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Anglo-Indians in strife

Sitting on his own in his front room in Calcutta is writer Melvyn Brown.  On the wall are four clocks showing the time in the UK , the USA, the Netherlands and Canada.

These are places where members of his family now live.  Like him, they like are all Anglo-Indians – a group that dates back to the days of the British Raj and where originally the father was European and the mother Indian.

The community also includes people of British descent born or living in India. They are thought to be the only group of people in India that has English as their mother tongue.  But their numbers are declining.

Thousands left after India’s independence and every time Mr Brown looks at the wall he feels “sad and sentimental” as he has no family left in India.

It is a story that can be repeated by many Anglo-Indian families here.  And it prompted Calcutta-based politician Derek O’Brien to call for a census to be carried out to establish how many Anglo-Indians are left in the world’s largest democracy.  “It is disappointing that nobody knows the exact number,” he says.

Experts estimate there are 100,000 Anglo-Indians left in India, with most now living in Calcutta and Madras.  But Anglo-Indian leaders joke they have no idea how many people they represent. Mr O’Brien wants to know where exactly is home for the Anglo-Indians.  “Is it India, England or somewhere else?” he asks.

He is so confident that most will say that they live in India that he wants the community to be re-named Indian-Anglos – with the emphasis on India – rather than Anglo-Indians.  This, he argues, would reflect the fact that their Indian identity is now more important that their English connections.  There have been attempts to undertake a census before, but no success.

Liberal attitudes
The most recent push comes at a time when many elders within the community in Calcutta are concerned that their culture may soon die out.  More and more Anglo-Indians are marrying outside the community.  That is a cause of concern for Philomena Eaton, the convener of the Anglo-Indian Service Society which organises dances and social events for younger members of the group.

Noel Cradenberg shares her concerns.  “Our culture will die out because of these intermarriages,” he tells me, adding that he fears that in the next 10 to 15 years traditional Anglo-Indian dances will disappear because there will be so few members left.

But while the elders worry about their heritage surviving, younger members are busy trying to establish themselves in India’s growing economy.  To deal with that, they have to fight against a number of stereotypes resulting from their more liberal attitudes to alcohol and marriage.

Hindi cinema has traditionally shown them as drunks.  Many Anglo-Indians says they are often called the “Three Ds” because of their so-called love of drinking, dancing and dressing up.

Natasha Choudhary, 16, comes from a mixed background.  Her father is an Indian Hindu while her mother is an Anglo-Indian Christian.

“Anglo-Indians still have European values and are much more free thinking than conservative Indians,” she asserts.

Tricky issue
But this stance has led to problems.  “Many Indians have looked down on the Anglo-Indian community,” she said.  “Because of that many youngsters are now trying to do better academically because they feel that they are being ostracised.”

Her brother Lauren Mario Choudhary works as a human resources manager in Bangalore.  “While the numbers are dwindling, the community is now doing better economically,” he says.  “Post-independence there were fears, but now Anglo-Indians are a much more confident group.”

But for many the issue of marriage remains tricky.  Some youngsters – like Zubin Manning and Tanya Cradenberg – are keen to marry other Anglo-Indians because they feel that would make it easier to relate to their partners.

But many others think that this is not a good idea.  They argue that with so many members of their community living abroad it is becoming difficult to find partners.  Natasha Gaspar laughs when I ask her if she will marry an Anglo-Indian.

“We are trying to merge in… it’s not as issue for me,” she says.  Back at his home Melvyn Brown is still looking at his clocks.  He is trying to work out when he can call his family abroad.

If he had the chance, he says, he would to join them.  He tells me that many other families feel the same way.  The fear is that if more leave, the sun could set on the Anglo-Indian community just as it set on the British Empire.

– Rahul Tandon.  BBC News



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