Author: Haki Kapasi
The Life of a Bohra Reformist is the story of a small group of religious reformists which tries to swim against the tide of capitalist reality; and the life of its visionary leader, Fazlehusein Hassanbhai Kapasi. It is a microcosm of the struggles taking place worldwide on a much larger scale and with global consequences. It demonstrates how even the most noble and sincere intentions and policies become corrupted by the human-eat-human ideology in which we are embedded.
Following a brief history of the Dawoodi Bohra Community, the narrative focuses on a group in Uganda, East Africa. Bohras from India first visited East Africa in 1750 and at some point ventured as far as Uganda. With a reputation of trustworthiness, thrift and good business they settled and prospered.
In 1951 a Bohra East African Conference organised all the Bohra communities in East Africa as a legal entity and promulgated a Constitution. The High Priest, Syedna Taher Saifuddin based in Bombay, now got interested. He decided to assert control over the East African Bohra societies and schemed to grab ownership of their properties and assets.
The Uganda group, with the active participation of Kapasi, resisted these attempts. The struggle intensified and involved Uganda’s Courts, police force and political leaders. Kapasi and his small group were succeeding in their claims for justice when in 1971 Idi Amin came on the scene and expelled them all from their home country.
Kapasi and his family settled in Birmingham, UK and had to contend with racism in the schools, corrupt camp officials, the freezing cold and an uncertain future. But most galling of all was the hostility they encountered from their fellow UK Bohras, ardent followers of the High Priest.
After a few futile attempts to negotiate with the orthodox Bohras; Kapasi and a group of like-minded Bohras established the Dawoodi Bohra Welfare Society of Great Britain (DBWS) with its own constitution in London, Leicester and Birmingham. The choice of name was to ensure that the High Priest could not lay claim to their properties and assets. Ten years of dynamic growth including forming close links with Reformists in Canada and India followed. A common worldwide Reformist Trust Fund was created – but unbeknown to them all then, this was the beginning of the end of a highly organised and united society based on the noblest of ideals.
Cracks began to appear regarding the management of the funds …. Kapasi and his dedicated allies struggled to heal the rifts but in vain. Capitalism has commodified even religion and turned it into a tool for exploitation; Kapasi and his group were alas swimming against the tide. Latest information has it that Kapasi passed away on 15 March 2020, having remained steadfast in his allegiance to the Bohras’ true values and traditions which were formulated many centuries ago.
Haki Kapasi, in paying tribute to her father has published a well-researched 2016 narrative of this particular community, in an expensive format. I urge her to re-publish this important historical record in a more affordable form or an e-book.