Monday, May 30, 2011

Assamese of Chinese Origin can Visit State: Gogoi

[Sushanta Talukdar, November 8, 2010]

Sahitya Akademi Award winning Assamese novelist Rita Chowdhury has urged Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to allow the “Assamese people of Chinese origin,” who were “deported” to China after the 1962 India-China war, to visit their relatives and friends at Makum, a small town in upper Assam's Tinsukia district.

“The Chief Minister has allowed me to share with the media that he would formally welcome Assamese people of Chinese origin who were deported from India, if they desire to visit their places in Assam. He also told me that he was aware of the facts and could understand their pain,” she told journalists here on Sunday. The novelist called on Mr. Gogoi Friday to discuss the matter.

Dr. Chowdhury's Assamese novel Makam (meaning Golden Horse in Chinese), published in April, deals with the plight of 1,500 “Assamese people of Chinese origin” who were rounded up on November 19, 1962 at Chinapatti in Makum, on the eve of the signing of the India-China treaty, and taken to the Deoli internment camp in Rajasthan on a horrendous seven-day train journey.

These people of Chinese origin were forced migrants, brought by the British to work on tea plantations at the beginning of the 18{+t}{+h} century. Subsequently, they married local Assamese women and assimilated with Assamese society. They never imagined that the war would bring such untold miseries. Before their arrest, they were segregated as Chinese and non-Chinese. This resulted in dislocation of the families and separation of husbands from wives and children from parents. Their property was confiscated.

At the end of the war, when the Chinese army left after declaring a unilateral ceasefire, most of the Deoli camp internees were deported to China, and most of them had to leave their relatives in India. Many Indian women also moved to India with their husbands and children. The families were dislocated once again. Other inmates of the Deoli camp were released after three years. Even as they were trying to overcome the trauma of separation, back home they found that their confiscated property had already been sold as “enemy property.”

Dr. Chowdhury, who teaches political science at Cotton College here, traced some of these displaced “Assamese people of Chinese origin” in Hong Kong.

“Some of them still speak and write Assamese; some speak a mixture of Hindi and Assamese. They do not want to return. But they want to visit Assam to meet their friends and relatives. “We were not Chinese spies. Why were we deported,' they ask. They still remember India as their ‘Janam Jaga (motherland)'.”

On May 23, 2010, the Indian Overseas Chinese Organisation of Hong Kong felicitated Dr. Chowdhury for highlighting their plight through her novel.

Dr. Chowdhury also presented a video documentation of her interaction with them in Hong Kong. There were nine families of “Assamese people of Chinese origin” who still lived in fear and isolation in Makum and did not want to speak anything about their ordeal for fear of being subjected to another bout of suffering, she said.

“We cannot undo the harm that has been done to them. But we can at least express solidarity with them for their 48-year-long ordeal. It is time the government of India formally expressed its solidarity with them,” she said.

She also welcomed the government move to amend the Enemy Property Act.

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