East Indians on the West Coast

In the 2010s, a rough survey of East Indians in Mumbai revealed that there were 2.5 lakh in the city, 80,000 in Vasai and 12,000 in Thane.[1] Why, one might ask, would a Christian community living on India’s west coast call itself East Indian?

The reasons are not known, says Mumbai-based historian Dr. Fleur D’Souza (see video below). The Bombay East Indian Association (BEIA) was formed in 1887 and that’s when, Dr. D’Souza adds, the community gave itself the name East Indian. The Association sought to uplift Bombay’s indigenous Roman Catholics and distinguish them from those migrating to the city from places like Goa and Mangalore.

Dr. D’Souza also reminds us of a misconception related to the community’s adoption of its name. It is often assumed that East Indian was chosen to find favour with the British East India Company. However, by 1887 when the BEIA was formed, the Company was defunct; the British Crown and Parliament had taken over control of India in 1858. East Indians, who considered themselves Bombay’s ‘original inhabitants’, still hoped for preferential treatment from the British, Dr. D’Souza says.

The History and Present of Mumbai’s East Indians | An Interview with Dr. Fleur D’Souza | By Subuhi Jiwani

It is historical nuances such as this that are highlighted in the interview with Dr. D’Souza. It touches on D’Souza’s family history and the history of Christians in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region; community life under the Portuguese (1534-1739) and the British (1661-1947); the experience of urbanization post-Independence; the leading lights of the community; and East Indian identity, cuisine, dress, dialect and song.

Dress, in fact, is the subject of another exploration (see video below). Mogan Rodrigues, a freelance tour guide who has been chronicling East Indian oral histories, talks about the lugra or East Indian sari. A native of the East Indian enclave of Uttan, he saw that it was disappearing from women’s wardrobes and decided to revive it with few textile experts.

While the lugra is a version of the Maharashtrian navvari sari, it differs from it slightly – and Rodrigues tell us how. In the video, two women help drape the lugra on Rodrigues’ wife Sharon and speak about how they learned to drape it. One of them, Mary D’Souza, speaks about why she still wears a lugra every day.

The East Indian Sari or ‘Lugra’ | An Interview with Mogan Rodrigues | By Subuhi Jiwani

These videos present a glimpse of East Indian life in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. They are part of an expansive and evolving culture-scape that we hope to etch in detail in the future.


[1] From a footnote in Dr. Fleur D’Souza’s essay, ‘The East Indians of Mumbai: Identity, Icons, and Issues’, in the edited volume Mumbai: Socio-Cultural Perspectives: Contributions of Ethnic Groups and Communities (Primus Books, 2018), edited by Anila Verghese, Swarupa Kamat and Rashna Poncha.