Sir Ratanji Tata (1871 – 1918) was an Indian Industrialist. He was a philanthropist and an art connoisseur who carried forward the Tata legacy after his father, Jamsetji Tata. He was a legend who took great initiative in human welfare and donated graciously for national and international causes. He was a patriot and nationalist, just like his father, who contributed to the nation’s growth.
Ratanji Tata was born on Friday, 20 January 1871 (age 47 years; at the time of death) in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. His early life was spent in Bombay, where he remained surrounded by luxuries. He graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay.
Family & Caste
Sir Ratan ji Tata belonged to a Parsi family.
Parents & Siblings
He was born to Jamsetji Tata and Hirabai Daboo. His father, Jamsetji Tata, was a revolutionary businessman who is also known as the father of Indian Industry. Ratanji Tata was the second child of his parents, and Sir Dorabji Tata was his elder brother.
Wife & Children
In 1892, Ratan Ji Tata got married to Navajbai Sett, the daughter of Ardeshir Merwanji Sett. The couple spent much of their time living in England. The couple had no children. After Ratanji’s death, Navajbai adopted Naval Tata as per the family decision.
Ratanji Died at the age of 41, and his wife, Navajbai Sett, was left alone to look after his estate. She lived as his widow all her life and was renowned as the chairperson of Sir Ratan Tata Trust. She is still recognized for her notable philanthropical works for women and society.
Taking the Tata Legacy Forward
In 1896, he started working for Tata & Sons as a partner. Jamsetji Tata died in 1904, which was a turning point in Ratanji Tata’s life. Back then, Tata Sons was the agent of L’ Union Fire Insurance Co. of Paris in India, and Ratanji took it over after his father’s death. He also took charge of Tata’s trading firm, Tata & Co. that traded in cotton, rice, yarn, pearls, and silk. This trading firm had branches in several countries including Shanghai, Kobe, Rangoon, Paris, and New York.
In 1901, Ratanji Tata, along with his father and elder brother Sir Dorabji Tata started working on India’s biggest ironworks project. After Jamsetji’s death, Ratanji assisted his brother for this project, and it finally came into existence on 26 August 1907. It was named Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited, which was later renamed Tata Steel Limited. Tata Steel has expanded to 26 countries across five continents and employs thousands of people.
A Great Philanthropist
Ratanji Tata is known for his philanthropic activities, and he had compassion and generosity for those in need. Poverty, lack of education, and hunger were the things that troubled him. He annually contributed £1,400 ( Rs. 1,39,000 approx.) to the University of London for welfare activities, and since then, the Sir Ratan Tata Foundation has been a part of the London School of Economics (LSE).
In 1912, he offered financial help to set up the department of social science at LSE. This department was called the Ratan Tata Department of Social Science till 1919. Ratanji had a great interest in India’s past, and he financially supported the archaeological excavation at Pataliputra from 1913 to 1917. This excavation unveiled the 100-column Mauryan throne room of King Ashoka’s Palace.
#DYK Sir Ratan Tata was so fascinated by Indian history that he funded the first archaeological excavation at Pataliputra (modern-day Patna) between 1913-17? The result was the discovery of the 100-column Mauryan throne room in the legendary #KingAshoka's palace. #ThisIsTata pic.twitter.com/6o7PdWal8g
— Tata Group (@TataCompanies) May 16, 2018
Ratanji Tata’s love for art and artefacts led him to donate most of his art collection to the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay. He was a soft-hearted businessman who never ignored contributing to a cause. He graciously donated to education, medical care, and relief works carried out after natural disasters. He annually donated a sum of Rs. 10,000 for ten years to King George V Anti-Tuberculosis League and a sum of Rs. 1 Lakh to the Salvation Army for a memorial.
Ratanji Tata & Mahatma Gandhi
Ratanji Tata was a patriot just like his father and supported Mahatma Gandhi in the non-cooperation movement in South Africa. Ratanji sent a cheque of Rs. 25,000 to Gandhiji for helping him in running the non-cooperation movement to fight for the rights of Indians in South Africa. In response, Gandhi informed Gopal Krishna Gokhale in a cable and said,
Pray thank Mr Tata for munificent timely help. Distress great. Prisoners’ lot hard. Religious scruples disregarded. Rations short. Prisoners carry slop-pails; for refusing, put on spare diet. Solitary confinement. Prominent Moslems, Hindus, Parsis in jail.”
In the Indian Opinion, published on 11 December 1909, Gandhiji wrote,
That India has been roused is evident from the generous gifts of Mr Ratanji Jamsetji Tata. By his big donation of Rs. 25,000 he has given a powerful impetus to our movement. He will probably be followed by other Indians.”
On 10 January 1910, Ratanji Tata wrote a letter to Gandhiji and sent another donation of Rs. 25,00o. In that letter, he wrote,
My warm appreciation of the noble struggle our countrymen are waging and I am gratified to find that the beginning thus made by me (Rs 25,000 in donation ) has been followed up. I need hardly add that I shall watch the progress of the struggle with great interest and sincerely hope that these brave efforts for the vindication and upholding of the country’s honour and dignity will soon be crowned with the success they deserve.”
In the Indian Opinion published on 17 December 1910, Gandhiji mentioned Ratanji’s donations under the heading Tatas and Satyagrahis, he wrote,
By donating another sum of Rs 25,000 for the Satyagraha Campaign, Mr Ratan Tata has demonstrated that he has utmost sympathy for us and that he fully appreciates its value. Including his earlier donations, a total of Rs 125,000 has been offered in India.”
Later on 10 August 1912, Gandhiji wrote about the third donation from Ratanji. Under the heading Mr Tata’s Munificence, Gandhiji wrote,
Mr Ratan Tata has outdone himself. At the Sheriff’s meeting held at Bombay on the August 31, 1912, it was announced that Mr Tata had given a third contribution of Rs 25,000 to the Transvaal passive resistance fund. The total given by Mr Tata, therefore, amounts to £5,000 — a fortune in itself.”
Awards & Honours
- In 1916, Sir Ratanji Tata was knighted in England for his services to humanity.
Sir Ratan Ji Tata went to England for his medical treatment in 1915. Two years later, on 5 September 1918, he died at St Ives in Cornwall, England.
- Sir Ratan Tata Trust, established by Ratanji Tata in 1919, is one of the oldest and most trusted grant offering organizations.
- Sir Ratan Tata and his wife loved art and collected many fine pieces for the new house they were constructing in Bombay.
- Sir Ratan Tata’s wife, Navajbai, established an institute in 1926 in the memories of Sir Ratanji Tata.