Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The Anglo-Indian community is one of the smallest minority groups in India. Most of the current estimates for the Anglo-Indian population are around 125,000-150,000, living mostly in Kolkatta and Chennai. A population estimated at about 1 million at the time of Independence has seen rapid contraction, with large-scale migration to the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Notably, Anglo-Indians are a group specifically defined in the Constitution Art 366(2), and are the only ethnic community that has its own representatives nominated to the Indian Parliament (two members) and to several state assemblies (14 of the 29 states have one nominated member each).
The community originated soon after 1639 when the British East India Company established a settlement in Madras. The community identified itself with, and was accepted by, the British until 1791, when Anglo-Indians were excluded from positions of authority in the civil, military and marine services in the East India Company. During the Indian rebellion of 1857 the Anglo-Indians sided with the British, and consequently received favoured treatment from the British government in preference to Indians, serving in large numbers in the strategic services of the railways, the postal and telegraph services, and customs. In 1919 the Anglo-Indian community was given one reserved seat in the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi. The English-speaking Anglo-Indians identified themselves with the British against the nationalist Congress Party, despite British attitudes of superiority.
After independence in 1947, Anglo-Indians faced a difficult choice: to leave India or to integrate. Many Indians distrusted their pro-British attitudes and Western-oriented culture. Large numbers did leave, mainly for Britain and Australia. In contemporary terms, the Anglo-Indian community is an ageing community and also fast declining in numbers. Most of its younger members have either chosen to emigrate to Britain, Australia or Canada and the few that remain are unlikely to have the numbers or social cohesion to continue as a dynamic community.
The key issue faced by the community is the challenge to maintain its own identity. Constitutional and legislative guarantees are provided for the Anglo-Indians to maintain their schools and retain English as the medium of language. There is nevertheless significant societal pressure on Anglo-Indians to assimilate within mainstream Indian society: members of the community view their choices as being limited to assimilation or migrate to countries of their ancestors.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in