126th Amendment is oblique attack on liberal institutions

India’s dwindling Anglo-Indian community is angrily and sorrowfully on the defensive. “There is a sense of fear that we are being excluded as a community” said Vinisha Nero, the nominated Anglo-Indian member of Kerala’s state assembly, at a protest meeting in Calcutta last Tuesday. “The rights of minorities are being taken away and we have to impress upon the government to really make it sabka saath sabka vikas.”

The greatest threat is that the government may have quietly declared war on Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose famous Minute on Education laid the foundations of modern India on 2 February 1835. As Lord Macaulay wrote to his father explaining the Minute, “No Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely attached to his religion.” So, instead of a frontal attack on the immensely popular Anglo-Indian schools – which would have provoked resistance all over the country – the government is seeking in a way to disenfranchise a community whose numbers have fallen from about two million at the time of independence to some 40,000 today, not the mere 296 that the union law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, claimed in parliament and which Barry O’Brien, president-in-chief of the All-India Anglo-Indian Association, immediately refuted.

The immediate provocation for Ms Nero’s impassioned outburst was the Constitution (126th Amendment) Bill which will come into effect on 25 January, 2020, the eve of Republic Day. Almost unnoticed by the country, the measure abolishing nominated representation of Anglo-Indians in the state and central legislatures was adopted by the Lok Sabha last month. At the time of writing, it has already been ratified by several state assemblies. The constitution now provides for 16 Anglo-Indian legislators (14 in states assemblies and two at the Centre). They will go.

Proof of India’s demographic diversity and the special abilities and contributions of this small but talented community, Anglo-Indians are the only Indians whose mother tongue is English. They also run what is by any reckoning the best schools in India – secular, uniform, disciplined, and also devoted to developing extra-curricular activities. Gifted with more than ordinary insight, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, India’s first and only Indian governor-general, had the products of these schools in mind when he said perceptively that most educated Indians are “Anglo-Indians”. He didn’t mean they were of mixed blood, but that they were English-educated and English-speaking with a liberal worldview. Not religious bigots.

Originally, Britons in India called themselves “Indian”. Then they became “Anglo-Indian”. Those born in India but of British parentage were called (somewhat derisively) “country-born”. People of mixed blood were “Eurasians”. Indians were “natives”. Now, Article 366(2) of the Constitution defines an Anglo-Indian as “a person whose father or any of whose other male progenitors in the male line is or was of European descent but who is domiciled within the territory of India and is or was born within such territory of parents habitually resident therein and not established there for temporary purposes only.”

In a 2013 BBC news feature on Anglo-Indians, an Anglo-Indian journalist Kris Griffiths wrote: “It has been noted in recent years that the number of Anglo-Indians who have succeeded in certain fields is remarkably disproportionate to the Community’s size.” For example, in the music industry there are Engelbert Humperdinck, Peter Sarstedt and Cliff Richard. Air Vice-Marshal Maurice Barker was India’s first Anglo-Indian Air Marshal. Air Marshal Malcolm Wollen is often credited with winning the 1971 war fighting alongside Bangladesh. Anglo-Indians made similarly significant contributions to the Navy and Army.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party’s crushing parliamentary majority made it absolutely immune from a handful of Anglo-Indian legislators, the 126th amendment seems pointless. But, then, one has to remember that being both Christian and native speakers of English, Anglo-Indians are alien to what the saffron family regards as the mainstream of Indian life. Nor are Anglo-Indians likely to entertain politically fashionable mumbo-jumbo about stem-cell, plastic surgery and aircraft all being common among Hindus in ancient times because they supposedly feature in the Mahabharata.

The 126th amendment’s threat to modernity would not have been regarded as so serious if Anglo-Indian influence had been confined to Anglo-Indians. But thanks to the exponential expansion of their educational institutions, the impact has transformed Indian society. “Are our educational institutions safe?” a worried Sister Marissa of the Marian Educational Centre asked at Tuesday’s meeting which was chaired by Mr Barry O’Brien, whose brother Derek O’Brien is a member of the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal and chief national spokesperson as well as leader of the Trinamool Congress Parliamentary party in the Rajya Sabha. The short answer is “No!” Education – especially schooling – is the most powerful instrument for shaping young minds.

Ann Selkirk Lobo, an Anglo-Indian writer in Britain, almost suggests that to the extent that these schools take Hindu and Muslim children into the world, they also keep Anglo-Indians out of it. “Indian students attending Anglo-Indian schools become bilingual in an Indian language and English. Anglo-Indians remain monolingual in English and are ineffective communicators in an Indian language.”

They confirm the “legacy for subordinacy” with which the British crippled those for whom the schools were originally intended while providing a stepping stone to the great world beyond for “wealthy and influential non Anglo-Indians who want their children to acquire fluency in English”.

The ideology that the BJP and its parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh seek to foist on the nation will never take root so long as these liberal institutions continue to impart to young minds the tenets of the rule of law, civil rights, universal adult suffrage and democratic governance. Aspiring Indians regard these English-medium schools as their entre to a better quality of living. Getting rid of these cultural outsiders will clear the way to undo the effects of Macaulay’s Minute and usher in the Hindutva where Muslims can be lynched with impunity, the left denounced for treason, and masked thugs storm university campuses to enforce total obedience. Science and history can then be distorted to suit the dominant ideology.

The abolition of Anglo-Indian legislators two weeks from now is all the more sinister for being so sudden and seemingly surreptitious. O’Brien’s protest to the prime minister points out that the decision was taken without consulting or even informing the people concerned. No justification was cited. “What is the reason behind taking such a step?” he asks. “What facts and figures, data and research material have been collected and collated, based on which the cabinet has taken its decision?” He might have added that a government that exploits its brute majority to push through measures, without explaining why to the people is a danger to civil rights and a menace to democratic governance.

The writer is the author of several books and a regular media columnist.

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