Two little of an issue?
After 70 years, the provisions for the nomination of two Anglo-Indians to the Lok Sabha under Article 331, will cease to exist. India's tiniest minority is left wondering how this happened
At the start of this year, in January, Madras [most self-respecting Anglos will prefer to use the former over 'Chennai'] played host to the 11th World Anglo-Indian Reunion. As an Anglo-Indian from Bombay, I didn't have much of an exposure to the community at large, except at family weddings and other small celebrations. Curious, I signed up to attend some of the events at this weeklong tribute to the community. Hockey matches, photo exhibitions, excursions, food fests, and yes, the grand ball — all of it was part of the itinerary.
At a session to trace the literary connect with the community, as I heard scholar Daman Singh, daughter of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh speak warmly of their contribution and how it had inspired her book (Kitty's War), I felt a sense of immense pride. What was intended to be a fly-on-the-wall visit was turning out to be an eye-opener as I stumbled upon new layers to my community.
Later in the day, when I attended a concert held to showcase some of the best talent across music, both as artistes and instrumentalists, I was bowled over as I heard the young and not-so-young belt out melodious versions of Country hits and Pop tracks with aplomb. At the end of the spectacle, the bonhomie across the audience was a memory I'll never forget. The outsider from Bombay felt welcomed and proud to be a part of this reunion. Over dinner that comprised of chicken roast, pepper water and other delicacies, I laughed over Anglo-Indianisms with retired railway junction drivers from Jabalpur and former airhostesses from Lucknow. And, yes, they were certainly more than 296 of us when the auditorium erupted that night with applause, even if I had to discount those who flew down from Australia, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and other parts of the globe.
Last week, this was the count of Anglo-Indians cited in the Lok Sabha by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad as the reason for not proposing to extend the two-seat reservation to the community. When the Lok Sabha passed the Constitution Amendment Bill to extend the reservation for SCs and STs in the House for 10 years, the same wasn't announced for Anglo-Indians.
This provision was made under Article 331 of the Indian Constitution at the request of Frank Anthony, educationist, former president of the All India Anglo-Indian Association and elected Constituent Member, who had urged the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to give the community representation at the national level in post-Independent India. This right was secured by Nehru because Anglo-Indians did not have a state of their own.
And now, with that one ruling, the right has been taken away. Neither were senior members of the association or the community consulted in the states where the community exists in large numbers like Bengal, Tamil Nadu or Kerala, nor is there any legit way to figure how this number was arrived at. As members of the Opposition argued over the questionable number, the Minister tried to make amends suggesting that the decision would be reviewed at a later stage, and it was by no means a message sent out to disregard the community's contribution.
Long after this column is read and the dust settles in Parliament, discussions and debates will continue at pot luck lunches and family dinners in AI pockets like Calcutta's Bow Bazaar, Bangalore's Fraser Town and Fort Kochi over the gross injustice of this decision.
A community that boasts of 500-year-old ties with India is once again finding itself having to regroup and relook at its roots. The schools, colleges, hospitals and the Armed Forces, among other professions where it nurtured and provided for, for decades in pre and post Independent India, is a legacy that cannot be forgotten. I quote what Derek O'Brien Rajya Sabha MP and Anglo-Indian reminded the house — "Which is the only community with the word 'Indian' in its name? Anglo-Indian! Sir, you can take away 13 Assembly seats. You can take away two MP seats. But you can never take away Indian from the Anglo-Indian." Here's hoping that the peaceful and gallant community uses this as a wake-up call instead to make a positive impact outside of Parliament.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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