Five Types of Indians Who Aren’t Brown and Hindu

A look at some of the lesser-known people who call India home

Kesh Anand
Sep 30, 2020 · 4 min read

In your mind’s eye — try and conjure up an image of your typical Indian person.

They probably look something like this:

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Straight or wavy black hair, brown eyes, sharp-ish facial features and brown skin.

You’d think that they were likely a Ganesh or Vishnu worshipping Hindu — though you might be aware that a great many are also Muslims and Sikhs.

Now, that might describe the majority of Indians — but in a nation of 1.4 billion people with a plethora of different ethnic and religious groups, you’re going to have a lot of folks who do not fall into that bucket.

Below are five such communities of Indians that you probably didn’t know existed:

#5: The ”Middle Eastern Looking” Parsi Community

Parsis are the descendants of Persian refugees who fled that country during its conquest by the Arabs in the 7th century.

They number around 70,000 and still largely practice the Zoroastrian religion (the religion of the ancient Persian Empire).

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Rockstar Freddie Mercury from Queen was from the Parsi community || Credit: Wikimedia commons

#4: The “East Asian Looking” Sikkimese

The natives of the Indian state of Sikkim have facial features and skin colour more similar to Tibetan people than say…their compatriots in South India.

In terms of religion — they follow a type of Buddhism which was the precursor to what eventually spread into Tibet.

There are a variety of different tribes in the state — most of which migrated from modern-day Tibet in the 14th century or Burma in preceding millennia.

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Bhutia tribe women from Sikkim || Credit: Soumik Roy via Pintrest

#3: The “Sub-saharan African Looking” Andaman Islanders

In the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — there live many tribal people (like the Jarawa and Onge) who arrived tens of thousands of years ago.

In appearance, they have darker skin and curlier hair than most of their Indian brethren on “the mainland”.

One tribe, on the region’s North Sentinel Island, are a stone-age hunter-gather people who are considered one of the last uncontacted peoples in the world.

Whilst they technically fall under the domain of the Indian Government — these people would have no knowledge of their Indian nationality…let alone what an “India” even was.

An honourable mention also goes to the ~70,000 strong Siddi community. Mostly Muslim, they descend from East African Bantu peoples who arrived as sailors and merchants via ports in the 600s; parts of Arab-Muslim military expeditions in the 700s; and even as slaves who were “gifted” to Indian princes from Spanish and Portuguese colonialists around 300 years ago.

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A boy from the Jarawa tribe || Credit: Survival International

#2: Anglo-Indians

One little known fact is that for a good 200 years — the British ruled India.

Okay — maybe not such well-kept secret.

What people don’t often realize, however, is that when the British Government departed — they left behind many men, women, and children of full or partial British descent.

These people formed a community with their own reserved representation in the country’s parliament — and today number over 1 million citizens.

Culturally — they are predominantly Christian and consider their mother tongue to be English.

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TV personality Derek O’Brien is a member of the Anglo-Indian community || Credit: Wikimedia commons

#1: Malayalee Syrian Christians

Now, these folks look pretty much the same as the majority of other Indians.

The difference with them, however, is not their genes but their religion.

While they are Christian — they are neither Catholic nor Protestant. Instead — they are part of the Orthodox church and their rituals are conducted not in Latin but in Syriac-Aramaic.

Far pre-dating European presence in the region, the community has its roots in 52AD when Jesus’ discipline Saint Thomas is said to have come to Southern India to spread the faith.

Since that time — most of them have married within the community and created an ethnoreligious group.

In parallel to the Syrian Christians, there was a population of Jews who lived in the same region since Roman times. For the most part — the latter left for Israel in the mid 20th century after the formation of that state.

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Syrian Christian priest tending his flock || Credit: http://thesyromalabarchurch.blogspot.com/

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Kesh Anand

Written by

An observer of history, human development, geopolitics, society, and the future

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

Kesh Anand

Written by

An observer of history, human development, geopolitics, society, and the future

Lessons from History

Lessons from History is a platform for writers who share ideas and inspirational stories from world history. The objective is to promote history on Medium and demonstrate the value of historical writing.

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