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About Sir Ratan Tata
Servants of India Society
Mahatma Gandhi and South Africa
Sir Ratan Tata at the LSE
Archaeological excavations
Sir Ratan Tata Art collection

About Sir Ratan Tata

The founder of the Tata Empire, Jamsetji Tata, was a true nationalist who foresaw the significance of the industrial revolution for India. He had a desire to catapult India to a place amongst the leading industrial nations of the world. Sir Ratan Tata, the younger of his two sons, was born on 20th January 1871. He was educated at St. Xavier's College in Bombay.

Being a director in most of the Tata promoted companies, he naturally took a keen interest in them. After his father's death in 1904, Sir Ratan, and his elder brother Sir Dorabji, followed in the footsteps of their father, looking after the Tata industrial units with a national outlook. Inspired by their father, both sons sincerely believed that by doing so, they were contributing to India's industrial growth out of national interest. Thus, Tata Iron and Steel Co. Ltd., the three hydro companies and the four textile mills, were considered by the public as examples of India's national effort at industrial development.

Sir Ratan was extremely kind hearted and generous, always willing to lend a helping hand to any individual or institution in distress. He had a true Indian outlook with a nationalistic fervour; on the other hand, he also possessed a balanced, broad-minded mental viewpoint.

Serious charity meant making the effort to identify a cause one deeply cared about, and then devoting time as well as effort and money. In his short, but satisfying lifetime, Sir Ratan had identified several issues, which bear testimony to his munificence. A glance at the donations and endowments made by him during his lifetime, typifies his concern for various deserving causes, and is an insightful antecedent to the Trusts' present day grant-bestowing policy.

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Servants of India Society

The founding of this brotherhood in Poona, on June 12, 1905, was the outcome of Gopal Krishna Gokhale's conviction that if the masses were to be liberated to function as active members of free India, they must have a band of selfless and intelligent workers, who would dedicate their lives to the service of the nation.

Sir Ratan was a personal friend of Gokhale, and upon the latter's request, gave the society an annual amount of Rs10,000 for a period of ten years, for its welfare work for the weaker sections of the society. This instance of Sir Ratan's largesse was a precursor to the present grant bestowing policy of the Trusts, concerning the issue at hand, and the manner in which the same can be effectively addressed.

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Mahatma Gandhi and South Africa

During his days as a practising barrister in Transvaal, South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi headed a non co-operation movement, protesting against the plight of Asians, and particularly Indians, under the prevailing regime. The movement had run into rough weather with the authorities, leading to persecution of the Indian community.

Monetary aid was the need of the hour and Sir Ratan responded generously to a plea from Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Between 1909 and 1913, a sum of Rs1.25 lakhs was disbursed by him, in instalments, enabling the Mahatma to continue his fight for the rights of Indians in South Africa.

Overwhelmed by the magnanimity of one such instalment made by Sir Ratan, the Mahatma wrote, "That India has been roused is evident from the generous gift of Mr Ratanji Jamshedji Tata. By his big donation of Rs25,000 he has given a powerful impetus to our movement. He will probably be followed by other Indians. Parsis are known the world over for their generous gifts. Mr Tata has been true to that spirit of generosity."

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Sir Ratan Tata Foundation at the London School of Economics & Political Science

In 1912, Sir Ratan made an offer of financial help to the University of London, if they would be willing to institute a Chair in the University, for investigation and research into causes of destitution and poverty, and for suggestions for relief. Principal Sir William Miera prepared a scheme in conjunction with Professor LT Hobhouse and Professor Urwick, which was approved by Sir Ratan, and a Chair was founded in 1913.

Sir Ratan agreed to pay £1,400 annually for a period of three years, toward the expenses of the Foundation. This annual grant of £1,400 was extended for a period of five years from 1916. After his demise in 1919, the Trustees of Sir Ratan Tata Trust continued this annual grant until 1931.

During those nineteen years, several scholars and students of the University of London and the London School of Economics, carried out research work on the conditions of labour in different trades, and published their research in different publications. The Sir Ratan Tata Foundation is now a permanent institution at the London School of Economics.

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Archaeological excavations at Pataliputra in Patna

About the year 1912, Sir Ratan expressed a desire to Sir Harcourt Butler, the then Lt. Governor of Bihar & Orissa, to finance any archaeological excavations which the Archaeological Department of the Government of India would undertake, to unearth ancient relics, having museum value.

A sum of Rs75,000 was financed, between 1913 and 1917. The excavations unearthed a good number of museum finds like coins, plaques and terracotta. It also led to the discovery and location of the Pillared Hall of the Palace of Ashoka, now displayed in the museum at Patna.

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Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection

Sir Ratan was a connoisseur of art and culture. He was also a prolific traveller, touring many places in India, to obtain pictures, paintings, manuscripts of ancient literature, besides items like rare Indian shawls, and old Indian arms like daggers, guns and swords.

He purchased a collection of jade, in different colours, made up of vases, snuff bottles and ornamental figures during his visits to Paris. In Twickenham, England, he purchased a stately 17th century mansion. It was a traditional red brick structure, set in its own grounds, with a French chateau frontage. Called 'York House', this was the residence of Sir and Lady Tata during their stay in England. With various treasures of art, this piece of property was a veritable treasure emporium.

On his tour of the Orient, he purchased blue and white china, and Japanese wall hanging ornaments in ivory. This collection, valued at approximately Rs5 lakh in 1919, was handed over to the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay, in 1921, as per directives in Sir Ratan's will. The entire collection is displayed in the Far Eastern Art section at the museum, and bears testimony to Sir Ratan's fine taste in art and of course, his generosity.

These were some of the few outstanding instances to highlight the charitable work of Sir Ratan, during his lifetime. Numerous other benefactions of a lesser magnitude included donations for the relief of distress caused by famines, floods, earthquakes, fires, and for public memorials, hospitals, schools, institutions of social welfare and several other objects of public utility.

A definite link with the present context of the Trusts' thematic areas is but evident.

With such good work to his credit in his lifetime, it was to be expected that Sir Ratan would leave behind the bulk of his wealth into a charitable Trust. In his Will of 1913, he instructed his Trustees about the several directions in which they could devote the income from the Trust funds. "Education, learning and industry in all their branches" find a prominent place in Sir Ratan's suggestions. Though full discretion to interpret these wishes was given, he also gave detailed directions in his Will, about how the money was to be utilised.

The objects to be aided by the funds were to be public in general, in preference to sectional. The institutions or organisations to be aided had to subject their accounts to periodic audits by the Trustees. The ventures to be aided needed to have their schemes carefully prepared by competent personnel. Looked at in perspective, these concepts of charity were ahead of their time, and even today, are considered exceptional in the context of philanthropy.

Sir Ratan became very ill around July 1916. He was taken to England in October 1916, upon his doctor's advice. Despite the best possible treatment, his condition steadily deteriorated. After a prolonged illness, he died in St. Ives in Cornwall on 5th September 1918, leaving behind his wife Lady Navajbai.

The Sir Ratan Tata Trust was established in 1919 with a corpus of Rs8 million. Today, it exists as one of India's oldest grant bestowing foundations.

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