How the Anglo-Indian community of Kolkata comes together over Christmas despite fear of NRC and severed family ties

Apart from Bow Barracks, there are several other Anglo-Indian ghettos in Kolkata. Ripon Street, Elliot Road, and Park Street are among other prominent neighborhoods, but there are barely 4-5 Anglo Indian families present in these areas.

Dressed in a denim suit over a black high-neck t-shirt and faded gray jeans, Edward, 72, finishes decorating the Christmas tree outside the door. “What does that look like?” he asks. Edward stays on the third floor of one of the red buildings in Bow Barrack, Kolkata. He remains alone here. His wife died two years ago and his daughter remains in Canada. “She always tries to come here over Christmas but there are a lot of travel restrictions right now so I’m on my own this winter,” he says.

Edward is not the only one. Bow Barracks, the home of over 100 Anglo Indian families in Kolkata, has similar stories in every home. Families are breaking up. But these families have organized a community Christmas party this year too, like every year.

After about 50 years at last, the West Bengal government led by Mamata Banerjee and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation carried out the renovations in the area. Now the houses are wearing a dark red color and it was their first Christmas after the renovation.

“The Bow Barracks refurbishment has always been our request, but no government has done this job. Finally, CM Mamata Banerjee took the initiative and we are happy that the work was completed before Christmas. The houses look so cool now, ”says Angela Govindraj, general secretary of the Bow Barracks Residents Welfare Association.

Traveling from the Esplanade to Chittaranjan Avenue, known as CR Avenue, a narrow lane on the left leads to Bow Barracks. This lane is between Hare Street and Bowbazar Police Station. The main road to Bow Barracks has red colored houses on both sides. On each floor of these houses, there are several apartments with single or double rooms where these families live. Bow Barracks is located in central Kolkata.

Bow Barracks was built to accommodate soldiers during World War I and later these homes were converted into homes for Anglo Indians by the Calcutta Improvement Trust. Each year at Christmas, these families come together to celebrate Christmas. Usually the celebrations start during the week before Christmas. Local residents decorate this whole place with Christmas trees, all festive lights, stars and bells. Here, each apartment has a shining star on its balcony or window this time.

Origin of Anglo Indians in Kolkata

There have been several stories regarding the origin of Anglo Indians in Kolkata. In an interview published in Indian expresssaid Melvyn Brown, who documented the history of Anglo Indians in Kolkata. “The Anglo-Indian community grew as a result of the operations of the British Raj, whose father was European and mother Indian. The East India Company visited the kings of the princely states of the Indian subcontinent and offered its expertise in weapons training. and war, and took advantage of rivalry and mistrust between kingdoms. Brown says the company then sought permission from the Princely States and called in British soldiers to the subcontinent to provide military training to the armies of the Princely States, which happened years before the start of the First World War.”

Similarly, Tulika Biswas and Sourav Banerjee published an article titled PAIN OF WHITE IDENTITY: A REVIEW OF THE ANGLO-INDIAN COMMUNITY where the researchers observed: A close examination of history shows that with the exception of a short time, their history is one of tragedy, injustice and indifference and a history of intra-community conflict. Together this has resulted in the social alienation they face. The many complex and confusing issues facing the community today are a direct result of its historic development as a “minority community” within the rich and conflicted diversity of the Indian national scene and its close ties to it.

The research observed, “of the British who were not directly responsible for its advent but for several of its characteristics that set it apart from the other elements of which India is made up. The community should have had its genesis with the advent of the Europeans, the British in particular, in India. When the Portuguese arrived in India, they pursued a more or less conciliatory policy towards the local populations. To serve their commercial interests and strengthen their newly acquired territory in India, the British had encouraged marriage between their men and native women. “

“There is no future for Anglo Indians in India”

“We grew up hearing the stories that the American soldiers refused to stay in these one or two bedroom apartments and they decided to stay at Fort William’s. That’s when our families moved in here. There was no lease system and we just arrived, ”says Janice, a 45-year-old woman.

She says her father was a Parsi and her mother was a Filipina. She was married to a Muslim and has three children. One of her children is married to a Chinese, the other is married to a Bengali. “Our culture is truly cosmopolitan. Cross-marriage has been a distinguished feature of our society. This is how we survived, but our acceptance is waning every day in the city,” says Janice.

One of six Muslim families from Bow Barracks who also participate in the festival. Image credit: Sayantan Ghosh

Sitting in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with books, clothes, old photographs, and a piano, 86-year-old Michael Ali offers alcohol-free homemade ginger wine and a fruit cake. “My wife made them. We make them every year and since you visit us at Christmas you will have to share them. It’s our ritual,” Ali says.

In the neighborhood, all the boys went to the same school which is St George’s located a few alleys down the road. But over time, these families fell apart. “There are a lot of issues that our community faces. These areas are overrun by other communities and we no longer feel safe here. Our children are not getting jobs either. Today we believe there is an atmosphere of discrimination that we have never seen before, ”says Ali.

For several years, the new generation of Anglo Indians have preferred to leave the country. Most of the new generations have been transferred to Canada and Australia.

Fear of losing nationality

In January 2020, Parliament passed the Constitution Bill (126th Amendment) and removed the provisions for the appointment of Anglo-Indians to Lok Sabha and certain state assemblies. According to a report published in the Indian express regarding this amendment, “Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stating that the community has only 296 members in India. These figures were characterized as inaccurate by the community and Derek O’Brien delivered a long speech in rebuttal. By no means are their numbers as low as those claimed by Prasad, say community leaders in Kolkata. “

After the passage of this bill, members of the community were afraid. Then the whole debate about CAA and NRC made them fear citizenship as well.

A 73-year-old man on condition of anonymity said: “We are very Indian. Look at our history and you will see how this community has always been a true nationalist. Many people in our community have represented India to the world as writers, filmmakers, artists and actors. But today we believe that no one cares about our existence. The way the central government pushes this citizenship issue, we think there will come a day when the government might decide to throw was out of this country. We have no other country to go to because we are Indians.

How migration within the Anglo-Indian community began in Bengal

Calcutta-based researchers who have traveled through Anglo-Indian communities observed that real estate developers usually offer them a large sum of money and promise apartments in other parts of the city, which has been one of the main reasons why Anglo-Indian communities are leaving their former ghettos. For this reason, central Calcutta, which was the homeland of the Anglo Indians, has seen a significant decrease in the number of families in recent years.

“Today, the structure of Bow Barracks has completely changed. The number of families that have remained since the barracks was started has decreased dramatically. In the barracks right now, we have several families from Goan, Chinese and These families are participating in the celebration, but there are some gaps due to differences in rituals and other issues, ”said Robert Patel, a resident of the neighborhood.

Endangered Quarter of the Anglo Indians at Ripon Street

Apart from Bow Barracks, there are several other Anglo-Indian ghettos in Kolkata. Ripon Street, Elliot Road, and Park Street are among other prominent neighborhoods, but there are barely 4-5 Anglo Indian families living in these areas.

After walking along the alleys and alleys of Ripon Street, finally, one of these families was found. “I’m 82 years old and I was born in this place. I was born and raised in this area. We used to have a Christmas mega carnival, but now everything has changed. All Anglo Indian families from this area moved from that place. Now they stay in the picnic garden area of ​​Kolkata. The main reason is that we are no longer in the majority in this area and the muslim population has increased over the years. there is no conflict, but some families felt that it was no longer comfortable for them. ” Morris said.

She and her son are one of the few families to stay in this region. “Each family here had their own reasons for moving. We haven’t moved because I’m old enough and want to spend the last days of my life where I was born, ”she says.

With broken family ties, fear and COVID-19[female[feminine pandemic, the life of Anglo Indians in Kolkata has changed dramatically over the years. But, in the midst of all the negativity, they wait for Christmas to come. Family members from across the country and around the world are returning to the Bow Barracks ghetto. This community sells their own homemade cakes and wines during this time. Many people from Calcutta visit Bow Barracks during this time and enjoy the community’s Christmas here every year. Beyond religion, caste and class, this festival has been an iconic celebration of the City of Joy. But in the midst of all this joy, there is a growing sense of insecurity and fear that maybe after a few years there won’t be many people left to hang on to this celebration.

The author is a freelance journalist and former policy researcher at the Delhi Assembly Research Center who writes on politics and politics.

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