Monday, Jun 05, 2023

McCluskieganj: The Ghost of 'Mini England'


McCluskieganj: The Ghost of 'Mini England'

The colourful people who lived there made McCluskieganj what it was. Alas, only a few are left now

Of Better Days  An old colonial bungalow seen in the picture is owned by the church. It is now in ruins. Damyanti (in red), who runs a small tea stall by the road, and a school teacher now live in the bungalow
Of Better Days An old colonial bungalow seen in the picture is owned by the church. It is now in ruins. Damyanti (in red), who runs a small tea stall by the road, and a school teacher now live in the bungalow Photo: Chinki Sinha

McCluskieganj, also known as ‘Mini England’, is a small township in the jungles of Jharkhand. Commonly referred to as ‘The Gunj’, McCluskieganj came up in the mid-thirties as a hamlet or ‘Mooluk’ for the Anglo-Indian community. Ernest Timothy McCluskie, an Anglo-Indian businessman from Kolkata (then Calcutta), approached the erstwhile King of Ratu for a 10,000-acre land to establish a settlement for the Anglo-Indian community. He was granted the land on a perpetual lease which was registered in 1932/33.

More than 400 Anglo-Indian families from across the country chose McCluskieganj to settle down. Surrounded by forests and rivers, the town was barely 65 km from Ranchi, the summer capital of Bihar. The Anglo-Indians lived in their high- roofed bungalows with beautiful flower gardens and guava and mango trees. They lived a very British life and loved food, fashion, and music. They partied a lot and enjoyed their lives.

This continued for almost two-and-a-half decades. However, the Anglo-Indian community gradually realised that there were no sustainable livelihood opportunities in McCluskieganj. Also, the placed lacked in terms of education and healthcare. Gradually, people started moving out of McCluskieganj. Many moved to other parts of the country, while some families moved abroad. Some left their bungalows to their servants, some sold them and some abandoned their homes. Over the years, many bungalows were bought off by locals. Many remain in ruins.

The place was considered a ‘ghost town’ for many years until 1997. Alfred George deRozario, an Anglo-India and one of the distinguished members and well-known personalities in Patna, opened Don Bosco Academy in McClukieganj. It was a reputed institute and many students from beyond the neighbourhood came to study in Don Bosco. It gave an opportunity for many families in McCluskieganj to open hostels for these outside students. It was Rozario’s deliberate strategy of not having any lodging facility for students at Don Bosco. The hostels were to be run by the Anglo-Indian families in the town from their residences. This provided the Anglo-Indian families a promising livelihood option.

Gradually, things started changing. People started buying houses and setting up small businesses. Today, there are two flourishing English medium schools and an Inter College in McCliskieganj. The narrow mud roads have been converted into broad, tarred roads which connect nearby districts resulting in more settlers who fall in love with the place while traveling through. The government has declared McCluskieganj a tourist attraction which is helping the economy of the place to grow. There are a few guest houses and restaurants here which are normally full of visitors from across the globe. Earlier, there was a time when people would not dare to step out after 5 pm. They would sleep by 7-7:30 pm. But now the roads are well-lit. There are Naxals in the region, but they have never bothered the Anglo-Indians. They don’t bother the tourists, either.

On the flip side, land prices have shot up and because of the widespread development, the beauty of the place is getting diluted, but these changes were necessary.

Somewhere down the line, the Gunj and the Anglo-Indians were forgotten. The town is no longer a ‘Mini-England’. It’s just a tag that has remained.

It’s disheartening though that not many Anglo-Indian families are left in the town now. The present-day McClus­kieganj is a shadow of its former self. People know very little about the Anglo-Indians who lived here once, and there are not many who can tell them interesting stories from the past.

The Anglo-Indian Identity crisis

The Anglo-Indians spread across the country have been fighting the battle for recognition for decades. Back in the day, the British wouldn’t treat them as equals. They would not mix with the community at parties, marriages, and functions. Even in school, the children were not treated as equals. What’s worse, the Anglo-Indians were looked down upon by the Indians as well. In August 1947, when the British were leaving, the Anglo-Indians were left in the lurch. They were not welcome in Britain; the UK did not even offer to take them back. They were looked at with suspicion by the Indians, too.

Even after so many decades, we are still searching for our identity. In 2019, the Cabinet approved a proposal to end the constitutional provisions that guarantee the reservation of two seats for the Anglo-Indians in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Anglo-Indians are not even identified as a separate category in the Census survey.

Anglo-Indians don’t know what their rights are. They don’t fight for their rights. We don’t approach the government for anything. We should have got special rights because we are a minority community. We are usually clubbed with Christians. While buying properties, if we don’t mention that we are Christians, they consider us as Adivasis. It then becomes difficult to sell land. We are not converted Christians, we are the original Christians. Even the Adivasis fight for their rights, but Anglo-Indians don’t.

I have had a long association with McClus­kieganj. My father was employed at Ghatotand, a division of Tata Iron and Steel Company.  It was about 120 kms from McCluskieganj and we used to visit the town for vacations.  From my great-grandfather’s side, we had many bungalows here, but as time passed, they kept selling them. From the maternal site, we had one house, but there was no one to take care of it. Gradually, the outsiders started buying land and bungalows. Presently, someone else is living in my bungalow. In order to get the possession back, I will have to fetch age-old documents and pursue a legal battle.

All said and done, McCluskieganj is a beautiful nostalgic place. Anglo-Indians can buy land for cheap. The land where I am right now, I bought it for Rs 1 lakh in 2006. It was an old house built in 1948. It needed a little modification. I opened a student hostel in 2010. I wanted to open a syari (rest house), like the ones they have at the railways stations. My mother still lives in McCluskieganj, but she hardly goes out. She steps out only when she has to attend events like birthday parties.

It feels as if somewhere down the line, the Gunj and the Anglo-Indians were forgotten. The town is no longer a ‘Mini-England’. It’s just a tag that has remained.

(This appeared in the print edition as "The Ghost of 'Mini England'")

(Views expressed are personal)

Malcolm Hourigan runs a hostel in McCluskieganj and is involved in preserving the history of his hometown