India’s British-era clubs are a symbol of class bias. They perpetuate a brand of elitism that has been passed down from the days of the Raj.
They are best known for two things—antiquated rules that have no place in a modern world and a long waiting period for membership that could easily stretch up to a couple of decades. Their dress code mostly bars anything that’s Indian and the privileged, and pricy, membership is barred for all but a few with money and pedigree.
Painter M F Husain was famously denied entry into Mumbai’s Willingdon Club in 1988 for being barefooted. A few years later, Communist legend Jyoti Basu was barred from a Kolkata club for wearing his trademark dhoti. But it was the denial of entry to G Mohan Gopal, the then director of National Law School of India University, by the Bangalore Club in 2002 for coming in dhoti that prompted the Karnataka government to look for ways to regulate the functioning of such clubs.
A committee of legislators formed in this regard has submitted its recommendations and a bill is expected to be passed soon doing away with the dress code and regulating entry fee. This is welcome. What’s not is the politicians, in the guise of reining in the clubs, are also trying to gift themselves membership of these institutions. One of the recommendations of the panel is that the MLAs, MLCs and MPs be given membership of two clubs of their choice.
This makes one wonder whether the real intention of the lawmakers is to Indianise these English clubs and do away with class bias or to get themselves seated among society’s privileged class without having to stand in queue. No doubt, it’s time these clubs stopped barring entry to people wearing Indian clothes. But at the same time, the politicians’ plan to use the powers vested in them to get backdoor access to these clubs smacks of the same elitism that they are supposed to fight.