Voting today, 400 Assamese Chinese

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Makum | Updated: Apr 4 2011, 08:41am hrs
In 1962, they were declared enemy spies, arrested and packed off to concentration camps, their enemy property confiscated. Half a century later, Wang Shing Tung, who was then about four, is still struggling to make both ends meet. But when it comes to voting, he and his community make sure they wont miss even one election.

The small community lives in Tinsukia district in Upper Assam, their roots in 19th century China, and whose ancestors were brought to Assam by British planters after tea had been discovered growing wild about 60 km east of here.

My mother can describe vividly how the people of our community had suddenly become an enemy of India following the Chinese aggression, says Tung, whose Hong Kong Restaurant in Tinsukia town, 10 km from here, has been the area's most popular chow mein and momo joint for four decades.

But mother Lee Su Chen, 83, does not want to discuss those dark days. All I can say is that we went through unbelievable difficulty. Today, I will describe that as a bad dream, says Chen, who lost her two-year-old daughter in a detention camp at Deoli in Rajasthan, where they were kept for three years.

Lee Su Chen proudly displays the voter slip she was given last week, proof that she is an Indian. She is Voter No 412 in Polling Station No 30. I voted in 1957 and 1962, and then again since 1971, she said proudly. They are voting on Monday.

Over 400 Chinese-origin residents of Makum, Tinsukia, Digboi and other areas of this district were arrested and sent to detention camps. From most families, one or two each were sent off to China. We were lucky to have been able to come back from Deoli after three years, Lee Su Chen said.

Her husband Wang Chuchin, who originally owned a large saw mill here, on return found most of its machinery gone. He was a rich man and had bought a R2-lakh share in a sugar mill in 1958. On return, he had to buy an old jeep to run the family, said Tung. In 1970 he set up the restaurant which his son Tung has been managing after his death last year.

Most of our people are still looking forward to either getting back their property confiscated in 1962 or getting some compensation. A recent Bill in Parliament to amend the enemy property law has raised hope, said Tung, whose son is doing an MBA in Guwahati.

As a few families returned to Makum several years after 1962, hundreds of Assamese Chinese are today spread across Assam and Meghalaya. Very few of us can read or write Chinese. That way we are inseparable from the Assamese, Tung said. But, while no political party has ever addressed their grievances, an Assamese novel by Sahitya Akademi award winner Rita Choudhury, which described their plight, has created a lot of awareness about the small community.

Michael Liong (48), who earns his living as a driver, was born in a detention camp at Nagaon, and has only heard the 1962 stories from his parents. So has Tajun Chong, a 1978-born Chinese who owns an ice-cream parlour. I was very touched when I read about those dark days in Rita Choudhurys novel, said Chandana Gurung (28), whose mother Sweety Wang (Lee Su Chens eldest daughter) is married to a Nepalese settler here.