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2017: the numbers increase
Mumbai: As office-goers pack up and pour out of tony south Mumbai, emptying it of the toil and tedium of a workday, a gentle breeze from the Arabian Sea stirs a new day at Colaba’s Royal Bombay Yacht Club. Guards and staff in crisp white sailing attire usher in members, including women.
Till six or seven years ago, the 171-year institution was a men’s bastion, where women could use its facilities, but only as dependent members. No longer.
“The number of women members has doubled in two years. Right now, nearly 350 women are our full-time members,” said Ardhendu Bose, president of the 1,700-member Royal Bombay Yacht Club, which charges Rs 25 lakh as lifetime fee besides about Rs 6,000 in annual subscriptions. At another formerly men-only establishment, Mahalakshmi’s Willingdon Sports Club, daughters of members have been allowed to apply for membership.
The process to get through, though, is exhaustive, considering that the 700-member club closed permanent membership to outsiders in 1985.
It now only allows children of members to apply. “We allowed the daughters to apply in 2007. There was no point barring them,” said a club official.
With women not only forming a sizeable portion of India’s workforce but helming many top institutions, among them financial institutions such as Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan Chase, there has been demand for spaces where they can unwind.
Bombay Gymkhana allowed women full membership in 1991. Today, it only accepts applications for corporate memberships and those from members’ children.
“We have 10,000 members, of which about 2,000 are women. Our facilities are open to all members, there is no discrimination,” said an official from the club’s membership department, adding the fees, too, are the same for all.
The recently-launched Indus Club at Bandra-Kurla Complex is an exclusive one, with entry by invitation only. Ritesh Gandhi, senior manager, memberships, said, “So far, the club has 250 members on its rolls, including top women executives. We don’t discriminate.” Gandhi declined to give a gender break-up of the club’s members.
Some clubs in the city, though, are yet to embrace gender equality. Like the Parsi-only Ripon Club at Kala Ghoda. Currently, only associate membership is offered to women.
“There is a proposal to give full membership to women. However, the club is battling a legal suit with its landlords and, hence, we have stopped entertaining all applications,” said Xerxes Dastur, chairman and treasurer of the club.