Why Is the Media Claiming Joe Biden Has a Family Connection in India?

Despite inconclusive records, some Indians have been obsessing over historical links with the US President-elect.
Pallavi Pundir
Jakarta, ID
india East India company joe biden british rul
Many media reports have alluded to Joe Biden's speech during his India visits in 2013 and 2015, in which he claimed there are Bidens in India. He's not wrong, but their familial connections are still unproven. Photo by Indranil Mukherjee/ AFP

The news of Joe Biden becoming the U.S. President-elect might have just sent another set of Bidens, over a thousand miles away, in the central Indian city of Nagpur, into hiding—of sorts. 

Over the last 48 hours, the Indian media has been obsessing over Biden’s past visits to India, particularly the ones in which he claimed to have descended from “great, great, great, great, great grandfather” called George Biden who lived in India and was possibly a member of the East India Company (EIC). 


The EIC is a trading company set up by the British colonists in India, which controlled a large part of the Indian subcontinent in 1874. Reports say that the British drained a total of nearly $45 trillion from India between 1765 and 1938—a “theft on a grand scale”, mostly via the EIC. 

At another event in 2015, in Washington, Joe Biden had said that he was approached by a “Biden from Mumbai” through a letter, and that he was yet to call his “Mumbai kin”. 

As the world celebrates Joe Biden’s projected victory, Indians are revisiting the story of the Bidens who live in India. Their actual connections to Joe Biden remain unproven. 

Vallabh Ozarkar, an Indian journalist who traced the origins of the mysterious letter Joe Biden mentioned in 2015, to a family in Nagpur in August 2020, told VICE News that the author of the letter indeed lived in India. A man called Leslie Biden had written to Joe Biden in 1972, and had also claimed that they were related. Leslie passed away in 1983, but his family had told Ozarkar that they’re still unsure of any actual relations to Joe Biden. 

“We have never connected ourselves to [Joe Biden]. We are not claiming that [we are related] because we have no idea,” Ian Biden, Leslie’s grandson, had told Ozarkar. The family further claimed that Leslie might have drawn up a family tree and that must have resulted in a letter. The family also claims to be the only Bidens in India, who have been living in Nagpur for 50 years and are of British descent. 


The story of Bidens in India is also archived in the collections of Alkazi Foundation in New Delhi, the British Library and the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford. 

But the family remains elusive. Repeated attempts by VICE News to connect with the Biden family in India failed. “The recent attention has disturbed their private life, and they fear that any claims of connections [with Joe Biden] might impact them negatively,” said Ozarkar. 

The speculation acquired more steam after a research paper by Tim Willasey-Wilsey, a visiting professor of War Studies at King’s College, London, was published in August this year. In his paper, Willasey-Wilsey referred to two Biden brothers in India, who captained the EIC and earned quite the fortune sailing cargo ships. 

The professor, who was not available for an interview with VICE News, further wrote that these Bidens are from England and that there are more Bidens in the country too. He named Christopher Biden, who died in modern-day Chennai in 1864, as the “most likely candidate if Joe Biden indeed had an ancestor in India”. 

The research paper is inconclusive, but historians have not ruled out the possibility just yet. “If it’s true, it will be an interesting and strange possibility that Joe Biden’s ancestors could have looted and plundered Kamala Harris’s ancestors 200 years ago!” William Dalrymple, a New Delhi-based author and historian, told VICE News.


In his recent book, The Anarchy, Dalrymple described the EIC as a “dangerously unregulated private company” headquartered in London and managed in India by an “utterly ruthless”, violent and “intermittently mentally unstable” Robert Clive, who was responsible for laying the foundation of the British Empire in India. 

The elusive Indian Bidens do spark some curiosity. Ozarkar said that he had to rummage through church records in Mumbai to look for the Indian Bidens. Eventually, he traced the family to Mumbai, where some of Leslie’s grandchildren live and work. “They were the only Bidens I could find in India, who wrote that letter to Joe Biden,” said Ozarkar. 

Finding an Indian connection among American leadership is not unusual though. Harris’s win sparked celebrations across India, especially in her ancestral village in southern India. Even outgoing President Donald Trump led a tiny hamlet in Haryana to rechristen themselves as “Trump Village”. Although they have absolutely no familial connection, they reflected India-Trump relations at the time. 

Incidentally, several families in Ireland are claiming kinship with Joe Biden. He has previously spoken extensively about his Irish roots

Dalrymple said that this obsession of finding connections to a person in power is not unique to India. He noted that Ireland was once a part of Great Britain until the beginning of the 20th century. “People did move freely from one country to another before that. So a family that was English in the early 20th century could be Irish today,” he said. “The speculation on Joe Biden’s connection to India is by no means far-fetched. It’s perfectly possible.”

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