Anglo-Indians are Part Of the Indian Dream
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Captain Stan Blackford in his book, 'One Hell of a life' writes; “On 14 August 1947 we turn up the radio near the hotel bar before the midnight and listened as Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and the first Prime Minister of the new Dominion of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, announced jointly that, at the stroke of twelve, the old Indian Dominion would cease to exist and two independent Dominion would come into being. In the background we had much cheering and shouting and martial music, and next morning an air of euphoria prevailed in the streets, among the coolies and the beggars, among the tonga drivers and the hotel staff. The elation, almost giddiness was felt every where, especially round the bar of our hotel, among the British officers on the verge of leaving for England, and the Moslems waiting to catch trains to Pakistan. ”
The passage aptly sums up the mood of the 1947 India, what it does not take cognizance of was the anxieties of six lakh Anglo- Indian community spread over the length and breadth of the country that were left rudderless at the stroke of that eventful midnight.
Anglo- Indian community was born as a result of the migration of the Europeans to India during the high noon of the British Empire. Some married Indian women and lived and died in India. The communion between the Europeans and the Indians gave rise to a new community called Anglo- Indians.
The Anglo-Indians made a buffer class between the white British and the common Indians. For the first hundred years, the British allowed the mixed blood race to stay to their side but thereafter they segregated them. The new community was Indian in appearance but European in language and culture mores and norms.
“We are not an accident of history, but a deliberate creation of East India Company,” someone from the community once said.
The Anglo Indian community had a seminal role to play in the making of the modern India. They left a mark of their contribution in the development of the railways, roadways, telegraph, armed forces and above all in the spread of English education, the pillars on which the modern India stands today.
The community was at cross roads in 1947, when India was making its ‘tryst with destiny.’ The British packed up their bags and pulled down their Union Jack in 1947, but left behind, the off springs of their 400 years of relationship in India.
The condition of the entire Anglo- Indians was tense and conflicting during the time of Independence. The community was torn by uncertainty fanned by all sorts of rumors. Some outspoken attack was made against them in the press.
“No we do not want the Anglo Indians. We never did and we never shall…Give them the boot,” said one pamphlet distributed in Bombay in 1947.
In this wave of uncertainty, a lot of Anglo- Indians migrated to England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Those who still debated about their survival heaved a sigh of relief with the promulgation of the Indian constitution in 1950.
The constitution recognized the Anglo Indians as a distinct community in India and reserved two MPs for them in the lower house of the Parliament and one MLA each in twelve different provinces of India.
The towering personality of Nehru infused a great deal of security to the beleaguered community. Nehru who epitomized being the custodian of secularism through his words and deeds that gave a ray of hope to many Anglo Indians to stay on in India.
Nehru’s death in 1964 left many in the community blinking once again for their future and then started a fresh wave of exodus. The migration grew to unbelievable proposition in the late sixties and seventies. Informed estimates, place four hundred and fifty thousand, Anglo Indians to be currently residing in Australia, Britain and Canada and elsewhere in the world.
However, the scholars who feel that the 400-year old Anglo-Indian community will soon fade away into oblivion have been proved wrong, says Harry MacLure, editor of the magazine “Anglos In The Wind.”
“The overwhelming response from the community worldwide since the launch of the magazine in 1998 makes one to believe that the Anglo-Indians are alive and dancing.”
“The youngsters in India are doing well, contributing positively to society in general, and most importantly, they continue to marry within the Community, giving us hope and proving the scholars wrong,” Harry adds.
The current population of Anglo-Indian community in India is estimated to be about one hundred and thirty thousand. They are scattered all over country with significant population in Madras (35,000), Calcutta (25,000) Banglore (20,000) Kerala (20,000).
The Anglo Indian people are hard working, family oriented, church-going community. Most of them are living a life of middle and lower middle class Indians and some even have slipped to below the poverty line. Even though adapting to the new realties in the post-independent India, they have cling on to their distinct culture.
Once upon a time they were mostly railway people who enjoyed a simple life style in the railway colonies, listening to the high pitched whistle of passing steam trains and radio at more quite moments, but now they are part of the great Indian dream building up in the wake of the liberalization of the country.
It was a passing time when the employment opportunities in the government services dried up and with uncertainty looming large, a lot many Anglo-Indians had to leave to the foreign lands. However, in the new era of privatization, a good deal of opportunities has been thrown up in India. Anglo-Indians are working in banks, hotels and IT sectors. They are looked for office administration skills and are much sought after as secretaries and PAs in the offices.
Many Anglo- Indians are excelling in different walks of of life. Actors, Diana Hyden, Mark Robinson, cricketer Roger Binny, quiz master Derek O'Brien, are few names that immediately pops up when we look for Anglo Indian celebrities in India.
The transformation of the Anglo- Indian community from being the government servants during the British Raj to the white and blue color jobs, no doubt had been full of trial and tribulation but now they are well adjusted to the Indian mainstream.
Migration is now a matter of choice for the Anglo-Indian community. The booming Indian economy offers enough temptations to stay in India. Those here have adapted to the new realities are reinforcing the belief that Anglo Indian community is not a dyeing community.
The trend in the new millennium is many Anglo Indian families are returning to settle back in India. One could see this new development slowly gaining momentum. There could be various reasons; maybe because their foreign currency exchange rates, maybe the warm weather they always dreamed off during those cold, dreary winter spell, or probably they missed the warmth of the people of India. Whatever many be the factor a many Anglos especially, the older and the retired are coming back ‘home.’
“The climate is warm through out the year, city is looking quite modern, its attractive groceries has all kinds of food, fresh meat and vegetables available, there is no dearth of excellent doctors, what one needs more,” said Bertie Rozario, who settled down in Madras after living in UK for nearly 35 years.
The Anglo Indian poet Collen Canpbell in her poem, My beloved India says;
So no matter where I wander
And nor how far I roam,
For something deep inside me
India always will be my home.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at email@example.com