In September 2013, when a five-member fact-finding team led by Ninong Ering, Union Minister for Minority Affairs, toured the cities of Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kochi over a week “to understand the social and economic problems as well as the aspirations of the Anglo-Indian community in India,” they found a family of a mother with three daughters and a son living in a “tiny room of 7 x 7 sq ft.”
This was not an exceptional case. The present condition of the Anglo-Indian community “is much below the desired level and in deep contrast to the prevailing general opinion,” noted the team in its report, adding that a “lack of proper housing facilities for the Anglo-Indian community, especially senior citizens and single parent families, is a grave problem requiring immediate intervention and attention.”
The Anglo-Indians have been ‘nowhere people’ to a certain extent. In the early years of the Indian Census, until 1901, the British authorities designated the term ‘Eurasian’ to describe the community of European-Indian ‘mixed race’ persons “descended usually from European fathers and Indian mothers” to distinguish them from ‘Europeans’. As the majority of the community thoroughly disliked the term, it was changed to ‘Anglo-Indian’ in the census of 1911 and formally defined in the Government of India Act, 1935 as “persons born and domiciled in India whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent.”
In 1947, when the British rulers and the majority of European employees of the Raj left the country, 111,637 Anglo-Indians, according to the 1951 Census, chose to make India their home. Such enumerations have always remained disputed during the British Raj. The Census of 1901 and 1911, both of which recorded about a population of 1 lakh, also mentioned that the number was an underrepresentation, as there was a tendency among the members of the community to list themselves as ‘Europeans’ during the census surveys.
In 1952, in order to ensure that the community did not remain unheard or unrepresented, the Constitution, under articles 331 and 333 made provisions for reserved, nominated seats for Anglo-Indian representatives in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures. However, the reservation they enjoyed in appointments to posts in the railways, customs, postal and telegraph services ceased within the first ten years after Independence and, over the next decades, there was a decline in their economic status, as was reflected in the 2013 fact-finding report. The 14-page report observes that “amongst the various challenges and problems faced by members of the Anglo-Indian community in India, the more significant ones are related to identity crisis, lack of employment, educational backwardness, lack of proper facilities and cultural erosion.”
It was the first such status report on the community in six decades and it suggested an annual meeting of all nominated Anglo-Indian MLAs and MPs for better developmental planning. However, the report has mostly remained out of the public domain. Then, in 2019, the government did away with the system of legislative reservation altogether.
“I have repeatedly urged the union government to make the fact-finding report available online but to no effect,” says Charles Dias, a Congress-nominated Anglo-Indian member of the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14) from Kerala, and part of the fact-finding team. “Instead, the law minister told the parliament in 2019 that the community was well-off. They misled the parliament and the country on the status of the community while abolishing reservation in legislative representation,” says Dias.
One of the biggest shocks for the community was when Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed the parliament that the Census of 2011 recorded only 296 Anglo Indians living in the country and that the community was too miniscule to deserve reservation in the legislatures. Community leaders and opposition parties labelled the figure as outrageously erroneous.
When the government went ahead with abolishing the legislative reservation that the community had enjoyed since India’s first national general election, it came as a sudden blow prompting the representative associations to initiate a range of measures. One such initiative was to carry out a nation-wide survey to enumerate the real strength of the community: the first such effort from within the community. A battle for survival.
That effort, initiated by the Calcutta Anglo-Indian Service Society (CAISS) at the end of 2021, was later coordinated at the national level by the Federation of Anglo-Indian Associations in India (FAIAI), an umbrella of 17 state-level organisations. In this survey, every individual was asked to fill a form that imitated the census survey format, either online or physically.
“It’s not easy to get people to fill up forms. They had to be approached through different associations and had to be convinced about its need. Even then, not all members of the community are part of an association and not all associations are part of the FAIAI. So, there are still more pockets where we could not carry out the survey,” says Colin Fitzgerald, convenor of the CAISS and also serving as the joint secretary of the FAIAI.
As of March, nearly 3.2 lakh forms have been filled but this is not the complete picture, as the FAIAI’s presence is not strong in all states. For example, in West Bengal, they have got nearly 37,000 forms filled in Kolkata and its outskirts, but the suburban railway towns like Asansol and Kharagpur—which lie more than 100 km west of Kolkata—have remained outside their survey as of now as do states like Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
According to Fitzgerald, the survey reveals that Kolkata and Kochi have nearly the same population of Anglo-Indians, at about 40,000, while Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad also have sizable populations of over 10,000. Country-wide population is being estimated at 4 lakh.
While various associations representing the community continue to send letters and submit memorandums to the union government to restore the legislative reservation and also introduce a column for ‘community’ in the census form (there are columns only for caste and religion so far), they know they cannot solely rely on appeals. The FAIAI, therefore, has filed a case in the Delhi High Court seeking restoration of reservation and inclusion of a separate column for ‘community’ in the census survey form, while there is also a campaign within the community to list their religion as ‘Anglo-Indian Christians’ in the next census to set the record straight.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Waiting To Be Counted")