Dhaka, Bangladesh
The shameful story of how 3,000 Chinese-Indians were put in a detention camp is revealed in new book

The shameful story of how 3,000 Chinese-Indians were put in a detention camp is revealed in new book

One sunny morning in Shillong, as he was eating breakfast with other students in the mess of Don Bosco school, the police came for the teenager. "Because of the border issue, the Indian government wants to take care of you," an officer told 16-year-old Andy Hsieh and nine others. "You need to come with us for your own safety." It was November 1962, and India had been at war with China for just over a month. Across India's North East, approximately 3,000 people of Chinese origin who had lived in India for generations were being rounded up. They were put on trains and transported 2,000 km away to a detention centre in the dusty Rajasthan village of Deoli. By the time they got there, the war was over. "What have we done wrong?" Hsieh wondered. "What is going to happen to us? We are students, what have we done to be imprisoned like this?' Hsieh and his family were kept in camp until September 1966, long after the war had finished. Many others were interned for up to five years. As they were locked away, the property and businesses of many families was vandalised or confiscated. Some were deported to China. Astonishingly, some are still stateless and live in India under residence permits every year, paying thousands of rupees each time. The shameful, little-known story of how India incarcerated people whose families had lived in the country for decades simply because they had their roots in a country that was suddenly deemed an enemy is the subject of The Deoliwallahs: The True Story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian Internment by Dilip D'Souza and Joy Ma, who was one of the five children born in the camp. In an interview with Scroll.in, D'Souza discussed the new laws that made the internment of India's Chinese community possible, the scars it left on the people in the camps and the striking parallels the episode has with the current Citizenship Amendment Act controversy. How were people identified for internment? Why were they taken in after the war was over? The short answer to the first question is that they were identified by their looks. Anyone who "looked Chinese" in that way we all know well was a target. But there are also tales of informers who pointed out potential prisoners to the police. At least one of those, we heard from more than one internee, later ended up in the Deoli prison camp himself. The short answer to the second question is that the war ended so suddenly, so soon (just about a month). That is, by the time the machinery of internment kicked into gear - the camp, the arrests, the transport - the war was close to done. So the great majority of those dreadful knocks on the door actually sounded only after the end of the war. My co-author, Joy Ma, knows of less than ten people who were picked up before the war ended. What was the legal changes that made the internment possible? There were several laws promulgated and amended that gave the internment a legal fig-leaf. During the 1962 war with China, President S Radhakrishnan signed the Defence of India Act, which was designed to allow preventive detention during wartime. Days later, we amended the Foreigners' Act, 1946, "to deal with any person not of Indian origin who was at birth a citizen or subject of any country at war with, or committing external aggression against, India … who may have subsequently acquired Indian citizenship in the same manner as a foreigner". (To be continued)

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