The British Raj is long gone. However, there are some places in the country which still follow the rules and regulations laid by them at that time. Say, for instance, some elite clubs of India. Did you know painter M. F. Hussain was once shown the exit door of Mumbai’s Willingdon Sports Club just because he was barefooted and that the founder of Infosys, N. R. Narayana Murthy once had to ‘prove’ his passion for golf to get into the Karnataka Golf Club?
Then there’s this club in Kolkata called the Calcutta Club, that allowed only male members because of some English rules that didn’t permit the entry of women.
Established in 1907, Calcutta Club was restricted to men only until 2007 when they decided to let women be a part of it.
What took them almost a 100 years to realise this, I wonder? Two years before the big decision was taken, the then chief executive officer and general secretary of the club S.N. Banerjee told The Telegraph –
“We are just following conventions. The club was set up in 1907, a time when few women would think of taking part in many of the club’s activities. And you have to remember that its constitution was framed accordingly.”
While some permanent (read: privileged) members wanted to ‘keep the traditions alive’, there were some who referred to this absurd rule as old fashioned. However, Banerjee tried to justify his point by stating that –
“Discrimination is not the club’s intention. There are indeed some provisions made for women, such as the extension of membership to widows of permanent members. He also points out that the club holds activities like fashion shows that are specifically aimed at women and girls. There is also a ladies beauty parlour on the premises and special timings for women at the club’s health spa.”
Yes, women had every so called luxury in the club except for the right to vote because interestingly, they weren’t actually part of the club. This changed in 2007 when women who were before identified as the daughters or wives of male members of the club could now enjoy the luxuries as proud members of the club.
It was all triggered in 2005 when IAS officer Kalyani Chaudhuri, the then principal secretary of PWD found out about the gender discrimination happening there and refused to renew the lease of the land on which the club was built.
What happened on the 100th birthday of the club was indeed a gift for every woman out there. When asked about it, Prasad Ranjan Ray, a club member said to Mumbai Mirror –
“The wind of change is blowing everywhere. Our gender bias was ethically and emotionally wrong.”
Better late than never.