Why community is a tense subject at Bandra Gymkhana
Yesterday, members of the Bandra Gymkhana won their fight to hold the annual social gathering of the East Indian community at the gymkhana ground.
The resolution moved by members to permit the annual event was passed with 568 votes in favour and one dissenting voter. Reaction by members to Sunday’s victory was ecstatic, with messages circulated on social media calling it a victory for the East Indian community.
“The resolution permitting Bombay East Indian Association to hold the annual social event on Bandra Gymkhana tennis court is a historic and unprecedented win,” declared Godfrey Pimenta, vice president of the Bombay East Indian Association, formed in 1887.
Why was the resolution of a dispute at a suburban club celebrated like a big victory? The reason lies in the legacy of the club.
The Bandra Gymkhana, which is over eight decades old, is an important cultural institution for the city’s East Indians who trace their origins to indigenous fishing and farming castes. Influenced by Portuguese missionaries, much of the community converted to Roman Catholicism around the 16th century.
Bandra was their stronghold, with the community’s villages, churches, and parish schools still dotting the suburb.
Later the churches and schools brought in other Roman Catholic groups, those with origins in Goa and Mangalore.
When the suburb became a fashionable and expensive residential area in the middle of the 20th century, East Indians felt squeezed in by the newcomers. They had lost their agricultural lands to infrastructural projects as the city spread into northern suburbs, incorporating their villages.
There have been campaigns by East Indian groups demanding fresh compensation for their lands that were acquired by the government for projects like the Mumbai airport, but many agree that it is a lost cause.
The Bandra Gymkhana is a legacy that they are therefore determined to hold on to.
A dispute over an annual event at the club thus became a fight along community lines.
“East Indians have native rights in Mumbai, Goans in Goa, Mangaloreans in Mangalore. So East Indians have the rights over Bandra Gymkhana as they are the land donors and founders,” said Gleason Baretto of the Mobai Gaothan Panchayat, a group representing East Indians.
The gymkhana declined to make an official comment on the dispute, but a member who requested that he should not be named, said, “To be honest, the people who made this an issue are outsiders and groups that are not members of the gymkhana. The land on which the gymkhana is situated belongs to the Salcette Cooperative Housing Society.”
The housing society, one of the oldest such organisations in the city, was formed in 1918 to build homes for Roman Catholic families on land purchased from East Indians. Salcette was the old name for the island that now comprises suburban Mumbai, Mira-Bhayandar, and parts of Thane city.
Teresa Aguiar, honorary general secretary of the Bombay East Indian Association, said that the group had been holding their annual gathering on an April Sunday at the gymkhana since 1937.
“We have organised the social for the last 81 years but for the last three to four years we have been made to wait for permissions. It was stressful and so we decided to have a resolution,” said Aguiar who added that they were told that after the 2017 Kamala Mills fire, there were concerns regarding fire safety.
The campaign to win the resolution used social media and nearly 20 community associations supported the cause. In the end, the resolution was supported by members across community lines. “It was a near-unanimous vote and this would not have been possible if voting members from other communities did not support the East Indians,” said Aguiar.