Anglo-Indians in Kolkata are angry because their demography has been misrepresented in the data provided by the Government while referring to the entire “reservation” and “dereservation” fiasco happening currently in the country. Especially when it is being hinted that their “reservation” status may be a thing of the past. The All-India Anglo Indian Association on December 11 began an online petition on urging the Indian government to reconsider its decision regarding the nomination of members of the community to the Lok Sabha and state legislatures.

Who are these Anglo-Indians? In what way are they positioned within the Indian demography in general and the Kolkata scenario in particular? It is necessary to take a closer look into these people who we know so little about except through some odd films which, however, offer a very cliché and stereotypical idea of Anglo-Indians. Perhaps in response to their anger, the government has said that it would further amend Article 334 of the Constitution proposing to extend the reservation for these marginalized sections for another ten years. Two members are nominated from the Anglo-Indian community in the Lok Sabha and one each to 13 state Assemblies. Deservation would have stripped them of the opportunity to represent their community in the Houses of Parliament.

Terms designating the Anglo-Indian community have changed over time throughout the historical evolution of the group. ‘Indo-Briton’ was perhaps, the first generally accepted designation of this community. Somewhat later, the term ‘Eurasian’ was widely used. Although ‘East Indian’ was in vogue at the turn of the 19th century, ‘Eurasian’ was generally accepted throughout the century. However, it acquired a derogatory meaning. It was not until 1911 that the term ‘Anglo-Indian’ was officially recognized and accepted by members of this community. Even this created some confusion, because it had been used earlier to refer to Britons residing permanently in India, rather synonymous with the word Domiciled European.

The term ‘Anglo-Indian’ originally referred to British ‘colonials’ residing in India. Ashish Nandy defines colonialism as a shared culture that may not always begin with establishment of alien rule in a society and with the departure of alien rulers from the colony. What remain are the inner rewards and punishments, the secondary psychological gains and losses from suffering and submission under colonialism. The colonial ideology in British India was built on the cultural meanings of two fundamental categories of institutional discrimination in Britain – sex and age. In the Imperial mindset, Indian men were just not men enough. To free themselves of this contemptuous image, they had to adopt the values of the dominant culture’s view of manliness – aggression, achievement, control, competition and power.

Their prolonged stay in the country resulted in the evolution of a race of people born to British fathers and Indian mothers who called themselves Anglo-Indians. In course of time, Eurasians of every description came to be known as Anglo-Indians. Since they intermarried freely into each other, they were soon indistinguishable, with entire families bearing British, French, Portuguese and Dutch surnames. The common denominator was that they all had one Indian parent. The European half contributed a different facet to this cultural melting pot. The ‘Anglo-Indians’ shared many of the characteristics that set them apart from their European and Indian parents. They did not fit comfortably either into Indian or in European society and thus, began their lives with an identity crisis they found difficult to either resolve or accept with grace.

A major difficulty the Anglo-Indian person of dual racial heritage encountered is the shifting of identity under political or social pressure. Most Anglo-Indians identified with the British Rule while the Empire was firmly established in India. But when it became clear that the days of the British in India were numbered, that an Independent India was destined to emerge, Anglo-Indians faced the dilemma of either identifying with the indigenous population as Indian nationals or being labelled aliens in their own country. Such a shift of identity has involved considerable soul-searching. This crisis of identity of a person of dual racial ancestry is not automatic. It arises when one or both of the kin groups the person belongs to, judge him/her unworthy and unacceptable and when the person strongly aspires for such acceptance by either one or the other. The Anglo-Indians increased this problem for themselves by choosing to find identification and integrity with their ‘foreign’, White ancestry. In so doing, they almost automatically severed themselves socially from their Indian roots. Consequently, when India became independent, the Anglo-Indians discovered that they had ‘fallen out’ of favour with the ‘native’ Indians.

The official definition accepted by the Government of India and stipulated in the new constitution of Independent India given in Article 366(2) is as follows:

… Anglo-Indian means a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territory of India and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not established there for temporary purposes only.

Such a definition applies therefore, both to persons whose patrilineal heritage is British as well as to other European progenitors. It also applies to the offspring of European parents who have been regularly and permanently domiciled in India – known in the past as Domiciled Europeans.

W.T.Roy’s book Hostages of Fortune gives the best definition of the Anglo-Indian in India, after Indian Independence. He describes the Anglo-Indian in India as:

….a member of a group possessing a distinctive sub-culture whose characteristics are that all its members are Christians of one denomination or another, speak English, wear European clothes on almost all occasions, have substantially European dietary habits though addicted to the fairly lavish use of Indian spices, are occupationally engaged in a restricted number of trades and professions, and are by and large, endogamous.

Anglo-Indians are the sole minority of European descent to survive in Asia. It is a political minority in India, the maximum number being in West Bengal followed by Tamil Nadu and Kerala. 1947 was traumatic for them when, caught between two worlds, they found themselves in a no-exit situation – politically, socially and economically. Under Colonization Society of India, some exclusively Anglo-Indian habitats came up like MckLuskiegunj in Bihar, Cleement Town in Dehra Dun and so on. But the sense of alienation has remained, perhaps heightened by this designed ‘ghettoisation’ of the community in some pockets. Neglected by the local and national administration, these small pockets of Anglo-Indian inhabitants have fallen victim to decay, reduced to the ghost of a dream that once was.

Since the enactment of the Constitution, Anglo-Indians have faced more problems than before. Migration has continued to drain the community, especially within the middle and the upper class. The anxiety linked to Independence and Indianisation, and as most Anglo-Indians have friends and relatives in other countries offers a rationale for this exodus. The precise number of those who migrated is not known. At a rough estimate, it is reported that 50,000 migrated to Western countries in the post-war years alone. Some Anglo-Indian leaders insist however, that the actual size of the community has not come down very much because the high birth rate among Anglo-Indians, it is anticipated, far exceeds the death rate and the rate of migrating population.

“Anglo-Indian” is a power category which begins with the English dividing the society existing in India at the time of their rule into a social hierarchy in which they place themselves right on top, taking their superior position for granted. In this ‘organized hierarchy’, the Anglo-Indians came after (a) the official elite who lived apart from the mainstream, and (b) the wives of these officers. Both groups felt that social distance would make them seem remote and incorruptible. The Anglo-Indians came next. They adopted this title from the British only to find themselves sandwiched between the British and the Hindus. While the British cast them aside as ‘despised’ relatives, the Hindus considered them to be ‘social outcasts.’ With time however, they slided lower down the social scale. They went through unstable periods and their fortunes continued to be at the mercy of a government that tipped the scales invariably in its own favour.

To be continued – Part II – The Anglo-Indian Identity.