Show Menu

21 From the Outside In: Recollections about Jewish Community of Calcutta

Reasons for Leaving

They left because of opportunities abroad. For the upper class of Jews, unless they owned the company, they would not have top jobs which were for family members. They would have had to increasingly compete for jobs, and for the middle and poorer Jews once the Jewish companies folded they could not get jobs as easily. They (the Jews) loved Calcutta, even the British did. They had a very good quality of life – their hearts live here. -Arabinda (Bengali Hindu, 1930 )

The British left and there was a sense that things were going to change. They identified with being more European and Western, and [they worried that] things may get more Indian. They were part of other smaller communities who thought things may not be as good for them. -Dolores (Anglo Indian, 1955)

I found that about that time (50’s) when some were leaving and some discussing leaving, they seemed to feel that they did not have much of a future here. There were Parsis leaving too.  We accepted all this because lots of people were leaving.  I did not know about Bengalis leaving till much later as I had few Indian friends. I did not know whether (the Jews who were leaving), if it was a permanent thing. Are they coming back or not was a question mark in my mind. I did not know if they were going to scout or never never come back. -Katayun (Parsi, 1938)

The younger generation went away to better their prospects. For example, Paddy went away after Medical college. Jane her sister went after. The older ones stayed and died here. There was the Naxal problem too, as there were a lot of financial strictures. Jews started selling off their businesses and properties. A lot of the Irinian community were also leaving. Some went to Pakistan and some went to Iran. The Armenians went away to UK, Canada and Australia. Some of the Bengalis went away to study but they came back and many were misfits. The Jews were not the only ones leaving. -Farhi (Iranian Muslim, 1942)

One of the most important reasons for the wealthier leaving was the Reserve Bank regulation that you cannot take money out of the country. They felt their money was safer in UK or Israel.  (Among the middle and lower middle class Jews the reasons for leaving were different). None of the boys were educated enough to complete in the commercial world (as they would only finish school and most at the Elias Meyer Free School). Many had been supported by the community so they automatically got a job in a Jewish firm which is why they did not get post school or graduate qualification. They though they would have a better future because India was churning out Chartered Accountants doctors, and very qualified people with whom they would have to compete. -Iti (Bengali Hindu, 1941)

They loved India but there was a recognition that the opportunities were more readily available to Jews, Anglo Indians in more Anglicized countries, Canada and New Zealand, than India where the plum jobs would necessarily go to Indians. In commercial firms Indians would have got the job. Many of the Jewish men did not have a very good education, they had businesses and were good at their own business. But to compete in the job market the Indian would have the edge. Maybe they were right to leave. Parsis and Armenians did not leave to the same extent.  There was not the mass exodus as there were among the Anglo Indians, Jews and Chinese. The Chinese did not have papers here in India and found it hard to get passports, etc., which was a roadblock.  They found it hard to get identity papers. A lot went to Toronto and New York and some to Australia and a number of girls I worked with went to Toronto. Anglo Indians were going home and the colonies and went in droves. Jews were going for economic opportunity or to build Israel. My mother-in-law's brothers who were in good jobs went to Israel to live on Kibbutzim. A lot of people gave up comfortable lifestyles here to rough it on kibbutzim. And then there was the “Leading by Example”. You get one brother or sister who goes away and within 5 years they have settled down and have an apartment and a car and keep urging their family members to come. At that time the only car in the street was Landmaster and the Ambassador. If they can do that so can we was leading by example also had a lot of effect. -Jo (Anglo Indian, 1946)

[They left] for better opportunities like the rest of us. See, it was not just Sindhis. In the 60’s there were not many opportunities in India. Calcutta was the hottest City in India as all the corporates had their headquarters. But even then all of us who wanted a better education, there were no jobs for us. There was so little in terms of research and higher educational possibilities here. There were not many good jobs either even though people came from Bombay and Delhi to find jobs here.  Even the best jobs were box wallah jobs. So everyone else, like the Jews, were leaving for the same reasons, to study or get challenging jobs. There were only mundane jobs then for us here. There were no good post graduate studies either. So all of us left, not just Jewish people. -Naresh (Sindhi, Hindu, 1945)

Same reason that the Anglo Indians left, because they felt the West was more suited to them. There was a lot of upheaval during our time. Then there was Partition. It did not effect our family. Some chose to go to East Pakistan and since they were not Bengalis they were chucked out. -Naseem (Muslim, 1942)

They left because Israel opened her doors. They all knew, the minorities and Indians too, they did not want to learn Hindi or Bengali. Secondly, it was going to be difficult to get a job because after Independence everything was about exams and jobs did not go from father to son like it had been. Jews mostly left after the War because they wanted to get to a safe and lucrative place and what if Indian Government took away property? All the Armenians who had property are now having trouble. -Nilima (Bengali Hindu, 1927)

They thought they would not have a good future for their children. They felt their lives here were getting squeezed. It was hard to follow the faith when so few were left. They felt that there were no Jews left. -Otto (Anglo-Indian, 1951)