Assamese of Chinese origin facing severe identity crisis

New Delhi, May 17: Leong Lin Chi, who lives in Makum in Assam's Tinsukia district, was only six years old when she got separated from her parents who were deported to China in 1962.

She now longs to meet her ageing and ailing parents and has approached the government for helping her in doing so.


Leong, now known as Pramila Das, is among the several hundreds of Assamese people of Chinese origin facing a severe identity crisis.

Most of these Chinese people had come much before India's independence. They were brought to Assam by East India Company officials for establishing the tea industry.

After that there were some voluntary migration from China to Assam and Bengal. Says author Rita Chowdhury, who has done extensive research on the subject, "Most of these people in Assam got married with local girls and settled down there. As time passed by, a large society of the Assamese-Chinese was formed and flourished in Assam. An estimated 1,500 people of Chinese origin are believed to be living in Assam.

"They forgot their own language and most of them never went back to China again. Most of the people were illiterate and ignorant of political changes."

But after the 1962 India-China war, they were sent to a detention camp in Deoli in Rajasthan so that they don't work as spies.

"Some of them were deported to China while a few were released later. Those released came back to Assam only to find that their property were all gone. The deported people are still considered as Indian refugees," she adds.

Chowdhury, whose has written a novel "Makam" on the subject and recently a coffee-table book "The Divided Soul", has one dream –Assamese people with Chinese origin feeling as secure as other Indian citizens and the deportees and their families coming to India to see their birthplace and meet their loved ones without any fear.

The senior lecturer in Political Science at Cotton College in Guwahati urges the government and the civil society to come forward to provide necessary political and social protection to the Indian-Chinese "living in silence, fear and insecurity".

Leong's father Leong Kok Hoi worked as a carpenter at Rangagara tea estate in Assam and her mother Chanu Leong was a Mizo.

She still remembers that fateful day when her parents were detained. She was in her maternal grandmother's house. By the time her grandmother came to know about the arrests, it was too late.

She rushed to the railway station with her granddaughter to send her with her parents but in vain. The Chinese were already being taken away from that station to some unknown destination.

"I have been passing my days with deep pain. I have never seen my parents since then. However, I started receiving letters from them and came to know that they were alive but getting old and ailing. They, too, are longing to see us," says Leong.

By the time, Chowdhury decided to write about the Assamese Chinese community and visited Makum, the biggest China town of Assam, it was already very late as most of the people who knew about the history of the Chinese diaspora in Assam and who could have told her about the pain they had to suffer during and after the Sino-Indian war had passed away.

"They had left with a lot of remorse and pain in their heart. The people who were young at the time of the war had become old," she says. She started her mission by meeting the people who were repatriated to China after the Sino-Indian War. The majority of them have been living in Hong Kong since then.

"I was the first non-Chinese person who went in search of them after long 45 years after their deportation."

Her biggest challenge was to win their confidence but she says fortunately they responded positively and they poured their hearts out to her.

Chowdhury's new book "The Divided Soul", published by The Pangea House, was released last week by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh who said this work will help a lot in cementing India-China ties. Her debut novel "Abirata Jatra" (Incessant Journey) in 1981 fetched her the Asom Sahitya Sabha award.

She wrote a series of popular novels like "Thirthabhumi" (The Shrine) in 1988, "Maha Jibanar Adharshila" (Foundation Stone of Great Life) in 1993, "Nayana Tarali Sujata" in 1996, "Popiya Torar Xadhu" (Tale of a Meteor) in 1998, "Rag-malkosh" in 1999, "Jala-Padma" (Water-Lotus) in 1999, "Hridoy Nirupai" (The Helpless Heart) in 2003, "Deo Langkhui" (The Divine Sword) in 2005, "Makam" (The Golden Horse) in 2010 and "Mayabritta" (The circle of Worldly Illusion) in 2012.

She won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2008 for her novel "Deo Langkhui" which was based on the Tiwas of Assam.


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