Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Chinese Churches

Chinese Churches Stand Test of Time

KOLKATA , TUESDAY , JUNE 23 , 2015 , page 2

Crumbling buildings and ilthy roads at Tiretta Bazar -or Old Chinatown -bear evidence to the depleting fortunes of the Chinese community n the city. But behind those closed doors lie a secret the community so proudly cherishes. The shabby build ngs with a `falling-apart' look and feel house some of the historic churches of Kolkata. Step inside and the regalia, incense sticks and intricate altars will give you a feel of the Chinese tradition.

The fact that KMC and the tourism department have joined hands with a Singapore-based organization to revive Old Chinatown has come as a shot in the arm for the community . They are happy hat these churches, which were originally established in the 19th century and then rebuilt in the early part of the 20th century , will get restored.

The Indian Chinese Association has appealed to the project co-ordinators hat the revival project should centre around the six churches (they were orig nally temples but later got converted to churches as most of the Chinese people embraced Christianity) that the community is guarding so dearly for so many years.

While the project so long centred around the Toong On Church and the famous Nanking restaurant that it houses, now five churches have also come into focus. A visit to the churches is an experience in itself. Take the case of the Namsoon Church, for example. It's the oldest of the six. It was established in 1820, almost immediately after the Chinese settlers abandoned Atchewpur near Budge Budge. Located at the far end of the snaky Damzen Lane, you will easily miss it. But the church, dedicated to Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of War, has a magnificent altar complete with an intricately carved roof hanging. 

There are three more churches on the same lane. Choong Hee Dong Thien, built in 1859, is in a sorry state but the deity, Kwan Kun, believed to be the God of Fortune, is still maintained and worshipped by the community . The Gee Hing Church was originally built in 1888 but it reached such a dilapidated state that the community rebuilt and relocated it in 1920 to its present location on 13, Blackburn Lane. Even that is in a sad state now, though the members of the community regularly visit for prayers and offerings there.

“Times are tough and you hardly find time to hang around as regularly as you did earlier. But we still try to meet up for our board games of Chinese Pair, after prayers as frequently as possible,“ said Chang Yu Sen.

“Our tradition lives in these church es. It reminds us where we belong and the culture and tradition of that place.We cannot relate to the changes that have come over China today , so we guard these altars to remain close to our roots.Today many of us might have become Christians but we have not lost touch with Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism that bind us,“ explained Paul Chung, president of the Indian Chinese Association.

The other three churches -Sea Ip Church, Sea Voi Yune Leong Futh Church and Then Hane Miaw -too are crying for attention despite devotees' best efforts at maintaining them. 

Jhimli Mukherjeepandey

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Republic Of Shame
May 22, 2015

By Omair Ahmad 

The 1962 war changed the lives of around 3,000 Chinese living in India — their only crime was that they belonged to a country that most of them had never seen

Washington DC can be quite a beautiful city, and its Mall area — not to be confused with shopping malls — is both restful and a way to learn from the museums and monuments. At the intersection of Louisiana and New Jersey Avenues and D Street, there is a quiet corner which is easy to miss. It does not tower like the Washington Monument, nor is it like the great Smithsonian Museums, and it takes a while to realise that it is a tribute to the Japanese Americans who lost their lives in defence of the US in World War II.

It is actually a little more than that, because it also pays tribute to 2,500 Japanese who were held in an incarceration camp in Texas during the war, simply for being Japanese. Actually it is even more complicated; many of these people had American citizenship, so they were not being punished for their citizenship but their origins. And lastly, the camp in Texas was only one of many. Overall the US incarcerated more than a 1,00,000 people of Japanese origin. It has never really come to terms with that, but the small quiet memorial is at least an acknowledgement of something. Countries do terrible things during the paranoia of war, often enough to their own citizens.

 Not us, just them: People of Chinese origin with Indian voter cards at an election in Kolkata, which has India’s only Chinatown. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

In India there is no such memorial, but we acted scarcely better in the one occasion that presented itself. After the 1962 war with China — we call it war, the Chinese call it a skirmish, and the world did not really care because it happened when the nuclear stand off between the US and USSR over nuclear missiles in Cuba was at its peak — India imprisoned around 3,000 people of Chinese origin in an internment camp in Deoli, Rajasthan. This large ethnic Chinese community was living in India’s northeastern states and West Bengal, among those closest to the frontline of the war. The very odd thing is that despite the high tensions before the conflict, these people had never been seen as suspects earlier. In fact, during the war, between October 10 and November 19, 1962 (the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire on November 21, 1962; the Cuban missile crisis ended in October, and the US was getting involved, vacating all areas captured by them), no action was taken against them. At the behest of BN Mullick, the head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then home minister, signed an order allowing the IB and the state CID teams to detain all people of Chinese ethnicity under the Defence of India Act, 1962. The order was given on November, 17, 1962, and carried out with alacrity within two days, by which time the fighting had ended.

None of these people had actually been accused of doing anything wrong. Certainly no case was filed, and none heard by a court. Instead Mullick alleged in his book, The Chinese Betrayal, that these people, many of them workers in the tea estates of Kalimpong and Darjeeling, or labourers in West Bengal, “had worked in collusion with the Chinese Consulate in Calcutta till it was closed and it was noticed that there was much jubilation amongst these people over the Chinese victory at Nyamkachu and Kibithoo in the month of October.” No evidence of this assertion has ever been provided. Dragged out of their homes, dumped into trains, whole families were shifted to the Deoli internment camp used by the British to hold prisoners during World War II. After weary months, the Chinese government sent a ship to India, and about 2,500 of these internees went ‘back’ to a country most had never seen. The few hundred left mouldered in the camp until it was finally shut in 1968, and then they were sent back to houses that had been ransacked, or left to rot in their absence. They didn’t know what to expect on their return. Journalist Kai Friese told me about his meeting with two men of Chinese origin locked up in Ranchi’s mental asylum for years afterward, only because the state did not know what to do with them.

In my hometown Gorakhpur, my sister’s hairdresser was Chinese. I think her family was from Canton, now Guangzhou. I do not know why they came to India. It happened long before my birth during a time when China was torn by civil war, and when the horrors of the Maoist revolution had devoured more than 70 million lives. But I wonder sometimes, considering how we have treated these people who came to our land for refuge, what they think of us, and what memorial could be large enough to capture the scale of our shame.

Omair Ahmad was educated in Saudi Arabia, India and the US. He has worked as a political adviser on Kashmir, national and international security and legislative issues, as well as working as a journalist in the US, the UK and India.

His published work includes :

The Kingdom at the Centre of the World: Journeys into Bhutan (Aleph, travel, 2013)
Jimmy the Terrorist (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India, novel, 2010)
The Storyteller's Tale (Penguin India, novella, 2009)
Sense Terra (Pages Editor, short stories, 2008)
Encounters (Tara Press, novel, 2007)