Geographies of diaspora and mixed descent: Anglo-Indians in India and Britain

Geographies of diaspora and mixed descent: Anglo-Indians in India and Britain

International Journal of Population Geography
Special Issue: Geographies of Diaspora
Volume 9, Issue 4 (July/August 2003)
pages 281–294
DOI: 10.1002/ijpg.287

Alison Blunt, Professor of Geography
Queen Mary, University of London

This paper explores geographies of diaspora for Anglo-Indians (formerly known as ‘Eurasians’) through a focus on their ‘homing desire’ in two diaspora spaces: firstly, an imperial diaspora in British India, and secondly, a decolonised diaspora in Britain after independence in 1947. Before independence, although Anglo-Indians were ‘country-born’ and domiciled in India, many imagined Britain as home and identified with British life in India even though they were largely excluded from it. Britain was often imagined as the fatherland, embodied by the memory of a British paternal ancestor, as enacted by settlement at an independent homeland for Anglo-Indians established at McCluskieganj in Bihar in 1933. By 1947, there were about 300,000 Anglo-Indians in India, but a third had migrated by the 1970s. I explore the implications not only of independence but also the British Nationality Act of 1948, which required many Anglo-Indians to prove the British origins of a paternal ancestor. The difficulties of tracing British ancestry are explored with reference to the work of the Society of Genealogists in London on behalf of Anglo-Indians in the subcontinent. Drawing on these records, as well as material from the Anglo-Indian press and interviews with women from one school who migrated after independence, I argue that ideas of Britain as home were intimately bound up with ideas of whiteness. Ideas about an Anglo-Indian diaspora existed long before decolonisation, and the migration of Anglo-Indians under the British Nationality Act led in many ways to a recolonisation of identity. Unlike studies that concentrate on ‘feminising the diaspora’, I argue that the diasporic ‘homing desire’ of Anglo-Indians invoked ideas of imperial masculinity in both imaginative and material terms.

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