Tuesday 2 August 2022

World Anglo-Indian Day and all that

This a more-links-added, lightly edited, slightly rearranged version of a Twitter thread I made, which starts here.

My parents Clarice ‘Clarie’ M Griffin (in spectacles) and R. James ‘Jimmy’ Griffin (in the dark suit) at a dance in Vizag in the early 1960s. Probably in the Railway Institute and also probably hosted by the Anglo Indian Association.

There aren’t many AIs (one way the community likes to refer to themselves) left. There were roughly 500,000 at Independence, and since the community hasn’t been counted after the 1941 Census, one can only estimate the current population; guesses range as much as from 150,000 to 400,000. You’ll find AIs concentrated in what were railway junction towns, the former Presidencies, and hill stations. having felt never British enough for the British and never Indian enough for Indians, many AIs migrated to Commonwealth countries in the years after 1947 — over a 100,000 immediately after Independence — and today, the diaspora — mainly in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, USA — is estimated to be around 500,000.

(In my family, my father’s father served in the British army, but felt too rooted in India to migrate. Two of his daughters, my aunts, migrated to Canada (and from there to the USA) and Australia. My father’s mother’s family was Burma-based, or at least her brothers were. My mother’s father was a senior official in the Indian Railways, but he died young, before Independence, leaving my grandmother too poor to consider migration. One uncle continued the family tradition, spending his life working in the railways, but none of that generation migrated, though most of mother’s second cousins moved to either the UK or Australia. Most of my parents’ friends from their youth eventually migrated. My parents did try to move — not because of lack of roots in India, my dad told me, but to ensure better medical care for my brother — but that fell through for complicated reasons.)

The community organises a world reunion every three years, moving between diaspora countries and India. It was at one such event — in New Zealand in 2001, according to this page — where it was decided on 2 August as a day of celebrating Anglo-Indian culture, which became World Anglo Indian Day. Why that date? I haven’t a clue.

What is an Anglo-Indian?

In the 1800s, the term described British people working in India. Another sense of the term was for British residents of British ancestry who had been born in India (this usage too is outdated). The Indian census of 1911 defined the term to mean persons of mixed British and Indian ethnicity — people sometimes referred to as Eurasians — and this has come to be the prevailing definition. The Government of India Act of 1935 defined an Anglo-Indian in the patriarchal way of its times 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 a native of India.” This definition persisted, more or less, in the Constitution of India, including the bit about the paternal line — it too being a creature of its times — which defines Anglo-Indian thus:

[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.
In practice, other communities of part-European descent who had or have a presence in India — Goans with Portuguese ancestry, Armenians, folks with French or Dutch ancestry — mostly do not call themselves Anglo-Indian.(Though I am told — and knew some folks, friends of the family — that in parts of the country further from Portuguese, Dutch or French colonies, some folks of those ancestries do identify as AI.)

AIs are defined in the Constitution because of reserved seats for the community in the Lok Sabha …

Article 331 of the Constitution of India “Representation of the Anglo-Indian community in the House of the People.”
Notwithstanding anything in Article 81, the President may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo-Indian community is not adequately represented in the House of the people, nominate not more than two members of that community to the House of the People.
… and in some state legislatures (Article 333) (similar to reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in some states (Article 332)) …
Article 333
Representation of the Anglo Indian community in the Legislative Assemblies of the States
Notwithstanding anything in Article 170, the Governor of a State may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo Indian community needs representation in the Legislative Assembly of the State and is not adequately represented therein, nominate one member of that community to the Assembly.
Why were these provisions made?

Frank Anthony, lawyer, educationist, community leader, and member of the Constituent Assembly, made the case that since AIs did not have a state, and were too small and geographically spread out to get a community member elected to represent community interests in parliament or state assemblies, AIs needed reserved seats. (Anthony himself was one of the nominated members in the Lok Sabha eight times, five times as an independent, and thrice as part of the Indian National Congress.) This was supposed to be for ten years, but like the similar reservations for SC and ST seats, has been routinely extended. (Until 2019, when the 104th Amendment to the Constitution effectively ended this reservation, while extending the reservations for SCs and STs. There go my chances of ever being an MP or an MLA.) These seats were in the gift of the government in power, so nominees tended to be supporters of that government. The only times this made the news is when there were floor test with tiny margins. I wrote about this the last time it happened.

Incidentally, Derek O’Brien is the first-ever Anglo-Indian MP not to be nominated under these constitutional provisions. So, for the first time, there are three AI MPs. George Baker and Richard Hay, both BJP members, nominated to the Lok Sabha, and O’Brien in the Rajya Sabha.

(Lots of folks know that O’Brien was, among other things, a quiz host on television, but many younger people may not know that he has a quizzing legacy: his father, Neil O’Brien, was a legendary quizmaster, besides, among other things, also an MP, in one of the nominated seats in the Lok Sabha.)

But, back to the community at large. Though ‘large’ may not be the correct term, since there are so few of us left. : )

You’ll find a lot of AIs still in railway towns, because that was one of the occupations that the Brits preferred to have them in. (I’m told that AIs had job reservations in the Indian Railways until the 1960s, but I have only anecdotal evidence and no source to cite.) You’ll also find clusters in hill towns, many of them descendants of Brits who liked India too much to leave post-1947. Like Ruskin Bond’s and I Allan Sealy’s families.

Oh yes, there was one attempt to create a sort of Anglo-Indian mini state, a homeland; a town, more accurately. McCluskieganj. Among others, writer and former Granta editor Ian Jack wrote about in his book Mofussil Junction (an extract here), Shamik Bag wrote a piece in Mint. Filmmaker Paul Harris also made a documentary and photo book about McCluskieganj, Dreams of a Homeland.

Several film stars are/were AI: from Helen and Cuckoo in yesteryears to more recently, Diana Hayden and my pal Denzil Smith. Stand-up comic and actor Russell Peters is a member of the AI diaspora. Writer friend Madhulike Liddle reminded me, “Incidentally, Hindi cinema owes a lot (though it invariably goes unacknowledged) to AIs. An overwhelming number of dancers — all those 'club dancers' in 50s-60s films — were AI. People like Edwina and her brother Terence Lyons; Herman Benjamin; Oscar; Teresa; Abe Cohen.” (Benjamin and Cohen were Jewish, though.) And there were lots of Anglo Indian musicians, particularly in the big cities, and most notably in Calcutta.

On the global scene, some celebrities: Cliff Richard, Engelbert Humperdinck, Vivien Leigh, Merle Oberon, though I think they all either denied this or did not identify as Anglo Indians. I think they’d fall under the now mainly historical usage of the term, people of British ethnicity born in India. Authors Gerald Durrell and Laurence Durrell would also fit this definition.

There were also significant contributions from the community to the armed forces. One I remember straight off is Admiral Stanley Dawson, Chief of Naval Staff, who was a family friend. (One of my aunts, who never married, would joke about Stanley being her boyfriend. Dawson never married either.) And Air Chief Marshal Denis La Fontaine, who served as Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force.

And, in sports, Indian hockey had quite a few AIs. (Many diaspora AIs contributed to Australian hockey.) Roger Binny played cricket for India, was part of the team that won India’s first world cup, and his son Stuart also played for India. And Wilson Jones, a world billiards champion, India’s first, before Michael Fereira. And, if I’m not mistaken, Jennifer (Dutton) Paes, who captained India in basketball and played in the Olympics, and is Leander Paes’s mother, is AI too (Vecce Paes, his dad, was born in Goa before India took over, if I recall right).

In less prominent walks of life, the native English speaker advantage meant that a lot of AI women became teachers (like my mother, and her mother, and the mothers of several of my friends, and as replies to my original Twitter thread told me, people all over the country have fond memories of AI teachers) and secretaries, and a fair number found work as nurses. Anglo-Indians played a significant role in education, running a number of schools. And if you happen to be proud of passing your ICSC and/or ISC exams, Frank Anthony played a role there: he was the founding chair of the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, which operates the ICSE board of Education.

Links you might find interesting.

A lot of history and context, famous AIs, and further reading, if you are interested, in Wikipedia (or this Wikiwand adapted page).

A list of Wikipedia links to famous AIs here.

International-Journal of Anglo Indian Studies for some scholarship and research.

For a sensitive chroncile of ordinary AI lives, see the fabulous photo book by Dileep Prakash, The Anglo-Indians; there’s a web site and his blog with more info, and the book is available on Amazon.

There used to be a forum, back in the day called Pepperwater. The site does not seem to be active now, but here are some archived versions. (Pepper-water — a cousin of rasam, I would say — is another quintessentially AI dish.)

Special mention of one person who has done a lot to document and preserve Anglo-Indian cuisine: Bridget White Kumar, in her books, and on her site and blog, where I go frequently, because I didn’t learn from my mum when I could have.

A film by Paul Harris (the fim-maker mentioned above, in connection with McCluskieganj) on AI cuisine:

Also by Paul Harris, Anglo-Indian-isms:

And this Sahapedia film by Basav Biradar on Kolar Gold Fields, an AI stronghold:

The All India Anglo-Indian Association has a web site, but it yields an ‘under construction’ message as of this writing. There is a Facebook page, though. There are a few AI groups on that platform too, but I won’t link to them because they are infested with dad jokes and sexist jokes.

Just found this original from the AI diaspora. It’s a life I only heard a bit about, never having really lived the life, but I did go to a few dances at a Railway Institute. : )

Pepper Watcher, a YouTube channel by the magazine Anglos In The Wind. …

p.s. There were, of course, Anglo Indians in the parts of undivided India which became Pakistan and Bangladesh. I know very little about them, except that the community has almost vanished in Pakistan, but has stayed somewwhat stable in Bangladesh. (I learnt recently that there are almost 200,000 AIs in Bangladesh. That’s higher than the lower-end estimate for India.) In Sri Lanka, where there was stringer Portuguese and Dutch influence in addition to British, people with part-European ancestry who have retained European customs are called Burghers. There were also AIs in Burma (my father’s mother’s family was from there, for instance, and my father’s father, who was in the British Army, was posted there until World War II and the Japanese incursion) and many intermarried with the Anglo-Burmese community, but that population also mostly left the country when it first went under military rule.

p.p.s. Thanks to someone on Twitter, I just read this poignant piece by Derek O’Brien, about his family, in India and Pakistan.

p.p.p.s. This piece by Mitali Parekh in Mid-Day about reactions from AIs to the end of reservations for the community, in which I am quoted and which used a picture of my parents and their friends.

p.p.p.p.s. An excerpt from Barry O’Brien’s The Anglo-Indians: A Portrait of a Community (2022, Aleph Book Company).


Prakash Rodrigues said...

Peter Sarstedt was AI too here's a link to something about him http://www.vsdh.org/vsdh/stories/sarstedt.htm

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! Banaras too had a small AI community, and my parents were friends with many families including our neighbors who were Anglo- Indians.