Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVIII No. 20, February 1-15, 2019
There are two distinct ways to look at Indo-Anglians. One is to see them as casteless, or even as an example of a post-caste community, where the traditional caste identity is subsumed under the new Indo-Anglian identity. The alternate approach, which I prefer, is to look at them as a distinct ‘caste’ parallel to the upper castes, with its own unique cultural norms and practices. The key criteria for caste inclusion and endogamy being advanced English language skills.
Sometime around 2012 or 2013, my daughters stopped speaking in Konkani, our mother tongue. It isn’t entirely clear what provoked it. Perhaps it was a teacher at their Mumbai school encouraging students to speak more English at home. Or perhaps it was something else. It didn’t matter. What did matter was that our home became an almost exclusively English-speaking household, with the occasional Konkani conversation.
We were not alone. Clustered throughout the affluent sections of urban India are many families such as ours, predominantly speaking English and not the tongues they grew up with.
Some of these families, or at least parents in these English-speaking households, do make an attempt to speak their mother tongue as much as they speak in English. But even in these bilingual households, English still dominates. It takes an effort for the children to speak in the Indian tongues, beyond a few simple phrases. English, on the other hand, comes naturally to them; the larger vocabulary they possess in English helping them express complex thoughts and propositions far more easily.
I have been looking for a term, an acronym or a phrase that describes these families who speak English predominantly at home. These constitute an influential demographic, or rather a psychographic, in India – affluent, urban, highly educated, usually in intercaste or inter-religious unions. I propose to call them Indo-Anglians.
Unlike Anglo-Indians, one of the original English-speaking communities in India, who were Christians, Indo-Anglians comprise all religions, though Hindus dominate. Indo-Anglians are also a highly urban lot; concentrated in the top seven large cities of India (Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata) with a smattering across the smaller towns in the hills and in Goa.
Within these cities, they are clustered in certain pockets: Gurgaon and parts of South Delhi; South Bombay and western suburbs from Bandra to Andheri; Indiranagar and Koramangala and gated communities in Bengaluru’s Outer Ring Road – Sarjapur, Koregaon Park – Kalyaninagar, Gachibowli and HiTech City, etc. They fall well within the top one per cent of India economically, and have a consumption basket that is comparable to their middle class counterparts abroad. Their children go to international schools and have “first-world yoga names” such as Aryan, Kabir, Kyra, Shanaya, Tia.
I estimate the number of Indo-Anglian households in India at about 400,000. This is of course a guesstimate. No studies exist; the closest we come to official data is the 2001 census which says 226,000 Indians speak English as their first language.
These 400,000 Indo-Anglian households account for ~1.4 million people (400,000×3.5, as family sizes are smaller in these households). This is about one per cent or so of the 130-140 million that claims to speak English as a second language in India – who I refer to as the [Text Wrapping Break]English Comfortables, and about ~5 per cent of the 25-30 million for whom I reckon English is a primary language, whom I term English First.
A large majority of these Indo-Anglian households have emerged over the past decade, such as in my case. And over the next 5-7 years, we are likely to see a spike, perhaps even a doubling in these numbers as well, on the back of growing Westernisation, demand for English education and more critically, rising intercaste or intercommunity marriages, the single biggest cause of Indo-Anglian households (when parents have different mother tongues the child usually ends up speaking English). The rapid emergence and continuing growth of Indo-Anglian households has important implications for society, business and governance. Let us traverse through these.
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A considerable proportion of Indo-Anglians households see marriages between members of different communities (and castes). On the basis of anecdata I would hazard that a majority of the Indo-Anglian marriages are between the traditional upper castes. But they also have members from some dominant/upwardly mobile but historically lower castes. Once accepted into the Indo-Anglian fold, members fold their traditional caste identity into Indo-Anglian culture. Caste is rarely discussed amongst Indo-Anglians and few caste or religious conventions are followed.
Let us take vegetarianism, a core caste precept for most Brahmins and Banias. There are a substantial number of Indo-Anglians who are vegetarian, but they are not opposed to marrying a partner who eats meat, even beef. They are also not opposed to the partner cooking meat at home or ordering it in. It is also unlikely that different vessels are used for non-vegetarian cooking at their home. In fact, in one such household, I have even seen the vegetarian partner occasionally digging into the gravy, avoiding the meat. The concept of ritual pollution, manifested in separate utensils for vegetarian and non-veg food rarely holds for such Indo-Anglian households. Vegetarianism is a moral choice for Indo-Anglians and not a religious norm.
This leads me to think of two distinct ways to look at Indo-Anglians. One is to see them as casteless, or even as an example of a post-caste community, where the traditional caste identity is subsumed under the new Indo-Anglian identity. The alternate approach, which I prefer, is to look at them as a distinct ‘caste’ parallel to the upper castes, with its own unique cultural norms and practices. The key criteria for caste inclusion and endogamy being advanced English language skills.
Members of Indo-Anglian households will happily marry members from non-Indo-Anglian households, provided the potential partner speaks good English and can fit into Indo-Anglian circles. Seen in this light, Indo-Anglians are India’s newest and fastest growing caste; and the only one where birth is not a necessary condition for inclusion. This is, in my view, hugely important, for this keeps the Indo-Anglian caste open to expansion from traditionally oppressed communities – OBCs, Dalits who have benefited from English education and exposure to Westernised culture.
Are Indo-Anglian religious? In the traditional sense, no. They are not frequenters of temples, nor do they perform religious ceremonies. That said, they are what I call “FabIndia religious”, following soft cultural traditions, such as dressing up on occasions. They do have spiritual needs though, for they are a far lonelier and more emotionally overwrought community than many other Indian communities, thanks to their rootlessness, limited interaction with relatives, and dependence on their careers to derive their identity.
To meet these needs they turn to new-age gurus of the likes of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev – whose rise has paralleled the emergence of Indo-Anglians (and the English First segment) – or even take to practices outside the Hindu fold such as Soka Gakkai. And as their numbers grow, we are likely to see more new-age gurus and practices emerge to tap these affluent spiritual consumers. – (Courtesy: scroll.in).
This article first appeared on the writer’s Medium page. His Twitter handle is @sajithpai.
(To be concluded)