The memories of 1962 Sino-India war are still etched in the mind of George Chiu, 65, owner of D Minsen and Sons, a shoe showroom in capital’s Connaught Place.
“I still remember that after a couple of days of close surveillance on our family, the Delhi Police cops came in civilian dresses to my father and said that you are a proud Indian even though you are of Chinese origin. We have observed you during the last couple of days of our duty.”
Even as the two Asian giants are on a collision course and the danger of full-scale war can’t be ruled out, the Chinese community in Delhi is very annoyed and unhappy with China’s government for unnecessarily creating tension on the border.
How can China dictate terms to India in such a threatening manner while doing huge business and trade with my country?George Chiu, Owner, D Minsen and Sons, Connaught Place, Delhi
Amidst Trade Talks, How Can We Talk of War
Prof Tan Chung is perhaps the most respected member of the Chinese community in Delhi, if not the whole country.
He established the Department of Chinese Studies at both the Delhi University and later at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Now he lives with his son in the US. During a recent visit to Delhi he expressed that, “While the trade ties between India and China have been strengthening; things are stuck with respect to the border dispute. It is a matter of concern. And unless the border is not settled, tension would remain unsettled.”
Tan Chung received the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honour, in 2010.
Edward Cheng, a Delhi based Chinese of Indian origin, is also upset due to China’s aggressive attitude, though he is hopeful that tensions along the border won’t go out of hands and better counsel will prevail.
Cheng, an IIT Delhi alumni, is perplexed that while two countries are doing bilateral trade worth $100 billion, yet they are talking about war. “How can we talk of war now? This is rubbish.” he says rather angrily.
Troubling Times for India’s Chinese Community
In Kolkata, David Chen, 32, was not even born when the 1962 war broke out. A banker by profession, Chen is a third generation Chinese-Indian as well as a pucca Kolkatawala.
My father used to tell me about those dark days of the 1962 war. We were declared as ‘enemy’ by the police and they took most of us to Siliguri and Darjeeling. Only when the war came to an end, we were freed, but our movements were monitored by the cops.David Chen, Kolkata resident
Admittedly, the Chinese community had to face a lot of humiliation then. Life for Chinese-origin residents of India before 1950 was not easy as they were not considered Indian citizen. Thed had to renew a residence permit every year. Arguably 1962 was a defining year for India’s Chinese community.
Many of them left India for Canada, Britain, Australia, and even Taiwan after going through humiliation in the country.
Interestingly, the Indian-Chinese community consider Kolkata as their 'home', a base camp of sorts. The Chinese immigrants in India, arrived in Tangra in the 19th century. And from Calcutta, they moved to different parts of India after being ostracised during the 1962 war.
Worried by the Face-Off
It is said that the first Chinese person to settle in Delhi was one Dr Chen. He had a dental clinic on the main street of Pahargunj. The clinic is still there and has a thriving business. Now, it is run by his son, Dr Stephan Chen.
My father came from China, but I am an Indian. I do not have any other identity. I have nothing to do with China and like any other Indian would go all out to China if it declares war against India. When everything is in place, they are threatening us. This is unfair to say the least.Dr Stephan Chen
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Delhi in 2015, Delhi-based Chinese-Indians were invited for tea at the Chinese embassy. It was also attended by Delhi-NCR based Chinese expatriates.
During our meeting with him, Xi urged the community that we must work for the welfare and growth of India while retaining our Chinese identity. He was very happy that the Indian-Chinese community is doing so well. At the time we thought that 1962 will never happen and both countries would grow together. And now under the leadership of the same Xi, China is in war mood.George Chiu, Owner of D Minsen and Sons, Connaught Place, Delhi
Another Indian-Chinese, who does not want to be identified, says, “When Prime Minister Modi visited China, things were looking up. We were expecting that now both countries would resolve their outstanding issues. It is high time that both work in tandem and progress together.”
Can Neighbours Live Peacefully?
It is said for the Chinese diaspora that wherever they go, they come up with a “Chinatown”. There is a Chinatown in Kolkata better known as Tengra. And even though there are about 500 Indian-Chinese people in the capital, they do not have any Chinatown here. There also a number of Chinese expatriates based in Gurgaon.
Meanwhile, it looks like as if all Delhi-based Chinese have some connect with Lajpat Nagar. Kim, who has a showroom in Jor Bagh, says that some members of his family used to live in Lajpat Nagar earlier. Later on, some members moved to different areas of the capital or Gurgaon. “Lajpat Nagar used to be a great place as it was very cheap compared to other South Delhi localities,” says Kim.
SS Lee, who played for Delhi in the Ranji trophy during the 70s and 80s, also lived in Lajpat Nagar. “Even though we are not very social in the sense that we did not meet our own people very often, yet we prefered to live there as it is a great location. Later, many families shifted to other parts as families grew bigger,” informs Lee.
It is said in China that neighbours cannot live peacefully. Yet, the Chinese community fervently hopes that both countries would prove this saying wrong.
(The writer is former Editor, Somaiya Publications.)