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Indian born of Chinese origin — Kolkata’s Chinatown is stuck between Covid and Galwan

Members of the seven-decades-old Chinese community in Kolkata's Chinatown say they feel like their Indian nationality is being stripped away from them.

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Kolkata: They’ve been nicknamed ‘corona’, nobody comes to their restaurants as much and they seem to have entered an unspoken agreement to stay out of most people’s way.

This is how life has been for some weeks now for the 5,000-strong community in Kolkata’s Chinatown, the country’s only Chinese settlement.

The early settlers of the community came to India around 70 years ago. But nearly three generations have since been born and raised here.

Nevertheless, since the violent Galwan Valley clash between India and China 10 days ago, members of the community have mostly stayed indoors, jittery and scared of public anger turning against them.

“We are voters here and most of us were born and brought up here. But there are some uneducated bunch of hooligans, who do not know history and culture … call us names. They shout slogans when they see us and ask us to go back,” said 65-year-old Chinatown resident, Lee Yao Sien, who runs two tanneries.

Freddy Liao, a restaurant owner, posted on Facebook: “Indian-Chinese people have been living in India for generations and we are more attached with Indian people,” as he appealed to people to not treat them differently.

Chinatown, a neighbourhood located on the eastern fringe of Kolkata, is home to authentic Chinese cuisine and was once the hub of eastern India’s best Chinese leather products.

Over 40 Chinese restaurants, many small eateries and Chinese speciality sauce factories now dot the locality while exclusive leather processing units, including around 350 tanneries, were relocated to the Calcutta Leather Complex (CLC) in Bantala area, South 24 Parganas district.

Tannery owners also claimed that shipment of Chinese materials were being blocked by the customs department, though officials denied the claim.

Also read: Breaking TV sets to boycotting Chinese goods — India’s RWAs wage ‘war’ against Xi’s China

‘We are Indian too’

The Covid blow to the economy has been pretty shattering. But the India-China tensions have brought “indignity and insecurity” to them, the members of the community say.

“We feel so insecure that we have stopped moving out of Chinatown. Mostly we stay indoors. The recent series of events have brought indignity for us. We are Indians as much as you are … This is our land too. Where do we go back (to)?” said Lee, whose tannery units are located in CLC.

He said the community didn’t face any hostility during the 2017 Doklam stand-off. In fact, it was only in 1962, during the India-China war, that many Indian-Chinese from Kolkata were taken to detention camps in Rajasthan. “I was very young then, and heard these stories from my parents,” said Lee.

Thousands of Indian-Chinese from all over the country were taken to Rajasthan’s Deoli detention camp, but most of them were from Kolkata.

For a city that loves its food, the coronavirus has turned popular joints into quiet eateries. The normally bustling Chinatown now resembles a ghost town.

Its iconic restaurant Beijing is still shut, though across the road, the Golden Empire reopened four days ago. Business has barely picked up, though.

The popular Beijing restaurant is still shut in Kolkata's Chinatown in view of the Covid pandemic | Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
The popular Beijing restaurant is still shut in Kolkata’s Chinatown in view of the Covid pandemic | Madhuparna Das | ThePrint

“We opened, but there are no takers. We have been calling our regular customers, informing them that we opened and maintain all safety protocols. But many of them now say that they fear coronavirus infection from the restaurant itself as we are Chinese,” owner Henry Hou said.

Henry’s family were among the first settlers in Kolkata. “I and my father, both were born here. My grandfather came here before 1947. We are Indians by nationality, only we look Chinese. But our kids now cannot go out, they can only go to a local park, that is only for Chinese people,” he said.

The feeling of insecurity increased for them after senior BJP leaders and ministers appealed to citizens to boycott all things Chinese, including the cuisine.

“Since the clash between India and China at Ladakh, the statements made by few people are very hurtful … about boycotting Chinese food in India. For those who own Chinese restaurants or Indian-Chinese living in India, (they) have nothing to do with those political acts,” posted Freddy Liao on his Facebook account. Freddy owns Golden Joy, another popular Chinese restaurant in Kolkata.

He said the community had come forward to support the underprivileged, distributing food to over 6,000 families when the pandemic broke. Indian-Chinese people, as they prefer to be called, hold Aadhaar cards, PAN cards, Voter ID, etc., he said. In short, our home is India, he reiterated.

Sing Cheun is a sauce factory in Kolkata's Chinatown | Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
Sing Cheung is a sauce factory in Kolkata’s Chinatown | Madhuparna Das | ThePrint

There had been some attempts to stage protests and demonstrations in the locality as well as burn Chinese products, but local Trinamool Congress leaders stepped in to manage the situation when the community reached out to them.

“They are suffering from insecurity and fear. They reached out to us and explained what they had been going though. We did some awareness campaigns in the area. We have also informed the local police stations and got a couple of policemen posted in some localities. We have at least 4,000 to 5,000 Chinese people there who feature on the voter’s list. So they are Indians,” said Faiz Khan, a Trinamool councillor.

A senior police official, however, said that they did not get any formal complaint of any verbal abuse or otherwise, but a team of police personnel were posted in some parts of the locality to keep an eye on things.

Also read: Covid or China ⁠— which is the bigger threat? People in Leh struggle due to both

‘Customs holding back Chinese goods’

Hostility between two countries has impacted businesses another way — by blocking the supply chain and cargo movements, allege Chinatown residents. The tannery industry in Kolkata, mostly owned by the Chinese, is highly dependent on China for the supply of chemicals and other accessories.

“Import consignments are stuck and not being cleared at Kolkata Airport in the wake of the call for boycott of Chinese goods. There seems to be an internal instruction from Customs to all custodians of cargo, including port terminals and airports, to apparently hold all consignments originating from China,” claimed Imran Khan, secretary of the tannery association in Kolkata.

A senior Customs official however said, “There is an intelligence input about narcotic smuggling through cargo. So, there will be 100 per cent checking of all imports. No cargo will be released till the customs check all.”

Khan said that the cost of production would also increase in the Indian leather tanning and leather goods sector if import duties on Chinese products were hiked on items such as chromium, leather fittings and accessories.

Chieh Wu, a 50-year-old tannery owner said, “We always thought we were safe in Kolkata. This city is not like Delhi or Mumbai. But here our business is getting affected. Our cargos are stuck for many days now. There is no official word on that. There are things which we need to get from China as these are not manufactured here. We are settled in Kolkata for three generations. But now we are almost getting stripped off our nationality.”

A senior customs official said there was no such order to stop Chinese cargos, but routine delays have been happening due to low staff strength amid the pandemic.

Kaushik Bhattacharjee, director, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport, also denied there being any such order.

“I am not aware of such developments, I have read in the media. But nobody has approached me with any complaint or any request seeking release of the cargo,” he told ThePrint.

Also read: The more troubling India-China conflict is economic, not military


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  1. Lee Yao Sien,Sing Cheung, those are Cantonese names . These Chinese Indian people must love India very much, otherwise they have no reason to live in Kolkata, a city whose GDP per capita and average income is around only 17% of their origin city Canton, aka Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, China. Kolkata and Guangzhou, are both the third largest city in their own countries. If these India loving people are discreminated against, I do not see any reasons for foreigners to come and live in India. No wonder India has more people want to leave their homeland than any other country in the world.

  2. Wow… The reporter had the biased mindset to know whatever they are being nicknamed but did not have the courtesy to ask some non- Indo Sino people residing in nearby area what they think about it and why can not they support in solidarity. How come the Geo-politics of 2 nations is to be held responsible onto a community ?? Gupta uncle so much for your unbiased journalism?

  3. The Chinese community is one of the oldest foreign origin country in India. The Chinatowns in Calcutta rival those in Boston and the greater New York City area with respect to their heritage and culture. I live a stones throw distance away from the Chinatown in Tangra and have literally grown up in those bylanes. They are very-educated and soft-spoken people, and their Bangla is better than their Cantonese, which shows where their hearts lie. Indians are just a bunch of racists who do not know what to do when a ‘boycott’ is announced, How can you boycott Indian citizens who were born and brought up here? In fact, preserving their unique heritage should be a part of our culture.

  4. If you are Indian, protest against Chinese aggression and killing of 20 Indian soldiers on the streets. Then we will know where your loyalty lies. Otherwise, we will doubt you and ask you to leave the nation. This is what any country will do. Same happened to Japanese in US during WW II.

    • Mr Satish
      Wow. If you want these people to leave then you are nothing but a racist idiot. By the way, did you know that the Japanese Unit in the US Army has the unique distinction of earning the highest number of military decorations in the Second World War? I don’t think so. You are an uneducated racist who knows nothing. Find some other place to spew your venom and leave these soft-spoken people be. One more thing, why don’t you join the army if you are so patriotic? Instead you sit in your shop counting money all day and venting your armchair patriotic frustration on these sites

    • Chinese have no interest in politics. Their ‘re Business people. there don’t have to choose sides. Like there say their ‘re born . Raise. Educated and live there life like any Indian. Pay there taxes like any Indian. Their just want a normal life without any political infuence. Their don’t participate in any political party. Their are neutral even in local politics leave aside notional & international politics. Please let the Central Government deal with political disagreement between China & India.

  5. May they claim as Indian, their country failed to fulfill any trust. It’s time they must quite our land. At least they must be on the roads of Kolkata in full numbers to display anti demonstration against the barbaric Chinese, their home land. Kolkata must boycott all Chinese business center be it the restaurants or tannery shops.Enough is enough, Indiana are not born only to receive all and everyone’s evil deeds.Jai Hind

    • I’m sorry. The Chinese community does not have to be on the street in protest. Their have no interest in politics. There are as angry as you are.

    • Yeah,,,said by a person who has never left his district to look for job and opportunity. Thing is my friend you dont have the courage to leave your small village to go and settle/do business elsewhere. Govt job me ho lagta hai tabhi itna easily bol diya.

  6. Of course this community is Indian. There is no doubt about it.
    The Print – stop using your media house as a platform to create a problem where none exists.

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