Anglo-Indian or Euro-Indian?

August 14, 2017 11:43 am | Updated 10:48 pm IST

A splendid opportunity to discuss this was offered by the international seminar recently organised by IIT’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences but was not taken. Instead, the unfortunately titled event, ‘Midnight’s Orphans’, took the academic route of literature, cinema, individual case studies etc.

The question was raised at the curtain-raiser itself and answered with the official All-India Anglo-Indian Association view propagated by Frank Anthony pre-Independence. That view holds that an Anglo-Indian is a person whose mother tongue is English, who is Christian, and who adopts (or, is it ‘adapts’?)Western food, clothing, lifestyle and social behaviour. The Government of India Acts of 1919 and 1935 is echoed by Article 366(2) of the Constitution, which states, “An Anglo-Indian means a person whose father or any other of whose male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territories of India and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not there for temporary purpose only.”

The Constitution clearly states that the descent must be from a European male line; it does not mention British (which would include the Celtic Scots, Irish and Welsh), leave alone English, which, ‘Anglo’ would indicate. Thus, descent could be from Portuguese, Dutch, French, in fact, any European line.

 

The Constitution does not also mention that an Anglo-Indian’s mother tongue has to be English. As far back as 1926, that pioneering advocate of Anglo-Indian rights, Herbert Stark, said that “Europe is the land of our fathers, India the land of our mothers.” And many an abandoned mother brought up her children, particularly if they were dark-hued and not readily accepted by the orphanages, speaking her language. This was particularly the case in Portuguese-influenced territories like Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu’s Fisheries Coast. Many of these children passed into the mainstream, but there were those who claimed to be Anglo-Indians — and this was long an issue between the All India Anglo-Indian Association and its member associations, in particular the Kerala Anglo-Indian associations. Dr Charles Dias from Kerala, a former Anglo-Indian Member of Parliament, took so long over his preamble at the beginning that he had no time to do justice to this point of view at the seminar.

But whether Anglo or Euro, the majority of the community were not ‘Midnight’s Orphans’. Several participants pointed this out. At Midnight’s witching hour, the British offered them the choice to go to the ‘Fatherland’, the UK, or stay in India, the ‘Motherland’. Many wanted to ‘stay on’, others had to because they lacked the wherewithal for passage and re-settlement. But not one Anglo-Indian was left homeless or stateless or an orphan!

Those who ‘stayed on’ realised, it was pointed out, as the late Neil O’Brien, who once headed the AllIndia Anglo-Indian Association, said, “the days of finishing Class 8 and getting jobs have gone.” Today, young Anglo-Indians seek degrees or technical qualifications and aim for jobs in IT, Higher Education, Advertising, Hospitality, the Services, you name it. As O’Brien once said, “India has a glorious tomorrow; the Anglo-Indian community must be part of that tomorrow.” He was echoing Frank Anthony who’d said, “Let us always remember that we are Indians. The community is Indian. It has always been Indian.”

That’s something at least one presenter at the seminar had forgotten. He not only had a Misra who had an Anglo-Indian maternal line as an Anglo-Indian study, but be constantly referred to Anglo-Indians as “they”! “We are not ‘they’, we are Indians first, Anglo-Indians second,” thundered another participant.

 

To that was footnoted the view that, today, fewer Anglo-Indians search for pastures new. If they do, they do so for the same reasons other Indians head overseas.

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The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places, and events from the years gone by, and sometimes, from today

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