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HISTORY OF THE ANGLO-INDIAN COMMUNITY - OUR PERSPECTIVE

 

An·glo-In·di·an (?ng'gl?-?n'd?-?n)
   adj.  Of, relating to, or between England / (now includes Europe) and India.

    n. 1. A person of English / (now includes European) and Indian descent.

        2. A person of English / (now includes European) birth or ancestry living in India.

        3. The variety of English used in India.

Article 366(2) 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 and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not established there for temporary purposes only" [1]. Under this definition, the mestiços (mixed Portuguese and Indian) of Goa are also included.

 The beginnings of the community can be traced back to the early part of the 17th century when the British fostered this community to strengthen their foothold in India, with deliberate sanctions that encouraged their growth. The early sailors which came to India married and settled with native women - before the ravages of lash or battle, climate or disease took their toll on them. The East India Company's directors encouraged their employees in India to take local brides and convert them. A gold mohur was paid to the mother of every child born from such a union. The Anglo-Indian community is a distinct minority community originating in India consisting of people of mixed British and Indian ancestry whose native language is English. An Anglo-Indian's British ancestry is bequeathed paternally.

The original Anglo-Indians were of mixed blood descending from the British on the male side and women from the Indian sub-continent - including countries now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh - on the female side. Over generations Anglo-Indians intermarried with other Anglo-Indians to form a community that developed a culture of its own. Anglo-Indian cuisine, dress, speech and religion all served to further segregate Anglo-Indians from the native population. They established a school system focused on English language and culture and formed social clubs and associations to run functions like their regular dances at occasions like Christmas and Easter.

Over time Anglo-Indians were specifically recruited into the Customs and Excise, Post and Telegraphs, Forestry Department, The Railways and teaching professions - but they were employed in many other fields as well. A number of factors fostered a strong sense of community among Anglo-Indians. Their English language school system, their Anglo centric culture, and their Christian beliefs in particular helped bind them together. Like the Parsi community, the Anglo-Indians are essentially urban dwellers. Unlike the Parsis, the mass migrations saw more of the better educated and financially secure Anglo-Indians depart for Commonwealth countries.

 THE BETRAYAL   

This encouragement led to the establishment of a multiracial community that was later to be shunned and discriminated against by the same people who encouraged its birth. The deliberate oppression of the mixed community was heightened by the awareness of Englishmen returning from India having amassed enormous wealth in a relatively short period - made the Directors of The East India Company envious of the people with Indian connections and they could only get back at their dependents who often did not have protection under the law - as they were neither 'natives' nor 'brits".

Coupled with this was the rebellion in the Spanish possession of Haiti by "mulattos" - persons of European and Negro descent. This rebellion in a far off pacific island by a community of mixed blood was seized upon by the directors of the East India Company and support was generated that Indian soldiers led by Anglo-Indian Officers might well emulate Haiti and drive out the British. The company immediately withdrew all privileges extended to the children of Anglo-Indian origin by ordering a blanket ban on them entering officer cadres and within a short span of time he community was reduced to the status of a down trodden race. This was a period when officers and sons of Anglo-Indians began joining forces of the Indian Princes and many of them rose to command immense prestige and power.

THE GRADUAL INTEGRATION

 The Gradual integration of the community into the main stream of Indian life became a necessity, and over the past four decades with the support of the government there has been a marked realization in all sections of the community that the emerging political structures in free India base on equity, democracy, socialism and secularism would serve their interests and should sections of the community be able to raise themselves above the mire of self-degradation and self inflicted isolation, they can compete for placements and opportunities that a developing country can possibly offer its citizens.

EDUCATION - THE BACKBONE OF THE ANGLO-INDIANS

    The greatest and perhaps the most singular contribution to the nation by the Anglo-Indian community has made, is it's sustained presence in the sphere of school education.
                 At the time of independence there were nearly 300 Anglo-Indian schools in existence. The premier Examination board in the country, managed by the Anglo-Indians -" Council for the Indian School certificate Examinations, New Delhi ", has evolved into a premier body conducting public examinations at the Secondary and Senior secondary levels in India and abroad. The " Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations", established in 1958, with support of the -" Inter-State Board for Anglo-Indian Education", provides its examinations to over 1000 schools in India and abroad.
                  The Anglo-Indian community with the support : of Article-30 of the Indian Constitution, continue to manage and establish educational institutions providing access to quality education and opportunities without distinction or preference to all sections of society.

SURVIVAL OF THE COMMUNITY

 Frank Anthony said - " I do not believe that the community will be absorbed or disappear because of some allegedly inevitable historical-cum-biological processes. Anglo- Indians have a certain coherent sense, which in the final analysis will ensure continuing cohesion and identity."

 Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Late Prime Minister of India at the centenary celebrations of the All India Anglo Indian Association  in October 1976 said - " The Anglo-Indian community has a played a part out of all proportion to its size for the development and progress of India. The community has been a pioneer in many technical professions, railways, forestry, education, public health, nursing, sports and the fighting forces. The entire country admires their zest, their spirit of adventure and patriotism. English is their mother tongue, it helps in the communication with other countries with understanding world events, trends and personalities." The Anglo-Indians are first of all Indians and then Anglo-Indians and are very proud of this fact !!

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS

   The Anglo-Indians are the only community to have constitutional provisions with respect to nominations to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies under the provisions of Article - 330 and 331 of the Constitution. We must thank the Late Sir Henry Gidney and the untiring efforts of Late Frank Anthony, who ensured these provisions whereby 2 members of the community are nominated to the Lok Sabha at the Center and one member is nominated to each State legislature to represent the interests of the Anglo-Indian community.

The Spirit That's Uniquely Anglo-Indian :

The British Empire once held absolute power in over 52 countries. About two-fifths of the world. But there was only one jewel in the crown -- India. The first European settlers in India were the Portuguese in 1498, about 100 years before the British. The Dutch, the French and the British followed. They were all here for the duration on. The inevitable happened and a new mixed race community emerged.

Even though the British came in peacefully as merchants and traders, they soon colonised the subcontinent of India. But the British needed allies to protect the jewel in the crown and so began a deliberate policy encouraging British males to marry Indian women to create the first Anglo-Indians.

The East India Company paid 15 silver rupees for each child born to an Indian mother and a European father, as family allowance. These children were amalgamated into the growing Anglo-Indian community, forming a defensive structure for the British Raj. This was a deliberate act of self-preservation by the English. This unique hybrid individual was ethnically engineered by the occupying British, so much so that the Anglo-Indians were the only micro-minority community ever defined in a country's Constitution.

Article 366 of the Indian Constitution states: "An Anglo-Indian means a person whose father or any of whose male ancestors 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 there-in and not established there for temporary purposes only".So you can see we were intended to be a permanent micro-minority.

In 1830, British Parliament described the Anglo-Indian as those who have been English educated, are entirely European in their habits and feelings, dress and language. They were more"Anglo" than "Indian". Their mother tongue was English, they were Catholic or Anglican, and their customs and traditions were English. While most of them married within their own circle, many continued to marry expatriate Englishmen. Very few married Indians. Without Anglo-Indian support British rule would have collapsed.

Railways: We ran the railways, post and telegraph, police and customs, education, export and import, shipping, tea, coffee and tobacco plantations, the coal and gold fields. We became teachers, nurses, priests and doctors.

If it had any value, the British made sure we ran it. And when it came to secretarial duties, no one could touch our Anglo-Indian girls -- the best stenographers in the world and with a beauty to match.Were we favoured? Yes, the English trusted us. After all, we were related by blood. We worked hard. We became indispensable. We lived comfortably and were protected by the British Raj. Like the British, we had servants to do all our domestic work. The average Anglo-Indian home could afford at least three full-time servants -- a cook, a bearer and the indispensable nanny (ayah). Part-time servants included a gardener, a cleaner and a laundry man (dhobi).


Christmas cake: The tradition of making your own Christmas cake was a sacred Anglo-Indian custom. Each family had a secret cake recipe, handed down from our grandparents. About a week before Christmas, the local baker was contacted. He would turn up to your home with two very large terracotta bowls that looked more like satellite dishes. One for the egg whites and one for mixing. Mum would dish out the ingredients. This was all mixed together under her watchful eye and distributed in to about dozen or so cake tins and labelled with your name on it. This labelling was all important. We did not want him to return that evening with someone else's cake recipe. Heaven forbid!

Music and dance: Music, movies and socialising were high on the agenda. We loved a dance. Afternoon dance jam sessions were a magnet for the teenagers where we jived, jitterbugged, tangoed or just fox-trotted. Many a lasting liaison was forged on the dance floor and today many of us are celebrating 40-year plus marriages. Our mums sat around gossiping and seldom took their eyes off their darling daughters.

The Anglo-Indian railway and cantonment towns that sprung up around the major cities cultivated a unique social and industrial blend with a heartbeat. Their dances were legendary. At the drop of a hat, the city cousins would jump on a train and travel for anything up to six hours to get to that up-country dance. Many of our lives revolved around the biggest and best railway system in the world. And the trains ran on time! Today, the Indian Railways transports over five billion passengers each year, employing more than 1.6 million personnel. Between 1853 and 1947, we built and managed 42 rail systems. This was a legacy we can be proud of.

Contributions: During World War I, about 8,000 Anglo-Indians fought in Mesopotamia, East Africa, and in the European theatre -- three Anglo-Indians were awarded Victoria Crosses. In World War II, they fought at Dunkirk and flew in the battle of Britain. Guy Gibson of the Dam Busters was one such Anglo-Indian, and we were in North Africa, Malaya and the fall of Singapore. Merle Oberon and Juliet Prowse, Tony Brent, Engelbert Humperdinck, Cliff Richards are all Anglo-Indians.

The Anglo-Indians took India to Olympic hockey glory. From 1928, India won five consecutive Olympic hockey gold medals. In fact, when India faced Australia in the semi-finals of the 1960 Olympics in Rome, it was a unique occasion. The captains who came face to face were both Anglo-Indians – Leslie Claudius and Kevin Carton.

Education: English education played a major role amongst the Anglo-Indians. Anglo-Indian schools numbered close to 300 and were prized. They stretched from Bangalore in the South to the cooler northern hill stations of Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas. Each was modelled on the posh English public school system. We ran them as teachers and principals and to this day, these schools are coveted across the sub-continent.

Identity dilemma: The Anglo-Indian has always faced an identity dilemma because of our mixed origins. Europeans said they were Indians with some European blood; Indians said they were Europeans with some Indian blood. 

The world of Anglo-India vanished on August 15, 1947 when India became the largest independent democracy in the world. The British packed and went home. Over 300,000 Anglo-Indians remained. We felt apprehensive and abandoned. So we, too, packed our bags and began to migrate to Australia, Britain, Canada, the U.S.A. and New Zealand.

Many of you will remember the dreaded Income Tax Clearance document you need to leave the country and further faced the strict Indian foreign exchange regulations that allowed you only 10 pounds each. Imagine starting life in a new country with 10 quid in your pocket. Some had to leave behind their savings; others simply resorted to the risky black market, losing a 30% of savings.

Identity: The Anglo-Indian identity is disappearing. We have found new lives and merged into the mainstream. Our generation, who were born in India, growing up in the 40s through to the 60s, are possibly the last true Anglo-Indians.

Look around you. Where is the next generation? Most of our children were born abroad and their connection to Anglo-India is very fragile. They have married Aussies, English, Canadian or other Anglo-Indians born outside India. They prefer to be regarded as English, Australian or Canadian. Our grandchildren will assimilate and forge a new identity based on their country of birth. Putting aside history, I believe we could regard ourselves as an exotic cocktail that had its origins over 300 years ago.

We have matured and become a unique aromatic spirit, generously flavoured and very stimulating. We were a force to be reckoned with. We were the shakers and the stirrers. Please pick up your glasses and toast your State of Origin and New Horizons.