Neither Indian Nor British, and Fading Away

Posted on August 18, 2010

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CALCUTTA, INDIA, August 14, 2010: Before 1947, when the British left India, Anglo-Indians — also known at the time as half-castes, blacky-whites and eight annas (there were 16 annas in a rupee, the official currency of India) — formed a distinct community of 300,000 to 500,000 people. Most were employed in the railroads and other government services, and many lived in railroad towns built for them by the British, where their distinctive culture, neither Indian nor British, flourished.

But today that culture is fading fast, with its last torchbearers aged and often lonely.

No one is certain how many Anglo-Indians live in India today; they were last counted in a census in 1941. Intermarriage and successive waves of emigration after Indian independence are thought to have reduced their number to 150,000 at most, said Robyn Andrews, a social anthropologist at Massey University in New Zealand.

The children and grandchildren of those who stayed have become increasingly assimilated, marrying Indians without European ancestors and adopting local languages.

The president of India appoints two Anglo-Indian members of Parliament each session to ensure that the tiny community has political representation. Barry O’Brien, an Anglo-Indian lawmaker in West Bengal’s State Assembly, said most Anglo-Indians were Christians, but he acknowledged that there were no longer enough of them to fill their own churches. “It’s going to be gone, completely, within a few years, and with it, a unique memory of the British in India,” Mr. O’Brien said.

The culture dates to the late 18th century, when British employees of the East India Company began to marry Indian women in substantial numbers and have children. By the late 19th century, as more British women migrated to India, cross-cultural marriages dwindled. But by then, Anglo-Indians had achieved a privileged, if curious, place in Indian life. They considered themselves superior to Indians but rarely mixed with Britons as equals, who generally looked down on them.

(Hinduism Today Magazine)

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Posted in: West Bengal