We are facing an identity crisis: Anglo-Indian MP

November 17th, 2009 - 4:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By T.G. Biju
New Delhi, Nov 17 (IANS) Protecting the identity and interest of his dwindling community is uppermost in the mind of Charles Dias as he prepares to take oath as a nominated Anglo-Indian member of the Lok Sabha Thursday.

Dias, of Portuguese descent, will take oath along with another Anglo-Indian, Ingrid Mcleod, who has been re-nominated to the lower house of the Indian parliament for the second time.

“We are losing our culture, language and everything. We are not able to follow our customs. We are facing an identity crisis,” said Dias, 59, who was nominated as Lok Sabha MP in September.

According to Article 331 of the Indian constitution, two members from the Anglo-Indian community should be nominated to the Lok Sabha. Apart from Dias and Mcleod, Raj Babbar of the Congress party, who won the by-poll from Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh, will also take oath Thursday, the first day of the winter session. Their oath taking will complete the numbers in the 545-member lower house.

Dias, who belongs to Kochi in Kerala, is worried at the “dilution” in the community, including in its customs and culture.

“The Anglo-Indian community members are scattered across the country, and they are getting diluted through marriages outside the community,” Dias told IANS.

The strength of the Anglo-Indian community in India is currently 450,000, while almost an equal number - 400,000 - live abroad, an indication of the large numbers that have migrated in the last few decades.

“The Anglo-Indians, who were earlier called Eurasians, are the people who were born to the Indian wives of Europeans,” he said. According to Dias, the evolution of the community started since Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama arrived in Kozhikode, Kerala, in 1498.

“The Europeans, including French, British, Germans and Dutch who arrived in India took local Indian women as wives due to a lack of women in their country at the time,” Dias said.

The Anglo-Indians, over the generations inter-married to form the community. It paved the way for the development of a new culture - a combination of European and Indian customs, but more European, said Dias.

The Anglo-Indian customs, their cuisine, dress, language and ceremonies - marriage, funeral and baptism - are different from the local Roman Catholic customs.

“We have been following our customs for centuries. We are not copying the Europeans. We are an Indian community - clearly defined as per Article 266 (2) of the Constitution,” Dias said.

He said there were many reasons for the community’s identity crisis.

“We marry only among the community. But for a family settled in a city where the community has no presence, finding a match from the community for their children is very difficult. They are forced to marry outside the community. Thus the community gets diluted,” said Dias, a Congress party worker.

He is also upset at the younger generation of Anglo-Indians marrying outside the community.

“If they continue with this, they will lose their identity,” Dias said.

He said as an MP his first effort would be to co-ordinate among all the Anglo-Indian leaders from the various states.

“I would like to know their views with regard to the unity and culture of the community and what all they want, according to them, for the welfare of the community,” said Dias, who was awarded a doctoral degree on ‘Social History of Portuguese Descendance in Kerala’ by Calicut University Nov 10.

“I will make use of the avenue of parliament for protecting the interest of the community for which I am nominated,” said Dias, is leader of a section of the Anglo-Indian community in Kerala. He was employed with the Kerala State Electricity Board before he retired. His wife is Gloria Dias and the couple have a son and a daughter.

The other Anglo-Indian, Ingrid Mcleod, belongs to Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh. He too is a Congress party worker and is part of the parliament’s standing committee on defence.

The nominated members are chosen on the basis of party affiliation and their work for the community.

The Anglo-Indian community has two members in the Lok Sabha while the state assemblies of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal have one each.

(T.G. Biju can be contacted at biju.t@ians.in)

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