Kathor is historically a medieval village located 25 Kilometres from the city of Surat in Gujarat State in India. Up until 1947 it was part of the Gaekwad Kingdom and because of that it has always enjoyed status and prestige. The Gaekwad Kingdom also brought with it systems and infrastructure for Kathor including courts and schools.
Kathor currently has a population of around 40,000 people. It has been in existence for at least 700 years and was originally developed on the bank of the River Tapti because of the convenience of the water supply, which also provided excellent transport links. Up until 40 years ago Kathor was predominantly a Muslim town, however today they are in a minority. Our forefathers have lived in Kathor under our present identity for at least 450 years, and were originally small farmers, traders or workers in the textile industry.
Migration for whatever reason is nothing new. It can be traced back to thousands of years amongst different ethnic groups. In the 17th and 18th centuries our forefathers who were farmers or traders used to travel up to 30 – 40 miles with their farm produce or goods in their bullock carts to adjoining towns to sell or barter for other goods. All traveling was done by small boats on the river, and bullock carts or horses on land.
In the mid 18th century a severe drought meant that the farmers were unsuccessful in cultivating their land and had no food or money. Subsequently they were unable to pay the land rates, and due to the harassment and persecution of the land tax collectors some migrated to the adjoining village called Motta Varacha and then onto Surat!
The famous traders, Botawala of Rander and a great philanthropist whose original surname was Vawda were part of this migration. So were members of the very well known families; Dadabhoys, Vayid, Vorajees and Badat families who made Varacha and Surat their home. With the advent of Railways in India after 1835, migration started in a much higher proportion from Kathor. First people went to Mumbai (Bombay), Kolikata (Calcutta) and then to Mynamar (Burma). Some were more adventurous and took boats to Mauritius. They left Kathor with suitcases made from used Kerosene tins containing merely two or three pairs of clothes.
Many of those that migrated, though not formally educated were extremely foresighted, intelligent, hardworking, and had entrepreneurship in their genes. Integrity, honesty and faith ruled their lives and soon, most were able to establish big trading empires. Consequently, in the late 19th century Kathor witnessed the establishment of big havelis (mansions). It also witnessed the building and maintenance of several mosques, 13 of which exist today.
Currently, Kathor has two large schools, which have students up to twelfth grade, darul-ulooms, two madrasahs, three libraries, a waterworks system, a subsidised dispensary and a Gram Panchayat, which provides the facilities for cleaning the town and other civic services.
Some of the prosperous Kathorian traders in Mauritius moved on to Reunion, Madagascar and from 1882 onwards to South Africa mostly in Natal, Durban. With hard work and entrepreneurship, they were successful in business and were able to establish big trading companies. Up to 15-20 years ago some 15 families of Kathor heritage controlled most of the trade in Durban, South Africa.
They also had a huge influence in politics and contributed to the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Durban today is a witness to their hard work and struggle with grand mosques, madrasahs and havelis. In Mauritius five families controlled most of the trade and established mosques, Muslim educational and charitable projects.
Some Kathorians went to Rangoon in Burma and settled there; they set up their own business and where very successful. During second world war, most of them left Burma for Pakistan, India and else where finding their final destination to UK
Kathorians in the United Kingdom
The post-World War II economic climate also created labour shortages in the UK.
It made the British Government encourage migrants from the Commonwealth to Britain. This was because under the Commonwealth rules, Commonwealth citizens had free entry into Britain. From 1952, therefore, migration from Kathor to the UK began.
Some had to leave their immediate families, borrowing money for the ship or airfare which was about £60 in those days. They had to do this even though Kathor was more prosperous and developed in comparison with other neighbouring towns, and some of the migrating people were highly educated, graduates and matriculated. They lacked funds as the Indian Government was only allowing £3 of foreign exchange currency.
With funds in short supply, Kathorians had to find employment quickly and ended up working in factories and semi-skilled jobs. They usually lived four or five to a room, worked extremely long hours and various shifts, and maintained two or three jobs to make ends meet to save some money to send to their families back home in Kathor and to repay their debts.
However, with their hard work and honesty they survived, and by the late 1960’s some of them were able to save enough money to pay a deposit on a house and invite their families to the UK.
Currently, there are approximately 3,000 British Kathorians concentrated in the cities of London, Leicester, Nuneaton, Gloucester, Birmingham, Preston and Bolton. Most have come directly from Kathor whilst some from Mauritius, South Africa and elsewhere but have Kathorian origin.
Adapted from British Kathorians: A Short History, with the kind permission of Haji. Dr. Moosaji D.M. Lockhat.