Rayomand Coins

Rip Van Ripon

For once there was an unequivocal reply: "The members of the Ripon Club (RC) managing committee and the trustees are not keen on changing the status for lady members." So stated Xerxes Dastur, a RC trustee and chairman of the managing committee at the 134th and 135th annual general meeting (AGM) of the Club on June 15, 2022. His answer was in response to a member’s email dated June 6 inquiring about the Club’s stand on the issue.

The RC is one of the few clubs in Bombay that bar full membership to women. Only single women can become lady or associate members but are denied the right to attend meetings or vote. If they subsequently marry, whether their spouse or children can use the Club is not specified. In a phone call with Parsiana on June 16, Dastur said a decision on spouses and children utilizing the Club’s facilities would probably have to be taken on a case by case basis. We may assume that if the spouse is a non-Parsi, permission would be denied. Almost 50% of Parsis in Bombay marry non-Parsis.

Five years ago when the question of according women full membership was raised at the 130th AGM on July 28, 2017, Dastur had said he would arrange for members to vote on granting women full membership status. Then an aspirant for Bombay Parsi Punchayet (BPP) trusteeship, Dastur backtracked on the promise as his political mentor, former BPP chairman Dinshaw Mehta opposed the vote. Four months later Dastur wrote to Parsiana that as a compromise deal was being negotiated with the landlord, there could be no change in the membership rule for ladies.

The landlord, the N. M. Wadia Charities, had in 2010 filed a suit for eviction against the Club in the Small Causes Court.

In reply to a Parsiana query this June 6 whether the compromise conditions precluded the admission of women as full-fledged members, N. M. Wadia Charities trustee and noted lawyer Burjor Antia replied promptly the same day, "Wadia Trust has not made any rules or regulations about RC or any woman being made full-fledged members of the RC as it is their internal matter."

The Club had agreed to surrender their fourth floor premises to the landlord in exchange for their suit being withdrawn. The revenue earned by the landlord from the new licensee would be shared with the Club. Antia pointed out, however, "About the negotiations which were going on between the Wadia Trust and Ripon Club… for the last two to three years, nothing has materialized in spite of the draft consent terms being approved by the overwhelming majority members of the Club." Dastur had stated at the June 15, 2022 AGM that Khushru Zaiwala, a Club member, had filed a suit against the landlord challenging the eviction suit and compromise settlement and also named RC as a party. Hence the Club could not proceed with the proposal agreed to.

Mehta and his two sons, BPP trustee Viraf and lawyer Hormuz, were present at the June 15 AGM. As Dinshaw jokingly told a member, he had come prepared for a fight on the issue of women’s membership. Last year, he had opposed liberalizing the rules of the Dadar Parsee Colony Gymkhana to accommodate the child of a Parsi mother married to a non Parsi. The aggrieved mother filed a petition in the Supreme Court.

While restricting participation of women in the 138-year-old RC, Dastur ironically complained about low utilization of the Club. Barely 10 members showed up for the jashan held on June 4, he lamented. The 30 or so who came later did so for housie and dinner, he added. The monthly catering bill is less than Rs 2,00,000. Out of the 765 supposed members "only around 150 are active," he observed. Over a 100 annual reports mailed to members were returned undelivered to the Club by the post office. This is similar to the BPP electoral rolls where the total of voters listed are around 32,000. The actual figure is probably closer to 12,000 to 15,000. The total Parsi population of Bombay is probably between 30,000 to 35,000.

While RC does not play a significant role in Parsi affairs, it is a microcosm of what is happening in the community: Trustees who are out of touch with demographic realities, institutions that are underutilized, bereft of beneficiaries and short of funds. Time was spent at the AGM on how to collect outstanding dues from members but not on how to increase membership. No new members were enrolled in 2020-21 but 12 resigned and four died, according to the Club’s annual report. The year prior, 13 Parsis were enrolled, seven resigned and seven passed away. Both Dastur and Viraf are trustees of the BPP. If they remain bogged down in archaic, sexist and racist mindsets, there is little hope of coping with the oncoming crisis the community will face as numbers continue to decline at an alarming rate.

At the Cusrow Baug Karani Agiary function to felicitate the newly elected BPP trustees (see "We can work together," Events and Personalities, pg 8), two trustees spoke of their loyalty to dakhmenashini, even though the election campaigning is over and disposal of the dead was not an issue. Perhaps the four crore rupees (USD 512,393) annual deficit that the maintenance of the 55-or-so-acre Doongerwadi estate drains from the bankrupt trust’s coffers was on their mind. Or perhaps it was the mobeds and the parents of the second and third child who are not receiving their promised subsidies, or the tenants who have not been reimbursed for their 50% contribution to repairs to their buildings. Or perhaps the BPP’s 10 crore rupees (USD 1,280,982) annual deficit may be weighing on their thoughts.

RC may be a lost cause. Will it be different for the BPP? The three reelected trustees, all Dinshaw loyalists, won the election on their own merit. But they remain beholden to Dinshaw and espouse the same views as he does on many subjects. But if they should revisit their earlier stance, they may be able to mitigate some of the ill will past politics and policies have caused.


Villoo Poonawalla