Home A. I. Dilemmas

The Anglo-Indians: Dilemma's facing them....

The Anglo-Indians were brought into being by the direct policies of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British traders and colonists. The Directors of the British East India Company (which had been founded around 1629) paid one pagola or gold mohur (a guinea, coin) for each child born to an Indian mother and a European father, essentially, a family allowance.

Warren Hastings was the first to use the term ‘Anglo-Indian’ in the 18th century to describe both the British and their Indian-born children. These children were “country-born” and amalgamated into the Anglo-Indian community, forming a bulwark for the British Raj, a buffer but also a bridge between the rulers and the subjects. Tthe Anglo-Indians’ local knowledge of India and its people made them an invaluable asset to the British, who used and reared them in the atmosphere of trade.

We note that the encouragement, and ready employment given to the Anglo-Indians by the East India Company, as well as the fact that they were treated no differently from the British ensured the growth of a mixed community. Also, until the mid-18th century Anglo-Indian children were often sent to England to receive further education with no stigma attached to marital or extramarital relations with Indian women. And schools were established in Madras, Bangalore, Lucknow and other British settlements aimed at organising education to make Anglo-Indians fit for the departments of the public services.

Thus, the Anglo-Indian was the product of the confident European expansion of the 16th century. In the years of British colonial expansion, intermarriage between the British and the native females was encouraged, but soon after British power was established in India, this policy was reversed: it was feared that a mixed community might threaten British rule.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Anglo-Indians were discharged from all ranks of the army; they were barred from the Company’s civil, military or marine services. The restrictions imposed closed a large area of employment for them and they saw these actions as discriminatory because previously they were treated as British and they felt themselves to be British both by culture and inclination. Now they were no longer with the ruling elite. These measures reduced the Anglo-Indians to political impotence and social degradation.

It was within this milieu that Anglo-Indian families had to survive, but even this set-up was continuously changing. under the British Raj, the fortunes of the Anglo-Indians varied from the denial of jobs to favouritism in job placement. At the end of the colonial period and over ten years after Independence, the Anglo-Indians had a secure hold on positions in clerical jobs, railways, transport and communication.

However, from the 1920s onwards the unemployment problem amongst the community became critical. During the decades after Independence job opportunities diminished even further as communalism, Anglo-Indian unwillingness to accept inferior jobs, the poor educational qualifications of Anglo-Indians, Anglo-Indian resistance to learning an Indian language and occupational specialization all contributed to an already chronic unemployment situation within the community.

Physically the Eurasians are slight and weak. Their personal appearance is subject to the greatest variations. In skin colour, for example, they are often darker even than the Asiatic parent. They are naturally indolent and will enter into no employment requiring exertion or labour. This lack of energy is correlated with an incapacity for organization. They will not assume burdensome responsibilities, but they make passable clerks where only routine is required …the half-castes tend to develop peculiar mental traits and attitudes which are not racial but are determined by the social situation in which they find themselves. To the extent that this takes place, the differences that normally exist between individuals are suppressed and the mental and moral characteristics of the group approach uniformity.

In studies done in India, one found 68% of employed Anglo-Indians interviewed were in the lower two categories of his classification. Very few entered private business and most had not been to college.  In addition, a series of interviews among Calcutta Anglo-Indians in 1972 revealed a set of reciprocal role relations between the sexes…greater emancipation of women, extensive unemployment of men…Anglo-Indian women became bread-winners …men developed images of themselves patterned after their British fathers—felt that they were too good for menial work…Anglo-Indian girls, urged by parents not to marry too soon and to continue to support the older generation, frequently refused to marry men of their own community…sex roles skewed away from the traditional male dominance pattern.


Desire, Conviction & Aspirations for a Western (White ??) Identity

By the 19th century, the British separated themselves from the coloured people but accepted fairer (and often wealthier) people of dual heritage as ‘Anglo-Indian’. Darker (and usually poorer) people were given the name ‘Eurasian’. Anglo-Indians were of British descent and British subjects; others claimed to be British to escape prejudice. The British did not however accept such identification. They did not see Anglo-Indians as kinsmen, socially viewing them as “half-caste” members who were morally and intellectually inferior to the sons and daughters of Britain.

The Anglo-Indians tried to counter this by trying to be more like the British; hence their campaign to be called ‘Anglo-Indians’ rather than ‘Eurasians’. ‘Anglo-Indian’ would mean a closer link with the Raj while ‘Eurasian’ was too general.

One of the contributing factors to the growth of community identification was that marriage outside the community had become rare by 1919. It was no longer acceptable for the British to marry an Indian or Anglo-Indian.  By the end of the 19th century it was taboo for all but the British men of low status to associate with Anglo-Indians or Indians.

Skin colour was another factor preventing the Anglo-Indians from being accepted by the British due to a concern with maintaining “purity of race”.   Which also meant a white Britisher with real English looks. If they are white with blue eyes and fair hair, they find it easier to blend in with the others but if they are dark like the Indians they find it harder to be accepted as anyone but an Indian. Amongst the Anglo-Indians themselves there is this colour prejudice. The fairer ones consider themselves superior and the real Anglo-Indians. In India the higher castes are usually the lighter skin ones whereas the darker Indians are supposedly the lower castes. According to them it was the lower castes that were converted in numbers by the missionaries during the British Raj. The Indians therefore, consider the Indian Christians as well as the darker Anglo-Indians as belonging to the lower castes.

Hence, the Anglo-Indians adopted many of the prejudices of the British, resulting in the rejection of the Anglo-Indians by both British and Indian communities, and they found they were caught between the European attitude of superiority towards Indian and Anglo-Indian and the Indian mistrust of them due to their aloofness and Western-oriented culture.

On both the social and cultural level they were alien to many other Indians, though kin to them on the biological level. The Anglo-Indians were mid-way between two cultural worlds and they could never get to know the West to which they aspired to belong, nor did they have emotional ties with India, where they really belonged.  Thus, they were victims of dilemma and indiscretion throughout their existence.


The Crucial Identity Dilemma

One of the problems the Anglo-Indian community has always faced is one of Identity. Throughout much of the 18th century,Europeans and Indians variously defined them. Under these circumstances it was not easy for Anglo- Indians to develop a clear conception of their own identity. Europeans tended to think of them as Indians with some European blood; Indians thought of them as Europeans with some Indian blood. The prejudices against them, real or imagined, or the prejudices that they themselves had against other Indians, were an obstacle to both group and individual identity.

The fact that Anglo-Indians were Indian nationals by birth but culturally oriented to Britain often made their status confusing to themselves and to others. One Anglo-Indian school principal in Calcutta stated the dilemma of her own identity as, ‘My heart is in England but my responsibilities are in India.’ She has since migrated to Great Britain.

Many Anglo-Indians felt that other Indians regard them as interlopers who do not want to qualify as authentic and loyal Indians. An Indian in Bombay, who remarked with reference to the matter of identity, that if you visit any Anglo-Indian home you almost invariably see a picture of the British Royal Family. This is undoubtedly a half-truth but it reinforces the image that many Indians have of the community.

Many  advance claims that Anglo-Indians are (and were) culturally marginal to the other Indians in India. This is because their mother tongue, religion, family organisation and general style of life distinguishes them from Indians who are relatively distinctive in this respect… They discover the existence of four major stereotypes: Anglo-Indians as stooges of the British; Anglo-Indians, especially Anglo-Indian women, as people of lax morals; Anglo-Indians as traitors to India; and, finally, Anglo-Indians as opportunists.

Thus, it has not been easy for them to provide a satisfactory answer to the question: “Who am I?” Thoughtful Anglo-Indians, acutely aware of the problem of identity and of the attitudes held by many Indians towards them, point to their records of achievement in the interests of India and to the sacrifices made by Anglo-Indians in the military services. Some of the leaders of the community decry the migrations of their members to other countries, asserting that it is their duty to remain in India and work for equal rights and opportunities for all peoples.  So, as a genuine community consciousness developed, this identity dilemma lessened but it was never firmly resolved. With the British leaving India and as opportunities for a resolution of identity conflict through migration faded, a new identity orientation was necessary. Many Anglo-Indians, who were unable to make such a turn-about of identity and remained insecure without the protective imperial umbrella, opted to leave India.


Since India’s Independence ( in 1947)

The world of Anglo-India vanished on August 15, 1947, when a new nation was born. As India threw off the shackles of three centuries of colonial rule and its people strode proud and free into the future, the British packed their bags, their polo sticks, their regimental jackets, and their memories—and went home to ‘Blighty’. Not everyone, however, was glad to see them go...

The somewhat sudden and unexpected departure of the British from Indian soil, posed a series of tangled problems involving critical choices for this community. The pivotal point for Anglo-Indians was the hand-over of political power in 1947: suddenly experiencing the insecurity of a minority group, thousands of Anglo-Indians left India for safer shores – Canada, New Zealand, England and Australia.

For those Anglo-Indians who stayed behind, the Constitution of India provided more security than they dreamt of. The official definition of the term ‘Anglo-Indian’ accepted by the Government of India and stipulated in the new Constitution of Independent India is:

…An 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… (The Constitution of India, Article- 366)

And  there was much debate about English as the mother tongue of the Anglo-Indians. It was claimed that English was essential to being an Anglo-Indian. Hence, in 1957, the following definition was approved:

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

As regards the Anglo-Indians who remained in India, some integrated well into the upper class Indian Hindu society. But many were poor, ignored by their community, forgotten by the Indians and left with their memories of past glories and a fondly created illusion of ‘home’, England.

The Anglo-Indians lived in an unrealistic world and many of them escaped into a Walter Mitty-like ‘white world’ called England, where they imagined everything was plentiful and everyone was kind. It was ‘home’ in a sense, which India could never be.  They always speak of England as ‘home’ though they may never have been there.

This sense of ‘home’ implied … is an image of ‘home’ as the site for everyday lived experience. It is a discourse of locality, the place where feelings of rooted ness ensue from the mundane and the unexpected of daily practice. Home here connotes the networks of family, kin, friends, colleagues and various other ‘significant others’. It signifies the social and psychic geography of space that is experienced in terms of a neighbourhood or a hometown that is a community ‘imagined’ in most part through daily encounter. This ‘home’ is a place with which we remain intimate even in moments of intense alienation from it. It is a sense of ‘feeling at home’


The Anglo-Indians - Immigration and the Dilemma of Identity

The Anglo-Indians may be considered as colonial transnationals in relation to cultural globalisation and international migration. Migration a key to the survival of the Anglo-Indian Community in an ethos of globalisation and the possible construction of a number of different ‘little Anglo-Indias’ corresponding to their quest for Identity along with their assimilation and survival in the UK, Canada, New Zealand & Australia.

Anglo-Indians as Transcolonial Migrants  -       There has been emigration to the West almost since the emergence of an          Anglo-Indian community. Until the end of the eighteenth century the Anglo-Indian sons of British officers were sometimes sent to Britain to be educated, and many of them simply ‘passed’ into local society. By the middle of the nineteenth century there were organized attempts to send unemployed artisans to parts of the British Empire. The Athenaeum, a Madras newspaper, occasionally reported the successes of the Madras Emigration Society in placing Anglo-Indians in Australia as compositors, shepherds, watchmakers, blacksmiths, domestic servants, etc,.

In this context,  some Anglo-Indian schools, such as Dr Graham's in Kalimpong (India), which also tried to arrange placements abroad for their young men .  The Anglo Indians can be seen as transnationals not by virtue of migration across political boundaries, but through experiencing profound displacement in terms of belonging: by residing in one location but adjudging themselves only at home in another.

Anglo-Indians adaptation to life  for example in Australia overall had been achieved fairly easily. However, it is interesting that the Anglo-Indians saw themselves as different from other ethnic minorities in terms of being western and having English as a first language. The participants also reported that life in Australia had been different to India. Unlike India, they felt Australia placed less emphasis on a person's status, religion or social functions. It was again interesting that they saw the differences between Australia and India as those same indicators, which defined them as a community. Without those indicators it would be difficult to distinguish them from many Australians today.

Distinguishing themselves from other Indians and from non-English speaking migrants, Anglo-Indians occupy an ambivalent place in multicultural Australia. Many stress their successful assimilation and emphasise the ‘Anglo’ parts of their identity, while at the same time asserting a distinctive and visible Anglo-Indian identity in the context of multiculturalism. While this appeal both to assimilation and to a multicultural cosmopolitanism may appear contradictory, their coexistence rather reveals the tensions is sometomes called ‘fantasies of white supremacy in a multicultural society’ where ideas of whiteness remain dominant in both cultural and racial terms.”

Many Anglo-Indian migrants saw it as neither possible nor desirable to assimilate in independent India: ‘If we had to stay [in India] then we would have had to make the best of it, and assimilate, and lose our identity.’ In contrast, Anglo-Indian assimilation in Australia meant identifying with the dominant white, western culture and feeling more at home.

. Anglo-Indians can be seen as a diasporic people that constructed and maintained a sense of identity when the territorial base (British India) to which that identity refers was taken over by the Indian Government. Consequently, it led to their migrations to the numerous places to which they have been scattered by the loss of their birthland (India) and they might discursively construct images of themselves and their birthland.

The 1950s and 1960s saw a steady stream of departures as about 150,000 Anglo-Indians, seeking wider horizons and better job prospects, emigrated to Australia, Britain, Canada, the U.S.A. and New Zealand. The exodus has continued through the decades up to the present time—although now, Anglo-Indians, like their Indian contemporaries, leave India not for reasons of uncertainty, but because the West offers a dazzling array of educational and career opportunities…

This is evidently the case with Australian Anglo-Indians,  Since the late 1980s, ideas about Anglo-Indian assimilation have coexisted with an increasingly visible community identity. The Australian Anglo-Indian Association was founded in Perth in 1988, hosted an international reunion for Anglo-Indians in 1995, and opened the only Anglo-Indian cultural centre in the world in 1998; there is a weekly Anglo-Indian programme on multicultural radio in Perth; there is a residential home for elderly Anglo-Indians in Melbourne; and there are regular social events to raise funds for Anglo-Indians in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Government funding for multicultural projects has helped to create and shape a distinctive Anglo-Indian identity in Australia: an identity that is distinctive in its hybridity.

The Anglo-Indians are a mostly progressive, self-sufficient and adjustable community, they have been able to adapt themselves to the new situation and conditions presented to them in the country they migrated to, at the same time keeping the link with the country of their birth…The older Anglo-Indians…prefer to stay within their own community and cling to their own distinctive lifestyle, a mixture of the British and the Indian. While the future seems promising for the children, the older Anglo-Indians find themselves comfortable in their own community and culture. They prefer to organise for themselves a little India in their own homes and the social get togethers, ‘the way it was in India itself.’ They prefer spicy Indian food and association only with Anglo-Indians.

Thus, as regards the survival of the Anglo-Indian community in an ethos of globalisation, we note the possible construction of a number of different ‘little Anglo-Indias’ corresponding to their quest for Identity along with keeping links with the country of their birth.