HAS THE ANGLO-INDIAN COMMUNITY BEEN SOCIALLY EXCLUDED OR INTEGRATED INTO THE FABRIC OF INDIA?
By Nadia O’Brien
The Anglo-Indian community, forged out of the union of European settlers and Indian women, exists as a minority in India’s pluralistic society. Anglo-Indians represent the confluence of cultures that gave birth to a distinct identity and represent a link to India’s colonial past. While tracing the history of the community, there is a notable inconsistency in their acceptance and rejection by both the colonisers and the indigenous people.
This research aims to understand the challenges that have emerged as the community straddles between their European linkages and their Indian identity. It provides major insight into whether lack of political representation is seen as a disempowerment to the community, or a push towards a more independent status.
The objective of this paper is to understand whether Anglo-Indians identify themselves uniquely in today’s context amidst a changing socio-cultural fabric, whether and why the community stands out in mainstream India, the extent to which this minority has maintained its individuality, and provides a social, cultural, and political commentary as to the dynamics of integration and exclusion of the community in modern-day India.
Who are Anglo Indians?
In the early 1500s, European countries launched trading expeditions into India and kick-started international trade. By the 17th century, as Indian monarchs lost control, British traders gained it over the subcontinent. Many Europeans had settled in India, as traders, administrators, and soldiers, and eventually created a new ‘mixed breed’ with Indian women. In this context, the “Anglo-Indian” community or “Eurasians” were born.
Article 366 of the Indian Constitution defines an Anglo-Indian as “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”. Articles 331 and 333 of the Constitution provided the Anglo-Indians with a reservation of two seats in the Lok Sabha and in major state Legislative Assemblies by nomination. These were abolished by the 104th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2019. Special provision of services in Railways, Customs and Post and Telegraph departments for Anglo-Indians were made by the Constitution, Article 338(3).
The British East India Company came to India as traders in spices, silk, cotton, indigo dye, tea, and opium in 1608. Eventually trading posts were established along the coasts of India. British communities developed in the three major towns of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.
The Company soon realized that India was one huge landmass of resources which due to the political instability between kingdoms could be annexed. Following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and Battle of Buxar in 1764, the East India Company began transforming from a trading company into one with political power. The Crown of England took control over the country after they were almost defeated in the First Battle of Independence in 1857. They ruled over India till 1947.
In his book, ‘Britain’s Betrayal in India’, Frank Anthony notably explained how the community had been brought into existence deliberately by the British, to serve and save their imperial interests. The creation of this mixed race in order to form a class of people who would be able to communicate with both the natives, as well as the colonised, creating a bridge for the gap between the two, just as the Luso-Indians and Franco-Indians had done.
Company Policy towards the Anglo-Indians became oppressive within the next century, and a series of orders were passed proscribing the sending of Anglo-Indian children to England for education and banning their entry into the civil and military services in India. The Europeans disowned them as “half-castes”, and the Hindu caste system offered them no admittance due to their hybrid nature.
Cressey writes of the Anglo-Indian community’s effort to ‘fit in’ through their imitation of English culture. The English Language was their Mother-tongue, and their manner of dress, food and housing, and their adoption of the Christian faith implied their need for inclusion. The inconsistent and fluctuating policies of acceptance and rejection created a community consciousness and unified psyche by the mid-18th century.
During the First War of Independence, 1857, the Anglo-Indian status and rank improved. They formed a huge force against native Indians as the East India Company demanded Eurasians joined the ranks of the company or be served with the death penalty if they refused. They thrived in the telecommunication and telegraph industry, due to their fluency in the English language. The largest source of Anglo-Indian employment was in the public railway system. This solidified their status as enemies of the Indians and allies by the British.
In the late 19th century, the British stopped their preferential treatment. Many Anglo Indians were retrenched from the army. Anglo Indians were forced to drop status as “Statutory Native of India”. . Both the Indians and the British despised the Anglo-Indian Community but this attitude towards them only bound the community closer together.
It was in this socio-cultural and political context that the All-India Anglo-Indian Association (A.I.A.I.A) and Eurasian Association were formed in 1876. Anglo-Indian education institutions were created to maintain their position. Sir Henry Gidney wrestled for recognition and respect for the Anglo-Indian contribution to British colonial success, even requesting the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, for a state exclusively for the Anglo-Indian community within the Indian territory.
The community being stripped of their governmental privileges led to an uncertainty about their position, economic failure, unemployment, and abject poverty that runs through the community even today. The stigma of bastardy amongst Anglo-Indians led to excessive drinking and gambling, and lack of morals and ambition. The lack of group status in the structure of Indian society played a huge role on how the community has integrated into the social fabric of India today.
After 1935, the Domiciled European Association and the A.I.A.I.A acted as representative bodies extensively pleading for safeguards and protections. The Sapru Committee gave extensive coverage to needs and safeguards of the community. Protections for them were made in independent India, to be reviewed in ten-years-time.
The post-Independent Indian status of the community was marked by a miraculous recognition of the contributions of the community. In the Kashmir campaign, 50% of the fighter pilots of the Indian Air force were Anglo-Indian. In 1965, 7 Anglo Indians were decorated war heroes by the government for their contribution in the Indo-Pak conflict.
Having explored the unstable political and social inclusivity and exclusivity of the community until and beyond Independence, its comparison with the results of my primary investigation will provide a deep and formerly un-researched area as to how these dynamics have remained the same, and how they have developed over time. This analysis will further prove or disprove the argument that the dynamics of social integration and social exclusion have improved over time, but are still disempowerments faced by the community at large.
The Anglo-Indian community represents a confluence of cultures, for some it could be a nostalgic reminder of their colonial linkages and for some, it could mean the celebration and continuity of their culture. My analysis aims to bring forth aspects that give the community a sense of shared culture while also highlighting the areas along which they have adopted cultures of the place they live in, and the people they have surrounded themselves with.
In the primary research I conducted through a survey, different ways of understanding one’s self as an Anglo-Indian emerged. While some respondents connected it solely with British ancestry on the paternal side, there were respondents who connected it with European ancestry. What stands out the most are the responses pertaining to how some respondents feel underappreciated and discouraged, one even defining an Anglo-Indian as someone whose talents are less recognised by the country today. Another unconventional response pertained to how an Anglo-Indian is one who still “lives in the habitat of the Anglo-style” probably with reference to certain noticeable and uncommon “Anglo-isms”.
The distribution of the community in India is strongly linked to the historical background of the community. Most of them trace their roots to cities or towns where colonizers either had administrative or mercantile engagements, or to railway towns. Many of the respondents confirmed this link with the place of their birth being cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Rajahmundry and Mavanhalla amongst others.
Occupational pursuits of Anglo-Indians have not remained stagnant. Where Anglo-Indian employment was primarily in government run industries, Anglo-Indians now pursue a myriad of professional options. Among the respondents there was an architect, engineering students, medical practitioners, a photographer, a disc jockey, to name a few. One similarity however is the overwhelming number of people in the education line of work.
The social circles of Anglo-Indians vary- while half the respondents have an equal number of Anglo-Indian and non-Anglo-Indian friends, there are also extremes wherein some have close to no Anglo-Indian friends, and some have only Anglo-Indian friends. Most Anglo-Indians are open to mixing with other cultures, and have never believed community, race or belief to be a factor in terms of friendships, they also find it necessary to mix with their own community due to cultural similarities.
Anglo-Indians have assimilated culturally into the multi-fold fabric of Indian culture. They join in to celebrate festivals of other communities, as well as their own. It is evident from this that as non-Anglo-Indian social circles have integrated this previously marginal community, disregard and exclusion towards the community has been left behind.
An interesting insight provided by this survey is that although most members are open to close social relations with non-Anglo-Indians, they are less likely to be in a committed relationship with them or to marry them. This fact has less to do with exclusion and lack of acceptance felt by the community, and more to do with difficulty adapting to other cultures and lifestyles completely.
Culturally, this analysis presents the following insights: all the respondents were bilingual, numerous respondents were multilingual. Although they primarily speak English at home, the languages they speak within their social circles, and even their choices related to music and films represent a lot of diversity in terms of languages from Bengali, Hindi Marathi, Telugu to French. In terms of cuisine, there was a great amount of variety involving a combination of Anglo-Indian cuisine, and delicacies from different regions of India. In terms of choice of clothing, all respondents are more comfortable in western clothing. These responses reflect influences of two kinds; the cultural backdrop of the community represents a historical confluence of cultures that embodies the uniqueness of the community today and also, their presence in multicultural societies and in a globalised, inter-connected world.
Despite an overall increase in the complementary and simultaneous adoption of cultural practices between Anglo-Indians and non-Anglo-Indians, members of this minority community still report derogatory terms being used against them. A remarkable majority (almost 100%) of respondents have reported being called ‘Angrez’ and told they do not belong in India. The intent behind the usage of these words are not always bad, but notwithstanding the use of these terms at an alarming rate does indicate a certain amount of exclusionary behaviour.
Despite any disheartening feelings of exclusion on occasion, these respondents have also declared that they are proud to be Indians for their diverse culture and secularity. Others have referred to India as their Motherland, professing that simply being an Indian is reason enough to be proud of it. These responses indicate a nationalist attitude that has recently developed, contrary to when the community immigrated to what they called their “homeland”.
Members of this miniscule community are proud of the notable contribution it has made to the English Language, the Education system, Women Empowerment, and the Railways. Many of the respondents have described the Anglo-Indian culture as exuberant and cheerful or as some describe it as ‘joie de vivre’. The unique culture, rich heritage and distinct identity of the community provides its community with an inherent love for itself which they would like to pass on to future generations.
Notable drawbacks within the community pointed out by the respondents are lack of ambition and drive, their use of colloquial slang, alcoholism prevalent in lower classes, poverty, disloyalty and unethical behaviour. All these tendencies have led to labelling and stereotyping towards the community. We can thus identify patterns carried on through the ages as mentioned by Cressey and Grimshaw in their articles.
The removal of reservation of seats for Anglo-Indians in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative assemblies caused a lot of anger and disappointment within the community. Respondents feel wronged by this decision, and view it as an unjust decision, an infringement of their rights, and a lack of recognition by the government as a minority. A minority of the respondents see it as an opportunity to uplift the community.
The hypothesis of this research was aimed at understanding the extent to which the Anglo-Indian community has been integrated into mainstream Indian social, cultural and political life. Having compared my findings with literature published in the 20th century, I can conclude that there has been a marked improvement in the Anglo-Indian status socially and culturally. The community has successfully maintained their unique culture and traditions, with a high regard for their own identity, while simultaneously being accepted into multi-cultural social groups. This can be attributed to a major shift in ideology in India and is not necessarily specific to the Anglo-Indian community. The subjective feeling towards their political status does have members of the community feeling excluded and unrepresented, however the overall attitude towards them and their current social status and cultural lives proves my argument that the community is now more socially integrated and accepted than it was before.
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