India may have women taking up Freemasonry soon like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. “Such plans are afoot here too,” said Subhash Chawla, Subhash Chawla, the CEO of the General Williams Masonic Polyclinic located in Connaught Place, a charitable hospital run by the Delhi unit of the organisation, which also runs a school for poor children in Vasant Kunj and another for specially-abled children in NOIDA.
Chawla added that the wives of Freemasons in India were trying to float a parallel organisation. “Wives of Freemasons have been associated with the charitable activities of the organisation,” he said. According to him, the parallel organisation could exist in “amity” with other “lodges”, which is the system adopted by Freemasons. All the Freemason lodges exist in “amity” with each-other, instead of functioning under the aegis of a main body. A lodge is the basic unit of the Freemason order.
Freemasonry, in general, allows only men who believe in a supreme being to become members. It is thriving in India. “We have no difficulty in getting new members,” he claimed.
Freemasonry traces its origins to King Solomon’s times. However, its present form originated in England in 1717. It first came to India in 1729 at Calcutta. Currently, it has around 25,000 members in India. Several important personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Motilal Nehru, film actor Ashok Kumar and cricketer M.A. Khan Pataudi were Freemasons.
The group is reputed to be very secretive, with modes of recognition that are known only to members. They include special handshakes and passwords. However, members hotly dispute the charge that it is a secret society. “It is a society with secrets, not a secret society. If you have a mistress, will you tell your wife?” asked a senior Freemason based in the United Kingdom.
In Delhi, the organisation has around 2,500 members, according to Chawla. The rates at the schools and the hospital it runs are subsidised, he added. The group does not accept any aid from the government. The organisation has around 5,000 members in North India, Chawla added. Since Freemasons are required to confess to their activities within the organisation, Catholic and Sunni Muslim priests and clerics reportedly ask their followers to avoid becoming members, as these two religions have provisions for confession. “We still have members from these organisations as we do not forbid them from joining. A Middle-Eastern diplomat, who was based in Delhi was a member and used to come to our meetings although he never brought his official car to keep it secret from his embassy,” said another Freemason, who did not want to be identified.
Asked about the possibility of someone confessing to a crime, the UK based Freemason said, “We have a disciplinary committee which goes over any such case. At first, if the offence is not serious, a warning is issued. However, we do not tolerate serious crimes like murder and we have sacked members in the past over grievous charges.”