Anglo-Indians in small towns of India focus of new study

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Dr Robyn Andrews

The experiences of Anglo-Indians living in small townships in India will be analysed in a new collaborative study.

The project led by Massey researcher Robyn Andrews has received $30,000 in funding from the New Zealand India Research Institute and Education New Zealand. Researchers from New Zealand and India will work on the project.

Anglo-Indians are a minority Indian community of mixed descent – British or European and Indian. They were formally (before 1911) known as Eurasians. Culturally they are English speaking Christians with more western, rather than Indian, ways.

Dr Andrews has carried out anthropological fieldwork in Kolkata over the past 12 years, but this time she will explore Anglo-Indian communities in small towns. “Very little is known of the non-metro Anglo-Indian communities, but anecdotal information indicates their experience is very different from the large city populations,” she says.

The Palmerston North-based researcher spent last January on an Anglo-Indian project in the railway town of Asansol. “It was there I discovered how different their demographic was, for example in Kolkata about 15 per cent of people own their own home, in Asansol it’s about 85 per cent.”

“I also visited Pondicherry and while culturally the community are recognisably Anglo-Indian, they are also distinct in significant ways influenced perhaps by their French background.”

She then met with Professor Anjali Roy from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, who has conducted similar research in the railway town of Kharagpur, and they discussed the research venture.

Now funding is secured Dr Andrews, a lecturer in social anthropology at Massey’s School of People, Environment and Planning, will travel to Kolkata this month to meet the team and start the project.

The qualitative research will be conducted over 18 months in the states of Pondicherry, Goa and Kerala as well as in several railway towns and hill stations in other parts of India where concentrations of Anglo-Indians live. It will be mainly based on interviews with community leaders and up to 30 families in each of the ten-targeted towns.

Their experiences will then turned into a book – with each chapter focusing on one Anglo-Indian community in one geographical location.

Dr Andrews, who will make research trips to Goa, Darjeeling and Pondicherry next year, says there is a growing population of Anglo-Indians in New Zealand and many are from areas of India outside of Kolkata. “It’s to their advantage to have their identity in India better understood. Just as India is a land of great diversity this minority community of India also possesses variety.”

She says she is grateful for the opportunity to pursue this research, which is timely with the first centre for Anglo-Indian studies opening in Kolkata this month.

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