“Who am I? ..is a question that I have found more difficult to answer than any other in my life,” says Margaret White, an Anglo-Indian culinary consultant who lives in Bengaluru and gives weekly classes at her home for reviving the Anglo Indian cuisine, something which she feels is a responsibility on her part. Margaret’s ancestors were supervisors in the Kolar Gold Fields, a mining region in Karnataka, and she grew up with rich tales of life in the Colonial era and how things changed post Independence.
When the British finally packed their bags to leave India for good, White says her family was also struck with insecurity. However, they didn’t leave the country due to a sense of endearment they had developed with their birthplace. It was only after a couple of years that the community found some promise by the constitutional safeguards provided by the founding fathers.
The Indian Constitution recognises Anglo Indians as a citizen of mixed Indian and European descent (paternal side). Between the 18th and 20th centuries, the term described Britons in India. But the term was formalised in the Census 1911. Anglo Indians were for the first time officially recognised as a specific community by the British. The Government of India Act, 1935 identified Anglo Indians 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 a native of India.”
The Constitutional Assembly kept the operating part and the community was listed as a minority in the Indian Constitution in 1950. Now, the community is largely urban, traces roots to early contact between Europe and India, as back as 1498 during the time the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama came on Indian shores for the first time. The government of India estimates the community to be around 1,00,000-1,50,000.
In post-independence India, a generation of Anglo Indians left Indian shores against the advice of their community leaders writes Alison Blunt in Domicile and Diaspora:Anglo-Indian Women and the Spatial Politics of Home.
Robyn Andrews, after speaking to migrant Anglo Indians in UK, Canada and Australia, concluded in his study Quitting India: The Culture of Migration that the reasons migration varied from search for employment, insecurity and one group even said it was a glamorous thing to do.
His study theorised that “fears of reprisals and insecurity about their future in India led to three major waves of migration from the sub-continent”. The first wave of migration came just after 1947. The second wave was in the early sixties during the time there was a push for Hindi to be made the national language which reduced chances of employment. The third wave came in the 1970s and is called by most sociologists as the ‘family reunion wave’.
Anglo-Indian leader Frank Anthony wrote in Britain’s Betrayal in India: Story of the Anglo Indian Community, “At the time of Independence there were estimated to be 200,000–300,000 Anglo-Indians in India… after over fifty years of steady exodus from India the population of Anglo-Indians in India is estimated to be less than half that number now.”
Independent India was as new to Anglo-Indians as was to other citizens, but brought with it an invidious situation for the community. British historian Arnold J Toynbee says survival was the prime challenge and response for the Anglo Indians. The challenges, he theorised, were from the early masters and later internally from the Indian counterparts.
“We were considered inferior by the Europeans due to our mixed descent and not accepted by our fellow Indians due to the colour of our skin, language, customs, upbringing etc. Europeans looked down upon us with equal resentment as they did other Indians. However, we faced the mistrust of Indians. Most of it was on account of our aloofness as a community. That was helped by our “European culture and looks,” says Noel Clarke, part of RootsWeb archive group that is helping people trace their ancestry.
Clarke’s family has been in India for nine generations and at least five members of his family have served the British Army. The identity dilemma is not overbearing anymore. “But it has come after we have developed a genuine community consciousness. That has been initiated by the community itself and not with outside help.”
The community was born with Europeans trying to create an indigenous support group, thus encouraging officers and civil servants to marry Indian women. One pagola or gold mohar was the reward provided for each child born out of such a marriage. In the initial days, the children were accepted promptly and got jobs in the East India Company. Several travelled to England for studies and schools came up in places like Madras, Bangalore and Lucknow for Anglo Indians. Their culture and propensity was in line with the Europeans. By the 1800s, the situation changed for the Anglo Indians. The British were averse to strengthening a parallel ethnic group in the country and discouraged all measures allowing the same. The newly framed policies tried to exclude them from the British societal setup and top echelons of the industry.
“It showed how the community was treated as second class Europeans. Low level positions in the government and company were offered to Anglo Indians, the ínferior jobs or dirtier jobs as my grandparents told me,” said Clarke.
Madras-born Anglo Indian author Moira Breen, one of the most vocal members of the community, wrote in the book Anglo Indians: The Way We Are: “We considered ourselves domiciled Europeans and 100% British”. However, the community has integrated well since the independence.
For “Anglo Indians: Vanishing Remnants of a Bygone Era”, US-based Blair R Williams conducted a decade long study and found that intermarriage trends picked up since the 1940s. The study finds that Anglo Indian-Anglo Indian/European marriages dropped from 94% in 1940s to 46% in 1990. It also found that Anglo Indian women marrying non Anglo Indian men increased from 3% in 1940s to 29.5% in 1990s and Anglo Indian men marrying non Anglo Indian women increased from 3% in 1940s to 24.5% in 1990s. This can also be seen in line with the fact that the population of the community has also reduced.
Post independence, Anglo-Indians continued to have reservations in civil and military jobs. However, the Anglo-Indians faced a host of problems too.
Crum Ewing and Willem Adriaan Veenhoven observed in their exhaustive analysis “Case Studies on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: A World Survey” that post independence, though the Anglo Indians enjoyed reservations in civil and military jobs, they faced a host of problems. The writers concluded that in the early years of independence, they were disinclined to accept inferior jobs. The larger lack of academic qualification and keeping away from learning Indian native languages became a hurdle. Occupational specialisation was something the community at large did not possess in the early years of independence.
The All Indian Anglo-Indians Association estimated most of the community is based in cities of Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Kochi, Goa, Secunderabad, Tiruchirapalli, Chennai and Kanpur. Some pockets are strong even in Visakhapatnam, Agra, and towns in Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.
The community has been, like all other minorities, promised rights and benefits. However, proper representation of the community in Parliament is something that it cries out for and has strived for since Independence. The most celebrated leader Frank Anthony was nominated for seven terms in the Lok Sabha between 1952 and 1996. However, the inability to articulate the issues of the community in the Lok Sabha have been evident. The community has tried to push an Anglo Indian Welfare Bill but it has been stonewalled. The latest attempt was done by Professor Richard Hay in Lok Sabha, 2016. It is yet to be discussed.