Anglo Indians

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Anglo Indians

ALTERNATE NAMES: Domiciled Europeans
POPULATION: 100,000–125,000
RELIGION: Christianity (Roman Catholic, Church of England [Anglican], other Protestant sects)
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Goans; Vol 4: People of India


"Anglo Indian" has two meanings, one essentially historical and one in use today. In the past, the term described Europeans (usually British) who had made India their permanent home and lived there for generations. They were sometimes known as Domiciled Europeans. In its modern usage, however, Anglo Indian refers to people of mixed European and Indian ancestry. This sense of the word received official government recognition in India in 1911. Prior to that, various designations such as "Eurasian" or "Indo-Briton," or more derogatory terms such as "half-caste" or "mixed-breed," were used to describe this population.

The Anglo Indian community has existed in India for almost 500 years. Its beginnings go back to AD 1498 when Vasco da Gama established a Portuguese colony on the Malabar coast of southwestern India. The Portuguese established a formal policy of encouraging Portuguese men to marry Indian women. This was seen as a way of spreading the Christian faith, as the women were required to be baptized before the marriage was approved by the authorities. During the 17th and 18th centuries, other Europeans established themselves in India. However, the Dutch presence was temporary and the French were defeated by the British, so few people today can claim a Dutch or French ancestry. The British East India Company, however, followed policies that encouraged mixed marriages and sexual unions between British men and Indian women. In the early 1700s, Anglo Indians in India outnumbered overseas British. Anglo Indians were in a favored position, filling many military and commercial posts as British interests in India expanded. At the same time, the British East India Company had a supply of trained recruits who were "Western" in their outlook who could be employed in the Company's service.

This situation changed following 1785. Fears that the Anglo Indians were becoming too powerful led the East India Company to prohibit their employment and dismiss those already working with the company. The next 50 years was a period of economic hardship for Anglo Indians, who had few alternate sources of employment. It also saw the alienation of the Anglo Indian community from the British, and the emergence of a sense of communal identity within the group. Anglo Indian fortunes changed again when the East India Company's policy of nonemployment was reversed after 1833. This was also the time when the railroad and telegraph were introduced into India, and Anglo Indians were closely involved in the construction and operation of these systems. As might be expected, the Anglo Indian community supported the British during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, and Anglo Indian military leaders played a prominent role in this conflict.

During the early decades of the 20th century, Anglo Indians in India were faced with growing economic and political pressures. A rising tide of Indian nationalism saw government reforms open occupations formerly reserved for Anglo Indians to Indians. The political concerns of the Anglo Indian community were largely ignored by the British government in England as it grappled with the problems of larger minorities such as the Muslims. As independence for India approached in 1947, many Anglo Indians, especially the more affluent and better educated, emigrated rather than remain in the country. Even though Anglo Indians fought for and received certain rights and special political representation in the Constitution of the newly independent India, the community remains a small and marginal one in the context of modern India.


Reliable data concerning the size of the Anglo Indian population in India today are unavailable. Leaders of the community suggest the population numbers 250,000 people, but a more realistic estimate is between 100,000 and 125,000.

The Anglo Indian community is essentially urban in nature, and this is clearly seen in its modern distribution in India today. The largest concentration of Anglo Indians is found in Calcutta, with sizable communities living in Madras, Bombay, Bangalore, and the Delhi area. In addition, there are small Anglo Indian communities in towns around the country, such as Ajmer, Jhansi, and Bilaspur, that are important centers on India's rail system. In many of these towns, Anglo Indians lived in "railway colonies." These were planned settlements, with housing constructed specifically for employees of the railways. They created de facto Anglo Indian neighborhoods which set the community apart from the surrounding population. With the decline in numbers of Anglo Indians employed by the railways since independence, this informal segregation is less noticeable today.

One group in India that is viewed as belonging to the Anglo Indian community by some, and not by others, is the Goans. Of mixed Portuguese and Indian descent, they are technically Anglo Indian. Many Anglo Indians of British descent, however, do not see them as "proper" Anglo Indians and do not accept them into their communities.

In 1947, there were approximately 300,000 Anglo Indians in India. Over the next 25 years, this number was reduced dramatically by a mass exodus of Anglo Indians from India. Even though Frank Anthony, a prominent leader of the Anglo Indian community in India, was able to negotiate two nominated representatives in Parliament, jobs for Anglo Indians, and educational concessions, many Anglo Indians saw little future for themselves in the new India. A first wave of emigration, in the years following 1946, took many Anglo Indians to Britain. A second wave of emigration occurred in the 1960s. By this time, however, British immigration laws were more restrictive, so many Anglo Indians relocated to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Studies have shown that although these overseas Anglo Indians continue to preserve a sense of their past, they integrate very quickly into their new societies.


A distinguishing feature of the Anglo Indian community, and also a matter of considerable pride, is the use of English as the mother tongue. While members of the group may be bilingual, speaking Hindi or another regional language in addition to English, English is the language of choice used in the home. English is the medium of instruction in Anglo Indian schools. The use of the language has come to be a symbol of the "separateness" of the Anglo Indian community.

Some writers have identified an accent and speech patterns in the English spoken by Anglo Indians that set it apart from standard English. This includes a mincing or sing-song intonation of words and phrases that has been called chee-chee. This term was also used by the British in India as a derisive word for a member of the Anglo Indian community.


Anglo Indians are neither Europeans nor Indians. In the areas of culture and lifestyle, they are Western in outlook. They reject the Indian part of their heritage, yet they are not British or European, either. During colonial times, Anglo Indians were regarded as a separate and socially inferior community by the British. Any direct links with their British (or Portuguese) heritage are long gone. What remains is a sense of identity with a British past—perhaps, if one disregards genetics, more semimythical than real—that is reinforced by the consciously Westernized way of life followed by Anglo Indians in India today. For many of the older generation, even though they had never lived there, "Home" was Britain, not India.


All Anglo Indians are Christians, and the church plays an important role in the religious and social life of the community. Anglo Indians often attend church on a regular basis and also participate in the church's organized social and recreational activities. There is no one particular Christian denomination that is exclusively identified with the Anglo Indian community. Catholics form the most numerous group, but non-Catholic denominations such as Church of England (also known as Anglican or Episcopalian), Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian are also represented. Of the Protestant sects, the Church of England is the most prestigious and attracts Anglo Indians of the middle and upper classes.

In the years since independence, the Anglo Indian Christian community in India has had to accommodate inevitable changes in their church life. One is the presence of Indian Christians in their churches. Historically, Indians who had accepted Christianity were looked down upon by Anglo Indians. The reality of declining numbers has meant that Indian Christians have been accepted into the congregations of churches that were formerly almost exclusively attended by Anglo Indians. However, subtle forms of discrimination against Indian Christians continue. Another major change since 1947 is the reorganization of the Christian Churches in the subcontinent as independent entities (e.g., the United Church of Northern India and the Church of South India). In addition, the clergy and church hierarchy are now almost exclusively Indian.


Anglo Indians observe the traditional Christian holidays with great enthusiasm. Attendance at church on holy days such as Good Friday, Easter Sunday, or Christmas is customary, to be followed by visits to friends and relatives, socializing, and entertaining. Children are given chocolate or marzipan Easter eggs at Easter. During the Christmas season, homes are decorated with Christmas trees and colored streamers, Christmas gifts are exchanged, and a traditional "English" Christmas lunch is eaten. Christmas is also a time when clubs and social organizations hold parties for children and dances for adults.


The rites of passage of the Anglo Indian community follow those of the Christian Church, with specific details being determined by the denomination involved. Infants are baptized in church, with godparents standing witness. Children attend Sunday School to receive religious instruction and at the appropriate time are confirmed and receive their First Communion. Marriages are performed in church and, with so many Anglo Indians being Catholic, the divorce rate is low. Death ceremonies follow the normal Christian pattern, with funeral services held in church, followed by burial in a cemetery.


Anglo Indians greet each other in the Western fashion, men shaking hands and women embracing and kissing each other on both cheeks. Young children address any adult visitor as "Auntie" or "Uncle" as a matter of respect, regardless of the relationship. Visiting and entertaining, especially at times such as Christmas and other holidays, is a common practice. Visitors are offered tea, snacks, or, should the occasion demand it, drinks such as beer, rum, or whiskey.


Anglo Indian homes are usually furnished in a Western style, with decor and furniture showing a marked British influence. Among the middle classes, furniture typically consists of overstuffed sofas and chairs, oak or mahogany tables, and carpets, mixed together with objects of local manufacture. Pictures on the wall may consist of European landscapes, with perhaps portraits of the British royal family, along with family photographs.

The living conditions of Anglo Indians reflect, by and large, their economic standing and social status. The affluent live in spacious, well-furnished houses with several bedrooms and modern conveniences, and servants to perform household tasks. By contrast, there are many Anglo Indians who, through force of economic circumstances, are forced to live in slum-like conditions. One writer cites an instance in which three families numbering a total of 23 people were living in a two-room house in Bangalore. In the area of Ripon Street in Calcutta, many Anglo Indians live in one- or two-room homes lacking running water, electricity, and modern toilet facilities. Large numbers of this community depend on the financial support of various welfare organizations.


Anglo Indian family structure has been described as the modified-extended family. This ordinarily consists of husband, wife, and children, and sometimes other dependents such as grandparents residing in the same household. The actual number residing in any given household, of course, depends to a large extent on economic circumstances.

Young adults are permitted to mix relatively freely with members of the opposite sex, and the selection of a spouse is a matter of individual choice, unlike the arranged marriages of Hindu society. Young married adults try to set up their own household if their finances permit it. In the past, Anglo Indians were a strongly endogamous community. The British would not marry Anglo Indians, while it was unthinkable for an Anglo Indian to marry an Indian (as it was for an Indian to marry an Anglo Indian). The great majority of Anglo Indians continue to marry within the community today, but intergroup marriage is evidently becoming more common. Increasing numbers of Anglo Indian girls are marrying Indians, both Indian Christians and men of other religious communities. This is partly economic, reflecting high unemployment among Anglo Indian males and their inability to support a family. It is partly a matter of choice, as economic security and a comfortable life with an Indian husband for some girls is more attractive than the possibility of years working as the main wage-earner to support an Anglo Indian husband. It should be noted that Anglo Indian girls marrying an Indian often face resistance and resentment from the husband's family. Because of their lifestyles and dress, Anglo Indian girls are viewed as loose and promiscuous by traditional Indians.


Dress in South Asian society is of considerable symbolic significance, and the cultural orientation of the Anglo Indian community is clearly reflected in its dress styles. Men invariably wear Western attire. Among the older generation, the "solar topi" or sun helmet is worn as a sign of one's European descent. Women wear dresses, blouses, and skirts and follow Western fashion fads such as miniskirts. Whereas Indian women traditionally wear their hair long, Anglo Indian women follow hair fashions prevailing in Western countries. Differences in hair styles, however, are becoming less apparent as more Indian women are adopting cosmopolitan fashions. Anglo Indian women and girls may wear the Indian sari for formal occasions or for work situations. Western dress, nonetheless, remains a symbol of Anglo Indian cultural identity.


In few areas of life are Anglo Indians more Western than in food preferences and dining customs. The inevitable Indian influences are, of course, seen in a taste for curries and a liking for local "sweets." But the kinds of food eaten, the methods of preparing food, and the style of eating show marked Western influences. Unlike Hindus and Muslims, who have strong religiously based food taboos, Anglo Indians have few restrictions on their diet. They are usually nonvegetarians, eating beef, pork, chicken, and other meat if they can afford it. They dine seated at the table, using plates, cups, and saucers, and eating with knives, forks, and spoons. The traditional Indian practice of eating with one's hands is totally unacceptable in Anglo Indian society. In addition, alcohol may be served as an aperitif or taken along with the meal.

A typical day begins withearly morning tea ("bed tea"), followed around 8:00 or 9:00 am by an English breakfast of porridge or cereal, eggs, toast, and tea. Lunch is curry and rice. Afternoon tea is taken around 4:00 pm, accompanied by biscuits or cake. Dinner, which is eaten quite late, usually starts with a soup course. Mulligatawny, a spicy "pepper-water" soup, is a standard on the Anglo Indian menu. The main course might consist of roast meat or cutlets, served with potatoes and vegetables. Dessert or cheese and crackers, perhaps followed by coffee, completes the meal.

The modern diet of Anglo Indians depends largely on financial circumstances. Wealthier families with having the resources to buy meat and other expensive foodstuffs may keep to traditional Anglo Indian menus. The less fortunate, who may not be able to afford meat, tend to eat Indian-style vegetarian dishes, and their diet more closely resembles that of the local Indian population.


Literacy among Anglo Indians is high. This is a measure of the pride the community takes in English as a symbol of its European heritage. English-language schools, often church-run and staffed by Anglo Indian teachers, provide education of a relatively high standard. However, these schools are private institutions, and their fees are often out of the reach of the lower-class Anglo Indian. Competition for entrance is fierce, as middle-class non-Anglo Indians see English-language schooling as essential for their children to succeed in government service and the professions. A common perception is that many Anglo Indian students—especially boys—lack the motivation to pursue higher education.


As a small, isolated community that has rejected its Indian heritage, Anglo Indians lack cultural traditions of their own. They live a consciously Western lifestyle and share, secondhand, in Western trends in fashions, dance, and popular culture. In the 1960s, for example, young Anglo Indians formed rock-and-roll bands that performed at dances and social events. Some Anglo Indians achieved fame in the West as pop singers, notably Engelbert Humperdinck and Cliff Richards. Other famous Anglo Indians include the movie stars Merle Oberon and Ben Kingsley.

Although it can hardly be said that there is an Anglo Indian literary tradition, many British writers have dealt with Anglo Indian society in their works. A few, such as John Masters, focus specifically on the Anglo Indian community, notably in his novel Bhowani Junction. Others paint a picture—of varying degrees of accuracy and bias—of Anglo Indians as part of their overall consideration of relations between the British and Indians in India. Such authors include Rudyard Kipling, E. M. Forster, and Paul Scott.


Under British rule, Anglo Indians fulfilled an important occupational role in the economy of India. They were well represented in the Indian railways, posts and telegraph service, customs, and police. Anglo Indians reached high rank in the British Indian Army and other branches of the armed forces. Following the policy of Indianization initiated in 1919, however, Anglo Indians lost their advantage over Indians in terms of employment in the civil sector. This process was speeded up following Indian independence in 1947.

As a community, Anglo Indians have not fared well in terms of their accomplishments in modern India. Some individuals have gained national recognition. Melville de Mellow, for instance, was a broadcaster of international fame on All-India Radio. Many Anglo Indians served with distinction in the armed forces during India's wars with Pakistan and China. But these were of another generation. The picture for Anglo Indian youth today is bleak. Girls have traditionally become secretaries, teachers, and nurses. Unemployment among Anglo Indian men is high, with many reluctant to accept employment they feel is beneath their status. Many Anglo Indians also see discrimination by Indian society at large as a barrier to their advancement.


Anglo Indians had the reputation, particularly in the early decades of this century, of being the best athletes in India. They raised field hockey to new levels of play and dominated India's representative teams at the time. Hockey teams dominated by Anglo Indians were fielded by railway departments, customs, and other organizations. They regularly swept national tournaments such as the Aga Khan Cup in Bombay and the All-India Scindia Gold Cup. Cricket and soccer were also popular sports.


Anglo Indians have full access to the recreational amenities of urban India. These include radio, television and movie theaters. Church-related social and recreational activities are important in many communities. In the past, clubs such as Railway Institutes were the focus of social life, but these are no longer exclusively the preserve of Anglo Indians.


There are no folk arts or crafts that can be said to be unique to the Anglo Indian community.


Anglo Indians form a small and isolated community in India. Western in outlook and lifestyle, they reject their Indian background. Yet the question remains how long Anglo Indians, as a minority cut off from their European roots, will be able to maintain their separate identity in Indian society. A few Anglo Indians have prospered in post-Independence India and lead lives similar to other Indian elites. The majority, however, still clinging tenaciously to their non-Indian identity, have not fared so well. Anglo Indian men are typically identified with poor educational qualifications, high unemployment, poverty, and a high incidence of alcoholism. This has led to Anglo Indian women seeking partners outside the community, forcing men in turn to look elsewhere for their wives. Should the trend of marrying outside the community continue, the erosion in numbers of an already small group could threaten its very existence within the next few generations. With strong leadership, schools, and cultural organizations, and their focus on the English language, Anglo Indians may survive in India as a distinct entity. An equally likely scenario, however, is the gradual integration of the community into Indian society, as has happened to so many "alien" peoples in India in the past.


Anglo-Indian women, being more exposed to feminism and gender issues current in the West, are much more familiar with such issues than other women's groups in India. However, with more Anglo-Indian women marrying into Indian families, they tend to face discrimination because, to do so, they flout indigenous customs of arranged marriages and specific caste rules. However, once they bear male children, much of this discrimination disappears. Their children tend to be raised according to the customs of the caste into which they marry.


Abel, Evelyn. The Anglo-Indian Community. Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1988.

Anthony, Frank. Britain's Betrayal in India: The Story of the Anglo-Indian Community. Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1969.

Caplan, Lionel. Children of Colonialism: Anglo-Indians in a Postcolonial World. Oxford, New York: Berg, 2001.

Gist, Noel P., and Wright, Roy Dean. Marginality and Identity: Anglo-Indians as a Racially-mixed Minority in India. Leiden, Holland: E.J. Brill, 1973.

Hawes, Cristopher J. Poor Relations: The Making of a Eurasian Community in British India, 1773-1833. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996.

Maher, James, Reginald. These Are The Anglo Indians. London: Simon Wallenberg Press, 2007.

Schermerhorn, R. A. "Anglo-Indians: An Uneasy Minority." In Ethnic Plurality in India. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1978.

—by D. O. Lodrick

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Anglo Indians

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