Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru

Last week, there was a violent clash at the Indo-China border that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and others injured. The attack came even as the two countries were attempting to de-escalate a border dispute, and has triggered a rallying cry to boycott Chinese goods and services.

Some however have taken it a step further. While Rajya Sabha MP Ramdas Athawale recently urged people to stop eating Chinese food, others have apparently decided to ban Chinese people altogether. As per an Indian Express report, the Delhi Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association has now decided that in more than 3,000 hotels and guesthouses across the national capital, Chinese nationals are no longer welcome to stay. This comes, even as the novel coronavirus outbreak forces hotels to stay shut, and causes great financial loss to the business owners.

And while the organisation now insists that Chinese nationals are not welcome, this viewpoint is not exactly new. The current turbulence with the neighbouring country has brought the Sino-Indian War in 1962 to the minds of many, and the parallels cannot be overlooked.

What seems to have been forgotten, however, is the way Chinese-Indians were treated at the time. Now, in case you were wondering, by 'Chinese-Indian' we are talking about people of Chinese origin who have lived in India for many years and made it their home.

In the aftermath of the 1962 war, the Indian government passed the Defence of India Act which in turn permitted the "apprehension and detention in custody of any person [suspected] of being of hostile origin." And based on this, several thousand Chinese Individuals were carted away from their homes to be kept in an internment camp in Rajasthan's Deoli. While the two countries had been at war for roughly a month, the last of the camp's residents were not released till 1967.

A BBC article that includes first hand accounts of people who have stayed in these camps recounts the experiences of a Mr Cheng who, along with his family, was taken from their home in Darjeeling to Deoli. Reportedly, every compartment of the train that had the word 'enemy' scrawled on the side, was filled with Chinese families such as his. As the article notes, at that time Cheng was a third generation Indian.

He adds that even after being released, they were sent to Kolkata, but were not allowed to return to their homes and livelihoods. Their movement was also restricted.

With them displaced, there are reports that suggest the properties of these Chinese-Indians were sold or looted.

In 2013, Yin Marsh published a book called "Doing Time With Nehru", where she recalls how her family and she were taken to Deoli, being assigned the very same bungalow where Prime Minister Nehru had been imprisoned during the India's rebellion against British rule. She too had been born in Calcutta and raised in Darjeeling.

"Yin Marsh was only 13 when, first her father was arrested, and then Yin, her aged grand-mother, and eight-year-old brother were all taken to the Darjeeling jail, then sent on to Deoli," notes the Goodreads page for the book.

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Free Press Journal