East Indian Christians
By William DSouza B.A.
East Indian Christian ! Out of which part of the Indian sky
overspreading the Christian population of Bombay,
Slasertte and Bassein, did this terms drop off? This question or a similar one
must have led many a mind on the path of research, which leads the research
student either to come out of the contest defeated and exhausted, or to some
other goal which leads resembles a vague representation of the true and actual
solution of the riddle. Yes, uphill is
the task of the seeker after truth to
discover what is not and to answer the question why and how to the satisfaction
of this unbelieving world.
The present Christian population of Bombay, Salsette and
Bassein, know as East Indiansmay rightly trace their descent from the
natives who most probably first saw the light of Christianity at the hands of
the Franciscan missionaries in the early part of the sixteenth century (1534
38) and after 1542 at the hands of the Jesuit fathers under St. Francis Xavier
and his successors. The converted Christians were composed of Bramhins,
Prabhus, Panchkalshis, Charkalshis, Sonars, Khatris, Bhandaris, Kharpatels,
Kunbis, Kambhars, Nahvis, Dhobis, Kolis, Mhars and Chamars and in Thana
some converts were Mussalman weavers. As the converts made by the Portuguese
were not obliged to give up their caste distinctions; their descendants have
retained many of them and many of them can tell of what caste his family
belonged before conversion.
Among all converted Christians adopted Portuguese name.
Among the educated Christians they are unaltered but among the lower classes
and the uneducated, they are so transformed as to be scarcely recognizable.
Such name as Sabastian is written and pronounced as Bastao, Manuel as Munnoo,
francis as Fursoo, Gonsalves as Gosal, Da Dilva as Seal and so on. The
difference is most probably due to the dialect of the Marathi language spoken by these people. In
order to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the problem in hand, it is
necessary to trace, in as precise a manner as possible, the descent of the term
East Indian by which the present East Indians community is appropriately
By the Charter if 21st
December 1600, the East India Company, then known as Governor and Company of
Merchants of London trading to the East Indies obtained the privileges of
trading to the East Indies, that is, according to James Mill, to all places
beyond the Cape of Good Hope and the Striates of Magelhaes. Indian being the
center of trade and commerce was commonly called the East Indies
by the trading nations of the West. Consequently, the term East Indian was
adopted by all the classes in India
to distinguish the descendants of Europeans and native mothers (Cyclopedia of
India Vol I, A-Gyr).
It is difficult it determine satisfactorily who are properly
East Indians. Reference at this moment, may be made it the report of the Indian
Law Commissioners on the petitions of the East Indian and Armenians. Mr.
Advocate General Pearson in a letter dated February 21, 1832, addressed to Mr.
Deputy Secretary Thomson says that the first difficulty which occurs to me
want of some definition of the class of persons . . the consequent difficulty in determining who
are properly East Indian, and in what distance from the pure European blood
this character is to be found. He was also not sure whether under the general
denomination of East Indians that mixed race of persons who are usually styled
Portuguese are meant to be included. The difficulty thus pointed out by Pearson
was a considerable one. But, the Law Commissioners in order to make their way
clear, thought that no other definition was necessary than the simple
negative one of not being Hindus or Muhammedans, a definition common to the
East Indians with British subjects, Armenians, Portuguese, Frenchmen and many others.
The East Indian Christians of today have no racial
connection at all with the early East Indians who are now know as Anglo
Indians. The racial distinctions which did not exist at the time of the
Portuguese, seem to have been introduced by the Europeans in India.
The Indo-British race (later on called East Indians)had not sprung up when they
were first established, but in the course of time, when marriages between the
British officers and soldiers of the
Company and Indian women were not only recognized, but also encouraged, the
East Indians became numerous in population, and were every year become more so
The Carter Act of 1813 had thrown open Indian to British
subjects with the result that the East Indians were enormously increasing in
number with the regular increase in trade between India and the countries of
the west, and the influx of Europeans in India. In the report of the Indian Law
Commissioners on the Petitions of the East Indians and Armenians, the term East Indians meant to included all
those who were not Hindus and
Muhammedans and the English Law was made applicable to them as personal law.
The case Abraham v.Abraham from Moores
Indian Appeals (1836-76) discusses the
legal status of two Christian communities of that name. The native
Christians were purely of Hindu origin and the East Indians were generally of
mixed blood, who had assumed the dress and usages of Europeans. The East
Indians were rich and property holders, and could well afford to adopt the
costly European costumes. The case reveals that the native Christians could
also make themselves competent enough to change their class and become East
Indians by acquiring wealth and property, and by adopting European customs and
manners, at the same time maintaining their native blood. Naine, in his Konkan
also mentions the upper class of native Christians dressed as Europeans and
now it is evident that the Bombay Christians of the upper class must have also
been known as East Indian before the whole community came to be called by that
Various names were given to the native Christians of Bombay,
Salsette and Bassein, but there is none says Nairne, except simply Christian
which is both appropriate an correct. Are
they Portuguese ? No. Portuguese they
are not, for the greater part of them are the descendants of the
converted natives who have to a considerable extent still retained their own
caste distinctions. Still, there are a few who claim that they are the descendants
of the Portuguese settlers and can trace their origin to one of the noble
families who reigned as Lords in the various parts of Salsette, Bassein and
Thana. Are the native Christians East Indians ? They are. From the legal
point of view, because the term includes all Christians and the English law was
applicable to them. But having regard to the racial point of view, the East
Indians differ because they are the descendants of Europeans and native
mothers. The native Christians could be called East Indians having regard to
the social side of the question, because it was merely competency to adopt
their manners and customs that made this term applicable to them. On Account of
the admixture of communities on the one hand and increase of East Indians on
the other, the term began to lose its significance, and amore specific term was
slowly and steadily coming in vogue.
By the end of the nineteenth century, there was an enormous
increase in the population of the East Indians (now known as Anglo Indians).
The manners customs and standard of living of the East Indians rendered them a
community absolutely apart from all the
other Indian communities. They segregated themselves from the rest of the
Christians in India
and proudly formed a separate community and went by the specific name of
Eurasians. Sir Henry Digney in his
Future of Anglo Indian Community says
that it was in the year 1911 that the name Eurasian by which the mixed
community had hitherto been known was altered to Anglo Indian. As a result of
this change the Europeans who had a temporary residence in India
and Europeans who had a domicile or a permanent residence in India
ceased tobe called Anglo-Indians and called themselves Europeans.
The Christian of different parts of India
came to be known by territorial designations, such as, Goans, Mangloreans, etc.
The native Christians of Bombay and the suburbs discarded all differences and
retained the original name, by which the upper and educated class was already
known, the more appropriate and suitable appellation of East Indians.