East Indians in the
Field of Co-operation
By D. E. Pereira, A.C.R.A.
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
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.
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
function of a Consumers Society is distribution. In order mainly to eliminate
the middlemens 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
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. Anthonys Homes, Chembur, fall under this
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
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
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
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
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.