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Kutchi Memon Community of Kolkata – a lost tribe

16 December, 2021 10:41:58
Kutchi Memon Community of Kolkata – a lost tribe

Kolkata has many secrets hidden behind the tall escapades and amidst its dark alleys. But the vibrant city has always been home to people from across the globe, who fell in love with the city and stayed back. Many such communities who came from other parts of the country over the years became part and parcel of the Calcutta ethos.

One such community are the Kutchi (Cutchi) Memon community that arrived in Calcutta over a century ago on their shipping trade with Burma, Java and other regions. Over time, the Kutchi Memons made Calcutta their home. Today, less than 200 families still live in the area where the Nakhoda Mosque stands. This mosque is closely related to the community of shipping merchants who were always known for their business acumen. The community arrived in Kolkata from Bhuj in Gujarat. They arrived here planning to continue their shipping business and went on to build the Nakhoda Masjid. Incidentally, Nakhoda means the “captain of a ship.”

Nakhoda Masjid

It happens to be one of the largest mosques of Kolkata and was built through the financial support of a Kutchi Memon, Abdar Rahim Osman, in 1926. Many other members of the mercantile community also collected money to build the mosque. Even the road where the mosque stands is named after a powerful businessman Haji Zakaria, who was also a Kutchi Memon. The road is known as Zakaria Street, the famous food hub of Kolkata.

The mosque has a unique blend of Indian and Saracenic architectural features with three large domes, two minarets as tall as 151 feet, and 25 smaller minarets with lengths varying from 100 to 117 feet. The mosque is also testimonial to a time when Calcutta was an extremely prosperous city and where the Muslims were also prosperous. Most in the Kutchi Memon community hold the mosque close to their heart and consider it part of their impact on Calcutta. The upkeep of the mosque is still done by the Kutchi Jamaat members who are trustees of the structure well into its 95th year. When the mosque was constructed, the area was but a bustee where migrant Muslims resided. This mosque became the focal point around which Calcutta’s Muslim culture grew and developed.

The Kutchi community believes in a just and equal system that ensures the Kutchi community’s mosques do not belong to any particular school of thought in Islam. People from the Hanafi to the Ahl-e-Hadith come here and pray. The Kutchi Memons consider themselves to be “converts from Hinduism” and attribute their business acumen to their source stock: the Hindu Lohanas. From Kochi to Secunderabad to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania the community survives on this business acumen.

Zakaria Street

Despite their success and impact on Kolkata, the community eventually left the city. The migration of the community from their adopted home began when the shipping industry took a beating and multiple communal riots in Calcutta in the early 20th century troubled the business folk of the community. Many left after the 1947 Partition to Karachi; while others moved to countries like Mauritius and Kenya and settled there. 

There is a passage in the All India Kutchi Memon Federation’s souvenir in 1993, that sums up what the community feels about leaving Kolkata. “They lived up to their title ‘Memons – the blessed ones’ wherever they went. Masjids, madrassas, musafirkhanas, cemeteries scattered all over proclaim from housetops the acts of philanthropists… Those that have remained behind in India have only to play their part in the reconstruction of their motherland and have to contribute their might towards greater prosperity of the community in particular and the country at large.”

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