Persecution of Chinese Indians
The state-perpetrated persecution of Chinese Indians was authorised by the Defence of India Act, 1962. After the brief Sino-Indian War, India incarcerated thousands of Chinese-Indians in an internment camp in Deoli, Rajasthan, where they were held for years without trial. The last internees were not released until 1967. Thousands more Chinese-Indians were forcibly deported or coerced to leave India. Nearly all internees had their properties sold off or looted.
Indian officials openly compare the internment of Chinese-Indians with the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. However, unlike the United States, the Indian government has not apologised or offered compensation to the internees.
Chinese community in India
The earliest recorded Chinese settlers in British India arrived in Calcutta in 1780. Because of the long history of tea cultivation in China, the British used "fair and unfair means" to lure experienced workers from China to work on the newly established tea plantations in Assam, starting in 1838. Other Chinese migrants were refugees from poverty, famine, and disasters in China. By the late 19th century, the people of Chinese origin had gained a reputation as craftsmen and traders in eastern India. During World War II and the ensuing Communist revolution in China, a large wave of Chinese war refugees settled in Calcutta, North Bengal, and Northeast India. Estimates of the ethnic Chinese population in 1962 varied from 20,000 to 60,000.
1962 Sino-Indian War
Following the independence of the Republic of India in 1947 and the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the two countries enjoyed a period of friendly relationship, despite having unresolved border disputes in the areas of NEFA and Aksai Chin. The relationship deteriorated, however, after the construction of a Chinese highway in Aksai Chin in 1957, and India's support of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. The hostilities culminated in the brief 1962 Sino-Indian War, resulting in a Chinese victory but no change in the effective boundary between the two countries. The fighting lasted from 10 October to 20 November 1962. On 21 November, China declared ceasefire and withdrew from NEFA, the larger of the two disputed territories, but kept the smaller Aksai Chin.
After the outbreak of the war, the Indian government and some members of academia systematically portrayed the Chinese minority as untrustworthy and deceitful.:443 The rising nationalism in India entailed brutal assaults on the ethnic Chinese, including Indian citizens and residents who had lived in India for generations.:447 Many Chinese schools and media were shut down, and people of Chinese descent were assaulted by mainstream Indians; their property, restaurants, and shops damaged.:447
The civil liberties of the ethnic Chinese were curtailed. People of Chinese descent were required to report to the authorities for "registration and classification", and it became harder for non-citizens to meet the residency requirements. The legal definition of foreigners was extended to include Indian citizens of Chinese descent.:446
Faced with widespread hostility, many Chinese-Indians expressed their support and loyalty for the Indian cause, condemned the Chinese government, and donated to India's defence funds. However, their expressions of support were met with suspicion and contempt.:447
Internment and deportation
After its defeat in the war, India passed the Defence of India Act in December 1962, permitting the "apprehension and detention in custody of any person [suspected] of being of hostile origin." The broad language of the act allowed for the arrest of any person simply for having a Chinese surname, a drop of Chinese blood, or a Chinese spouse. Under the draconian law, 10,000 people of Chinese origin were estimated to have been detained from all over India, including Calcutta, Bombay, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Jamshedpur, and the Northeast. All of them were accused of being spies, but not a single charge has ever been proven. The internment of Chinese-Indians violated both the Constitution of India and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which India was an original signatory.
Starting in November 1962, many ethnic Chinese were given the order to leave India within a month.:447 About 7,500 people complied and left for various countries including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, Britain, United States, and Canada.:448 People who could not raise travel expenses or were unwilling to leave were imprisoned.:447 While some were held in local prisons, thousands more were transported across India to the desert prison camp in Deoli, Rajasthan, built by the British in 1942 as a POW camp for Japanese, German, and Italian combatants during WWII. The camp housed 7,000 inmates, 60% of whom were children or elderly people. Many internees, unaccustomed to the hot desert climate, died of heat stroke and related diseases.
In 1964, the Deoli prison authorities announced that all internees would be deported to China. The forcible deportations were arbitrary, resulting in the breakup of many families. In many cases parents were separated from their children and never heard from them again. The deportations stopped after a few months, and the government offered the remaining inmates the option to migrate to China. Some took the offer, but about 2,500 chose to stay and wait for the chance to return home.
In 1965, the Indian government began to release the internees. They were allowed to leave the camp in small batches. The last internees were released from Deoli in mid-1967, after four and half years of captivity. However, when the internees were transported to their old neighbourhoods, the local governments often did not know what to do with them and kept them in local prisons, in some cases for more than a year.
After the internees were freed after years of incarceration, many discovered that their properties had been sold off in their absence, but were only offered tiny sums for compensation. Almost all internees had their homes, shops, and factories looted or taken over by locals.
The Chinese population in Calcutta decreased by half, from 20,000 to 10,000. Those who remained were seen as enemies, and most could not hold any job except in the restaurant, tanning, and shoemaking businesses. Moreover, their movements were restricted. Until the mid-1980s, the Chinese-Indians were required to report to designated police stations once a month; until the mid-1990s, they had to apply for special permits to travel more than a few kilometres from their homes.
Indian officials openly compare the internment of Chinese-Indians with the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. However, unlike the United States, the Indian government has refused to apologise or offer compensation to the internees for their unjustified incarceration.
When asked about his opinion on the issue in 2008, Mao Siwei, China's consul general in Calcutta, replied that China would rather "look forward and not argue too much about the past for the time being".
The Indian Chinese Association has been pressuring the Indian government to issue an apology, without success. The Association of India Deoli Camp Internees, a Canadian non-profit group, has written two open letters to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but has not received a reply.
In 2004, Rafeeq Ellias recounted the appalling treatment of the Chinese residents in Calcutta in the documentary film The Legend of Fat Mama. The documentary won the Silver Lotus Award for best anthropological / ethnographic film at the 52nd National Film Awards.
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