Australia's Anglo-Indians Reclaim The Best Of Both Worlds
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Sep 11 14:30:11 UTC 2006
Australia's Anglo-Indians Reclaim The Best Of Both Worlds
By Francis C. Assisi
URL of this page:
In the mid 20th century, a writer portrayed the plight of Anglo Indians as
follows: "The most pathetic of India's minority groups are the
mixed-bloods They speak in a metallic falsetto with a curious sing-song
accent. They always wear European clothes. . . They are ostracized by both
English and Indians. They in turn look down on the Indian with a scorn
that is acid with hatred. . . They always speak of England as "home"
though they may never have been there." More recently, an Anglo Indian
journalist and academic commented: An Anglo-Indian these days is almost a
state of mind. Many who became part of the communitys diaspora after India
and Pakistan gained Independence in 1947, never declare themselves as
Anglo-Indians, seemingly eager to disappear into their host societies in
the Anglophone countries of the West.
And yet, when Anglo-Indians get together in cities like Toronto,
Melbourne, New York, Bangalore, Kolkata etc the discussion often turns to
the best parts of the good old days in India - evenings at the club, the
company of friends, dinners and great food, memorable parties,
incomparable dance bands, and the general solidarity of a community
centered on the church or social club. Forgotten or glossed over are the
realities: the clerical, subordinate or mid-management jobs that seemed
their destiny; the promotions they saw going to the British in
pre-Independence days and to full-blooded Indians after 1947; the contempt
and ridicule they often faced from both the British and Indians because of
their mixed race.
But, nearly 60 years after Indias independence, the community is alive and
well mostly overseas.
Consider the following. Over the past decade, Anglo Indians have met to
celebrate reunions in Toronto, Auckland, Bangalore, Calcutta, Melbourne,
etc. A 'World Anglo-Indian Reunion' is again scheduled for August 12 - 19,
2007 in Toronto, Canada. The recently formed Australian Anglo-Indian
Research Association in Melbourne encourages and coordinates all aspects
of research on Anglo-Indians - their history, settlement and welfare.
Adrian Gilbert of Monash University and Glen DCruz of Deakin University
are two academics who are contributing substantially to studies on Anglo
Indians. An international project on the oral history of Anglo Indians is
underway. An International Journal of Anglo Indian Studies is being
published from Australia. A clutch of Anglo Indian writers such as Esther
Lyons, Margaret Deefholts, and others has emerged.
When the Government of Indias High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora
conducted a survey in 2001, it estimated that there were 190,000 Indians
living in Australia, constituting 1.02% of the total Australian population
of 18,700,000. It turns out that nearly 22% of the Indian population in
Australia are Anglo Indians, representing 'those people born in India,
with Christianity as their religion and English as their mother tongue.'
Thus, according to the latest Australian Census, there are an estimated
45,500 Anglo-Indians in Australia, particularly in Perth, Melbourne and
It is difficult to put hard figures to the total worldwide Anglo-Indian
population since so many of them do not declare themselves as such in
their rush to become part of the white host-societies, says Lumb. But it
is believed that more Anglo-Indians now live outside South Asia than
within, perhaps as many as 350,000, with fewer than 200,000 remaining in
India and Pakistan.
During the period of White Australia policies, the vast majority of
immigrants from the Indian subcontinent were Anglo-Indians, so much so
that by the 1970s, Australia was the main destination for Anglo-Indians
leaving India. That trend continues. Dr Gloria Moore, a historian of Anglo
Indians in Australia writes: In the 1960s thousands of Anglo-Indians who
had emigrated to Britain were considering remigration with their
British-born children to new countries. The relaxation in 1966 of the
restrictive entry policy, and the adoption in 1973 of a policy of
non-discrimination on the grounds of race, color or nationality in the
selection of migrants, resulted in a noticeable increase in the number of
Anglo-lndian settlers in Australia.
Moore was born in Lucknow and has lived in Melbourne for nearly 40 years.
She has worked at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Monash
University, where she tutored and conducted research about the
Anglo-Indians. She has published 5 books, among them "The Anglo-Indian
Vision" and "The Lotus and the Rose". Most recently she completed the book
"Anglo-Indians the Best of Both Worlds".
Another researcher, Margaret Deefholts, notes: The 1950s and 1960s saw a
steady stream of departures as about 150,000 Anglo-Indians, seeking wider
horizons and better job prospects, emigrated to Australia, Britain,
Canada, the U.S.A. and New Zealand. The exodus has continued through the
decades up to the present time - although now, Anglo-Indians, like their
Indian contemporaries, leave India not for reasons of uncertainty, but
because the West offers a dazzling array of educational and career
One of the problems the Anglo-Indian community has always faced is one of
Identity. Throughout much of the 18th century, Europeans and Indians
variously defined them. Under these circumstances it was not easy for
Anglo- Indians to develop a clear conception of their own identity. The
fact that Anglo-Indians were Indian nationals by birth but
culturally-oriented to Britain often made their status confusing to
themselves and to others.
Europeans tended to think of them as Indians with some European blood;
Indians thought of them as Europeans with some Indian blood. The
prejudices against them, real or imagined, or the prejudices that they
themselves had against other Indians, were an obstacle to both group and
Ana Ivete Faria of the University of Adelaide, says that Indians are
pulling up existing roots and migrating to Australia because they perceive
Australias position as an emerging power along with opportunities for
further education and employment. Anglo Indians are following the same
In The future of Indian ethnicity in Australia - An educational and
cultural perspective Faria writes: It is concern for the familys economic
and social well being that has motivated Indian migration to countries
such as Australia. Images of a safe, clean environment, where a
politically stable system is in place; where a fair system of law
prevails; where the potential exists for the individual to contribute to
the economic and social life of the country; and where the education
system offers scope for families, are, according to my data,
characteristics that have attracted Indians to Australia.
Alison Blunt, of the University of London, who has made a study of the
Post-colonial migrations of Anglo-Indians in White Australia observes that
Anglo-Indians could migrate to Australia from the late 1960s because they
were seen as culturally European, but when they arrived they were often
perceived as Indian. Thus, many Anglo-Indians suffered racial prejudice,
and, more generally, as an Anglo-Indian teacher in Sydney says, they take
you for the country you were born in. Despite our background, if we were
born in India we were complete Indians.
Thus, while distinguishing themselves from other Indians and from
non-English speaking migrants, Anglo-Indians occupy an ambivalent place in
multicultural Australia. Many stress their successful assimilation and
emphasize the Anglo parts of their identity, while at the same time
asserting a distinctive and visible Anglo-Indian identity in the context
of multiculturalism. While this appeal both to assimilation and to a
multicultural cosmopolitanism may appear contradictory, their coexistence
rather reveals the tensions of what one writer calls fantasies of white
supremacy in a multicultural society, where ideas of whiteness remain
dominant in both cultural and racial terms.
Many Anglo-Indian migrants saw it as neither possible nor desirable to
assimilate in independent India: if we had to stay [in India] then we
would have had to make the best of it, and assimilate, and lose our
identity. In contrast, Anglo-Indian assimilation in Australia meant
identifying with the dominant white, western culture and feeling more at
As an Anglo-Indian writer in Melbourne explains: Anglo-Indiansare part of
this society, they are part of British society, they are Christian, they
are of the West, they are English speaking. They may have come from
India, they may have some Indian blood way in the past. They love India,
they love Indian food and they have some Indian values obviously moving
into their own. But they do not dislike Christians, they do not dislike
the West. Unlike life in an Anglo-Indian enclave in India in, for example,
a railway colony or small, central parts of many cities, many see
Australia as offering greater spatial and social freedom to integrate into
a familiar culture, and see their experiences as different from migrants
of non-English speaking backgrounds: we are not like the Chinese,
Vietnamese, Greeks or Italians or whatever, where they sort of tend to
congregate in one particular area and the whole thing sort of revolves
around that area.
And yet, according to Alison Blunt, since the late 1980s, ideas about
Anglo-Indian assimilation have coexisted with an increasingly visible
community identity. The Australian Anglo-Indian Association was founded in
Perth in 1988, hosted an international reunion for Anglo-Indians in 1995,
and opened the only Anglo-Indian cultural center in the world in 1998;
there is a weekly Anglo-Indian program on multicultural radio in Perth;
there is a residential home for elderly Anglo-Indians in Melbourne; and
there are regular social events to raise funds for Anglo-Indians in India,
Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Government funding for multicultural projects has helped to create and
shape a distinctive Anglo-Indian identity in Australia: an identity that
is distinctive in its hybridity. As an Anglo-Indian student in Perth puts
it: [Our identity] is borrowed from two places, and nothing is ours. We
dont have our own country, theres no country called Anglo-India. We dont
have our own flag, we dont have our own dress - its borrowed from the
British. We dont have our own food, thats borrowed from the Indians. We
dont have our own language, thats borrowed from the British. So were just
bits of everything, and then when you get someone like me thats living in
a whole other countryits not really recognised as a true identity. Being
Anglo-Indian is like a check box kind of thing, you have a survey and you
choose A, B, C, D, or being Anglo-Indian you choose other, so I just feel
like were not A, B, C, D, were just other.
And yet, the articulation of a multicultural Anglo-Indian identity means
that We have our own culture now, we dont need to be seen as a bit of
British and a bit of Indian, because we are our own. Bringing ideas about
assimilation and multiculturalism together, another Anglo-Indian envisages
a multiracial future: I think the mixed blood of any nationality, like the
multicultural is now in Australia, will breed a very strong race in the
future. The more they mix the Vietnamese with Australian or Chinese with
Australian or Yugoslavs, the Serbs with Australian, the Anglo-Indian with
Australian and the Anglo-Indian with all those other multinational,
cultural people, it is going to be a different, stronger race.
RECLAIMING THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
After surviving generations of negative stereotypes, today, Anglo-Indian
communities in the diaspora - from Australia to Canada - say they're
reclaiming the best of both sides of their ancestry.
An Indo-Australian writer told ABC Radio Australia: "My name is Keith St.
Clair Butler. When you hear my name, you think English. When you hear my
accent, you wonder. There are certain things that we hang on to.
Mannerisms are probably the most obvious. The accent is a marker. That
accent that is known as Chi Chi. It would go something like this: 'Hello,
man. How are you? Would you like to come to my house today for a bit of
pot-luck? Just drop in for a mo.'" With nearly 50,000 Anglo Indians making
their home Down Under, there is indeed plenty of Chi Chi to be heard in
Butler was born in Delhi (1948) and educated in Calcutta. He started his
teaching career with the Jesuits in Calcutta, immigrated to Australia in
1972 and obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Melbourne University. He is
currently completing an MA in literature. Keith is the recipient of
national and state grants for writing. He won The Age Short Story
competition in 1998 and his work appears in various Penguin anthologies
such as Australian Summer Stories and A Century of Australian Short
Stories He also contributes feature articles to Australian newspapers and
magazines such as The Age and Good Week End. Butler is of the view that
Anglo-Indians need to be portrayed in literature without fear or favor.
To a great extent, Anglo-Indian communities in the diaspora represent the
perfect immigrant community: they would be upwardly mobile, educated,
English-speaking, and, of course, Christian - largely Catholics. Lionel
Lumb, professor of journalism at Carleton University in Canada, agrees:
"There's no doubt that the knowledge of English, the possession of English
as a mother tongue has been a great boon to Anglo-Indians. No question of
Speaking at an Anglo Indian conference in Melbourne last year, Lumb
explained that independence for India and Pakistan in 1947 not only
initiated the Anglo-Indian diaspora, it also meant, for many community
members, that being an Anglo-Indian became a state of mind. "Its history
blended with the British colonial experience, its customs largely drawn
from the mother culture of Britain rather than the mother country of
India, this English-speaking community has all but disappeared into the
host society, whether in Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, America
Lumb goes on to observe that many who became part of the communitys
diaspora never declare themselves as Anglo-Indians, seemingly eager to
disappear into their host societies in the Anglophone countries of the
West. But now, observes Lumb, the camaraderie of the World Wide Web is
changing that. "Anglo-Indians have embraced the Internet, and through
their enthusiastic use of it are not only discovering one another - social
history, family roots, cultural lore, old friends, memorabilia - but also
taking new pride in their identity as a community. They're also using the
Web to distinguish their unique history from that of "the Raj" in
Dr. Adrian Gilbert of Monash University is one academic who has made an
important study of Anglo-Indians who settled in Australia. One of his most
interesting findings is that Anglo Indians there are doing better in both
fact and perception than in Britain or, indeed, in India. In general, says
Gilbert, the Anglo-Indians in Australia are doing better than people of
Australian descent, although there are some areas of concern, such as the
under-representation of Anglo-Indians in management positions and the
lower hourly earnings of Anglo-Indians with higher degrees.
The good news is that Anglo-Indians in the diaspora have begun to show
increasing pride in their heritage, agrees Gilbert. The Internet has made
a significant difference, with many Web sites that make it easier for
Anglo Indians to stay in touch, for the younger generation to learn more
about their history, and to discuss ways of preserving their culture.
Perhaps best of all, Anglo-Indians have begun to contribute to various
relief funds for their less fortunate members in India. Those who live
outside India may have lost the country of their hearts, but at least the
Web is giving them back their pride of community.
Among those working for disadvantaged Anglo-Indians is Patricia McGready,
head of the Australian chapter of the Calcutta Tiljallah Relief - the
brainchild of Brian Williams of New Jersey. Williams and McGready are
collecting funds to help indigent Anglo Indians in India. McGready
estimates there's at least 60 thousand Anglo-Indians living in poverty in
India. Which is why NGOs such as Calcutta Tiljallah Relief and Faith Hope
and Charity in Australia are trying to 'support and nurture the elderly
Anglo-Indians who have otherwise been forgotten, to educate the young who
we recognise as the future and hopefully, break the cycle of poverty
amongst the Anglo-Indians.'
WRITING TO KEEP IDENTITY ALIVE
I write to keep my Anglo-Indian Identity Alive, says Esther Lyons, a
Teacher at the Marist Brother's Special School in Lewisham, NSW,
Australia. After she received a B.A Degree from St John's College, Agra,
Lyons did her Secondary teachers training at St Mary's College, Allahabad,
and went on to complete her postgraduate studies in Sydney.
The love child of an American missionary Jesuit priest (who worked for the
CIA) and an Indian Catholic nun, Lyons says she writes because There is
every chance that the Anglo-Indian lifestyle and culture that I grew up
in, after the independence of India, will be lost; in fact, is already
disappearing because of the mass exodus to the western countries. Those
Anglo-Indians that have stayed back in India are slowly assimilating into
the Indian way of living I decided to write about my growing up in the
Anglo-Indian culture I knew from 1940 to the present time in the form of
an autobiography, UNWANTED and later BITTER SWEET TRUTH to record how we
Anglo-Indians once lived and existed.
Of her ' book 'Unwanted,' Lyons reveals: I was born in Calcutta in 1940.
My mother was from the village Latonah, in Bihar, Bhagalpur Dist. My
father was an American Jesuit priest. He was not given dispensation by the
Patna Mission to leave the priesthood and marry my mother, even though he
had two daughters from her. He disappeared in 1946 and we were brought up
in poverty and shame by our dear Mother. She never abandoned us and was a
great mother to the two of us.
We were brought up as Anglo-Indians in Allahabad. In 1965 I visited USA
and managed to find my father in Denver, Colorado. He was living with an
American woman and had the dispensation from the Jesuits to do so. He had
a mine in his backyard from where he was able to supply Beryllium Ore to
the Atomic Power Station nearby. Later he died as a Jesuit priest and was
given the funeral in Denver as one of the greatest Jesuit missionary of
his time. He left a will for his "wife" giving the American lady, over a
million dollars in cash and two properties which she gave all to the
Missions in India and in the USA before she died but nothing for us.
Mother Teresa received US $60,000. I was able to get his CIA file through
the freedom of information. It said that he was working with the US Govt
while he was a Jesuit priest in India in the 1930s and 1940s.
He had the dispensation from Patna and Allahabad Catholic Church to do so,
and he supplied Beryllium Ore from the sands of Travancore and Bihar by
shipping it to USA. But the church did not give him the dispensation and
permission to father his two daughters born in India of an Indian woman!
We were best forgotten!!
Zelma Phillips, the author of the recently published The
Anglo-Indian/Australian Story: My Experience, a collection of Anglo-Indian
migration heritage stories, says: The main objective of collecting the
Anglo-Indian stories is to keep a record of Anglo-Indians and their
migration story to Australia. The majority of the community have emigrated
from India to foreign lands such as the United Kingdom, United States of
America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Amongst those who have
migrated, most of their children have married outside the community, so I
feel it is important that our unique Anglo-Indian heritage, which dates
back to the 1600s, is not lost. This is the reason why I have collected,
and am continuing to collect stories of Anglo-Indian Australians.
David Leckey, president of the New Zealand Eurasian society, says: "My
children never grew up as Anglo-Indians. I married a lady from England and
they adopted her traditions. Her background. So, my people have grown up
like English people. They ask me now and again about India and I just tell
them about India. But the only thing they've inherited really is curry and
rice or whatever it is. And my grandchildren are the same: they don't know
a word of the language and neither does my wife."
Still there are some second-generation Anglo-Indians who complain that an
identity which is both Indian and European is often just too hard to
Chris Raja, an upcoming writer in Melbourne explains: "People come to my
house, looking for Ganesha the elephant god, some look for sitars, some
look for laughing Buddhas. Instead, they find leprechauns. So many
leprechauns. My mother collects leprechauns. Considering my name is
Christopher Raja, people have always been baffled. And I leave it at
Interestingly there are a number of academic studies on Anglo Indians,
including theses and dissertations.
Melbourne academic Glen D'Cruz of Deakin University has examined
Anglo-Indian representations in the social sciences and in film. He
observes: the social sciences continue to construct the Anglo-Indian as a
rather pathetic figure on the margins of legitimate society. The most
frequent representation is of the Anglo-Indian, is that of a social and
cultural misfit, a 'marginal man' whose problems exist because of an
unrealistic self-image. He goes on to explain: "Unlike a lot of
Anglo-Indians, I find value in things like Cotton Mary and Bhowani
Junction. Not necessarily because they are good films, but because they
are like rare texts which deal with Anglo-Indian culture, Anglo-Indian
DCruzs dissertation at the University of Melbourne was titled,
"'Representing' Anglo-Indians: A Genealogical Investigation."
As part of an honors project at Curtin University, Simon Colquhoun
conducted a series of interviews with key members of the Anglo-Indian
community in Australia. The study examined the adaptation and general
well-being of Anglo-Indians living in Australia.
According to the study, the participants reported that the quality of life
and opportunities were greater in Australia. But in comparison to India
they felt more isolated here. Others also noted that in India they had
occupied privileged positions not available to them in Australia. Thus,
they felt that despite the opportunities for their children, overall they
had to work a lot harder in Australia. One participant reported that
"[life was] easy going in India, we had servants" but "I suppose the
opportunities were greater for our kids [in Australia]".
However, one informant felt that religion and familial ties were less
important in Australia. He argued that while Australia had been prosperous
for the community, there was less of an Anglo-Indian identity. Another
feature reported by a majority of the younger informants was that the
Anglo-Indians, unlike other migrant groups adapted easily to any
environment, for example "problem is the community just blends in so
easily...we don't stand out in a crowd".
To the query How well do you feel the Anglo-Indians have adjusted to life
in Australia' the key informants felt that the Anglo-Indian community had
adjusted to Australia without many problems. They reported that there were
not many they knew who had not adjusted successfully. Many felt that it
was the Western cultural values and upbringing which had aided adjustment.
One participant remarked "I think the main reason we have adjusted so
easily is because we have a sort of European background, even though we
are a mixed race, we tended to hold onto our British heritage so when we
came here we weren't coming into an entirely foreign environment, we spoke
the language, learned the history, we were predominantly British".
These findings suggest that for the Anglo-Indians adaptation to life in
Australia, overall had been achieved fairly easily. However, it is
interesting that the Anglo-Indians saw themselves as different from other
ethnic minorities in terms of being western, being Christian, and having
English as a first language. The participants in the survey also reported
that unlike India, they felt Australia placed less emphasis on a person's
status, religion or social functions.
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