M.V. Chandrasekhar and Sahana Charan
Anglo-Indians too have succumbed to the homogenizing force of Bangalore's IT boom
Bangalore: The city once had a large Anglo-Indian community, the second largest in the country after Kolkata. The community made its presence felt and left its mark on the city's cultural landscape. Although their numbers have dwindled, they continue to be part of the unique social mix of the city the living remnants of its faraway colonial past. Once a distinct segment of the urban milieu, Anglo-Indians of today are almost an integral part of Namma Bengalooru. Their dress, customs, dialect and manners used to set them apart from the rest of the population, but they too had to succumb to the homogenizing force of the IT boom.
There are roughly 1.25 lakh Anglo-Indians in the country. With many of the community migrating to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, there are only about 12,000 of them in Karnataka, concentrated mostly in Bangalore and KGF. Estimates put the number of Anglo-Indians abroad at around eight million.
Fluency in English
It was their fluency in English that had earned their forefathers jobs as steam locomotive drivers, guards and travelling ticket examiners when the British extended the railways network.
Alison Cabral, secretary of the All-India Anglo-Indian Association, Bangalore Branch, says there is hardly any representation of the community today in the Railways. Those days, they were an automatic choice for a Railways job, with the son taking over as soon as the father retired. "But today their representation is hardly one per cent in the Railways," he says.
With reservation for the community in the Indian Railways and other Central Government jobs being phased out in the late 1960s, Anglo-Indians are now taking up jobs in other sectors including the business process outsourcing (BPO), medicine, engineering and technical jobs such as electricians, carpenters and automobile mechanics.
"We were very good in the Railways, Post and Telegraph, armed forces, police and Customs and as nurses, teachers and stenographers. But now with higher education, Anglo-Indians are moving to other professions. The Anglo-Indians' fierce pride in their profession and integrity is well known," says J.A. Fernandez, former member of Parliament and president of the Anglo-Indian Guild here.
But the community is still proud of its past and there have been efforts to hold on to the unique identity. The 130-year-old Anglo-Indian Association of India has over 80 branches, and the Bangalore unit itself is over 80 years old with around 650 families, according Mr. Cabral.
Bangalore has its own Anglo-Indian Guild and other smaller associations with several members on their rolls. These associations try to preserve the identity of a community which is dwindling owing to integration with the local community and migration.
"Most families have migrated to Australia, Canada and the U.K.," says Mr. Cabral.
Today, there are about 10,000 of them left in the city. According to Ivan Nigli, nominated Anglo-Indian MLA, Karnataka has about 25,000 Anglo-Indians.
The community, which used to be very close-knit, is now open and with inter-caste marriages becoming common, they are beginning to blend with the local social fabric.
The Army and the Railways brought most Anglo-Indians to Bangalore from places such as Delhi, Calcutta, Madras and Kolar Gold Fields in the past, according to Mr. Cabral. Others looked at Bangalore and Whitefield as a place to roost post-retirement.
There was a time when Fraser Town and Lingarajapuram used to be called Little England and Texas. But the community has now spread out to places such as HRBR Layout, Kammanahalli, Ulsoor, Viveknagar, Indiranagar and Hutchins Road. Today, the old palatial bungalows that they once occupied are being sold to developers.
Though there are many Anglo-Indians who have now become doctors, engineers, lawyers and dentists, their traditional jobs used to be teaching and in the service industry with their ability to communicate well in English.
But when most realised they could put their fluency in English to more profitable use, they began opting for call centre jobs, like Daniel, who eventually quit the job to start his own bird breeding enterprise.
"The pay at the BPO was an attraction," says the Commerce graduate, who also worked in an export firm. "With my new venture, I wish to earn more than what I used to at the BPO," he says.
Colleen Samuel, an Anglo-Indian who runs a voluntary organisation, Divya Shanthi Trust, agrees that the community's good knowledge of English has worked in its favour.
"In Bangalore, the IT sector has given a lot to the Anglo-Indians. Those who were not so well off have now prospered because their children, with their knowledge of English and communication skills, are easily able to adapt in the BPO sector," she said.
They have made some significant contributions to life in the city and some of the prominent members of the community include former Test cricketer Roger Binny, athlete Kenneth Powell, Diana Siemis, an Olympian, footballer Carlton Chapman, Philip Woods, and model Sarah Corner, says Mr. Cabral, who himself is a State-level hockey umpire and FAPS' hockey coach.
With its distinct identity, the community finds mention in the Constitution of India, akin to Eurasians and adds to the great diversity of the nation.