, even in matters like divorce, the Jamat was unable to prevent indiscriminate divorce cases and provide relief to the divorced women. However, Mr. S is against government interference in the Muslim Personal Law and staunchly supports Mr. Banatwala's Bill. He is also of the opinion that the Muslim spokesmen for the government or the progressive Muslims are in reality not true followers of Islam, and that in their personal lives and behaviour they are actually anti-Muslim with pro-Hindu leanings on the issue of maintenance of divorced women. He earlier supported the Muslim Bill (Banatwala's), but after detailed discussion on the issue, he agreed that there were several unjust cases of divorce and that women should be provided with financial security. He also agreed later on that such acts of divorce were anti-Islamic and not justified by the Koran. We noted that on the whole, Mr. S was not dogmatic in his outlook, though his views were conservative on several issues. He has an open mind, and has humanitarian and concerned approach towards people at large.
Further, Mr. S blamed the communal parties for exploiting the situation and giving communal twists to each and every issue. He felt that this was due to the tense communal tension; a sense of insecurity and panic amongst the Muslims (minority) had been engendered. He was very disturbed, because it seemed to him that Hindu communal parties were behind a planned attack to wipe out the Islamic religion and its culture from India.
Mr. S stated that, earlier when he had approached the DSP and the Deputy Collector for permission to take out a procession in Mandvi, they did not give it. Instead, at the same time, the Ram Navmi procession was allowed; and this hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims at large. He then approached the Congress (I) leaders; but found that many of them took the RSS communal stand. He maintained that there were several RSS members both in the Congress (I) and in governmental and administrative positions. He pointed out to us that since the Muslims belonged to the minority community, they were employed in Banks, Police service, and Cooperatives only, if they were employed at all. There is enough evidence of governmental discrimination against the Muslims.
He was, therefore, of the opinion that a Muslim who was loyal to his community could not remain in Congress (I). Only those Muslims who were interested in personal gains joined it. All these considerations made him leave the Congress (I) though he felt that it was the only party which could protect Muslim interests to some extent.
In Kutch the Memon population is very poor and in some villages Memons are so backward that they live in thatched houses and have never used soap. Thus for the poor Memons, Muslim League politics is irrelevant. He added that the Muslim League leaders left their home town after acquiring wealth in big Indian cities and forgot their duties towards poor Memon masses. He felt that these leaders were now trying to exploit their past connections for the realization of their own ends.
Mr. S is the President of the Kutch Memon Jamat (100 Kutchi Memon families). Members of this community earn their livelihood by purchase and sale of vegetables. They are also engaged in petty business. Some of them are manual workers.
A large number of Kutchi Memon's have migrated to Bombay, Madras, Cochin, Bangalore, etc. and also to Africa and Pakistan. Mr. S said that, though Halai and Kutchi Memons followed the same religion, there were regional and cultural differences between them. They are basically converts from the same caste (Lohanas of Sindh) but have settled in different regions which hamper their social interaction. Kutchi Memons are economically and culturally affluent and prefer to retain their own separate identity. But in regions where they are in a minority (like Cochin), they intermingle and even intermarry. In Bombay intermarriage was not allowed in the beginning; but after 1956 all restrictions were withdrawn. In Bangalore, even today, they are not allowed to inter-marry. The above mentioned differences are hampering unity of Kutchi Memons within themselves as well as with other Memons and also with other Muslims.
Mr. S feels that Memons who are Sunnis, are the true followers of Islam having had no religious head to control the community affairs. In the interest of the Muslims at large, Memons should unite with other Muslim sects. But the Bohras and Khojas, he mentioned, have kept themselves aloof from other Muslims as their respective head priests have systematically and consciously restrained their community members from mingling with other Muslims, particularly with the Sunni Muslims. The Sunnies, he pointed out, have relatively more freedom and independent decision making power, whereas the Bohras and Khojas follow the Firmans (Orders) of their religious priests.
Mr. S informed us that the Bohra Congress (I) leader of Mandvi was systematically pressurized to succumb to the dictates and interests of the Bohra Syedna. The Dawoodi Bohra Jamat leadership in Mandvi is well informed about the movements as well as of the several instances of contacts of all the Jamat members. Any dissent or opposition from within the community is nipped in the bud. Bohras do not enter into relationships with other Jamats and prefer to socialise only with their own community members. The Bohra menfolk come in contact with non-Bohra Muslims and Hindus, but their womenfolk have almost no social interaction with men or women of the non-Bohra communities.