Rotary is born in Calcutta, India

Rotary began its journey on 23rd February 1905 in Chicago, USA and within 6 years, it became International when a club was chartered in Winnipeg,  Canada in 2010.The spread of Rotary clubs in the Western Hemisphere, especially in USA and Canada, was rapid. Rtn JamesWheeler Davidson of Canada travelled to South east and Far East of Asia with his wife and 12 year old daughter with the mission of spreading Rotary there. When he visited Calcutta (Kolkata) he found that a Rotary club already exists there!

R.J. Combes, the manager of a steel products company while on a business trip from U.S.A. was so impressed by the “Friendship, fellowship, and service” aspects of the movement called Rotary that he wanted to introduce the idea to his friends in Calcutta. On 26th September 1919, R.J. Coombes invited 45 gentlemen to the erstwhile Peliti’s restaurant to brief them about the Rotary clubs that were coming up in USA and other countries. Ever since the first meeting, only 20 of the 45 gentlemen who had met, became the charter members of Rotary Club of Calcutta. The charter was granted on 1st January 1920. The first few years of the club were difficult as the members could not find the right kind of men to join. Most of them were from the non- Indian population, who enjoyed a fairly comfortable existence but did not have any abiding interest in the city. There were some public spirited government, business and professional men who associated themselves with charitable and civic matters and took part in activities which assisted in creating better relations between the different communities. They usually held responsible positions which often necessitated their absence for four consecutive weeks and this made the “attendance obligation” difficult to follow. There was also one more social problem – that of an artificial divide in status which graded the European society here from the government official to the jute and other tradesmen, so that the idea of joining Rotary with a membership representing a cross section of the community – could hardly appeal to many! In those days, Rotarians shuddered from publicity. That was yet one more reason for slow pace of membership growth. During the first two years of Rotary Club of Calcutta the membership was restricted to Europeans.

Except for the lone club chartered in Lahore in 1927, for about a decade India had to be content with only one club in Calcutta. Things changed when James Wheeler Davidson (Jim Davidson) of Calgary, Canada arrived on Indian shores with a firm determination to spread Rotary in India. In fact, he was responsible for the establishment of Rotary clubs in different parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand, Southern Europe, Egypt, Siam and Japan, and was known as the “Marco Polo of Rotary”. Jim Davidson planted Rotary in Bombay (now Mumbai) as well as Madras (now Chennai) in1929.
Indians are Taken as Members

A change came about in 1921, when Sir Surendranath Banerjee accepted an Honorary Membership of Rotary club of Calcutta and he remained so till his death in 1925. During the same year, Mr S. C. Rudra was invited to become the 1st “Active” member of the club and was lent the classification of ‘Mining Engineering.’ He was the first Indian to be inducted into active membership of RC Calcutta. In the next 5 years, Rotary club of Calcutta had 65 members, of whom 6 were Indians.

It must be noted at this point that there was no other Rotary club for over thousands of miles and often, over a year passed by, without the attendance of a Rotarian from another club. In fact, during the first ten years of its life, Rotary club of Calcutta never hosted an official representation from the Rotary headquarters!

In the early stages Rotary club of Calcutta’s bulletin was produced on a duplicator and subsequently, printed on a single sheet. “The Chaka” was 1st found in a printed format on 15th August, 1925.

On 18th August, 1925 the speaker at Rotary club of Calcutta was Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi who addressed the club members on “The Economic and Spiritual Value of the Charkha”.

Rtn Nitish Chandra Laharry was the 1st Indian to be elected as a club secretary of Rotary club of Calcutta in 1926-27. 
The first community service project of Rotary Club of Calcutta was the organization of an entertainment at the Elphinstone Theatre, now known as Minerva, to raise funds for the Unemployment Relief Fund.

Rotarians of Rotary club of Calcutta worked on various civic affairs – the most important of which was the Leprosy Campaign.

When the Bengal government planned a railway bridge to cross the river Hooghly at Bally, Rotary club of Calcutta resolved to impress upon the government the need to provide roadways on the bridge.
In 1927, Rotary club of Calcutta organized a public conference to draw public attention to the dilapidated condition of the old Howrah pontoon bridge.

On 25th December, 1925, the first Children’s Treat was organized where more than 1500 students from various underprivileged children’s schools are taken out for a day’s fun and picnic.
New Clubs

It was in 1926-27 that a “classification committee” was formed to deal with matters of classification of members. In the same Rotary year, Rtn J.F.Mitchell and another Rotarian were entrusted with the responsibility of looking in to possible extension of Rotary. That year they traveled to Bombay (Mumbai), Lahore, Delhi, Madras (Chennai) and Colombo, trying to arouse interest in Rotary there. In 1927, the second Rotary club in the then India was started in Lahore, now in Pakistan

Rtn A F M Abdul Ali was elected to be the 1st Indian club President of RC Calcutta in 1929
By the end of the Rotary year 1929-30, clubs were formed in Delhi, Bombay, Madras and two in Burma – Rangoon and Thayetmo. This was later assumed by Rtn H.W. Bryant (popularly known as “Bert) who was loved by most Rotarians as he travelled all over the country and formed many clubs.

In 1931, the Delhi Rotary club was dissolved as its members consisted of a migratory population as many of them worked in the Capital and went on overseas leave for the summers and the rest went up to Simla from April to October.

In 1933, the Indian membership in Rotary club of Calcutta rose to 50 and the club’s total membership crossed 100.

The growth of Rotary in South Asia was rather slow for many years. Most clubs had foreigners as members and there were very few of them in numbers. The other reason that India had an agriculture based economy and major population lived in rural India where the scope for expansion was very little. In 1933, Rotary branched out to Amritsar, and then to Bangalore in 1934. By 1936 Ahmedabad, Baroda, Jamshedpur, Poona and Sholapur had Rotary clubs. 3 clubs Lucknow, Surat and Cochin, were chartered in 1937. RC Cochin had 22 charter members of which 10 were non-Indians and an Indian, Sir R. K. Shanmugam Chetty, was the charter president. Asansol, Madurai and Rajkot clubs were formed in 1938; one club each at Agra, Salem and Jabalpur came into existence in 1939. The Delhi club was also revived in 1939, thanks to the efforts of Sir. Frederick James, the first Rotary governor from India. Dehradun and Dharward invited Rotary in 1940. The next year Rotary moved to Bhopal, Mithapur, Belgaum and Nilgiris. The Nilgiris club extended Rotary to Coimbatore in 1943. The Visakhapatnam and Navasari clubs were already functioning. The Patna club with 36 charter members was also formed the same year (1943). Other clubs of 1943 origin were Kakinada, Vijayawada, Bhuj, Patiala, Kanpur, Allahabad, Guntur, Kolhapur, Tirunelveli and another one at Patna. Rotary clubs of Nagpur, Bharuch, Satara, Mysore and Bhavnagar were formed in 1944. In the two years that followed, Cuttack, Dhanbad, Akola, Nasik, Ratlam, Moradabad, Faizabad, Gadag, Indore, Jaipur and Gorakhpur were added to the Rotary India map. The Tirunelveli club took Rotary to Tuticorin in 1946. The clubs chartered in 1947 included Godhra, Gwalior, Palanpur, Nadiyad, Ambala, Mussoorie, Lucknow (2 clubs), Ahmednagar, Hubli, Vellore and Howrah. Rotary clubs to be organised in other cities of India were Etah, Meerut, Ambala, Amritsar, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Poona, Sholapur, Baroda, Jamshedpur, Lucknow Agra, Bhopal, Belgaum, Kolhapur, Mysore, Nagpur, Trivandrum, Indore, Jaipur and Gwalior.

By the time India became independent in1947, there were 71 Rotary clubs in India. Gujarat:14, Maharashtra:10, UP:10,Tamli Nadu and Karnataka: 7 each and other states together: 23. These clubs together had a total membership of 3121.
Districts are Organized

The system of organising Rotary clubs into districts started in 1915-16 but Rotary clubs in India were not “districted” till 1931-32. From 1932 to 35, Rotary clubs in India (including Afghanistan, Myanmar and Srilanka were to be in district ‘A’. In 1937-38, the India was made Rotary District No. 89 with Rtn Sir Pheroze Sethna of Rotary club of Bombay as the District Governor. However, his untimely death led to Sir Frederick James assuming the position and the district conference was held in Bangalore.

In 1939, the districts in the east were again re- numbered and Rotary club of Calcutta found itself in District No. 88 consisting of Afghanistan, Burma and a part of undivided India. B T Thakur, Col. Warren Boulton and again BT Thakur were the governors between 1939 and 1942. However in 1942 - 43, this District was, yet again, renumbered because of the increase in numbers of clubs. This time it was District No.90. At the Jamshedpur conference of this district, Rtn Nitish Chandra Laharry was elected as District Governor. This conference had a registration of 154 and the RI President’s representative was Sir FE James. In December, 1946 a District Assembly was held at Calcutta for the new District No 91, where the District Governor Rtn Nitish Chandra Laharry received the Rotary International President Richard Hedke.

Meanwhile in Calcutta…

The National Anthem was sung at the beginning of the weekly club meetings during 1948-49. The ‘sunshine box’, which upto1932, was known as the “fines Box” and had resulted in small sums being realized on behalf of charity from members called to order by the President, was put to better use in 1948 by being passed to all members at the weekly meetings. During the first two years this raised Rs 4000/- which was used as a nucleus for the cost of endowment of two beds in a Calcutta hospital.

In 1951, with the help of Rtn M.S. Oberoi, Rotary club of Calcutta moved to the Grand Hotel for its meetings.
R.I. Officials Who Visited Calcutta

·         In 1927, the President’s Chain of Office (collar as we refer to it today) was presented to the club by Rtn J. H. Simpson.

·         The Viceroy H.E. Lord and Lady Irwin and the Honorable Governor of Bengal Sir Stanley and Lady Jackson visited Rotary club of Calcutta.

·         In 1929-30 Rtn J. Davidson from Canada, an Honorary Commissioner for Rotary International came to India to follow up the preliminary work done by Rotarians of Calcutta.

·         In March, 1932 Sir Sydney Pascall, the first Englishman to hold the position of President in Rotary International, visited Rotary club of Calcutta.

·         In December, 1946 the District Assembly was held at Calcutta for the new District No 91, where the District Governor Rtn Nitish Chandra Laharry received the Rotary International President Richard Hedke.

·         In 1948, the Rotary International President Angus Mitchell visited the Calcutta.

·         In April 1950, Rotary International President Percy Hodgson, in December 1952 Rotary International President H.J. Brunnier and in October 1953, Rotary International President Joaquim Serratosa Cibils accompanied by their spouses visited Rotary club of Calcutta.

·         In August 1961, Rotary International president Joseph A. Abey came on a visit to the region and visited the Health Centre of RC Calcutta and had attended a dinner meeting at Prince’s where he spoke about youth, their problems and the need for understanding them.

·         On 14 December 1964, Rotary International President Charles and his spouse Anne Madeline Pettengill visited Rotary club of Calcutta and they hosted an intercity meet at the Great Eastern .n Hotel.

·         The Golden Anniversary dinner meeting on 9th January1970 witnessed the presence of Past R.I. Vice President B.T. Thakur who made a survey of growth of Rotary and stressed on renewed activities.

·         On 4th December 1972, the Rotary International President Roy Hickman and his wife Dorothy visited Kolkata and inaugurated the Nitish Chandra Laharry Children’s Library.

·         On 4th October 1979, Rotary International President James L Bomar Jr. and his spouse Edith met for a grand lunch to celebrate the completion of 60 years of Rotary Club of Calcutta, Rotary in India and also in mainland Asia.

·         The Begumpur Project of Rotary club of Calcutta which received US $200,000/- was the most remarkable all round development project in the outskirts of the city of Calcutta and this place was made a Rotary Village Corps by the visiting R.I. President M.A.T. Caparas.
Demise of Our Founding Father

The founding father of Rotary, Paul P Harris passed away in January 1947. That year The Rotary Foundation, the endowment fund of Rotary International founded by Arch C Klumph in 1917, received huge amounts of contributions in memory of the Founding Father of this great organization.

In 1958, there were only 5 Rotary districts in India, Burma and Ceylon together. However in the following 10 years, this figure changed to 430 clubs with 16,055 Rotarians. 1968-69 saw Pakistan as separate district. In 1970-71, there were 12 districts in India. In 1980-81, there were 899 clubs with 35,172 Rotarians and 14 districts.

After independence, growth of Rotary in India was a bit stunted for a few years. In 1950, there were only 198 clubs with membership strength of 7,785 in all of Asia. In 1952, Rotary club of Dhaka sponsored Rotary club of Chittagong and during this process, Past President Bernard Matthews of RC Calcutta helped a lot.

R.I. Presidents from India

In 1931-32, Rtn Nitish Chandra Laharry was selected to serve on the World International Committee in full recognition of his unselfish and devoted work. 1953-54, he was elected Vice President of Rotary International. His classification was ‘motion picture distributing’. He rose to be the 1st Indian Rotary International President in 1962-63. He was also the 1st R.I. President from Asia. His theme was “Kindle the Spark Within.” On 1st July 1962, when Nitish Laharry became the 1st Asian to assume the stewardship of Rotary International, West Bengal’s Governor, Srimati Padmaja Naidu laid the foundation stone of the Children’s Library at the Children’s Centre which was sponsored by Rotary Club of Calcutta as its Nitish Laharry project.

In 1991-92, Rajendra K Saboo from Rotary Club of Chandigarh became the Rotary International President. His theme was ‘Look beyond Yourself”. He was the 2nd Indian to be a Rotary International President. His emphasis was on Functional Literacy. He was the 5th Asian to be the R.I. president and the 2nd Indian.

In 2011-2012, Kalyan Banerjee from Rotary Club of Vapi was chosen to be the Rotary International President. His theme was “Reach Within to Embrace Humanity” He was the 3rd Indian to be chosen to the position of Rotary International President.

PRID Sushil Gupta was the choice of the Nominating Committee to become the Rotary International President for the Rotary year 2020-2021. Unfortunately ill health forced him to resign from the position, otherwise he would have been the 4th Rotary International President from India.

Burma or Myanmar was lost to Rotary in the mid - 1970s by Burma’s administrative order.

On 29th February 1988, the Rotary International headquarters shifted from 1600 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, Illinois, 60201, USA to its present address: One Rotary Center, 1560 Sherman Avenue, Evanston, Illinois, 60201-3698, USA.
Effective July 1991, all district numbers switched from 3 to 4 digits. In most cases a 0 was appended to the end of the existing number.

Rotary International President Robert Barth and his wife Gerty visited Rotary club Calcutta and spent 5 days from 8 to 12th January 1994 in the city, in honour of the 75 years’ continuous   existence of the club. During a speech delivered by RI President Robert Barth, he endearingly called the club “Old Number One”.

As per latest figures, there are 38 districts with 3769 clubs, 147,892 Rotarians (including 18,844 women Rotarians.). It is remarkable that although general trend for membership in Rotary is either steady or declining growth in other parts of the world, India and some other South and Far East Asian countries are showing remarkable growth.

Re-districting or re-zoning is a process adopted by Rotary International, used from time to time, for administrative convenience. Commencing from 1st July 2019, districts in India will be divided into 4 zones with 2 Rotary International Directors

Our Regional Office ~RISAO

The 1st regional office of South Asia was established in Bombay in 1934 and was shifted to Singapore in 1939, till it eventually closed down in 1948.A full-fledged regional office was opened in Delhi in 1984. An Asia Regional Conference was held in Delhi, in 1987 and it broke all the previous registration records with 10,501 registrations. Delhi, again, was fortunate to host the Council on Legislation in 1998.

The year 1984-85 showed a record growth of 968 clubs worldwide with South Asia region, by itself, contributing 154 clubs.
In view of the growth potential of this region and the escalating needs of the Rotarians, RI South Asia Service Center was set up in Delhi on 01 October 1984.  This was to provide speediefaster, efficient, personalized and cost effective service to clubs and Rotarians of 27 districts spread over Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.  This was the  Service Center, set up to admit new clubs, answer queries on policy matters, provide guidance & facilitate training to club & district leaders, attend various district functions. All fiscal functions were handled by the fiscal agents in respective countries.
In October 2000, RI reorganized the structure of all its Service Centers across the world to provide faster, consistent and effective service to all its members. 4 different sections were created:
·         Club & District Administration (CDA) Section (now known as Club & District Support, i.e., CDS).
·         Financial Services Section (FS Section).
·         The Rotary Foundation Section (TRF Section).
·         Administration Section (now known as HR & Administration Section).
Rotary News (English) and Rotary Samachar (Hindi) are the official regional magazines of Rotary International published monthly from Chennai, managed by Rotary News Trust
Rotary International Directors

Sir Fredrick James was first Rotary International Director from India (1933-34).Since then 25 Past District Governors have served as R I Directors from India. Some of the Rotary International Directors who are still very active in Rotary today are Sudarshan Agarwal, Panduranga Shetty, PC Thomas, Ashok Mahajan, Shekhar Mehta, Yash Pal Das, PT Prabhakar, Manoj Desai and C Basker. In 2019-20the following two years PDGs Kamal Sanghvi and Bharat Pandya have been elected to serve as Directors from India.

Rotarians are People of Action

Today India excels in contribution to The Rotary Foundation (TRF) and standings at 2nd position, next to USA in giving to TRF. It has risen to cope up with natural disasters by undertaking service projects for rehabilitation. These include earthquakes in Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tsunami in the east coast and in Sri Lanka, the Nepal earthquake and famine relief on some occasions.  Our greatest contribution is for Polio Eradication Drive undertaken for more than 3 decades, in which all Rotary clubs in India participated. India was declared Polio Free by UNICEF in 2013 and remains so till date.

A most significant project undertaken was the Literacy Mission pan India with a view to make India 100% literate. The TEACH programme was adopted for same. This integrated school development program includes Teachers’ Training. E learning, Adult literacy, Clean drinking water, Sanitation and Happy schools. Rotary in India has cooperated with Swachch Bharat Mission and pledged to build 20,000 toilets and drinking water facilities in schools all over India through its WINS programme.

India also excels in youth service through Rotaract (2714 clubs), Interact (7499 Clubs), by organizing Rotary Youth Exchanges and Rotary Youth Leadership Award camps and Rotary helps people in rural or underdeveloped urban areas by organising  Rotary Community Corps (5082)

Writing the history of Rotary in India, I am a little amazed that not much except the demographical record of women joining Rotary is available in the articles and books that I have been following. However, looking at the increase in number of women who are professionals and are joining Rotary here in India, it may be put on record we have come a long way from September 26th 1919 when only European men of a certain social status were allowed to join Rotary clubs on the pretext of lack of good classifications in our own country.

In India, celebrations are on! And all through 2019-20 there will be a plethora of projects accomplished, tributes paid to the Founding Fathers of Rotary in India, donations made to The Rotary Foundation, a huge conference will be hosted in Kolkata with the wonderful presence of the Rotary International President in the month of February 2020. It will be a year that will see India and all of South and South Asia rising to spread the word about the activities of Rotary – about a story that began at the Peliti’s restaurant on a quiet September afternoon over a gentlemen’s luncheon meeting.Yes, it is time to celebrate, because Rotary is scaling heights in our own part of the world as we turn 100, along with the first ever Rotary club in Mainland Asia – Rotary Club of Calcutta!
“It is a basic concept of Indian philosophy that out of diversity arises ultimate unity. Nature herself has decreed this fact. Differences there must be between human beings with different ways of life, different modes of living and thought. But it is through the understanding of these differences that the ultimate idea of the unity of mankind can be achieved. If we can inculcate this principle, which in essence is the ultimate goal of Rotary, we shall have done something substantial toward approximating our ideal. Not only will we reduce our indebtedness to other parts of the Rotary world, but we shall have done something material in the direction of progress.”

~ Nitish Chandra Laharry

The Rotarian, May 1955 Issue 
Growth of Rotary in Each Decade

Countries & Areas

* 1995
*First time membership crossed 1.2 million
PDG Shyamashree Sen, RID 3291
With grateful acknowledgements for inputs from PRID Shekhar Mehta, Chairman of Centennial Celebration Committee,  “History of The Rotary Club of Calcutta: The Platinum  Jubilee Book” by PDG Somendra Chandra Nandy, PDG Dr Sudhir Rashingkar, RID 3131, and the worldwide web, Mr Rajeev Ranjan, IO Manager, RISAO

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Rotary In India

Rotary in India – A Journey of a Hundred Years 
with Special References to the ‘Old Number One’
 PDG Shyamashree Sen, RID 3291