Parliament Thursday passed the Constitution (126th Amendment) Bill, that extended reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but removed provisions for the nomination of Anglo-Indians to Lok Sabha and certain state Assemblies, a move that faced criticism from prominent members of the community.
Defending the Bill, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed the community has only 296 members in India, a figure that community leaders have called inaccurate. Barry O’Brien, head of the All India Anglo Indian Association rejected the law minister’s claims and wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ravi Shankar Prasad in protest, saying: “We accessed the government data which is from (the) 2011 census. It shows nine Anglo-Indians in West Bengal. There are probably more than that in my own family.” Barry is the brother of Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, and son of Neil O’Brien, a former nominated Lok Sabha MP.
On Wednesday, during the debate over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien started his lengthy speech stating that he had lost his voice, “not metaphorically” and that it was “the first time in 15 years of public life” that he was “speaking publicly as an Anglo-Indian.” O’Brien specifically questioned Prasad’s claims that there were no Anglo-Indians in Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh and demanded to know how the BJP itself had nominated four Anglo-Indians MLAs from those very states.
The MP went on to list the many contributions of the Anglo-Indian community over the years in his impassioned speech. “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. Le lo. (Take it away). But you can never take away Indian from the Anglo-Indian,” O’Brien stated during his impassioned Rajya Sabha speech.
The law minister said O’Brien’s remarks would be taken into consideration at a later stage.
Another big contribution from the small,gallant community. Today with @SrBachchan @babubasu #quizzing has become huge.20 yrs after independence,Anglo-Indians (Christians) gave India quizzing. In 1967 my father Neil O’Brien did India’s first open quiz #Kolkata #Parliament WATCH pic.twitter.com/83yxCwbqSi
— Derek O’Brien | ডেরেক ও’ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) December 13, 2019
“It is very unfortunate that something like this has taken place,” said Shane Calvert, MLA and member of the West Bengal State Minorities Commission. “The government has not taken into confidence the leaders of our community. They have not consulted the (13) state governments where there is a large concentration of Anglo-Indians… where (the community) has representation at the state Legislative Assemblies.”
Calvert told IndianExpress.com that had the government taken community leaders into confidence, they would have known of the number of Anglo-Indians that live in the country. “They would have also gotten to know of the plight of the Anglo-Indians,” said Calvert. Although Calvert does not have exact figures for the total strength of the community in West Bengal or even elsewhere in India, he emphasizes that it is nowhere as little as the number stated in Parliament. Calvert said some members of the community are still marginalised and need the support that would have come as a consequence of having their community’s representatives in Lok Sabha and state Assemblies.
The provisions for the nomination of two Anglo-Indians to the Lok Sabha were made under Article 331 of the Constitution at the behest of Frank Anthony, former head of the All Indian Anglo-Indian Association and Constituent Assembly member, who urged then prime minister Jawarharlal Nehru to give the community representation on a national level. “Frank Anthony was able to obtain this representation for us and now after 70 years it has been removed,” said Calvert.
296: The number of people who identified themselves as belonging to the sect Anglo Indian, according to 2011 Census data. The All India Anglo Indian Association asserts that there are many more Anglo-Indians in the country.
The community’s contributions over the decades are well-known, without Derek O’Brien having to list them in his Rajya Speech, say members of the community interviewed by IndianExpress.com. They, however, don’t have answers to why such steps were taken.
“Why not extend this nomination for another 10 years? Do a proper study, get a good committee to look into this situation and then take a decision. There is no justification for a decision of this nature,” said Calvert.
In Bow Barracks, a Kolkata neighbourhood where the Anglo-Indian community has predominantly lived since the First World War, this move comes as no surprise to Angela Govindraj, 56. “According to (Narendra) Modi, how many Anglo-Indians do we have in Calcutta… in India?” asked Govindraj, who has lived in the Barracks all her life and is a local community leader.
“He is way off the mark. In Bow Barracks alone we have 132 families, out of which 65 per cent are Anglo-Indians.” The community is spread out in other neighbourhoods of the city as well, she said, although it would be difficult to state the exact strength of Anglo-Indian community because such surveys are yet to be taken. The community can also be found in other parts of West Bengal and in other states, making Prasad’s claims entirely questionable, Govindraj added.
The Anglo-Indian residents of Bow Barracks haven’t had deep discussions regarding Prasad’s comments or even O’Brien’s rebuttal as yet, said Govindraj, because they have been busy preparing for Christmas celebrations in their neighbourhood, the community’s largest and most important festival. She believes however, that once they do, it is doubtful that the residents will take kindly to the government’s latest moves against minorities.