Monday, October 21, 2013


A Chinese Centenarian From Tangra China-Town Reminisces His Life  and Internment In India     

Like the Chinese proverb says, it is not every day that one gets to meet and talk to a 100 years old person, one has to get lucky, I was able to do just that one day during  the Chinese new year holiday at Calcutta ( now Kolkata) in 2013, my desire to meet him intensified when I was told that he too was interned for 5 years during 1962 when the border war broke out between India and China, this provided something in common for both of us to  converse , this centenarian Mr. Yeh Ying-Xing  is of my father generation that  was  born in the early 20th century, the most violent century in human history, but my father was not as lucky as living up to 100 to witness all the mind boggling global changes that are occurring around the world nowadays.Even at this age his mental faculty is still sharp and healthy, except that he needs assist to move around and relies on wheel-chair for mobility.
 ( Author with the Centenarian Yeh Ying-Xing, February, 2013)

My cousin, also of the name of Ying-Xing, had kindly fixed the appointment for meetimg  on the morning of the day after the Chinese new year, his eldest son Mr. Yeh Chi-Yen  received us cordially when we went to  his   factory-cum-residence   building in the heart  of Tangra China Town or what was left of it,  we could   see a flurry of activities going on around the house as the family was preparing a grand 100th  birthday  party for him on the following weekend.

Mr. Yeh  was born in  Moiyen  (now  Moizhou city) , Quongdong  province of southern China In 1914, according to the old Chinese custom of age-keeping, a baby is one year old  on   the day the baby is born, because since conception the baby  has actually  grown  9 months in the mother’s womb.  so  Mr. Yeh is hundred years old in 2013 , no argument about that.

His lavish 100th birthday party was held on the terrace of his own building invited over 100 guests  including the  staff  members of the Chinese Consulate in Kolkata, few of the guests that day could miss the significance  of the event   for  honouring  a remarkable man who  scored  a  century in his life’s  inning that was full of  hard struggles, triumphs and turbulences, and it was only due to his unusual mental power and resilience that he could have  survived  this long.

At the age of 22 , after completing his High school ,(he was lucky to complete his high school education, because his family was living in the city, in those days China was  in chaos, plagued by civil wars waged by various war-lords  following the end of the last dynasty of Qing , in the country-side  men of age between 15 to 55 were routinely picked up by warlords’  armies as conscripts  to fight  war ), he came to Decca which was part of British India then, (the present day Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh) to join   as apprentice in a shoe-shop owned by his relative, after two years, he came over to Calcutta then a thriving commercial metropolis of the  British Empire in the East, he joint the leather manufacture industry at Tangra, business was booming because leather production during WW1 and WW2 was considered a strategic production and got incentives. He was one of the pioneering Chinese generation who made Tangra a leading leather production center in Bengal.

Before that Tangra was a swamp used by the municipality as a refuges dumping  ground , with the stench  so bad few would want to go near it , they had to use  the most primitive method to  cure the stinking raw hikes and tanning with the  minimum of machineries , life and occupation were considerably tough.  But in spite of all these hardships and challenges they were able to survive and thrive.

He married a Tangram Born and bred Chinese girl name Liao Poa- lan in 1939, and have four  sons and a daughter, he built  his own leather factory and expanded his business considerably  and went on to become the chairman of the Tangra  Leather manufacturers Co-operative Society. 

When India became Independent in 1947, he and his family members  readily applied and got the Indian citizenship under the new Indian constitution, and like most of the members of the Chinese community living in India then , decided to assimilate into the India society and made India their home, as China was still in a terrible stage of bloody civil war, Like most of the India’s Chinese community then, he always voted for the Indian National Congress party in all the ensuing elections until 1962, ( incidentally Congress party never regain West Bengal after 1962, not that Chinese community in West Bengal has any swing vote to matter, but that was another story).

When the Chinese Communist party won the civil war in 1949 and established The People’s  Republic of China  in October 1949, India’s Chinese community, like the rest of the Chinese Diaspora all over the world quickly divided in two fractions,  a pro-communist  and other anti-communist , because a lot of the over-sea Chinese then were  sceptical  whether Communism will really work for  China which has its own solid tradition and distinct culture stretching back to thousands of years.

When the first Chinese communist consulate was opened in early 1950s, Mr. Yeh used to get invited  to the consulate functions and dinner parties, so did many local business and political leaders,  it was a period of Hindi-Chini  Bhai-Bhai  era,  then unfortunately, came the Dalai Lama after their failed armed revolt against the Chinese authorities in Tibet  in 1959, Sino-Indian relationship deteriorated rapidly, the border demarcation disputes erupted into a short sharp war in October 1962, Mr. Yeh with many Tangra Chinese  were arrested over night and put in jail, his properties and factory were  taken  over by  The Custodian Of  Enemy Properties. The entire  India’s  Chinese community was quickly demonized, and  served a special Police Order stipulating that none of the ethnic Chinese that was living  in India then could leave his/her registered address without the written permission of the concerned police station, some of the local Chinese who violated the aforesaid police order were sternly punished,  Meanwhile, the arrest and deportation of the local Chinese  were in full swing,  in fact, the local Communist political leaders including Mr. Jyoty Basu were also put in Jail. Mr. Yeh also came to know through his wife, who used to bring his weekly rations from home to him, that a concentration camp for ethnic  Chinese had been established in Rajasthan, and all arrested local Chinese were being sent  there,  by then every member of the India’s Chinese community had packed and kept the bags and beddings ready   in anticipation of  being picked up by the police in their nightly round-ups. For some un-explained reason Mr. Yeh was not sent to the Rajasthan camp, may be he was the Indian citizen card-holder, when asked what would he choose if given a choice, jail or internment camp?  He thought for a moment and murmured that may be the internment camp which had thousands of internees would have reduced the soul-wrecking loneliness and anxiety of the jail, but in West Bengal jail he got to see his wife /family members once in  a while, that would not have been possible in the concentration camp, his daughter interjected that he lost his freedom, his property and to lose the sight of his family could have been too much for him to bear, Mr. Yeh was jailed for more than five years without any charges, trial or conviction, when being released in 1967 he was required to sign an undertaking that he would not make any claim for compensation for being thus jailed. It took him over a year to recover his property and factory from The Custodian Of Enemy Properties. He and his family had to start all over again , focusing  to rebuilding  their shattered  lives with all the strength and courage they could summon from within their battered  body and soul, at that point of time, the biggest fear among all the ex-internees were they might become destitute for the rest of their lives, if they failed to rebuild their  lives because of the financial and  psychological  blows  they suffered.  Mr. Yeh  re-emphasizes  that  in this victimization episode of 1962 , his family suffered the most  in financial and physical terms. His eyes  brighten up when told that there is now a group of ex-internees and human-right advocate group contemplating and working on an appropriate plan to petition the Indian authorities for an appropriate expression of regret or apology for  having  inhumanly and unjustly  treated the innocent  India’s  Chinese community during 1962. He said at this age and point of time, he has no grudge or  animosity against his jailer or desire anything form the authority, but something ought  to happen for closure of this very unfortunate episode, whereby  the collective emotion and psychology of an  entire minor community were so badly scarred.  more than 90% of the Indian’s Chinese community population is gone now, but fear and insecurity still exist sometime among the rest.

His lavish 100th birthday party was held on the terrace of his three- storey  building by his loving family ,  when I shook his hand and wished him many returns  of the day, I could not help but bow my head in salutation to a man who managed to live  to be a centenarian in spite  of un-imaginable challenges and tragedies , through my moist eyes ,  I could see this is  a man of extraordinary fortitude and resilience, a living paradigm for a tiny but unique  community  that used to live in India that has witnessed  so much turmoil , many of them near fatal, but still bravely soldiering on,though in a very venerable stage. I hope I  could attend his 101st birthday.

                     Mingtung Hsieh                                                                                                                     

Saturday, February 02, 2013


A safe haven for ex-internees and their stories

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Will India's Chinese finally get justice ?

Maseeh Rahman

Forty-eight years after China declared a unilateral ceasefire to end the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict, an extraordinary event took place this month in India's northeastern state of Assam.

A group of ethnic Chinese were felicitated as 'fellow Indians' by the people of Makum, a small town nestling amid Assam's famed tea gardens, and much regret was expressed for their inhuman treatment by the government after the border war.

In 1962, Assam was part of a larger administrative zone that lay at the intersection of three countries - India, China and Myanmar. Befitting its geographical location, Makum was a unique town - it had a large and thriving Chinese community.

The community dated back to the 1830s, when the British smuggled some workers along with tea saplings out of China to establish Assam's premier plantation business.

Over the next century, the booming tea industry became a magnet for migrants from China, and many eventually started successful businesses of their own. 'My grandfather set up a timber sawmill and our family became very prosperous manufacturing railway sleepers,' Wang Shing Tung, 52, recalls.

'We owned cars, trucks and even elephants, and top district officials would salute my father, addressing him as 'Cheena Sahib' [Chinese boss].'

But calamity struck just as the ceasefire was declared on November 20, 1962. Overnight, 'Cheena Sahib' became 'Dirty Cheena'. At least two-thirds of Assam's more than 1,500 Chinese were indiscriminately rounded up under a draconian law, forced to abandon their possessions, and transported thousands of kilometres to an internment camp at Deoli in the northwestern state of Rajasthan.

'Though the ethnic Chinese were settled in Assam for long, the border conflict provoked a general fear that they could become a fifth column for the People's Liberation Army,' says Mohan Guruswamy, an expert on Sino-India ties.

Hundreds more were arrested in other parts of India. The Association of India Deoli Camp Internees says altogether 3,000 Chinese were confined behind barbed wire in Rajasthan. Some had Chinese passports, some were illegal immigrants, but many, like Wang, were from families that had become fully assimilated - they had married locally, spoke the local language and were Indian citizens.

First the internment and persecution and then the deportation of a majority of inmates to southern China devastated and divided hundreds of Chinese families.

'How could the government treat us like spies?' Wang asks. 'We ate the bread and salt of this land. How could we become traitors?

'My younger sister died of fever as the camp had only a basic dispensary. There was no school, so I couldn't study. It was total misery, and my mother still doesn't want to talk about it, though my father, who died this year, would say, 'Why be afraid? Talk about what happened'.'

His family was released in 1966, but further trauma awaited them on their return to Assam. They had been reduced to paupers. Their house and sawmill had been stripped bare, and everything they possessed, including the trucks, elephants and a safe containing money and gold, was missing. It had either been looted or auctioned as 'enemy property'.

A similar fate befell all the other returnees. Ho Kok Meng, 70, whose grandfather was a tea garden mechanic and whose father set up a car workshop, found everything stolen or destroyed. The family of Paul Leong, 54, part of the last batch to be released from Deoli, in 1968, returned to Shillong (now in Meghalaya state) to find their house and restaurant had been auctioned. They were given 60 rupees as the sales proceeds. 'My father had organised donations for India's war effort, yet he was interned,' Leong says.

Ho Wailai's engineer father was taken away at night shortly before he was to marry a Chinese girl from Calcutta. He returned to Makum five years later to find his business gone. But his fianc?e had remained faithful. 'My father had to start again from scratch making diesel generators,' the 40-year-old says. 'There used to be a lot of hostility, and my parents had a very difficult life.'

The trauma suffered by India's Chinese people is comparable to the experience of the Japanese interned in the US after the Pearl Harbour attack. In 1988 Washington apologised and disbursed US$1.6 billion in reparations to the victims. In India, however, Deoli and its aftermath has remained a dark secret for nearly 50 years.

A public drive has started now to get New Delhi to make amends. A novel in the Assamese language published in April first highlighted the persecution of the Chinese (see accompanying story). The Canada-based association of Deoli internees wrote to Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in August appealing for a monument at Deoli to honour the Chinese who lost their lives and their freedom. And the meeting at Makum this month generated extensive media coverage of a buried chapter of India's recent history.

Since 1962, a majority of India's Chinese have dispersed abroad. But about 500 still live in Assam and Meghalaya. Through enterprise and diligence, many have rebuilt their lives and businesses - Ho Wailai manufactures machines for processing teak; Wang and his siblings run a restaurant and three beauty parlours where the sawmill once stood; Ho Kok Meng's son owns a small tea garden; and Leong, who married an Indian, is among the wealthy of Shillong - he owns a sports shop, a restaurant, a Hyundai car dealership and a large tract of land.

'There's less hostility today, but the insider-outsider feeling remains,' Ho Wailai says. 'There's an underlying sense of anxiety and fear, especially among the older generation.'

'Many of us are doing well, and we're happy again,' Leong adds. 'But some families in Assam are still in a pathetic condition. The government should try to help them, give them a decent livelihood.'

There has been no response from New Delhi as yet.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


The 1962 jailing of Chinese Indians

Recent revelations of India’s official attitude towards people of Chinese origin within its borders after the Indo-China war are simply too shocking to ignore.

If America’s rounding up of its Japanese immigrants after Pearl Harbour has been a matter of shame for that country, India’s own treatment meted out to innocent Indians of Chinese origin in vengeance for 1962 is arguably much worse—for the very fact that most of us know virtually nothing about this unpardonable episode, let alone hear voices of atonement.

That India was militarily humiliated by China in the 1962 war is a matter of record. With luck, its sordid aftermath will also join the conversation and begin to exercise the Indian conscience, now that renowned Assamese author Rita Chowdhury has exposed the episode in a book, Makam, that chills readers to their bone marrow.

Chowdhury’s book, named after a town in Assam and published in April this year, is a fictionalised account, but is based on a true story and offers enough leads to contact the people whose lives were blighted by the Indian State simply for being who they were.

In November-December 1962, thousands of Indians of Chinese origin were arrested and sent to a prison camp at Deoli in Rajasthan, where they were kept in terrible conditions for three to five years. That’s not all—many were forcibly deported to China. Those who were allowed to return found their homes and business establishments auctioned off, looted or occupied forcibly.

Shattered and depressed, they started rebuilding their lives, and while some have managed to spring back, many others languish in poverty and neglect. But what unites them all, from Kolkata in West Bengal to Tinsukia in Upper Assam, Shillong in Meghalaya, to other places across the country, is their fear—palpable in how they recount their horrific experiences to ‘outsiders’, unsure if they have said too much for their own good, unclear what point speaking up serves, and uncertain what the Indian State has in store for them.

Their last brush against the State left them scarred. It was not just a gross violation of their human rights, it was not just a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention on non-combatants that New Delhi signed in 1949, it was an evisceration of India as a humane country.


According to records at the National Library in Kolkata, the first Chinese settler in latter-day India was Yong Atchew, who arrived in Calcutta in 1780. British rule in Bengal had begun a couple of decades or so earlier. Atchew started a sugar mill, and the 100 odd compatriots he brought in as workers went on to form India’s first Chinese settlement. Attracted by business opportunities, many others followed Atchew down the decades. From the 1830s onwards, the British started getting people from China to work on Assam’s tea plantations. Many others were refugees from poverty, famine, hunger and floods in China, and fresh off the boat they made themselves useful as carpenters, shoemakers, mechanics, traders and the like. By the late 19th century, these people of Chinese origin had established a formidable reputation in eastern India as craftsmen and traders. Several tea garden workers picked up some of these skills, moved to urban areas, and did well with businesses of their own. In Assam, Chinese masons and carpenters were much sought after till even a few decades ago. In Calcutta, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Shillong, Chinese shoemakers and dentists were acknowledged to be the best in their fields. Many also set up Chinese restaurants and beauty parlours that became very popular. The success of Calcutta’s tanneries and leather units can be traced almost entirely to Chinese effort. “The Chinese were famed for their hard work, enterprise and amazing tenacity, and that made them successful businessmen,” says Rita Chowdhury, who researched the Chinese diaspora in India for her book.

While the passage from China to India continued during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a large wave of Chinese arrived around the time of World War II, when Mao’s revolution had thousands fleeing that country. They settled down first in Calcutta, before moving to North Bengal and the Northeast, and some other parts of India as well, where they set up various businesses, including vehicle repair units that became a byword for service excellence. For all this grit and hard work, their reward has been a tragedy scarcely told.

Today, there are barely a few thousand people of Chinese origin left in India. After 1962, their State-sponsored persecution has seen them flee to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Austria, the UK and US. This is unlikely to reverse course anytime soon. Says Paul Chung, president of the Indian Chinese Association, “We feel marginalised, like second-class citizens, and think we can never become part of the mainstream.” The odd diasporic offspring like Meiyang Chang may become a sensation on Indian Idol, soulfully singing Hindi film tracks, even star in a Bollywood flick, but that’s just one Chang among many yearning for change. Harassed and humiliated in India, most feel unwelcome.


It was a backlash that grew uglier by the day. The moment that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers pushed their way across the MacMohan line in the Northeast sector into Indian territory, it was clear which side was at the losing end of the hostilities. Indian troops, poorly equipped and feebly commanded, stood little chance; they were massacred, more or less.

In the heat of nationalist fury, vengeance came to be wreaked upon people assumed to be in sympathy with the aggressors. Under the draconian Defence of India Act 1962, an estimated 10,000 people of Chinese origin were rounded up from Kolkata, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Jamshedpur, Mumbai and the Northeast. They were all accused of being spies, even though such charges were never proven against anyone at all. It was a time of paranoia—and incidentally, Jyoti Basu and some other Indian communist leaders were also jailed under the same draconian law that year.

“Policemen came knocking on our door one late November morning and said we’d have to go with them for just three days for our own safety. They didn’t allow us to take anything, not even an extra pair of clothes,” remembers Wang Shing Tung, 61, who now runs Honk Kong Restaurant in Tinsukia. His grandfather and father, who had landed in Calcutta in 1939, ran a trading post there before moving base to Tinsukia a decade later to set up a sawmill. The Lee Hing Sawmill boomed, supplying railway sleepers and so on, and the family at their peak of prosperity owned six elephants, 14 trucks and several smaller vehicles.

Shu was bundled off along with his Chinese-origin wife and five children, and also his elder brother’s family of eight, in a truck headed for a jail in Nagaon district, from where they were put on a train to Deoli in Rajasthan.

Ho Kok Meng, 72, is still reluctant to talk about those days. “My grandfather came to Tinsukia from Calcutta in early 1900 and worked as a mechanic on tea gardens. My father Ho Hin set up this motor repair garage. I had just completed matriculation in December 1962 when police and CID officers came to our house and said we were to accompany them to (neighbouring) Dibrugarh for a few days,” he says, after some coaxing by Open. Ho Kok Meng, his father, younger sister Akhen, elder sister Akhoy and her husband, were all shunted onto a night train to Deoli.

In 1937, Sun Fu Thian’s father Achoy Sun had travelled from Santong province in China via Myanmar to arrive in Shillong. He set up a Chinese eatery that did very well. Sun Fu Thian became a dentist and set up his practice in Shillong. “I was 24 then. The police arrived at our doorstep that November 1962 morning and took all of us to the district jail. I knew the deputy commissioner and requested him to release my parents and siblings and keep me in custody. He agreed. I was in Shillong jail for five days and was then taken to Guwahati and put on a train to Deoli,” he recounts.

In the late 19th century, Liang Miao Lin’s grandparents had migrated from Kwangtung in China to Calcutta, where they started a tannery and opened a shoe shop. His dad, Liang Fong Seng, learnt the trade and then migrated to Shillong in 1958 to set up a similar outlet. In 1962, The Liang family—Fong, his wife and six children—were picked up and taken to Shillong jail, before being packed off to Deoli. Their house and shoe shop were sealed, as were the houses and businesses of about a thousand others of Chinese origin who were picked up for alleged espionage in Shillong.


“We were put on a passenger train with 15 coaches, and it took us over a week to reach Rajasthan. We used to halt at small stations twice a day, and our guards used to cook khichdi for us. It was half cooked and we could barely eat it. A few died during this journey,” sighs Sun Fu Thian.

The prison camp was spread over a 1 sq km area in the middle of a desert, adjoining the small town of Deoli. “It was encircled by a two-layer barbed wire fence with watch towers at regular intervals. There was just one gate,” recalls Ho Kok Meng. “The food was horrible the first week. The prison authorities used to cook, and it was either half cooked or rotten. We staged protests, and from the second week, they started giving us dry rations and firewood and we started cooking our own food,” adds Paul Leong, now the owner of a successful eatery in Shillong. He was six when he, along with his parents and four siblings, were taken to Deoli, but his memories of the ordeal are as vivid as ever.

Sun Fu Thian used to teach the children. Mail and newspapers were censored. There wasn’t much interaction between the inmates and prison authorities, though the latter did soften slightly to their plight over time. “Initially, they were strict and never used to allow us out. But as the months passed, they allowed us (children) to step out at times and wander around,” says Wang Shing Tung. “The prison authorities took us on excursions twice to Jaipur, Udaipur and some other places. They screened Hindi movies for us a few times. But generally, there wasn’t much to do,” says Paul Leong.

There were five wings—all barrack-like concrete structures—that housed over 7,000 inmates. The blocks were partitioned into smaller units, each with three rooms and a common courtyard, where the inmates used to rear poultry. They were not given clothes nor any bedding by their jailers. “The Red Cross stepped in and gave us clothes, biscuits, milk powder, soap and other essentials,” says Sun Fu Thian. Apart from daily dry rations, their jailers used to hand out monthly coupons of Rs 10 and Rs 1.50 to every adult and child, respectively, to buy essentials from a canteen. It just wasn’t enough to get by.
The hot desert took its toll. Many died of heat stroke and related illnesses. “What we suffered from most was the heat. We were not used to that sort of climate. There were frequent sandstorms during the summers. We used to put gunnysacks on the doors and windows and splash water on them to keep the indoors cool,” says Liang Miao Lin.

“There was this small girl who suffered a heat stroke and lost consciousness. She was declared dead by a paramedic, and was being buried when we discovered she still alive… but by the time we retrieved her, she was dead,” says Wang Shing Tung, his voice dropping to a whisper.


In mid-1964, the prison authorities announced that all the inmates would be deported to China. The actual deportations, though, were arbitrary and many families were broken up. Ho Kok Meng’s elder sister Akhoy and her husband were deported and nothing was heard of them since. “There were many such cases, even of parents being deported and the children being left behind. Even today many don’t know where their kith and kin are,” says Meng. The inmates were taken to Calcutta in small batches and put on ships to China, where they were sent to collective farms. The forced deportations stopped after a few months, and the prison authorities offered the option of migration to China to those who remained. Some, like Wang Shing Tung’s paternal uncle and his family, took the offer. But the rest preferred to stay back.

“It was then announced that we wouldn’t be allowed to return to the Northeast and would have to settle down in other parts of India. This caused us despair, since we had left everything behind,” says Paul Leong. The 2,500 odd who remained were desperate to return to their homes, and decided to wait. “My dad said ‘let’s wait’. Ultimately, in 1965, it was announced that we could return to our homes. They started releasing us in small batches,” says Wang Shing Tung. The last batch to leave Deoli was in mid-1967.

Further shocks awaited them. Relieved to return, the Deoli internees found they had little left of their own. “Many had their properties auctioned off and were offered ridiculously petty sums as compensation. But most returned to see their houses, shops, workshops, factories looted or taken over by locals. “We didn’t get back the keys of our house and had to sleep in the verandah for a month. When we could finally enter our house, we saw it was totally empty. Most of the machinery at our sawmill had been looted. We were told four of our six elephants had run away, and all our trucks and vehicles had been stolen. We were ruined,” recounts Wang Shing Tung. Ho Kok Meng says that not even a hammer was left in the motor repair garage they had left behind, and all furniture, clothes and utensils in their house had gone missing. It was the same story in every family.

Determined to battle the odds, they decided to begin again from scratch. “My mother started making momos and I used to run with a head load of those to different schools to sell them during lunch breaks and after school. I did this for two years, and then my dad opened a shoe shop with the money saved,” says Paul Leong. Wang Shing Tung’s father retrieved a jeep he had and ran it as a taxi, driving it himself. “He did this for eight years and we later opened this restaurant. He sent my elder sister to take a beautician’s course in Calcutta, and she came back to set up a beauty parlour,” says Wang. Ho Kok Meng’s father started his motor repairing garage afresh, Sun Fu Thian set up his dentist’s chamber again, and Laing Miao Lin’s father got help from another Chinese family to get back into the shoemaking business.

But the sufferings didn’t end there; more humiliation and harassment was in store for them. Restrictions were imposed on their movements, and the local authorities found them easy targets for extortion. “Till the mid 1990s, we had to obtain permits from the police to travel to any place. I had to renew my permit to go to the school (in Howrah district), where I used to teach every three months. We had to obtain special permits to travel anywhere outside Calcutta,” says Paul Chung. “We had to get permission to move anywhere beyond a seven kilometre radius of our home. This went on till 1974,” according to Sun Fu Thian. It was only after mid-1980 that they were relieved of a directive to report to designated police stations once a month.


For decades on end, they led lives devoid of human dignity. Yet, these Indians of Chinese origin refuse to let bitterness condition their outlook. “We lost a lot, but we have re-established ourselves. Yes, many fear a repeat of 1962, and so some have migrated to other countries,” says Chung, “But we hope that we’ll be recognised as Indians with all rights and privileges guaranteed under the Constitution.”

If India is to redeem itself, that hope needs to be saved from turning forlorn. For a start, the Government must acknowledge the injustice that was perpetrated nearly five decades ago. An apology is in order. And a solemn guarantee that nobody should ever have to face such an ordeal for being who he/she 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

50th Anniversary of Deoli Camp

Media coverage of the 50th Anniversary of Deoli Camp

When India abandoned her Chinese Children

November 18 , 2012 , Sunday

At Deoli, stale rice, potatoes and little hope
Ananya Dutta

It was a cold night in November 1962 when the police first came to the door of the Leong family in Shillong and Mrs. Leong knew that what she had feared all these days had finally come true.

“For weeks, we had heard that all persons of Chinese origin were going to be rounded up and taken away. Two weeks ago, my mother had asked us not to go to school — a Chinese establishment — fearing that we may be picked up there. But now the police had come home,” recalled Monica Liu, who was nine and the eldest among five siblings.

It was her mother who woke up first, and when they peeped through the windows, they saw a huge contingent of policemen. The police came to the Leong residence and informed them that the entire family would be taken away, and asked them to gather their belongings.

In the months leading up to October 1962, when the first arrests started, members of the Chinese community had been on tenterhooks. The Hsieh family, shoemakers at Kalimpong in Darjeeling district, were prepared for the impending arrest as both were born in China.

Ming-Tung Hsieh, their son who had just turned 18 in 1962, recalls in his book A Lost Tribe that he had been given instructions on how to run the family’s shoe shop. But the family was in for a shock when they realised that even the children — all of them born in India — were also being apprehended.

Where were they going, Mr, Hsieh, the Leongs, and all the others?

“Our first reaction was that we would be sent back to China. But we were told that for the time being we were only going to the jail in Shillong,” Ms. Liu said.

The Leong family was kept in the jail in Shillong for a fortnight and other Chinese families they knew were also brought there.

“It was there that I developed revulsion for potatoes that stayed with me to this day. The food in the jail was terrible, and for the whole fortnight we were given the same meals — rice that smelt stale, watery dal and potatoes,” she said.

A fortnight in prison was followed by a trip to Guwahati where they were all bundled into a train. “It was coming from Dibrugarh, full of Chinese families from all over Assam. We travelled for eight days and still did not know where we were going. The train would halt for long hours at stations to allow other trains to pass, and I wondered if the journey would ever end,” Ms. Liu said. Eventually, they reached the Central Internment Camp at Deoli in Rajasthan, and the family was allotted a small room.

“The entrance had a big steel arch, exactly like the entrance to any concentration camp one would see in a World War II movie,” writes Mr. Hsieh.

On both sides of the entrance, there were watch towers; each tower had two sentries armed with searchlights and light machine guns. The entire camp, about two square kilometres in area, was fenced with barbed wire. There was an armed watch tower every 100 metres, he adds. The Leong family had lived in a hill station in Shillong and found the move to the sunny Rajasthan difficult to adapt themselves to. And it was here that the family was forced to stay for five years. “I was a 9-year-old girl when I went to the camp. When we were eventually released, I was a 15-year-old,” Ms. Liu recalled.

“During the day, it was murderously hot. It was so hot we couldn’t stay indoors. In the summers, we would sleep outside… Initially, we children were very happy. We did not have to go to school, but my mother broke into tears nearly every day,” Ms. Liu said.

The day was spent on the household chores. The initial arrangement of a central kitchen drew so many complaints (“the cooked rice used to stink and we had to wash it several times before it was edible”) that the families were given raw rations and allowed to cook, Ms. Liu recalled.

Over time, some among the community who were better educated started informal classes for the children. But there was a severe shortage of books and stationery, and the inmates had to beg the authorities to provide them with exercise books in the camp’s canteen, she said.

“On July 4, 1964, a notice appeared on our wing office notice board that the government had decided to release all those detained but they will not be allowed to return to the five northern districts,” writes Mr. Hsieh. Those who lived in Darjeeling, Siliguri, Shillong or Guwahati were not free to leave.

“Many had relatives in Chinatown in Calcutta or other parts of the country, but we had no one. Some of our uncles and other relatives had gone back to China and we did not have anywhere else to go to. So we waited,” Ms. Liu said. Eventually, the families who insisted on returning home to north Bengal or the northeast were issued their release orders, but the wait for the Leong family continued.

“There was a mix-up. My father, Leong Ton Seong, who ran a restaurant in Shillong was mistaken for a distant relative, Leong Kim Seong. My uncle was a teacher and had already been sent back to China,” she explained.

As a result of the confusion, the Leong family was not released, but transferred to a jail at Nagaon in Assam when the camp in Deoli was closed. Three Chinese families and some bachelors spent another nine months in prison until they eventually wrote a petition to the Home Minister of Assam, and got release orders. Ms. Liu, who owns several Chinese restaurants in Kolkata, has difficulty recalling dates now. It is one of the few things she has been able to forget.

Shaped by Conflict

November 18 , 2012 , Sunday
A Psyche shaped by conflict
Ananya Dutta

 For the Chinese community living in Kolkata — the largest settlement of people from China in India — the year 1962, when hostilities broke out along the India-China border, was the first time they felt “unwanted” here.

“The Chinese community seemed to be carving a niche for itself in Calcutta. If not for a great disruption which threw the members completely off keel, the face of the Chinese community would have been very different ,” writes academic Jennifer Liang in her paper Calcutta Chinese – An Oral History.

 AT HOME :  A Chinese shoemaker in Kolkata today. Many Chinese live in ‘China Town,’ in the city’s east. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

The loss of faith in the Indian state, which barely acknowledges the internment of the Chinese in India during the war, coupled with other legislation that hurt their economic interests, prompted yet another wave of migration of the community — this time away from the city. According to estimates, the population of ethnic Chinese in the city has declined from about 20,000 to 4,000 today.

From 1780, the first official record of Chinese settlers in Calcutta , the economic migration to India was always meant to be temporary.

In the early 19th century, the waves of Chinese immigrants that had come to the city had always intended to go back, most choosing to bide their time during the Second World War, but the political turmoil in China that followed the war convinced them to stay on.

“In 1949, my father went back to China, but found that nothing we owned remained and decided there was no chance of going back. It was then that we thought that India could be our country. And then the 1962 war happened and we were again made to feel that this is not our country,” said Paul Chung, president of The Indian Chinese Association.

Targeted arrests

Most Calcutta Chinese were spared arrest. Those who were taken away were intellectuals, teachers, community leaders and anyone seen or even remotely suspected to be ‘close’ to the Communist government in China, Ms. Liang writes.

Returning home from his boarding-school at Liluah in Howrah district for Christmas , Mr. Chung realised that he was now expected to report to the District Intelligence Branch every time he came home, and stay within the limits of Chinatown in Tangra (near Dhapa).

Going anywhere beyond the restricted zone needed special permits; going to the Howrah railway station or Dumdum airport (beyond city limits) needed a separate permit.

And the restrictions were relaxed only in the early 1980s. It is only as late as 1996 that the order restricting the movement of the Chinese was removed, Ms. Liang writes.

After graduating from school, Mr. Chung wanted to take up a job. “This was very important for me… because Chinese custom says that you become a responsible member of the community only after you start working,” he said. But the only job he could find was at a zip-manufacturing factory at Dumdum, and the matter remained in limbo until he could obtain a permit from the police.

The frustrated Mr. Chung shot off a letter to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and obtained his permit in 10 days. In the prevailing atmosphere , relations between the reclusive Chinese community and the native population were also affected.

Mr. Chung and 60 others residents of Chinatown lost their jobs overnight following a disagreement with the factory’s trade union.

“Before 1962, the Government of India treated the Chinese as ordinary citizens. After 1962, they tightened the belt and the young could not stand it; they wanted to leave,” said Mr. Chung, who himself went back to school to study further and stayed on to retire as the assistant principal of the school.

The fallout of the 1962 conflict for the Chinese Community in India — the internment in the Deoli camp, the deportations, the restrictions on movement, the jobs, shops and homes lost — remained a subject that they did not speak out about. But the events shaped the psyche of the community and there remains a latent fear of a reprisal, should there be another armed conflict.

“Did the Government of India prove a single person to be a Chinese spy? But you [the Indian government] harassed thousands of people for years and never even apologised. If you do not acknowledge our suffering, the community shall always harbour the feeling that you do not want us or understand us,” Mr. Chung said.


NOVEMBER  18 , 2012 , Sunday

The Assamese Chinese Story
Rita Chowdhury

The China-India war of 1962 had a crushing impact on a small but significant Chinese population that had made this country its home. The Chinese were transported from Kolkata and Assam to a prison camp in Deoli, Rajasthan. On the other side, Kashmiri Muslims and Ladakhis faced China's wrath.

It is an unfortunate part of history that has been lying hidden in the darkness for forty eight years. It is the history of the Assamese Chinese people, who had been forced to uproot themselves from the country of their birth because of their Chinese origin.

UNHAPPY LEGACY :  Lal Bahadur Shastri, as Home Minister, visits the internment camp at Deoli on June 9, 1963. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Yes, they were not Chinese; they were Assamese Chinese, an integral part of the greater Assamese society.

The British discovered tea plants in the Singpho kingdom, which was adjacent to British Assam, and established tea gardens in different parts of Assam. This task required a huge and experienced workforce, which was not available in Assam.

So the British brought Chinese labourers, artisans, tea growers and tea makers, employing fair or unfair means, and engaged them in the tea gardens. The migration started in 1838. Life was hard, but they learned to adjust to the circumstances.

Soon, labourers from other parts of India were also brought in, in the same manner. A similar fate and shared tragedy brought the communities close. They soon surmounted the language barrier and started intermingling. Many of the Chinese married local women and established a new society in Assam. A series of voluntary migrations of Chinese from China followed. This broadened the space of the newly established society and made it more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic as the migrants married local girls and settled down. Their physical features changed; the descendents forgot the Chinese language. Through sheer hard work and perseverance, the dislocated Chinese made a new life for themselves and prospered.

Many ‘China Patty,’ or small China towns, sprang up in different parts of Assam — of which the China Patty of Makum was the biggest. There was a Chinese Club, a Chinese school, Chinese restaurants and shoe shops. The population lived in relative peace and comfort. They wouldn’t have imagined what fate had in store for them.


It is not possible to mirror the horrendous trials and tribulations as well as humiliations that thousands of Indian Chinese faced during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. The war unleashed a chain of events that compelled the Chinese society living in Assam to come face-to-face with an unfortunate situation. Their very own people discarded them only because of their Chinese origin.

Then came the last day of the war: November 19, 1962.

In the evening, Chinese people living in different places were rounded up by the armed forces and compelled to leave their houses. The administration told them they would be shifted to a safer place for two or three days. They were not allowed to take anything with them except papers.

In Assam, it was difficult for the administration to separate the Chinese from the non-Chinese as most of the people didn’t look Chinese and had Indian wives. Most of them had been living there for two to three generations. As the roots of the Indian Chinese ran deep and wide, it became difficult to say who had to be arrested and who shouldn’t be. The authorities arrested those they thought and believed to be Chinese. In that process, families were separated, hard-earned property was seized as enemy property and later auctioned. Husbands were separated from wives, children were separated from parents, and so on.

In the Makum area, they were picked up and packed into a cowshed, from where they were taken to the Dibrugarh jail. In other parts they were arrested and brought to the police station and put in jails. They were then asked to board a closed train, which took them to the Deoli internment camp in Rajasthan. It was a long, seven-day journey of utter suffering. Infants, pregnant women, the old and the sick were also arrested and sent to the camp, violating all human rights.

After some time the Government of India decided to deport the interned back to China in a few batches. In this process, the already divided families were divided again as the government selected the names randomly. The majority of them were deported to China. Many Indian wives also accompanied their husbands to China with their children. The interned people who were allowed to return to their places after a couple of years again faced a difficult situation. The property of most of the people had been auctioned as enemy property. There was no society and no government to support them. They were compelled to live in sheer misery and isolation. Most of them did not get to meet their deported family members ever again.

I went to Makum and visited the places where these people lived and worked. I also interviewed many deportees who were living in different parts of the world – whose eyes were never dry, whose grief never diminished.

The deportees harbour a wish in the deepest corner of their hearts to visit at least once the place where they spent their youth and also to meet their relatives and friends whom they left behind. Though they live in some other part of the world, India is still their birthplace. They call Assam their janam-jagah, their birthplace, which they want to visit at least once before they die. They still speak the Indian language; sing Hindi and Assamese songs, drink milk tea — they celebrate their memories, and their agonies too.

(Dr. Rita Chowdhury is the author of Makam, an Assamese novel on the plight of Assamese people of Chinese origin)

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Trust Betrayed

Without Apologies 
The state cares little about the lost years of our ethnic Chinese

S.N.M. Abdi

Not too long ago, I visited a restaurant called Beijing in Tangra, Calcutta’s Chinatown, for a Sunday brunch with friends. The Cantonese noodles and pepper chicken, served in square, white plates, were so delicious that half-way through the meal I wanted to compliment the owner. But Monica Liu, a waiter informed me, had not returned from church. She turned up in a pantsuit while we were savouring our dessert. “You are a God-fearing woman providing excellent food to his hungry children,” I remarked. “You are welcome, sir,” she replied. Then she muttered under her breath: “We have a lot to thank the Lord for. I have come a long way from the concentration camp where I was baptised.”

  Monica’s baptism certificate. She was baptised in the Deoli camp

People rub their eyes in disbelief. I couldn’t believe what I heard. Concentration camp? “I am so sorry, but were you in a concentration camp in China?” I asked Monica confusedly. “No sir. We are Indian citizens. We were picked up from our home in Shillong and dispatched to a concentration camp at Deoli in Rajasthan by the Indian government. We spent over four years behind barbed-wire fences patrolled by soldiers whose rifles were always pointed at us.”

I had thought that I knew my India inside out. But I was proved wrong that Sunday. Like the vast majority of my countrymen, I was blissfully unaware of the detention of a huge number of Chinese Indians in Deoli’s Central Internment Camp  during the 1962 India-China war. By New Delhi’s own admission, nearly 3,000 men, women and children of Chinese descent—most of them Indian citizens—were imprisoned in Deoli without trial. They were picked up on the pretext that they posed a threat to India’s security. But the only ‘evidence’ against them was the colour of their skin and facial features. The war lasted barely a month, but many internees were rotting in Deoli until late 1967—five years after the armed conflict!

That Sunday, however, Monica had caught a seasoned journalist like me by surprise. Fortunately, we struck up a conversation—if we hadn’t, this book wouldn’t have been written.

I called on Monica after a few days to see her baptism certificate. The pale green paper had cracked at the folds but it corroborated her stunning remark. Born on October 14, 1953, she was baptised on March 23, 1965, in the Deoli camp, according to the signed and stamped certificate No. 67. She recounted her baptism in a makeshift chapel by Reverand Father Benedict Fernandez of the Church of Saint Joseph in Kota. The visiting chaplain had signed Monica’s baptism certificate with a flourish befitting the truly pious.

The baptism certificate is the only proof Monica has of her detention—and she has preserved it. She was a bubbly nine-year-old when the Shillong police picked her up along with her family and packed them off to Deoli in November 1962. Prisoners without trial, they were released in February 1967, traumatised and penniless. No document were ever issued to them. For a government, it’s difficult to get more arbitrary than that.

My account of wartime abuse of Chinese Indians is based on interviews with surviving internees in India and elsewhere. In their recollections, Deoli emerged as a metaphor for state-sponsored oppression, racial profiling and humiliation of persons with Chinese blood. Indian officials who dealt with the Chinese then spoke to me at length. Some talked on record; others shared information and views on the condition of anonymity. Without their version, an objective appraisal was out of the question. I  examined hundreds of pages of diplomatic correspondence between New Delhi and Beijing about the persecution of people of Chinese origin in India just before, during and after the war, besides classified home ministry files and records of the Intelligence Branch of the West Bengal government.

The Indian government emptied the Northeast—close to the zone of military operations—of Chinese in 1962. But they were also taken from Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur, Jamshedpur and elsewhere by special intelligence units and despatched by train to Kota, the nearest railhead from Deoli.

A concentration camp has horrible connotations. So, was the Deoli facility a concentration camp?

Its antecedents were a dead giveaway. Its origins lay in a cantonment established by the British army in Deoli in 1852; in 1942 its barracks were converted into a POW camp for German, Italian and Japanese combatants and nationals. In 1947, the military handed it over to the home ministry. When busloads of Chinese families started arriving at the camp in November 1962, they were subjected to regulations from an old military manual for administering Axis POWs gathering dust in the commandant’s office. For instance, dinner was served at 5 pm and lights were switched off at 7 pm, plunging the prisoners’ wings into darkness until daybreak. The rule was revoked when it was realised that, unlike Axis POWs, 60 per cent of the internees were children or elderly persons.

According to Sunanda K. Dutta-Ray—former editor of The Statesman—the wartime population of ethnic Chinese was around 60,000, with Calcutta accounting for 50,000. But Arun Chandra Guha, an MP representing Barasat, revealed during a 1962 parliamentary debate that there were between 20,000 and 30,000 Chinese in India. The 1961 census pegged India’s population at 439,234,771, or about 440 million. Going by Dutta-Ray’s figure, ethnic Chinese then accounted for 0.013 per cent of India’s population; going by Guha’s, they accounted for between 0.006 and 0.004 per cent. Could this minuscule minority have posed a threat? By no rational yardstick could such a tiny ethnic group have endangered India. But ethno-phobia is triggered more often by hallucination than facts.

The Indian government spoke with a forked tongue while incarcerating persons of Chinese descent. On December 13, 1962, it said it “became necessary to remove all Chinese nationals from that region (Assam and West Bengal) along with others who were security risks when Chinese aggressors had been moving threateningly toward those areas”. On January 8, 1963, it called its  action “the minimum any government would take under similar circumstances”. Justifying individual arrests, India said “there were very clear reasons for their detention because of their prejudicial and anti-Indian activities”. But after hurling accusations, the government did a somersault: on February 27, 1963, Union home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave the detainees a clean chit! He told Parliament that no internee would be tried for spying or subversion. Shastri was true to his word: nobody was prosecuted. But nobody was set free either: they simply languished behind barbed wires like POWs.

Sadly, even 50 years later, the Indian state has no regrets. There are no pangs of conscience, no symptoms of soul-searching. Questioned about excesses, Jagat S. Mehta, retired foreign secretary who manned the China desk of the external affairs ministry during the war, told an interviewer that India may have overreacted. “Today we are talking from the benefit of hindsight. But during the war Chinese were suspects, although they had been settled in India for a very long time. They got caught in the crossfire when China attacked India.”

In the countdown to war, apparatchiks were cocksure about men of Chinese lineage swelling the ranks of an advancing PLA. A jittery nation was warned that distinguishing between invaders and their collaborators would be impossible because of their identical features! Betrayal was imminent, they insisted: a Fifth Column would suddenly spring into action at the appointed hour, inflicting heavy losses. When nothing of that sort happened despite the PLA marching deep into the Northeast, it was propagated that the Fifth Column was keeping its gunpowder dry and waiting for India to drop its guard before blowing up regimental headquarters, bridges and dams.

A case was systematically built against potential saboteurs, or subversives in waiting. The unfolding reality rubbished every single intelligence report, though. So, in the end, the internees remained just suspects—evidently innocent and harmless—compelling a hard-boiled diplomat like Mehta to concede as much after five decades.

Key Indian officials of that era said they feared a repetition of events in Europe during WW-II. They claimed that Germany’s Blitzkrieg 22 years earlier gave them sleepless nights when reports of China amassing its forces on the border began to trickle in. Officials subscribed to the widely-held view that Norway, Denmark and France wouldn’t have fallen in three months without internal saboteurs. Indian officials, particularly those who had worked with British defence strategists until 1947, believed that Germany’s lightning conquest and rapid destruction of the three countries’ armies was greased by a formidable Fifth Column nurtured by the Third Reich. And they concluded that China had taken a leaf out of Hitler’s book and raised a network of agents—particularly in the Northeast—to help the PLA overrun India.

Moreover, Indian officials brazenly cite America’s treatment of ethnic Japanese after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese navy bombers to justify the internment of ethnic Chinese. Detentions in India, they said, paled into insignificance before the world’s biggest democracy and a superpower like the US throwing 1,20,000 Japanese Americans into concentration camps without batting an eyelid. According to them, the two democracies were compelled to intern persons with Chinese or Japanese genes in their national interest. To be sure, India’s Foreigners (Internment) Order of November 3, 1962, was cast in the mould of Executive Order No. 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, authorising detention of the Japanese to prevent sabotage and espionage. But the parallel goes no further because surviving internees in the US eventually received a fat redressal cheque and a letter of apology from the president.

In 2008, I suggested in an opinion piece published in The Times of India and Khaleej Times that our government should at least say sorry to the Deoli internees. I also wrote that India’s civil society is unlikely to allow a repetition of such state-perpetrated atrocities unopposed in future. Thanks to the internet, I was flooded with e-mails from Deoli victims and their families, now settled in various countries. But the response of Mao Siwei, consul general of China in Calcutta, to my initiative was rather intriguing. Siwei read my piece and wrote back: “Thank you for standing up and speaking out for the Chinese community in India. I remember that in the early 1980s when the so-called Cultural Revolution was just over, there were two schools of thought about what China should do. One was to check the history of the Cultural Revolution thoroughly and making it clear what was right and what was wrong, and get justice to everyone. The other was to Look Forward and not argue too much about the past for the time being. Mr Deng Xiaoping adopted the latter approach. The history of the last thirty years has proved that Deng was right. The former Soviet Union kept checking its history of 70 years but the state collapsed. China has allowed some of its historical issues to remain unsolved but the Nation became stronger. I am afraid that you can get all the justice for the Chinese but then you would find that the remaining 3,000 Chinese have left Calcutta forever. Middle Path is the main feature of Chinese culture. Maybe I am wrong.”

Siwei is indeed wrong, exclaims Paul Chung, Indian Chinese Association president. Chung believes that an apology is a must, as the community’s wounds have not healed. “Unless the government acknowledges that the Chinese were unnecessarily targeted and tortured, how can there be healing? Nobody has owned up responsibility for our suffering. It’s necessary for the Indian government to publicly admit its guilt so that the victims feel reassured,” he advocates.

“Chinese culture hinges on harmony. And rebellion is the antithesis of harmony. Importantly, destiny is supposed to penalise the perpetrators of injustice. That’s why Chinese reaction to the grave injustices of 1962 was to leave India and go away without protesting—without disturbing the harmony. But that’s a typical Chinese approach. I have been brought up differently by Christian priests. Western philosophy demands justice. It encourages people to fight for justice. It’s not fair to wait for justice. The bully has to say sorry, acknowledge his guilt and even offer financial compensation to remove bitterness. While a typical Chinese would leave it to destiny, I would rather pull out all stops to seek justice for harmony’s sake.”

(S. N. M. Abdi is deputy editor of Outlook. These are excerpts from the opening chapter of his forthcoming book on the persecution of ethnic Chinese during the Sino-Indian war.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Our Trampled Days

Special Issue: 1962 The China Disaster
Magazine | Oct 22, 2012

click for  online edition 

The road to Deoli
Our Trampled Days
A contented life. Then, years of humiliation ringed by barbed wire
Ma Oy Fong

I didn’t know what Chinese New Year was like until I was 14. We had always celebrated
quietly at our home in Calcutta. Oranges, red purses, large red characters signifying good luck and fortune were about all I knew about the celebrations of the New Year.

Then my brother went to Tangra to join a lion dance troupe. Precocious, I went with him and stayed at his friend’s home. It was an all-night party. Firecrackers popped all night, the smell of gunpowder hung over the fetid air of Tangra. My host had food everywhere: on the big round table, end tables, at the altar. It was a season of excesses, many of which I learned at the expense of other events the rest of the year.

I had to ask my mother, Li Yue Hua. For as long as I could remember we didn’t celebrate the Chinese New Year. The raw excitement, the smell of incense and firecrackers, drums and gongs—why did we not celebrate the new year? She finally told me that year that my family was interned on New Year’s Day following the 1962 war with China, on January 25, 1963. I asked my mother to tell me about that day and the weeks leading up to it. This is what she said:

“The family had just finished prayers at the puja ghar. Since our family was so big, they worshipped your father’s great grandparents in a small building. Bowls of fruit, sweets, special New Year sesame brittle and fried bow-ties stood in front of the large portraits of your ancestors.

“It was different that year. We were there to offer our thanks to the gods, but everyone was nervous. Your grandparents, uncles and aunts were praying. It was the last time the whole family was together. The day before, on New Year’s Eve, your grandfather had given the workers’ families bags of food and gifts. We used to have a feast for all the workers who came to the house and played cards after. Now, the workers were all gone.

“I remember the day they left: November 18, 1962. All the Chinese workers in our factory were interned that morning. Since the carpenters did not speak English, your dad had to interpret their orders for them. They were to leave immediately and had time to pack a few belongings. Each man packed little. They were gone by noon. Their wives and children wept as they watched their husbands and fathers taken away. Your grandfather promised the workers we would look after their families for as long as we were there.

“Soon after that day, we heard that Chinese passport holders in Darjeeling and Assam were being interned. Like our staff, only the Chinese men were taken, not their families. Your dad’s sister, her husband and the rest of her husband’s family were also interned in November. Your grandmother burst into tears when she heard the news. I read her a report from Amrita Bazaar Patrika, about how well the internees were treated. I’m not sure it comforted her, but she seemed a little happier.

“A few days later, the army came to collect our vehicles to use in the war. Our driver went with the car, too. We were told not to leave the compound. Without cars, there was nowhere we could go. Four guard posts were erected around the compound. Each had two men guarding and they were there 24 hours a day. Lal Bahadur, who had worked for us for years, went to shop for our groceries. When Lal Bahadur brought back the vegetables and meat the guards examined his bags.

“The army was billeted at the airport. Every day, the soldiers drilled and marched. Tanks and combat vehicles rolled past. Trucks and lorries drove on the main road which was just a few yards from our gate. From the verandah we watched nervously and told the children not to go near the gate. We lived in uncertainty and fear every day.

“It seemed we were going to have to go to Deoli so we all started packing. Each family member had a suitcase. Your grandfather checked his luggage every day. He was diabetic and 70 years old. Some days he found the suitcase too heavy and unpacked items. The next day he would find them necessary and pack it back into the suitcase. We all did similar things, sometimes laughing at the choices we made. It was strange what we chose to pack. A photograph, our wedding certificate, socks....

“We didn’t have much to do. The factory and sawmill were closed. Our staff, minus the Chinese carpenters who were already interned, was still living in the compound. Then we started culling the livestock. Every day we took a few ducks and chickens and prepared them for meals. Nothing tasted good anymore. Everyone ate like machines, but preparing the food gave us something to do.

“This went on for a month. We followed the newspapers, often afraid of what we would read. The Chinese army had stopped all incursions in December 1962 and had pulled back to their lines. We knew this because our driver and cars had come back from the border. The jeep had been used for transporting supplies and for medical evacuation. It looked like it had been in a war. A week before the New Year, our hopes lifted. Your grandmother got us started on making New Year sweets and cookies.

“On New Year’s Eve, your grandfather pointed to the packed suitcases lining the living room and said, ‘I don’t want to see the unlucky bags. The war is over. I don’t think anything is going to happen to us.’ So everyone unpacked their bags. We were all happy to do so.

“On New Year’s Day, we had finished prayers and just settled to play cards. We play cards every year to see how lucky the new year will be. I lost three games. Then I looked up and saw an army car approach the house driveway. Eight to ten soldiers or police got out and walked to the house with rifles drawn.

“An officer stepped into the house and identified himself. He read out two names: mine and your dad’s. ‘Step aside. You will come with us. You can collect your bags. Don’t take any jewellery. You can take Rs 500 for your family.’

“It was only our family. Even though I knew it was coming, it took me a while to realise they were taking us away. I saw your grandmother crying and your aunts, too. Grandmother packed us a big bag of New Year cookies....

“Since the army car had come with eight men, there was no space for us. We requested the officer to let us go in our car. Our driver Sundar, the same one who had gone to the border, drove us to Siliguri. It took a whole day to get to Siliguri. The cars made several stops. Your brother ate cookies and asked me why I was crying. We reached the jail at 7 pm. The warden met us. I told him we had not eaten. He offered, ‘Have some tea’.

“Siliguri jail had a criminal ward and barracks. I asked the warden to stay in the barracks. I wanted to be treated as a political prisoner, not a criminal. They separated the women and men. I had your brother with me as he was just eight. Your dad and older brother was in the men’s ward.

“The barracks were three-sided, wooden structures with tin roofs.  We stayed in Siliguri for a month. While we were there, 20 Tibetans came two weeks later. They had been captured while fleeing Tibet. I kept asking the warden when we would go to Deoli. Siliguri was no place to stay for children. Besides, your aunt and uncle were in Deoli. At least we knew someone there, even if it was an internment camp.

“The day finally came when we had a date we were leaving for Deoli. One of the officers I befriended told me to buy certain things that were very expensive in Rajasthan. A bucket. He also told me to buy food for the road. Marie biscuits. We were given a stipend of Rs 2.50 per day for the journey. Your brothers got half of that, Rs 1.25, since they were children. Half an egg each. The train left around noon. It took us three days to reach Rajasthan. We were in two carriages. There were several of us: the Tibetans, our family, and a Hakka jootawalla from Kalimpong and another Cantonese man from Assam who had joined us in Siliguri. It was so hot. I could eat only kakris. And I was soon sick of them. The journey was tense. Eight policemen from Siliguri escorted us. They warned us politely, ‘Don’t show your face at the door. Don’t get out of the train.’ We soon realised why. In some towns people threw cow dung at us.

“We finally arrived in a big station at Kota. An army truck had come to receive us. Each person was interviewed at the office before being driven to the camp. I was so relieved to have reached our destination.

“The camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Four guard posts at corners, with additional posts in between, were manned all day and night. The barracks had been built during World War II to imprison Japanese POWs. The walls were thick, to keep out the blistering heat.

“We were sent to your aunt and uncle’s quarters. They had a small room, so we all slept in the courtyard. I remember the night was clear and cool. There was no dew and we slept soundly on our first night in Deoli.”

I was born in Deoli that year. My family stayed there for four years and was finally released in June 29, 1967.

"Years Of Humiliation" online

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Doing Time With Nehru   by   Yin Marsh 

( Life before the India-China Border War of 1962, events that led up to it, and life with my family at an internment camp )

Doing Time With Nehru
Book — A Memoir
Price: $14.95

 " My hope is that this memoir will encourage other internees to come forth and tell their stories, and eventually lead the government of India to acknowledge the wrong it had inflicted upon Chinese Indians and issue an official apology "

                                                             - Yin Marsh

Friday, October 19, 2012


High time to Say Sorry to India's Chinese Community

Like all the great metropolis of the world , India's Calcutta and Bombay ( now Kolkata and Mumbai respectively) also had a couple of good China towns almost as old as the cities themselves, from  the 18th century till the middle of the 20th century, these Chinese enclaves used to have, at its peak, more than a hundred thousands Chinese  working and living as small traders, shop-keepers, skillful welders, carpenters and fitters for ship-yards, as leather-tanners, shoe-makers, caterers and launderers, dentists, etc. always giving good value for your money, and greatly contributed to the local economy. During and before second world war these China Towns, one near Telati  Bazar-Bentinck Street, the other one in South Tangra of  Kolkata, known locally as 'Cheenapara', and a China town in Peela House In South Mumbai were considered few of the best China Towns of the world then,  very popular among the locals population and  Chinese diaspora around the world.

When the India-China border war erupted on 20th October 1962, the then Indian authority, unfortunately, thought it necessary to round up this India's Chinese community who had been living there peacefully for generations. they were summarily arrested, whether they were Indian citizen-card holder or not, including women, children and infants, then transported as prisoners in special trains to a concentration camp at Deoli in Rajasthan for internment, ( this writer, as a teenager then, was among  the unfortunate internees). their properties taken over by 'The Custodian of Enemy Properties'  for disposal, many more were deported, those who could flee fled  India  in panic. the community was demonized constantly and became easy prey for common thieves, robbers, thugs  and murderers,  many of them lost their lives and properties ,  these China Towns were  badly decimated and India's Chinese community never recovered, the terrible fate suffered by them went largely un-reported , factually the border war that occurred in the remote Himalaya mountain was an un-declared war between India and China, that  war had  absolutely nothing to do with this ethnic Chinese group , they have no say or influence whatsoever over it. except praying for peace.

To this day most of the historians and scholars find it hard to comprehend as to why the then India authority deemed it necessary to spend so much of it's meager resources to victimize her tiny community, of cause, it is the duty of every  Government to safe guard the internal security at all time , specially during war-times. but had not the internal security forces , had a year earlier, already mounted  a tight surveillance on them, and issued draconian orders severely restricted their liberty and livelihood , deported  anyone they did not  like ? But to arrest them whole-sale,  their shops and residences sealed  and confiscated, interned them in the internment camp (for some) as long as five years without any charge or conviction, the longest compared to any other concentration camp in the 20th century. They were thus prosecuted purely because of their ethnicity.
There is now hardly a couple of thousands left of original Calcutta's Chinese, their number is dwindling by the days, most of them who could, re-migrated, mostly into Canada, comparatively a peaceful and prosperous country with lot of respect for human rights, rules of law and fairness, who now genuinely welcomes good and hard-working immigrants.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the unfortunate Sino-Indian border war, and the subsequent terrible fate suffered by the victims, It will be fit and proper for the Indian authority to official express some sort of regret and apology to the members of its own ethnic minority—Kolkata’s Chinese community, specially to those Innocent victims who lost their lives and properties, and some, because of it, still live in poverty. Such graceful act will aptly show the growing maturity of India and Indian democracy. it will  certainly enhance her prestige as a growing great power.                                                                                                                                            
The Governments of USA and Canada had also indulged in similar erroneous and inhuman acts against their citizens of ethnic Japanese and others during second world war, although under a much more severe and provocative circumstances, but these Great Democracies had gracefully apologized and compensated the victims and their descendants and effectively healed their psychological wounds inflicted during one of the darkest period of our human history.

Our camp survivors group based in Canada known as 'Association of India's Deoli Camp Internees, 1962'  (AIDCI) has petitioned Indian authority a couple of years ago for erecting of a memorial at the camp site , but so far got no reply or response . AIDCI is urged widely to press on for its just requests, if necessary, with the help of fair and like-minded persons and groups.

This article is written, never with the slightest intention to degrade or damage the reputation of India, a country where India’s Chinese community was born and existed, they have an un-dying affiliation and cultural link with India, but sincerely  appealing for a fruitful reconcilement between communities and peoples, human err and at times made impulsive decisions that caused  great losses and tragedies  that are preventable , the general public must be made aware of them and justice afforded, so that their recurrence may be prevented  in the  future world of ours.

The democratic India and Govt. ought to consider that by expressing some sort of regret/apology to the victims of this tragic episode, it will not only render an emotional closure to their long sense of loss and suffering, but will also heal their general psychological scars afflicted 50 years ago, it will also earn a grateful appreciations of all Chinese diaspora (numbering about 50 millions) , it will indeed repair and reinforce the traditional friendship and affiliation between Indians and Chinese all over the world.

Mingtung Hsieh ( )  
 ( Mingtung Hsieh is the author 
of  the book  “ A Lost Tribe ” )

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