Thursday, October 15, 2015


October 13, 2015

Travails of Chinese-descent Indians

Stevan Wan, Yin Marsh & Micheal Cheng came down from various parts of the world to participate in the Kolkata programme. Photo: Special Arrangement

 Six-year-old Michael Cheng’s world changed almost overnight as he and his family was picked-up in the middle of the night and dispatched to a “godforsaken” place in south-east Rajasthan.

The family of 13 had a roaring shoe and hotel business in the bustling hill-town, Darjeeling, when they were arrested in the winter of 1962.

The Cheng family was arrested, like many others, as a precautionary measure so that the Chinese-origin Indians could not come in aid of the rival, China, during or after the war of 1962 between the two Asian giants. After more than 50 years, Mr. Cheng – who turned 59 few months ago – is on his way to Darjeeling on Wednesday to see his home town.

Sitting in a tiny but popular eating joint, known for its authentic Cantonese cuisine in central Kolkata, Mr. Cheng explained how a war changes lives. “After 22 months in detention, a lorry with a few security personnel dropped me, my seven brothers, two sisters, parents and step mother there…” he pointed to a turn that leads to a by-lane in the bustling Central Avenue, “…the security chaps cautioned us that every time we go to Darjeeling we have to get our permit-paper stamped.”

In those two years, the Cheng’s business in Darjeeling disappeared and the family started making shoes in Kolkata which they were “forced to sell at Rs. five or 10, ” said Mr. Cheng, who now runs his own restaurant in North Carolina.

Second-class citizens

“What was our fault, why were we displaced from Bengal when I and all my brothers were born in this State, how did the war matter to us…. I do not know but I lost more than two years of schooling and the family lost everything,” said Mr Cheng, who visited the city this week with many Chinese-descent Indians from across the world to mark 50 years of their internment. Mr. Cheng’s father came to Kolkata at the age of 14 in 1924 from Canton or today’s Guangzhou in south China. But after the war the entire family and its neighbours in central Kolkata turned in to “second-class citizens” as they were issued with “citizenship-permits.”

“Eventually all my brothers moved to the United States or Canada as many were born before 1950 and denied Indian citizenship,” Mr. Cheng said. It was not his problem as he was born in the “mid-50s.” But many Chinese-descent people, who were born in Bengal before 1950, are yet to receive their citizenship like half of Cheng family. Thousands like Mr. Cheng were huddled from their homes and sent to Deoli Detention centre at the height of India-China war.

Yin Marsh, who was 13 at the time of internment, has lot of memories of the detention camp. She describes people like her as the “last generation of the survivors of Deoli” and said that this small chapter of vast history of India needs to be told.

Ms. Marsh feels that the Chinese community in Kolkata should be more vocal about the issue. “This would help them gain trust and make them feel safer and better,” said Ms. Marsh, whose book on the subject will soon be published by an Indian publisher.

“Three months after I saluted the national flag and sang the national anthem on August 15, I was arrested on November 19, 1962 and had to stay in detention camp for two years,” said Toronto-based John Liao. Chinese-Indian Association had invited the ‘Indians’ to the city to speak about their experiences of the internment.

“This issue is very close to the heart of the Chinese Indian community. It will soon be forgotten if those who have experienced it does not talk about it,” Bean Ching (Binny) Law, president of Chinese Indian Association told The Hindu. All the detainees in the camp rue the fact that the Indian government still does not acknowledge the detention. Just an apology, even after so many years, they say, would be “very comforting.”

Shiv Sahay Singh
    Suvojit Bagchi

Friday, October 9, 2015

2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine

Tu Youyou, a pharmacologist with the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, working to make artemisinin, a drug therapy for malaria, in 1980s.

China's Tu Youyou, Irish-born William Campbell, and Japan's Satoshi Omura jointly won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Tu won half of the prize for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria.

Tu Youyou received 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of Artemisinin as an alternative malaria cure to the standard chloroquine, which was quickly losing ground in the 1960s due to increasingly drug-resistant parasites. 2015 Nobel Prize has gone to a researcher who spent her entire career researching traditional Chinese medicine, based at the Chinese Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing (now the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences) since 1965 .

Scientific research on the pharmaceutically active properties of traditional Chinese medicinals, however, has never been a predictor for such widespread international recognition.Traditional medical knowledge anywhere in the world has not even been on the radar for Nobel Prize prospects. Until now, that is.

The antifebrile effect of the Chinese herb Artemisia annua (qinghaosu 青蒿素), or sweet wormwood, was known 1,700 years ago. Tu was the first to extract the biologically active component of the herb — called Artemisinin — and clarify how it worked. The result was a paradigm shift in the medical field that allowed for Artemisinin to be both clinically studied and produced on a large scale.

Tu has always maintained that she drew her inspiration from the medical text of a fourth-century Chinese physician and alchemist named Ge Hong 葛洪 (circa 283-343).



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Chinese Indians ...

Kolkata’s Chinese Live In Stateless Sorrow

By Gautaman Bhaskaran on October 7, 2015 in Asia Times News & Features, China, South Asia
Asia Times 

Time was when Calcutta (later renamed Kolkata) in India’s eastern state of West Bengal was home to a bustling number of Chinese. They were shoe-makers, tanners, restaurateurs, hair-dressers or dry-cleaners.

 Shrinking Chinatown in Kolkata

In the 1950s and 1960s, Calcuttans swore by the Chinese expertise. When they needed attention for their teeth, they chose a Chinese dentist, not an Indian. When shopping for a pair of footwear, they walked into the city’s Bentinck Street where tens of Chinese shoe shops lined the pavement.

Chinese were the best hair-dressers at a time when this art was not known at all to Indians. They cleaned your suits impeccably. And they sold yummy food in restaurants in the city’s plus downtown, Chowringhee and Park Street.

Or the food could always be had in Chinatown — the only such place in all of India — where fat mummies sold hot momos and noodles, pickled olives and smoked pork in ‘mummies kitchens’.
With Chinese Indian population dwindling, business is quite dull in Chiantown

A medical shop in Chinatown

There were several of these and one could see the richest of Calcuttans in the swankiest of cars stop by for mummies’ goodies. These were clean, tasty and inexpensive.

Sadly, all this changed the day the Chinese army invaded in October 1962. The immediate provocation was a border dispute between the two countries, but one should not forget that Beijing was already livid because New Delhi had granted asylum to Tibet’s spiritual head, Dalai Lama — who escaped into India in 1959 after his country had been overrun by the Chinese.

The 1962 war signalled the start of hostility towards Calcutta’s Chinese — an additionally contributing factor being the then Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s, dejection and disappointment over Beijing’s aggression.

Only some time before 1962, Chinese Premiere Zhou Enlai had promised Nehru peaceful coexistence — which Indians had hailed as ‘Indi-Chini bhai bhai’ (Indian and China are brothers).

That October, dozens of Chinese lost their jobs at the Calcutta Port, dozens of them found themselves without a livelihood elsewhere in the city. Nothing could have been more bitter than this for a people who were loved by the  local population and who had intermingled with Indians in a wonderful sort of way.

Roadside eateries of Chinese Indians do brisk business

Calcutta, which was home to 30,000 ethnic Chinese in 1962, has just about 3,000 today. About 7,000 are scattered in other parts of India. Although Chinese cuisine continues to appeal — albeit in a highly Indianised flavor and taste — the dry-cleaners, the shoe-makers, the dentists and the tanners have all but gone.

Of the 3,000, some were born in Calcutta between 1947, when India won its independence (from Britain), and 1950, when the country got its Constitution and became a Republic.

These Chinese — close to 200 — are not welcome in China. And they are unwanted in India and are stateless today.

They do have a registration certificate, which allows them to stay in India, but it has to be renewed every year.

And what is still worse, since last year these stateless Chinese have to get a letter from their landlords that needs to be filed with the police. These men and women are old and infirm, even poor, and they have no choice but to suffer the humility and harassment from an unfeeling administration and a local population which does not care about them any more.

Members playing mahjong in the Chinese Club in Tiretta Bazaar, Kolkata

The terrible plight of these Kolkata Chinese is all the more glaring because the millions of Bengalis from the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh, and which was part of Pakistan before the 1971 split) who arrived in India in the 1940s were granted registration certificates, which later enabled them to become Indian citizens.

And these Bengalis (who speak the Bengali language, which is also what people in West Bengal converse in) were not even born in India — unlike the Chinese of Kolkata. Obviously, a deep-rooted prejudice and even hatred exist towards the community.

Ironic as it may appear, these Chinese men and women ought have been Indian citizens, says Bean Ching Law, president of the Chinese-Indian Association, over the telephone from Kolkata. Or, so say the Articles in Part II of the Indian Constitution. But as one intelligence office quipped, maybe there is a separate provision governing the Chinese in India following the 1962 conflict. We do not know.

With virtually no rights, these stateless Chinese lead depressing lives. They are sometimes viewed as spies and police question them even in the middle of the night.

But Law hopes things will improve, and he signs off with a request: “Please call us Chinese Indians — like, for instance Afro-Americans. We are Indians of Chinese descent. We were born in India. So we are not Indian Chinese”.

A sense of desperation is clearly discernible in his voice.

However, given the big challenges India faces today, these stateless men of Kolkata may not find it easy to get their voice across to New Delhi .

 Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years. He now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.