Lost Mothers, Temperate Climes, and Anglo-Indian "Homes"

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM
Missouri Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Jayeeta Sharma, University of Toronto
British India legally demarcated Anglo-Indians late in its history, but policies of segregation and limited patronage towards this mixed-race group long predated this. As white rulers and brown subjects were distanced through discriminatory state policies, the Anglo-Indian community (or Eurasians) hoped that attributes of dress, language, religion, life-style, and work might set them apart from other natives, and show their kinship and future destiny as linked irrevocably with Europeans. For those who claimed Anglo-Indian membership and state-offered privileges, ‘Indian mothers’ often had to be rendered invisible. In this paper, I analyze how British fathers, state policy, and imperial reformers shaped the lives of Anglo-Indian children in a manner calculated to erase Indian blood and background. I do this through my study of a Scottish missionary-run institution in the Eastern Himalayas, the St Andrew’s Colonial Homes. Colonial hill-stations in such temperate ‘hill’ regions were imagined as a space where the taint of Indian environmental and social traits might be minimized. From 1900, the Homes trained hundreds of Anglo-Indian children in the purported ways of whiteness, for gendered labouring destinies on farms and homes in imperial settler colonies. After Indian Independence in 1947, the Homes transformed itself into a public school, in which form it still exists. I analyze how changing attitudes to race and gender in a post-imperial and diasporic world provide opportunities to reclaim hitherto lost ‘mothers’ and depict Indian hill schools, childhood locales, and foods as arenas of nostalgic memory and cultural belonging, even as a new generation of ‘mixed race offspring’ contests the existing patriarchal definition of Anglo-Indian, from new homes in the UK, Canada, and Australia.
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