Anglo-Indians: The story of a community

Anglo-Indians dancing at a reunion
Anglo-Indian reunion

Anglo-Indians are of mixed descent, born of relationships in or out of wedlock between European males and Indian women whose native tongue is English. This community was born after a group of Portuguese traders, led by Vasco da Gama, landed on the shores of Calicut on the Malabar Coast in 1498. As time went by this mixed race evolved as a well-defined community and was recognised as a force to contend with.

Photos of Ruskin Bond, Diana Hayden and Derek O'Brien
(Clockwise from top left) Ruskin Bond (author), Diana Hayden (Miss World 1997) and Derek O’Brien (politician)

In 1601, the English East India Company came into existence and set up shop in Surat (Gujarat) on the west coast and Masulipatnam (Andhra Pradesh) on the east coast. By 1640, the British established a settlement near San Thome on the Bay of Bengal and called it Fort St. George, which eventually became the city of Madras. The Company encouraged the marriage of its solders with native women. A pagoda (gold coin) was paid to the mother of any child that was born of such a union.

The term ‘Anglo-Indian’ was first officially defined in the Government of India Act in 1935. As per the Article 366(2) of the Indian Constitution: “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.”

After India got its Independence there was an exodus of at least half the community to the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Over a period of ten years after 1947, more than 2,50,000 Anglo-Indians left their motherland for greener pastures.

Those who stayed on in India were uncertain of their future in the land of their birth, but only for a brief while. Soon they came to understand that they were part of its 4635 communities, and were happy that they were accepted by the mainstream India. They also got good jobs in all sectors because of their proficiency in English.

Anglo-Indians are a peace-loving community; they are urban by nature and maintain a home strongly influenced by the West. Members of the Anglo-Indian community, no matter what their socio-economic position, are extremely friendly and hospitable.

The Anglo-Indians of today are of the fourth generation. Many of them worked on the Indian Railways. After the middle of the 19th century, the Anglo-Indians along with pioneering Britons laid the first railway sleepers in India. The brave and loyal men from the community have kept the wheels of India’s life and economy moving during several strikes since Independence. Nearly every Anglo-Indian alive today has an ancestor who worked on the Railways, hence the community’s moniker “Railway People”.

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Harry MacLure
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Harry MacLure

Harry MacLure is an editor, writer, cartoonist and filmmaker based in Chennai. (E):