The Anglo-Indian Question

Calcutta Review, 69:138 (1879), 382-391.

The question is often asked by many of the more thoughtful observers of the history of the development of India, what part in the future is to be played by that factor of the population which is known as the Anglo-Indian? What will be their condition one or two generations hence? Will the race rise to great things, will it maintain its own, or will it be merged in the general mass of the people? This question is one which is worthy of the attention of the greatest of Indian statesmen, although it does not seem to have attracted the notice it merits. It has indeed been taken up fitfully by Governor-Generals, Lieutenant-Governors, Secretaries and others, only to be laid down again, as a question which time alone can solve. The principle of laissez faire has been the one which has recommended itself to most of those who have thought of it, Historical induction, say the supporters of this principle, is at best a faulty instrument, and what induction can be made in a case where most of the necessary data are wanting? And if, they add, an induction can be made, is it probable that either the Anglo-Indian community or the English rulers of the country can do much in modifying the foretold result in the way of bettering it? At times, and at present especially, this mode of dealing with the question is out of favour. An Archdeacon of the Church of England is agitating the question of ameliorating the condition of the class, and Lieutenant-Governors and Lord Lytton himself, are said to look upon his projects with a favouring eye. An association belonging to, and originated by the race, has been started, and although it has not yet done much, yet it aims at great results, and may be expected to do something in the future. In this article, therefore, a careful consideration of the question is proposed, and the writer hopes that, whatever the conclusions he arrives at may be, they will be accepted as the outcome of his sincere pursuit of truth. He has the best of reasons for wishing well to the race.

In such a discussion, the first thing to be got at is an exact definition—What is the Anglo-Indian race? Who are its members? Now this is a question which must be decided on economic, not ethnic, grounds, It matters little whether this large number of people be of pure European, or of mixed, descent. If the race increases, as it has been increasing, it will not make it one whit easier for a member of it to get employment, that his ancestors are English, than that they are partly English and partly native. The true definition of an Anglo-Indian, in the writer’s opinion, is that he is one who has made India his home in which to live and in which to bring up his children, and who at the same time wishes, for himself and his children, a degree of comfort, an amount of the necessaries and luxuries of life, superior to that enjoyed by the native Asiatic. Of course there are great divergencies between men and men of this class. There is the rich Anglo-Indian, and the poor Anglo-Indian. There is the man of some culture; there is the almost totally uneducated. But these differences exist in every nationality, in every race. What makes Anglo-Indians one class, and separates them, on the one hand from the European who comes to this country for the sake of earning, so that he may return to his own country to enjoy his earnings, and on the other from the native of the country, is that he is one with the latter in making India his country, while he is one with the former in his manner of living, and in his demand for a higher income than is enjoyed by a native of the same rank. The limits of this class are difficult to define, but so are the limits of all classes. On the one hand, we have military and civil officers, who have preferred the hills to England, and whose children have been brought up in this country. These children sometimes rise to posts of trust. Some of them make England their home. More of them hold to India, as the country in which they intend to live and die. They may take a trip to England, but still it is not their country; India the country of their parent’s adoption is the country of which they are citizens, These must be counted amongst Anglo-Indians. If they make England their home, they fall out of the category. There is always of course a fluent class, which it would be difficult to define. At the other end of the scale you have men more than half native by birth, almost entirely native by character. By gradual stages you descend to darker and darker shades, until you get to the man who is only distinguishable from the native by his clothes. Here the economic test must be used. Does the man having some European blood in him aim at, and not rest content without a higher wage than the native of this country? If so, he must be included in the class of whom I am writing; if not he must be classed with the mass of the people of this country.

The first thing one remarks in looking into the problem before him, is the want of the data for any historical induction or analogy. There is no nation in the world’s history which can be well compared with the Anglo-Indian race. The Venetians, who settled largely in all parts of the mediæval world, had always Venice for their home, and their sojourn in foreign parts was solely for the sake of gain. The Parsis of India, and the Jews throughout the world, are peculiar people, whose strict religious and social principles have always bound them together in a special way; their marriage laws and their social exclusiveness particularly tending to make their condition a exceptional one. On the other hand, the Anglo-Indian community, always receiving accessions from outside, and having no bond to keep them together, except the fact of their being a race under a peculiar economic condition, have nothing to keep them under restrictions, either as to increase in numbers, or as to holding together as aclass. Again the mixed races in Central America, which at first sight would seem to present more analogy to the case of the Anglo-Indians, differ from them in this, that they have come in course of time to be one of the largest elements of the population of their country, whereas the race we are speaking of can never hope to be more than a small fraction of the inhabitants of India, The result of the mixture of races in Central America, is, as Sir Charles Dilke points out, that the population have got the characteristics of one of the factors in the mixtnre, i.e. the Indian. We have, then, no induction to guide us. To whatever conclusions we may come, we must come to them from a priori reasoning by deduction from economic laws, modified by the peculiar characteristics of the race itself.

The first thing necessary in a deduction of this sort, is to state clearly the question to be solved, It is this:—how can a population like the Anglo-Indian, daily increasing in numbers, maintain itself in a state of comfort, superior to that of the mass of the population around them? The way in which they have maintained themselves up to this time is by Government employment. But this, it is evident, is a state of things which cannot continue long. Two causes are conclusive against it. They are, first the increase in numbers, while the number of Government positions is likely to remain stationary, and secondly native competition. It is evident that a population getting larger and larger, and a given number of Government positions remaining the same, a smaller percentage of the whole race must daily be earning their bread by Government employ, But the number of posts under Government does not remain the same; it is daily growing smaller and smaller, owing to our second reason—native competition. Our Government colleges are sending out yearly a number of young men, who are generally better educated than their Anglo-Indian brethren, and who are willing to do the same work on less wages than the latter do; aud Government, like any other employer of labour, will naturally go to the cheaper market. Whatever reasons the Government may have for preferring Anglo-Indians on the ground of preventing the deterioration of the race, are counterbalanced by other reasons, which make it expedient to give the native as large a share as possible in the administration of the country. The results of these two reasons mentioned above, are already evident. A young Anglo-Indian gets into Goverament employment, as a rule at present, on a smaller salary than formerly, and takes a much longer time to rise to a position of comfort, not to speak of affluence. The weight of these reasons is daily increasing, and it is ever getting more evident that our problem can never be solved by the expedient of Government labour. Some other way must be found—such a way the Anglo-Indian Society believes itself to have found in the extensive employment of Anglo-Indians in trade, in commerce, in manufactures, I will now proceed to enquire into the practicability of this solution. I shall neglect for the present employment on the railways, or in any other semi-governmental department in which it may be expedient, for political reasons, solely to employ those who are by birth in some way connected with England. Such employment may for the present be a great resource for Anglo-Indians, and it is evident that, with increase of capital in India, increased railway communication will be requisite. It is a matter, however, of but little doubt that the Anglo-Indian population is increasing faster than the capital of India. The Calcutta Association proposes trade and skilled labour as a great means for keeping up the standard of comfort amongst Anglo-Indians. They ought, the Association says, to take to boot-making, carpentering and other branches of labour performed by the artizans at home. Archdeacon Baly proposes, I believe, such trades as papering? &c., for which occupations, in his opinion, Anglo-Indians have a special capacity. Now, there is but little doubt that the inhabitant of India of European descent, could, with proper training, turn out in the same time a boot superior to that produced by the mochee of our bazaar. But then he will demand a higher price for it. He will be able to undersell the native boot-maker only on one conditition, viz., that he will consent to live as cheaply as a native boot-maker. This, however, is not in accordance with the definition, we have laid down as the foundation of our problem. We have defined an Anglo-Indian as one who aims at a higher degree of comfort and a higher remuneration for his labour, than a native in the same rank of life. The question comes in which is being worked out in California, in Queensland, and in many other parts of the world. A Chinaman in California may do only half the work of an Englishman, but then he only asks for one-third of his pay. So I am afraid will be the case here. The Anglo-Indian may do the work better, but the native will do it so much cheaper, that he will prevent the former from really being able to establish himself in any of the great trades. Even with Archdeacon Baly’s papering, it is a doubtful question whether, in case of its becoming remunerative on a large scale, native workmen will not learn the trade from their Christian brethren, so as to be able to undersell them. The only way to prevent this would be to establish guilds, with secrets as close as those of Freemansonry, and with the strictest of regulations. I need hardly say that such a thing is impossible. There is another difficulty, however, which I have not seen noticed, connected with this subject, Suppose the Anglo-Indian did manage to survive the competition of the native. Suppose, for instance, his boots were made so well that even though they were dearer than a native’s, still, in consequence of their superior quality, they held their own in the market, and enabled him to earn an income on which he might live in comfort, he would then have to fear the competition of labourers imported from Europe. The working class in Europe is not so well off, but that it is ready to seize an opportunity of coming to a country where the remuneration of labour is much better than in its own. Of course this danger may be said to be a remote one. The remuneration for labour in the foreign land would have to be much better than it is in the labourer’s country, for him to leave it; his love of his native soil, and his ignorance would alike be against it. Most of the labour which has been imported has been imported by large companies, such as the railways. There would be no companies to import men for artizans’ work. The Government would certainly not encourage it. An isolated employer of labour might do it now and then, but it would not be a common thing. Still India is getting daily closer to England, and men are daily getting more and more in the habit of changing their country. If labour did come to India, the result would be soon obvious. The supply would be greater than the demand, and the price, and consequently, the remuneration of labour in the particular trade would fall. The number of members of the Anglo-Indian community would be increased. On account, however, of the grounds stated above, I am not inclined to think this danger, though it is a danger, nearly so formidable as that of being undersold by the native artizan. It would be the same not only in trade, but also in almost every other branch of employment. If agricultural communities were started, the produce would be brought to market at a dearer rate than that at which the produce of the neighbouring Hindu cultivator would be sold. Improved methods of cultivation would be counterbalanced by more expensive habits of living, and even these improved methods would, in course of time, be adopted by the native. There remains then only for an agricultural community the living on their produce, and buying whatever goods they may want, which they do not themselves produce, by the sale of domestic manufactures, which not being made by them for their subsistence, they could afford to sell at a rate below the market price. But such a course would expose them first of all to the vicissitudes of the seasons, and in case of the failure of their crops to famine, and, would also in the second place keep them miserably poor as regards worldly goods, and also terribly stunted both intellectually and morally. I do not say anything here about commerce; for commerce needs capital, and capital is the very thing which Anglo-Indians more than any other class want. My object is, besides, to discuss the prospects of the mass of the people, not of the few favoured ones in the community. Such are the conclusions, which we are forced to draw a priori from the laws of political economy. But it has often happened that a race, by the energy inherent in it has made itself, for a time, at least, superior to the laws of political economy. By saying so, I do not mean to say that the laws of political economy have had no effect upon such a race; for the laws of production are as much laws of necessity as the laws of physical nature. All that I mean to say is that, by exerting itself to its utmost, a race has often maintained itself, such maintenance being indeed in accordance with economic law, where, to one looking at the matter from an a priori point of view, maintenance would seem impossible. Energy, such as I have spoken of, arises chiefly from two causes;—i.e., the descent of the race from an energetic ancestry, and the favoring of such a development by external circumstarices. Let us see how far these two causes pre-dispose the Anglo-Indian community to such exertion as will enable them to hold their own under the ever-increasing competition of the natives of this country.

First of all, they all have, to different extents, European, chiefly British, blood in their veins. And it is undoubted that such blood is to some degree an aid to them in their struggle for existence. It will pre-dispose them to endurance, stubborn perseverance in the race for life, unless it be checked and counterbalanced by other stronger opposing forces. The effects of European blood flowing in the veins of the Anglo-Indians were patent in the times of the mutiny, when they showed, especially in Lucknow, great resolution and courage. But, along with the qualities which they get from their European ancestry, the great majority of them also get by their birth, the qualities peculiar to the native. If they have some of the English energy, which often turns into over-bearingness, they also have much of the native suppleness, which, when exaggerated, becomes cringing and deceitful. It is important to notice that I am speaking here only of hereditary qualities; afterwards I shall discuss the qualities they gain from their surroundings. Summing up, then, this part of the discussion, we may say that an Anglo-Indian possesses, as a rule, by birth the characteristics both of a European and of a native, but in a less degree. He is less supple than a native, less energetic than a European.

We now proceed to discuss his character as moulded by surroundings, by much the most important point in our estimation of the class.

The first and most important feature in his surroundings is, that in his, what Lord Canning called, Indianising. Archdeacon Baly, in a letter to the Pioneer lately, stated that if the poor European and Eurasian sent his children to the High schools established by Government which are almost solely attended by natives, these children would proceed through a course of Indianisation. But he does not seem to perceive that, as things are at present and as they are almost sure to remain, the child’s surroundings are such as will naturally influence his character by turning his mind towards Oriental ideas. Who are the child’s great friends, the better liked because the child has a sense of superiority? The bearer, and the Ayah. Any one who knows anything about Anglo-Indians will know that their children from their infancy are surrounded with servants, who are incessantly chatting with them, whose presence exerts as strong an influence on their character as almost any other. You will never see a young boy of this country at a loss to talk with any illiterate native either of low caste, or of low rank. No one can look upon this enormous influence which servants exercise on the childhood of any one brought up here without profound regret. It is an unmitigated evil, though a necessary one. By no means, neither by hill schools, nor by increased parental attention, will you manage to cut off a child from the mass of human beings by which he is surrounded and keep them from having a powerful influence over him. Archdeacon Baly’s criticism, then, of Government schools and colleges is incorrect, if he thereby means to say that these schools and colleges would be the great means of Indianisation. That they would aid in the process is true, though not to any very great extent. But I maintain that the influence of these institutions would, if patronised by the class we are speaking of, be of the greatest benefit. For, whereas the servant shows chiefly the lowest forms of the native character, low cunning, abject superstition and general abasement, the students of our Government colleges, show the better side, steady perseverance, hard work and intellectual power, From the servant the child learns to despise the person whom he elegantly terms a nigger. From the Hindu school boy, or college student, he learns a certain amount of respect for native character. It is a good thing for him to be in our colleges in many ways; it lowers his opinion of his innate superiority, when he sees native students surpassing him in the study of many branches of knowledge, and even, as they not unfrequently do, advancing to almost the same stage of knowledge of English as himself. The conceit which an Anglo-Indian has, and which is one of his most pernicious qualities, is sure to be lessened by this process. Again, Anglo-Indians will have to pass all their lives rubbing their shoulders with the native population, either in Government offices, or in other branches of employment. What prejudice is it then to object to their meeting and being with the better class of natives for four or five a hours a day. It may be argued, and I myself admit, that on religious grounds separate schools are advisable for children of tender years. But that a boy of 13 or 14, or older, should be kept from attending a Government school on the ground of fear of being Indianised, when he is being Indianised every day, almost every hour, of his life, is a sheer absurdity.

Such being the case, then, that all children brought up in this country must go through the process of being impregnated with Indian thought and feeling, it is evident a priori, and history confirms the statement, that India has a great, if not the greater part, in their character when formed. Physically you may notice the influence of the country in Anglo-Indians in their early precocity, and, in case they have been brought up in the plains, in the want of the exuberance of childhood which English children possess to so remarkable a degree. Even children brought up in the hills, though they look much healthier and cheerier, than the plains’ child, have not, as a rule, the same activity as an English child. Intellectually the marked characteristic of Anglo-Indians is also extreme precocity. India is like a forcing house to intellectual as well as physical qualities. The race have never had, perhaps, in the matter of learning, a fair chance. A native can afford to stay at college till he is two or three-and-twenty, because he can live on very little, and, as a college career largely enhances his chances of success in life, that little is considered capital well spent. But few Anglo-Indian lads can do this, for two reasons. First of all, their guardians are not generally well enough off to permit their working at books after the age of eighteen or so, unless, as in the case of the Engineering class at Roorkee, there is a certainty of a speedy return for the amount of money expended. Secondly natives can study up to three and twenty, because they can live on little; now an Anglo-Indian is, by our definition, a person who needs more for his support than is necessary to support a native in a similar position of life; consequently the amount of money expended on a native’s education will not educate the Anglo-Indian. Another stumbling block which has been in the way of an Anglo-Indian in his pursuit of learning is the influence exerted upon him at home. The Anglo-Indians of the past generation were brought up when schools were few and poor, and consequently have had but a scanty share of education. No influence comes from them, then, which will either give their children a love of reading and study, or direct their children to what they ought to read. Education is looked upon solely as a means whereby a livelihood may be gained. Home influences have always the greatest effect on the mind. Any school-master in India, whose experience has been with the community I am writing about, will tell you of the utter apathy of the students as regards intellectual topics beyond the course of their study, and their utter want of interest in reading.

Morally, too, India is one of the chief formative influences which mould the Anglo-Indian’s character, Some one has summed up the moral character of the Anglo-Indian by saying that he has the vices of both races and the virtues of neither. This, like most epigrams, is not true. He has the qualities of both nationalities to a certain extent. He is less persevering, but more sober, than an Englishman. He is supple, but not so supple as a native, His warm family affections take their source from the love of one’s family so strong in the East. One unpleasant quality he has, which is often prominently obtrusive and which is much noticed and much disliked by all who meet him. He has, asa rule, great conceit. This quality is directly engendered by what Archdeacon Baly would encourage. Keep him from meeting natives who are his equals in character, in intellect, in the class-room, and confine his knowledge of native character to what he may gain from servants and petty pedlars, and you are going the best way to inspire him with feelings of superiority over the native, and to engender that pride which is often so conspicuous and absurd. Another reason, less powerful, but still operative in producing this conceit, is the fact that he is half ashamed of himself. If he be a European by birth, he will own no kinship with his class. If he be of mixed descent, he instinctively looks up to the man with a skin slightly fairer than his own, and down on the man with a skin a shade or two darker. This half feeling of shame causes, in his dealing with Englishmen, reserve, which is shown by extreme sensitiveness and becomes finally conceit.

I have now, I think, taken up the question from almost all points. I have first taken up the purely a priori side of the question, and shown on the grounds of political economy how difficult it will be for the Anglo-Indian to maintain his present condition. I have next discussed the character of the race to see if it has any points which will enable it to defeat the evil predictions of economic science. I think, if the conception of the race I have given above is correct, that no such characteristics are to be found, or that they are to be found only in a minor degree. What, then, is the conclusion? It is that the race, as a separate race, is doomed. As being of the Christian religion, and connected with England, the Government may employ large numbers either as soldiers or in its offices, and great companies, such as railways, may also do the same. But the Anglo-Indian population is increasing, and shows every sign of future increase, at a rate which will prevent the Government, however much it may wish it, from employing more than a comparatively small number. The race, it seems to me, must ultimately merge into the general population of the country. There will of course be rich Anglo-Indians, as there are rich Hindus, and the class of extremely poor Anglo-Indians will in all-probability be small, compared, with the corresponding class of natives, Nor will this result, galling though it may be to the pride of the Anglo-Indian, be an evil one. Evils there must be, but there is no reason why these should not be counterbalanced by much greater good. India is a country with great traditions, and there is no reason why its great past should not be succeeded by a greater future. Once mixed with the masses of this country, the Anglo-Indian will be proud instead of ashamed of his father-land. With a nobler religion, with the advantages derived from a descent from the most energetic nation of the west, there is no reason why he should not take the lead in the literary, political and social movements of India in the future. This he will never do, if he stand aside, and keep apart from the other inhabitants of his country. But let him throw off the feeling which prompts this isolation, let him declare himself a fellow countryman to the rest of the people of India, and it will be seen that the Indianisation which must necessarily be the moulding force of his character, will become, instead of the hateful thing Lord Canning imagined it, the means of great and good results.