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Anglo-Indians


Anglo-Indians constituted a distinct social category during the colonial period. The mercantile members of the English nation who came to India for trade and commerce in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were designated in Britain as Anglo-Indians, the English mariners returning from India. They were also called alternatively 'East Indians' and if very rich 'nabobs'. 'Indian' or 'East Indian' lobby in British parliament and 'nabobs' in the British society are well-known markers in 18th century English literature. But the Anglo-Indians in India had passed the idiom on to a newly emergent social category, people whose mothers were Indians, but fathers British. The natives of Bengal disparagingly called these hybrids 'half-castes' and were determined not to have any social interactions with them.

Historically, all foreign regimes whether Spanish or Portuguese, British or Mughals, are seen to have almost inevitably created co-mingled communities in their country of settlement. Bengal was no exception to the rule. Until the early nineteenth century, few British military and civil officers and merchants and adventurers brought their families to live with them in Bengal. To make Bengal life tolerable, most tended to keep native mistresses and slave-girls with them, and a small number of them even married native women. Children from their union grew into a sizeable community in the late eighteenth century. Many of these children, particularly the legitimate ones, were sent to Britain for education. Their low status in British society forced them to seek a career in their country of birth. Railways, steamer services, postal departments and lower civil services were predominantly staffed by these 'half-castes'. Later, they joined enterprises like the jute business and various industries and trade agencies.

But until the first decade of the twentieth century, this mixed community had no legal or social identity and consequently were labelled as half-castes, Anglo-Indians, Eurasians, Indo-Britons, and so on. In the censuses preceding that of 1911, they were counted under Eurasians which included not only the mixed community but also the people from European, Central Asian, and other Asian countries. The Government of India and of Bengal officially used the term 'Anglo-Indians' in the census of 1911 for offsprings of Indian mothers and British fathers, and all Europeans living in Bengal in any capacity were to be recorded as Anglo-Indians.

Anglo-Indians constituted a highly influential community both politically and economically though their number was only twenty-five thousand in 1921. The presence of 25 Anglo-Indian representatives in the Legislative Council (under India Act, 1919) of 250 members reflects the influence of the community. Even under the Constitution of 1935 four seats were reserved for them in the Legislative Assembly. [Sirajul Islam]