Leong Lin Chi, who lives in Makum in Assam’s Tinsukia district, was only six years old when she got separated from her parents who were deported to China in 1962.
She now longs to meet her ageing and ailing parents and has approached the government for helping her in doing so. Leong, now known as Pramila Das, is among the several hundreds of Assamese people of Chinese origin facing a severe identity crisis.
Most of these Chinese people had come much before India’s independence. They were brought to Assam by East India Company officials for establishing the tea industry. After that there were some voluntary migration from China to Assam and Bengal.
Says author Rita Chowdhury, who has done extensive research on the subject, “Most of these people in Assam got married with local girls and settled down there. As time passed by, a large society of the Assamese-Chinese was formed and flourished in Assam. An estimated 1,500 people of Chinese origin are believed to be living in Assam.
“They forgot their own language and most of them never went back to China again. Most of the people were illiterate and ignorant of political changes.”
But after the 1962 India-China war, they were sent to a detention camp in Deoli in Rajasthan so that they don’t work as spies.
“Some of them were deported to China while a few were released later. Those released came back to Assam only to find that their property were all gone. The deported people are still considered as Indian refugees,” she adds.
Chowdhury, whose has written a novel “Makam” on the subject and recently a coffee-table book “The Divided Soul”, has one dream – Assamese people with Chinese origin feeling as secure as other Indian citizens and the deportees and their families coming to India to see their birthplace and meet their loved ones without any fear.
The senior lecturer in Political Science at Cotton College in Guwahati urges the government and the civil society to come forward to provide necessary political and social protection to the Indian-Chinese “living in silence, fear and insecurity”.
Leong’s father Leong Kok Hoi worked as a carpenter at Rangagara tea estate in Assam and her mother Chanu Leong was a Mizo.