From Khoja Wiki

The Khojas In Early Bombay

by Iqbal I. Dewji, Editor, (2024)

In a great many ways, the outstanding success of the present-day Khoja global diaspora is an outcome of their 19th-century migration from Surat-Kutch-Kathiawar to this fast-growing English colonial port-city, located just south of Gujarat, on India’s western seaboard and within the ancient Indian Ocean trading networks.

By 1534, Khoja merchants from Gujarat were trading with the Portuguese (see Khoja Shams-ud-din Gillani) and so when the Sultan of Gujarat seceded “Bom Bahia,” -the beautiful bay - to the Portuguese, it is most likely that Khojas traders would have began operating from there as well. From the record of the ship The Quedagh Merchant belonging to the Khoja merchant Kurji of Surat, that was captured by the notorious English pirate, Capt. Kidd in 1698, it would appear that the Khojas were living and trading through that Mughal Imperial port around the 1600's. In 1661, Bombay was then handed over as “dowry” to the English.[1]

By 1668, the more established Khoja merchants from Surat were lured with the promise of the growing business opportunities created by the English East India Company when it transferred its base to Bombay, as the British expanded their hold on India.

Surat, for example, saw its shipping cut to about one fourth between the late 1600s and the mid-1750s. Most of the city’s traders left for other ports, many of them for Bombay, the new British capital for the west coast.[2]

Jain and Hindu Banias, and Bohra and Khoja Muslims who had been actively engaged in providing hinterland brokerage and credit services to the Company in the eighteenth century, continued to do so in Bombay while also amassing wealth through wholesale in-country cotton and textiles trade. These communities conducted their commercial activities through caste networks and hierarchies such as panchayats (caste governing bodies), and mahajans (commercial guilds) 340-343[3]

The arrival of many Indian and British merchants led to the development of Bombay's trade by the end of the seventeenth century. Soon it was trading in salt, rice, ivory, cloth, lead, and sword blades with many Indian ports as well as with the Arabian cities of Mecca and Basra.[4]

However, it was Skull Famine of 1791 (see Gujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations) which decimated almost 11 million people in North India, which forced many poorer Khojas to move to the relative safety of Bombay, assisted by the charity of the wealthier jati brothers. By this time, Bombay’s total population was about 100,000. [5]

Within the community, there is an oral tradition that the first Khoja Jamatkhana(community Hall) was started in 1740 and by 1790, the Khojas owned a graveyard in Dongri, the still-extant Khoja mohalla neighborhood. (see Alarakhia Sumar)

That the Khojas were living in Bombay by the end of the 1700s was also confirmed by the Ismaili Imam’s lawyer in the Agakhan Case of 1866. [6]

However, the earliest written record is from 1804 when the Khojas elected leadership agreed to mortgage their jamaat-khana building to a shroff (money-lender ed..) for the sum of Rs.17,000 to assist in the personal expenses of their Imam, Shah Khalil Allah, in Iran. [7]

Also later when the Bombay Khoja Jamaat account books were seized by the British courts in an ongoing litigation, records show that an additional sum of Rs.1,300 was requested by and again sent to, the same Ismaili Imam in 1807. [8]

The litigation also establishes that the Bombay Khoja Jamat Book notes their presence in Bombay after 1806-1807. [9] During this period, the Khojas organized themselves in a setup that they had used in India for over the previous four centuries.

The structure of administration remained much the same as had been introduced by Pir Sadr al-Din. It consisted of a federation of cells, each with a single jamaat or community, at its base. Each council was composed of all the adult males in each jamaat with decisions regarding community affairs made in meetings at the council-hall, the jamaat-khana. For each jamaat-khana, there was a treasurer or steward, the Mukhi, and the accountant, the Kamadia.[10]

Still later, during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, Bombay became an active litigious society and since the Khoja merchants were fiercely protective of their property inheritance rights, we have some well-documented information on their lives.

In one such inheritance case, witness testimony by one Hassoon Syed stated that of the 150 to 200 Khoja families in Bombay in the early 1820's, the majority lived quite modestly. [11]

Another series of famines in Kutch-Kathiawar in 1803, 1813-1814, 1823-1824, 1834-1835 caused further migrations to the safety of Bombay. [12] Oral tradition has it that almost 1,500 Khojas moved from the Junagadh area to Bombay during this period. Alarakhia Sumar, a prominent Mukhi of the Khoja Jamaat, was credited with their settlement in Bombay at this time.

Cassum Natha, another court witness, estimated, that by 1847, the Khoja community was closer to 600 families, with approximately 1,000 or 1,500 persons. [13]

Following such migration, family connections, jati (guild) networks and a reputation of honesty made the Khojas to prosper rapidly. For example, frequently in business, if one failed or defaulted, others would rally around to discharge his debts so as to keep their guild business reputation intact.[14]

Bombay’s Mohammed All Road in Dongri [15] became a major centre of Khoja settlement, with families migrating from Kutch and Kathiawar in Gujarat to establish business ventures that derived from an existing Gujarati, mercantile culture [16]

By the mid-century, the Khojas became firmly established in the Bombay's rice distribution network and the term "Khoja" also came to describe brokers of parched rice. [17] 1841, there were some 2,000 Khojas there, mostly small traders in grains with a few large merchants.[18]

Justice Perry, in his 1847 judgment in Hirbae v. Sonabae. Gungbae Sonabae, another significant Inheritance dispute estimated the number of Khojas in Bombay to be 2,000. [19]

Whilst these early communities thrived in the new prosperity of Bombay, they had their share of disagreements, as the records show that the earliest riots in Bombay’s history occurred at Mahim in 1850 in consequence of a dispute between two rival factions of the Khojas. [20]

By 1866, their numbers in Bombay had grown to about 4,000. [21]

Gradually, the Khojas began to use Bombay as their base to pursue trade opportunities, primarily in Africa, but also in other parts of Asia.[22] (See alsoU Kan Gyi);Rajabali Jumabhoy; Dewji Jamal.

By 1860, the Bombay Khojas went into the opium trade in a big way and by 1890, they had overtaken the Parsis from this most lucrative trade.[23]

Whilst the general success of Gujarati immigrants is well documented and attributed to their centuries-old maritime and mercantile culture, the Khojas had unique advantages over other Muslims due to their syncretic faith system.

These Ismaili communities (Khojas and Bohoras) often followed social practices and customary laws which bore close relation to the Hindu communities from which they had converted. … More crucially, local usages regarding usury and inheritance laws allowed them to accumulate and retain capital within the family beyond the constraints, which orthodox Islamic law may have imposed.[24]

Clearly, it was through these methods of wealth generation and transmission that the Khojas had raised themselves from obscurity, poverty, and illiteracy to prominence, wealth and intelligence during the 19th century.[25]

(See Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim, Baronet (Baronetcy): Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Barrister & Politician): Rahimtullah Muhammad Sayani; Jaffer Rahimtoola ; Abdulla Dharamsi (Lawyers); Jaffer Padamsee (Landlord); Ibrahim Rahimtoola; Sir Rahimtoola M. Chinoy; Mohamed Ibrahim Rawjee (Civic Leaders).

Some historians have argued that the Khoja Inheritance cases stem largely from the bonafide fears of a mercantile community to the dissipation of family wealth, which may have actually happened, as the Khojas of Bombay (and later Zanzibar) seemed to have lost their economic clout by the mid-20th century.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Bombay community numbered around 8,500 and was vibrant, relatively wealthy, with several members engaged in a wide range of economic activity.[26]

(See Manji Ghulamhussian Padamsee (Glassware); Laljibhai Devraj(Glassware); Ahmed Devji (Furniture);Dewji Jamal (Shipping); Qasim Mohamed Mitha(Trading); Nur Muhammad Chinoy(automobiles & Electronics), Ahmed S. Moloobhoy (ship-demolition)

They also began to spread themselves across the Bombay area. In the 1881 census, Khojas were noted as residents of the suburb of Bandra.[27]

Whilst most Khojas were small traders and shopkeepers, a number of major family fortunes were made during the second half of the century and they ended being amongst the global elites in wealth, education, travel and sophistication.

For instance, the very first school in Khoja history was established in Bombay around 1825, whilst an English medium school was set-up through the generosity of Kassambhai Nathabhai by 1850’s.(26) [28] As early as the 1850’s, a private newspaper called “The Khoja Doost” was launched in Bombay.

Some of the families were engaged in the Bombay cotton mills industry which came into being around the 1860s, largely in response to the growing trade with East Africa through the port of Zanzibar, where the Khojas and other Kutchi-Kathiawari merchants had established successful distribution networks. (see Khojas in Zanzibar History)

Since the 1860s the Bombay economy has been based on cotton - its export and the manufacture of cloth. With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 and the consequent cotton famine, Bombay suddenly emerged with a virtual monopoly of the world cotton trade. Its merchants acquired wealth, land and prosperity surpassing that possessed by the colonial masters.[29]

See SirCurrimbhoy Ebrahim); Dostmohamed Allana; Jairazbhoy Peerbhoy, one of the largest property owners in Bombay). They had links in Karachi, Burma, Bengal, Aden, East Africa, Japan, China and Europe.

Following the war and with the resulting shifts in cotton production and manufacture, alongside the industrialization of cities like Bombay, Salem’s (Massachusetts)strong connections with Zanzibar through cotton and resin had all but come to an end by 1870.[30]

Bombay had become the Indian Ocean’s most important commercial and industrial center and its success was related, in part, to East African demand for a constellation of consumer goods.[31](see Sir Tharia Topan of Zanzibar - who even had an office in Bombay)

Between 1855 and the beginning of the American Civil War, East Africans consumed more than twenty-nine million yards of merekani cloth.[32]

Another very bad famine, the “Chappanyo” of 1899-1901 (SeeGujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations) caused more to flee from Kathiawar and according to the 1901 Census, the total Khoja population in Western India was estimated at 50,837 (25.555 males and 25.282 females) and by 1911 Census, 52,367 (26,387 males and 25,980 females) [33]

As was custom for centuries, the Khoja jati connections established charitable initiatives to deal with these catastrophes. Tharia Topan & Allidina Visram made frequent visits to India to persuade Khojas to move to East Africa and to recruit migrants for their vast enterprises in the African hinterland.

In the steam age following the 1870s, Bombay became a major embarkation port for those headed for better lives in East Africa, as there now was a regular service between Bombay and Zanzibar and later after the establishment of direct British colonial rule in East Africa, to Mombasa. (See Hasham Jamal Pradhan)

Within one month, he(the Protector of Emigrants in Bombay) counted 1,449 people leaving for East African ports. The total for the year 1895-96, of 6,908, was more than twice the number of the preceding year. The passengers onboard one of these ships, questioned by the Protector, included, among others, thirty-two masons and tile turners from Kutch, sixty laborers from villages in Gujarat, three Khojas and four Hindu tailors from Rajkot, and sixteen Brahmins, who intended to “follow whatever suitable business offers".[34]

Swahili dictionaries published in Bombay in 1841/44 and Lucknow (in today’s Pakistan) in 1880 give a hint at how sophisticated these far‐reaching trade networks have been (Noronha 2009: 22). [35]

.....big Gujarati cotton traders and piece-goods merchants (including Khojas) dominated the Indian Merchants Chamber (“the largest business association in Bombay”)[36]

The Khoja's contribution to Bombay can best be illustrated from the List of the Mayors of Bombay from 1887 to 1984. There are 13 Khojas in this list and it just goes to show the strength and value of the community that they administered possibly the most economically rich city in British India. (per: Mr. Mohammad Rahimtoola, Karachi).[37]

Notes & References

  1. Jagga, Lajpar Rai- Bombay: One and Many - (Today, Muslims, including Khojas make up 15% of the population in Mumbai, one out of every five Muslim is a Shia and their total numbers are estimated between 500,000 and 700,000)
  2. India in the World; the World in India 1450-1770
  3. Doshi,Sapana.Imperial Water, Urban Crisis-A Political Ecology of Colonial State Formation in Bombay, 1850–90
  4. Bombay – Wikipedia-the Free Encyclopaedia.
  5. Growth of Mumbai - Wikipedia-the Free Encyclopaedia.
  6. Howard, E. I. The Shia School of Islam and Its Branches, Especially That of the Imamee-Ismailies: A Speech. Bombay: Oriental Press, 1866 pg 71
  7. Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce [hereafter i3J 21 July 1851 1033-4
  8. Howard, ibid 86
  9. Howard- ibid pp 75
  10. Green, Nile. Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840-1915. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011 177. See also Asani,Ali. From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim: The Articulation of Ismaili Khoja Identity in South Asia* (Harvard University) pp 12 - Published in Farhad Daftary, Modern History of the Ismailis, 2010
  11. The Telegraph and Courier (24 June 1847): 599
  12. Bhacker, M. Reda. Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar Roots of British Domination. London: Routledge, 1992. 160.
  13. Telegraph ibid pp 599
  14. No. 9342 dated Fort William, 30 May 1878, J. Munro, Inspector General of Police, Lower Provinces, to the Secretary to Govt. Punjab, Judicial Department. Bengal Political, 16 July 1878, A16 and 17; no. 63 dated 19 March 1879, Col. A.H. Bamfield, Officiating Inspector of Police, Punjab,
  15. Dongri is a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Mumbai. The word comes from "Dungar" a Kutchi word for hill-which apparently have been blasted out of existence in Dongri. The word 'Dungare' (Workmen's overalls worn in Britain) also has its origin from Dongri because these garments were made from cloth from this place. The Portuguese church of Dongri, named Our Lady of Bethlehem dates back to 1613, an inscription on the main entrance of the Church tells us. Wikipedia-Dongri.
  16. Jones, Justin. The Shi'a in Modern South Asia Religion, History and Politics. 139.
  17. Bulley, Anne - The Bombay Country Ships 1790-1833 276
  18. Chatterji, Joya. Routledge Handbook of the South Asian Diaspora.
  19. Perry, Erskine. Cases Illustrative of Oriental Life and the Application of English Law to India, Decided in H.M. Supreme Court at Bombay. London: S. Sweet, 1853. 1.; New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1988 1
  20. Bombay – Wikipedia-the Free Encyclopaedia.
  21. Howard-Speech ibid 5
  22. Dobbin, Christine E. Urban Leadership in Western India: Politics and Communities in Bombay City, 1840-1885,. London: Oxford University Press, 1972 151
  23. Chatterji abid
  24. Chandavarkar, Rajnarayan. The Origins of Industrial Capitalism in India: Business Strategies and the Working Classes in Bombay, 1900-1940. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1994 56
  25. Chandavarkar, abid
  26. Enthoven, R. E. The Tribes and Castes of Bombay. Vol. 2. Delhi: Cosmo Publications, 1975 217
  27. Bombay: Gazetteer Jan 1883 vol 11 Kolaba Gov. Central Press, 1882 16
  28. Howard - Speech ibid 5
  29. Jagga- Bombay ibid
  30. Anna E Arabindan-Kesson. From Salem to Zanzibar: Cotton and the Cultures of Commerce between Salem and East Africa, 1820-1861-Chapter in Patricia Johnston and Caroline Frank, (eds.), Global Trade and Visual Culture in Federal New England (University of New England Press, 2014) Kindle Location 195-196
  31. Prestholdt, Jeremy. Domesticating the World African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
  32. ibid Anna E Arabindan-Kesson. Kindle Location 180-181
  33. Gazetteer ibid
  34. Metcalf, Thomas R. Imperial Connections India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860-1920. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. 179.
  35. Barton,Eric “ ...what tribe should we call him ?” The Indian Diaspora, the State and the Nation in Tanzania since ca. 1850. 2013, Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien. No. 25/2013, Vol. 13, 1‐28 Kindle Location 129-130
  36. Markovits, Claude. Indian Business and Nationalist Politics, p.31.
  37. Since its inception as a Municipal Corporation, the Khojas have provided seven Mumbai mayors from the Bombay’s leading Khoja families.

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