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The Sandip Roy Show

What makes people tick? What are the stories they carry with them? In a world of shouting heads, veteran journalist, radio commentator and novelist Sandip Roy sits down to have real conversations about the fascinating world around us and the people who shape it. Catch these engaging interviews every other Sunday

Episode 46 March 22, 2020

When India locked up 3,000 Chinese-Indians in internment camps, with Dilip D’Souza

In 1962, India and China went to war. Most Indians know that. What most Indians don’t know is that as a result of that war, some 3,000 Indians of Chinese descent were picked up from their homes and thrown into an internment camp in Rajasthan. In this episode, Sandip talks to journalist Dilip D’Souza about this latest book, The Deoliwallahs: The True Story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian Internment, that he co-wrote with Joy Ma, who was born in the camp and now lives in the US.
TRANSCRIPT:
Sandip Roy

Looking Chinese in a time of Corona can be a dangerous thing. It doesn’t help when the President of the United States calls it a ‘Chinese virus’. An advocate in Bihar tried to lodge a complaint against the Chinese president and the Chinese ambassador to India for hatching a conspiracy to spread the coronavirus. Chinese restaurants have seen their business plummet. Chinese tourists have been spat upon in Venice, a South Korean restaurant put up a sign saying ‘No Chinese Allowed’. Students from India’s NorthEast say they have had a new slur flung at them in the college canteen – ‘Coronavirus!’. Neighbours threatened to call the police on a Naga student who came from the airport wearing a mask in Mumbai. Korean nationals in Chennai have been asked to vacate their buildings by Xenophobic landlords. But for many Chinese Indians, there is a sense of deja vu. They know from bitter experience the dangers of looking Chinese.

In 1962, India and China went to war. Most Indians know that. What most Indians don’t know is that as a result of that war, some 3,000 Indians of Chinese descent were picked up from their homes and thrown into an internment camp in Rajasthan. In this episode, Sandip talk to journalist Dilip D’Souza about this latest book, The Deoliwallahs: The True Story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian Internment, that he co-wrote with Joy Ma, who was born in the camp and now lives in the US. Dilip D’Souza is our guest this week.

Dilip D’Souza, welcome to the show.

Dilip D’Souza

Great to be on the show. Thanks for having me.

Sandip Roy

Now, most Indians know that the war with China happened in the 1960s. But most people don’t know that some 3000 people of Chinese origin were taken by the Indian government and interned in Deoli, in Rajasthan. So, who were these people? Where did they come from? Why were they being interned?

Dilip D’Souza

Well, okay, let me take that one at a time. Who were these people? They were, you said Chinese-Indians, these were people of Chinese ethnic origin I’d say, who lived in the Northeast, Calcutta, in Tinsukia, Makum, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, towns like that. A lot of them worked on plantations there. And they had other professions. They ran restaurants, so they had shoe businesses, things like that. I mean, we’ve heard of Calcutta’s China Town. So a lot of these people were there, for example. So they were there, but a lot of them…when I say Chinese ethnic origin, many of them had been here for generations, or I should say their families had been here for generations. They just looked Chinese. They spoke only Hindi and Assamese in many cases and they had married locals, things like that.

Sandip Roy

Did they have Indian passports or Chinese passports by then?

Dilip D’Souza

That’s also another grey area because at that time a lot of people did not have passport. Did not have papers. This was, you know, still early in our history as a country. As you know…bottom line is that it’s not really clear in every case, whether they all had papers of some kind or the other. In later years, some of them had to apply for papers because they needed to find some way to have an identity and also because some of them chose to emigrate. For example, Joy’s mother eventually had to get a Chinese passport because that is the only way she could find to emigrate out of India.

Sandip Roy

And they were being interned because the government was suspicious of them?

Dilip D’Souza

You know, we we’d entered into this war with China and automatically people all around were suspicious and they had hatred towards people of Chinese origin. Therefore, the easiest targets for that were the people around them who looked Chinese. So that’s the broad climate in which this happened. And then the government found ways to codify this into law. They passed a number of laws in those few months that allowed the government to round up these people and put them into this prison camp. You know, I got asked a question not long ago, ‘Were any of them actually proved to be spies’? And the answer is, as far as I can tell, no. None of these 3,000 were actually proved to be spies.

Sandip Roy

And who reported them then?

Dilip D’Souza

First of all, they looked Chinese. They look different. So it’s not difficult to find them. Secondly, there were also stories that we heard, that I heard and Joy talks about in the book about these informers. Guys from the community who decided to tell the police maybe to try and save their own skins. ‘Look, go here. There’s a family there. Go there, there’s another family there. These are the people you should pick up’. And in some cases, those informers themselves ended up in the prison camp. That’s the irony of the thing.

Sandip Roy

You said, as far as you know, none of them were, in fact found to be spies for China. But among the people who you talk to or people they had talked to, when they were at camp where they actually interrogated?

Dilip D’Souza

I, as far as I know, no. You know, this is also something that I wonder about. One of the Generals I spoke to, he says, ‘What we should have done is just interrogated these people and then release them if they were found to be innocent’. So as far as I know, that was not done. They were not interrogated. They were just kept in that camp.

Sandip Roy

From what people recounted, describe the train journey that they encountered to going to Deoli. You know coming from places in the Northeast, mountain towns like Kalimpong to going across India, like literally, from the Northeast to Rajasthan.

Dilip D’Souza

It’s very similar in some ways, some of the accounts. A lot of cases they were taken to jail, then they were put in a jail in Siliguri and then they waited for the train because the train typically started further east. The furthest east town that it started from a place called Makum in Assam. So a little bit east of in Tinsukia. So it would start there and then work its way West. Picking up people in every town that it stopped and then eventually trundle across the rest of the country all the way west.

One interesting account is that none of these people knew where they were being taken when they got into the train. So they kept assuming it was Calcutta. But at one point they realised that the sun was still coming up behind the train and that showed that they were not turning south towards Calcutta. Then there were the stories about how they would stop at stations, but then people would gather and start abusing them or throwing stones at them.

Sandip Roy

And what is horrific also is that this train was literally marked as, as carrying the enemy.

Dilip D’Souza

Yeah again, one of Joy’s accounts says exactly that. One of her interviewees wondered all his life. Why did people throw these things? How did they know that we were, you know, on this train? And then in much later in life, he finds out somehow that, I mean, the train is actually marked on the outside, ‘enemy train’ or whatever it was. Something to indicate that they were being taken in the train.

Sandip Roy

The war only lasted weeks and the Indian prisoners of war who were captured in China, they came back in about six months. How long did the Deoli internees stay in Deoli?

Dilip D’Souza

I want to also point out that you said that the war lasted only a month, a few weeks actually, exactly a month. And most of these train journeys actually started after that. That’s another irony of this whole situation. Most of them were sent off to the camp after the war was actually over. I think in Yin Marsh stayed in the camp for maybe four months, I’m forgetting. But others…Joy’s family was one of the last to leave in 1967. So that’s a good four and a half years after they entered. So in fact, the first four years of Joy’s life because she was born in that camp, she spent in that camp. These people were not even prisoners of war by any definition. So why were they incarcerated for so long is a mystery that I have not yet been able to solve.

Sandip Roy

So there must have been discussion about this in Parliament. Are there any records of people talking about it or even protesting that this was not the right thing to do?

Dilip D’Souza

As far as protesting goes, as far as I know, no. You know, I’m drawing the book the parallel to the Japanese American incarceration in 1942 in the United States. One big difference is that right from the beginning there were civil liberties organisations in the US that were protesting that action. The ACLU in particular. But nothing like that, as far as I can tell, ever happened here. But one interesting little bit of discussion that did happen was in 1963 Lal Bahadur Shastri, then the Home Minister, actually visited the camp. And met all these people and asked them their situation and tried to give them assurances that they’d be released soon and so on. And then he goes back to the Rajya Sabha and there’s a record of this, that you could find online in the Rajya Sabha records, that I found it online, and you read it and he’s being asked about his visit and somebody asked him, ‘So how are these prisoners’? And he actually says something like, ‘Well, you know, they’re really happy to be there. They’re happy to to be in this camp. Everybody is satisfied’. And it just boggles my mind.

Sandip Roy

And from the people you talk to, did they…what did they remember of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s visit?

Dilip D’Souza

You know, they just felt let down and betrayed by this. Or at least at the time of the visit, they felt hopeful because he was giving them assurances that this would end soon.

Sandip Roy

What are some of the stories that stuck with you that people shared about what life in the camp was like? When you read the book, one of the things that comes out over and over again is just the boredom of it all.

Dilip D’Souza

Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t that they were subjected to, you know, gas chambers or daily beatings or anything like that. That sense, it wasn’t like, you know, Auschwitz or something…those kinds of camps. But there was this daily boredom. There were no schools. There were very few medical facilities. Everyday the issue of what do we do about food. They were concerned all the time about the education of their kids. So they tried to arrange for some of the older kids or the younger adults to teach the kids. So then some of the boys they made themselves catapults and went around shooting birds. And that’s how you know they added those birds to their dinner table.

There’s one account of how they would climb to the top of some little tower or a building that had two or three storeys, and from the top of that building, they could look out across the barbed wire to the town outside or to the vistas outside. So this is what occupied them for three or four years again. You know, boredom is a good way to describe it.

Sandip Roy

There’s one little thing that stuck with me when I was reading your book, is that the person in charge of the camp suddenly organises a vegetable growing competition, where they are trying to grow watermelons and all these vegetables and it just felt so surreal.

Dilip D’Souza

I was thinking when I read that account, that was something that Joy wrote, so I had not heard it from anybody. But when I read that I was thinking, what was the motivation of this guy? And the only thing that occurs to me is that he, in some way, wanted to show the prisoners and the world that this was you know, we’re all living in happy normal life and you know, one of the things we do in a happy normal life is organise vegetable competitions and call the neighbours and see who has the biggest watermelon or the biggest Kuddu or whatever it was. And give a little prize to that person.

There was one account where they talk about cooking Congee, this rice pottage, and they said that the wood that was used to fire the stove was burned to ash, and then they would use that ash to scrub boards and use it basically also as soap. And this person says that her skin started peeling from the caustic substances there and when she leaves camp, she has no fingerprints. And that was just so astounding to read.

I think there’s an interesting point there, a kind of poignant point. The whole question of identity, in some sense comes down to this. That she had no way of proving her identity even to the extent of her fingerprints. There’s more irony piled on irony there.

Sandip Roy

Yeah, indeed because in a way also, you know, we use fingerprints as proof of we are and this is a chapter of history that literally almost disappeared, leaving no fingerprints…

Dilip D’Souza

And here it is literally true within the case of this one person.

Sandip Roy

How did you find out about the story person?

Dilip D’Souza

A person called Jay. She’s a friend of mine. She comes to visit every few months. A good friend of ours and she stays with my mother down the road from where I live. And she comes to dinner every time. So one day, one of those visits about seven, eight years ago, she came for dinner as usual. And we were chatting and out of the blue, I’m not sure why, but out of the blue, she just said, ‘Did you know that this had happened? That India had put these people into a prison camp?’ And then she explained the whole story and I was baffled and astonished by two things. One, that this actually happened. That India had actually done this. I thought this is only something the Americans did to the Japanese and the Nazis did to the Jews and the Gypsies and all in in World War II. So that is the one reason for to be astonished. And the other one is that I had not even heard of this. You know, I really, I like to say that I really think of myself as a somewhat aware Indian.

Sandip Roy

So how did the ordeal end for most of the people? I mean, they were released in bits and pieces it seems. Some people stayed there for months, some stayed there for three years, four years. On what basis were people being released?

Dilip D’Souza

I have no clue. The question might be on what basis were they being held? There were some cases I think maybe during Shastri’s visit also where they were given the option of going to China. Because China said…I think the three different times they sent a ship to take some of these prisoners. So they were given the option – ‘Would you like to go to China? Would you like to stay?’ And some of them chose to go to China. So they were put on those ships and sent off to China. So that was how some of them were released. Of course, I don’t know how they made lives in China, because a lot of them spoke only Assamese and Hindi, and from what I hear, they still speak those languages there in those little communities in China.

Sandip Roy

And did this cause great disruption? When this choice is laid out to people many of whom have been here for generations, that they could go to China if they chose to? Because I can imagine families and communities who could literally be split down the middle on this issue.

Dilip D’Souza

I mean, it caused disruption but…so I’d like to tell you a little story about that. But before that, I want to say that, yeah, it cause disruption but you got to remember that a lot of these people have felt thoroughly betrayed by this country. So I don’t blame them for choosing to go to China. And the story I want to tell though is that I heard from two-three different people in Assam. Apparently, there was a man who had married a local Assamese woman and then he was rounded up and sent to the camp. So he was the Chinese Indian. But he was sent off alone. And then at some point, he decided to take one of the boats and go to China. And then he made his life there. And after some years, I don’t know how long, [he] finds a way to write to his wife and kids, saying, ‘Look, I’m here, I’m settled here, will you come and join me?’ And by that time, the children had grown up and they’d made their own lives in India and wherever they were. So she wrote back saying, no. And that poor man apparently committed suicide.

Sandip Roy

And there’s no real happy ending at all, either way. Whether you chose to stay or go because…Can you talk a bit about the difficulties they face even after release and the restrictions that were put on them?

Dilip D’Souza

Yeah, you know, for example Sandip, there’s Joy’s own family. Her mother, Efa, was essentially taken to Calcutta and left on the streets there. With no money in her pocket. Saying, ‘Okay, now you’re released from the camp. Go off and fend for yourself’. So she appealed to the police authority that…she was back to the police station and said, you know, ‘What am I to do? I’ve got these three kids with me. You know, I have no money. Where am I to go?’

And then there are other stories of people who come back and, for example, try to set up a life but they found their property has been seized and classified as enemy property or sealed somewhere, so they cannot get it back. They have to buy or pay bribes to get them their property back. Another guy talks about how he was sent a notice for income tax. To pay income tax for those three or four years or whatever it was that he was in the prison camp. And he went and tried to explain. But the tax authorities said, ‘No way. Well, you just got to pay this income tax’.

Sandip Roy

What many of us don’t realise is that you come back but then even then your movements are restricted. I mean, they may be from a town like Kalimpong, but they come back, they’re released in Kolkata and not allowed to go to Kalimpong to try and reclaim their property.

Dilip D’Souza

Yeah, exactly because there was one of the laws that was put in place for this is called ‘The Foreigners Restricted Areas Act’, which classified several districts in Assam and Meghalaya as off limits to foreigners. Basically, that’s the essence of the law. So when these people came back that law was still in place and so that they could not go to those areas which were declared as restricted areas. So even though they had come from there and their lives were there…so they were struggling to get back there at some point.

Sandip Roy

What memories did people have of how their neighbours, whom they’d known for years, treated them? After they came back, did people help them?

Dilip D’Souza

In some cases, I’m sure they did. But in a lot of cases they didn’t. Because again, let me give you the example of one man I met in Tinsukia, John Wong. His father had a timber business and they had a number of elephants and a number of cars and trucks as part of the timber business. In fact, their big product was railway sleepers. So I always like to think that this poor man was sent to Rajasthan travelling on sleepers that he himself had provided to the railway. But anyway, so when they came back to Tinsukia, first of all, they reached the railway station and they don’t have the 25 paise rickshaw fare to get back to their home. Luckily, some neighbour gave them that money and they were able to leave. So there was a little bit of goodness there. But they get back and they find that their trucks have been stolen. All the elephants have disappeared. One is said to have died but nobody knows what has happened to the others. Their place is locked up, they cannot get anything. Nobody’s willing to help them. So they’re stuck there for a few weeks until they can finally get access to their property without much help from their neighbours in Tinsukia.

Sandip Roy

In general, a lot of people because it was so difficult to rebuild a life after they came back from Camp…[that was] one of the reasons so many Chinese Indians ended up leaving India and going to places like Canada and others. But in general, were people able to get their property back?

Dilip D’Souza

The way they’d rebuild their lives, the ones who stayed behind in India, is by and large by starting over. That’s what I heard every time. Starting over meaning eventually they had to find ways to buy property again or build a business again. I don’t think I heard of too many stories of people who were able to go and fit back into the kind of life they had before you know. Restart their business or restart the restaurant. And then this John Wong that I’m talking about, eventually he and his father gave up the idea of trying to resume the timber business and he started a restaurant also in Tinsukia, which still exists called Hong Kong restaurant.

The irony…I mean it’s not related to what you just asked but just since I remember right now. That Hong Kong restaurant is in a part of Tinsukia that’s called to this day, and you can find it on Google Maps, it’s called Cheena-Patti. That gives you an idea of, you know, that the fact that that part of Tinsukia was dominated by Chinese at one point and now no longer. His is the only sort of Chinese business in that area anymore.

Sandip Roy

Recently, several of them who now live in America and Canada came back. Some of them for the first time since they left India after the experience at the camp. What did you learn from them? About what it was like, going back to places like Kalimpong, where they had once lived and from where they had been sent to Deoli…

Dilip D’Souza

So you’re referring to 2015, when four of them, that’s Joy, my co author, Ian Marsh, Michael Chang and Steven Wen, returned. Some of them went on to Calcutta and Kalimpong, where I didn’t join them. But I spoke to them later, you’re right. And it was wrenching in a lot of cases because they had not been back to those parts since they were taken away to camp. To go back and to see that this was….this used to be home and this is a place that I grew up in that I loved. Confronted by that memory of what tore them away from there was something you know, touch them very, very deep.

Sandip Roy

Do they still think these people like Michael and Steven, do they still think of themselves as Indian?

Dilip D’Souza

In a legal sense, no. Because they are American..

Sandip Roy

No, because they have taken different citizenship, yeah.

Dilip D’Souza

But there is India in their blood, Sandip. In their hearts. And the story I like to tell, that demonstrates that, is the story I begin the book with. So in 2017, this group of them in Toronto decided to make this bus trip to Ottawa to hand over a letter to the Indian High Commissioner. Letter addressed to Prime Minister Modi saying we would like some recognition that this happened to us and an apology from the Indian government. I decided to go join them on that bus trip. And so we were on this bus between Toronto and Ottawa and one of them, Ying Changwon, people said, because I think he’s known for his voice…people said, ‘Come on sing us a song’, and here I was thinking, if he’s going to sing, he’s going to sing a Chinese song. You know, here I am making the same silly mistake that my predecessors made in 1962. Because he’s Chinese looking, he must be Chinese. Anyway, but what does he break out into? He starts singing ‘Ajeeb Dastaan’. You know, that old song…lovely song from the 1960s I think. Bollywood song. That’s the song they sing. They sing and he still is most comfortable after 40 years living in Canada, he’s most comfortable talking in Hindi. He spoke to me on that bus trip entirely in Hindi. That’s the degree to which India is in them.

Sandip Roy

What’s in Deoli now? Is there any kind of acknowledgement to what happened there?

Dilip D’Souza

Well, nothing at all. Deoli is the CISF training camps. CISF is the paramilitary force that checks us all at the airport. There’s no plaque or no memory or anything that this used to be a place where these Chinese Indians were kept. And in fact, there’s a history to the cap. It used to be a prisoner of war camp in World War II and goes back actually to the 1857 uprising. That’s I think, when it was first built by the British. At some point…

Sandip Roy

Even Nehru had been held there…

Dilip D’Souza

Nehru and SA Dange and other figures from our freedom movement. In fact, that’s why Ian Marsh calls her book, ‘Doing time with Nehru’, because it’s a nod to the fact that Nehru was also in that camp. But the most interesting thing is that I found on the CISF website, a history of the camp and you’d think they would mention that this had happened…the incarceration of the Chinese and they do mention it, but they just say, I wish I remember the quote off the top of my head, but it’s in the book…It just says ‘3000 people were sent to that camp and it was called Chinese camp’. You just read it and you get the impression that they were prisoners of war. But they were not prisoners of war. Seems to be part of this whole effort, unconscious or otherwise, to make us forget that this ever happened.

Sandip Roy

Is there any chance, now that India is ruled by a government that owes no allegiance to Nehru and his descendants, is there any chance that, forget reparations, that they could get an apology even? Like the Japanese Americans did?

Dilip D’Souza

You know, I hate to be pessimistic but my real honest opinion is, no. Because it goes beyond the fact that there’s a different government. I think it’s just that partly we don’t like to look back on great wrongs that we’ve committed as a nation. Well, maybe no nation likes to do that. But certainly we don’t like to look back. The thing is that we’ve grown up being taught that that whole war was a huge betrayal by the Chinese. And that’s the only view of it that we seem willing to acknowledge. And if part of that is the fact that we incarcerated 3000 Chinese Indians, well so be it. And besides everything, even if there was somebody in the government who might have wanted to take this forward, the fact is that these are just 3000 people. And in a country of 1.3 billion, really how much does that matter?

Sandip Roy

This all started, as you say, by people incarcerating people who looked Chinese. Have you been thinking a lot about that? Because right now we are back to a situation where people who look Chinese are being called, not slurs like ‘chinky’ but new ones like ‘Corona’.

Dilip D’Souza

The first time I read about this was…apparently there’s an account that came out of Italy, where the Chinese in Italy were being spat upon and sworn at and their businesses are being stoned because people think that they are responsible for COVID-19 but these are people who’ve been in Italy for generations. They’ve never been to China so then in no way are they responsible for this outbreak. But you know, it becomes an easy target and I’m sure that that’s happening here. Again, these people must be battening down the hatches and hoping that they will escape the prejudice and fear that’s out there. But the trouble is that the Chinese Indians cannot get over that fear. They feel it all the time. Every time there’s some kind of tension or a crisis like this, they feel, well, that knock on our doors is going to happen again. Maybe it’ll happen tonight. Maybe it’ll happen tomorrow night. But we’ve seen no reason to believe that it will not happen. I think that’s such a sad thing to say about our country.

Sandip Roy

And what about with the current agitation around the Citizenship Act? Is it too far fetched, I was wondering, to draw parallels between what happened then, and the chronology of it as it were, and what is happening now in terms of trying to define, once again, who gets to be an Indian on the basis of papers, grandparents, and all of that?

Dilip D’Souza

Well, I don’t think it’s far fetched at all Sandip. It’s not just me saying so. Its these Chinese Indians whom I’ve talked to you. Ian March, for example, looks at this happening and says, ‘Well, this is exactly what happened to us’. They see it as a parallel. The whole question of, as you mentioned, who is an Indian? Who is a foreigner? How do we decide that? On what basis do we decide that? These are questions that are coming up now and they came up in 1962. That’s the parallel right there. This whole exercise to identify and throw out people you think are foreigners, the reason it gets recycled again and again and again is because it’s such a politically expedient thing to do. It fires up your base and you can ignore a whole lot of other issues that you should be, as a government you should be paying attention to.

Sandip Roy

What do you think, having done this book, talked to all these people, what do you think was the lasting legacy of these camps? And the Chinese who were incarcerated there, as well as on India itself.

Dilip D’Souza

On the Chinese Indians who were incarcerated there, truly, I think the legacy is just years of despair, bewilderment, disillusionment with this country and that continues. You know, the people who’ve left and gone abroad feel it but the people who live in India feel it even more. The legacy on us, I think, is really to the rest of us. I mean, the rest of us in India, is this idea of, this question of citizenship, this question of prejudice and hatred, it percolates down to us all the time in different ways. And every time we have some guy saying go back to Pakistan. It’s that 1962 operation to send these people to that incarceration camp that makes such a sentiment legitimate. It makes it expressible because we did it once. We set these people off to a camp even though they were Indian. So now we feel it’s okay to tell a random Indian who says something or professes something that’s different from us, say to them, ‘Go back to Pakistan’. Which makes no sense because he’s as Indian as you and me. This is the legacy that we’ve engendered and I think it’s going to take a lot to remove from our consciousness from our attitudes, but that’s that’s the legacy for good or bad.

Sandip Roy

Dilip D’Souza, thank you so much for joining us.

Dilip D’Souza

Thank you, Sandip. That was a pleasure.


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When India locked up 3,000 Chinese-Indians in internment camps, with Dilip D’SouzaIn 1962, India and China went to war. Most Indians know that. What most Indians don't know is that as a result of that war, some 3,000 Indians of Chinese descent were picked up from their homes and thrown into an internment camp in Rajasthan. In this episode, Sandip talks to journalist Dilip D'Souza about this latest book, The Deoliwallahs: The True Story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian Internment, that he co-wrote with Joy Ma, who was born in the camp and now lives in the US. TRANSCRIPT: Sandip Roy Looking Chinese in a time of Corona can be a dangerous thing. It doesn't help when the President of the United States calls it a 'Chinese virus'. An advocate in Bihar tried to lodge a complaint against the Chinese president and the Chinese ambassador to India for hatching a conspiracy to spread the coronavirus. Chinese restaurants have seen their business plummet. Chinese tourists have been spat upon in Venice, a South Korean restaurant put up a sign saying 'No Chinese Allowed'. Students from India's NorthEast say they have had a new slur flung at them in the college canteen - 'Coronavirus!'. Neighbours threatened to call the police on a Naga student who came from the airport wearing a mask in Mumbai. Korean nationals in Chennai have been asked to vacate their buildings by Xenophobic landlords. But for many Chinese Indians, there is a sense of deja vu. They know from bitter experience the dangers of looking Chinese. In 1962, India and China went to war. Most Indians know that. What most Indians don't know is that as a result of that war, some 3,000 Indians of Chinese descent were picked up from their homes and thrown into an internment camp in Rajasthan. In this episode, Sandip talk to journalist Dilip D'Souza about this latest book, The Deoliwallahs: The True Story of the 1962 Chinese-Indian Internment, that he co-wrote with Joy Ma, who was born in the camp and now lives in the US. Dilip D'Souza is our guest this week. Dilip D'Souza, welcome to the show. Dilip D'Souza Great to be on the show. Thanks for having me. Sandip Roy Now, most Indians know that the war with China happened in the 1960s. But most people don't know that some 3000 people of Chinese origin were taken by the Indian government and interned in Deoli, in Rajasthan. So, who were these people? Where did they come from? Why were they being interned? Dilip D'Souza Well, okay, let me take that one at a time. Who were these people? They were, you said Chinese-Indians, these were people of Chinese ethnic origin I'd say, who lived in the Northeast, Calcutta, in Tinsukia, Makum, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, towns like that. A lot of them worked on plantations there. And they had other professions. They ran restaurants, so they had shoe businesses, things like that. I mean, we've heard of Calcutta's China Town. So a lot of these people were there, for example. So they were there, but a lot of them...when I say Chinese ethnic origin, many of them had been here for generations, or I should say their families had been here for generations. They just looked Chinese. They spoke only Hindi and Assamese in many cases and they had married locals, things like that. Sandip Roy Did they have Indian passports or Chinese passports by then? Dilip D'Souza That's also another grey area because at that time a lot of people did not have passport. Did not have papers. This was, you know, still early in our history as a country. As you know...bottom line is that it's not really clear in every case, whether they all had papers of some kind or the other. In later years, some of them had to apply for papers because they needed to find some way to have an identity and also because some of them chose to emigrate. For example, Joy's mother eventually had to get a Chinese passport because that is the only way she could find to emigrate out of India. Sandip Roy And they were being interned because the government was suspicious of them? Dilip D'Souza You know, we we'd entered into this war with China and automatically people all around were suspicious and they had hatred towards people of Chinese origin. Therefore, the easiest targets for that were the people around them who looked Chinese. So that's the broad climate in which this happened. And then the government found ways to codify this into law. They passed a number of laws in those few months that allowed the government to round up these people and put them into this prison camp. You know, I got asked a question not long ago, 'Were any of them actually proved to be spies'? And the answer is, as far as I can tell, no. None of these 3,000 were actually proved to be spies. Sandip Roy And who reported them then? Dilip D'Souza First of all, they looked Chinese. They look different. So it's not difficult to find them. Secondly, there were also stories that we heard, that I heard and Joy talks about in the book about these informers. Guys from the community who decided to tell the police maybe to try and save their own skins. 'Look, go here. There's a family there. Go there, there's another family there. These are the people you should pick up'. And in some cases, those informers themselves ended up in the prison camp. That's the irony of the thing. Sandip Roy You said, as far as you know, none of them were, in fact found to be spies for China. But among the people who you talk to or people they had talked to, when they were at camp where they actually interrogated? Dilip D'Souza I, as far as I know, no. You know, this is also something that I wonder about. One of the Generals I spoke to, he says, 'What we should have done is just interrogated these people and then release them if they were found to be innocent'. So as far as I know, that was not done. They were not interrogated. They were just kept in that camp. Sandip Roy From what people recounted, describe the train journey that they encountered to going to Deoli. You know coming from places in the Northeast, mountain towns like Kalimpong to going across India, like literally, from the Northeast to Rajasthan. Dilip D'Souza It's very similar in some ways, some of the accounts. A lot of cases they were taken to jail, then they were put in a jail in Siliguri and then they waited for the train because the train typically started further east. The furthest east town that it started from a place called Makum in Assam. So a little bit east of in Tinsukia. So it would start there and then work its way West. Picking up people in every town that it stopped and then eventually trundle across the rest of the country all the way west. One interesting account is that none of these people knew where they were being taken when they got into the train. So they kept assuming it was Calcutta. But at one point they realised that the sun was still coming up behind the train and that showed that they were not turning south towards Calcutta. Then there were the stories about how they would stop at stations, but then people would gather and start abusing them or throwing stones at them. Sandip Roy And what is horrific also is that this train was literally marked as, as carrying the enemy. Dilip D'Souza Yeah again, one of Joy's accounts says exactly that. One of her interviewees wondered all his life. Why did people throw these things? How did they know that we were, you know, on this train? And then in much later in life, he finds out somehow that, I mean, the train is actually marked on the outside, 'enemy train' or whatever it was. Something to indicate that they were being taken in the train. Sandip Roy The war only lasted weeks and the Indian prisoners of war who were captured in China, they came back in about six months. How long did the Deoli internees stay in Deoli? Dilip D'Souza I want to also point out that you said that the war lasted only a month, a few weeks actually, exactly a month. And most of these train journeys actually started after that. That's another irony of this whole situation. Most of them were sent off to the camp after the war was actually over. I think in Yin Marsh stayed in the camp for maybe four months, I'm forgetting. But others...Joy's family was one of the last to leave in 1967. So that's a good four and a half years after they entered. So in fact, the first four years of Joy's life because she was born in that camp, she spent in that camp. These people were not even prisoners of war by any definition. So why were they incarcerated for so long is a mystery that I have not yet been able to solve. Sandip Roy So there must have been discussion about this in Parliament. Are there any records of people talking about it or even protesting that this was not the right thing to do? Dilip D'Souza As far as protesting goes, as far as I know, no. You know, I'm drawing the book the parallel to the Japanese American incarceration in 1942 in the United States. One big difference is that right from the beginning there were civil liberties organisations in the US that were protesting that action. The ACLU in particular. But nothing like that, as far as I can tell, ever happened here. But one interesting little bit of discussion that did happen was in 1963 Lal Bahadur Shastri, then the Home Minister, actually visited the camp. And met all these people and asked them their situation and tried to give them assurances that they'd be released soon and so on. And then he goes back to the Rajya Sabha and there's a record of this, that you could find online in the Rajya Sabha records, that I found it online, and you read it and he's being asked about his visit and somebody asked him, 'So how are these prisoners'? And he actually says something like, 'Well, you know, they're really happy to be there. They're happy to to be in this camp. Everybody is satisfied'. And it just boggles my mind. Sandip Roy And from the people you talk to, did they...what did they remember of Lal Bahadur Shastri's visit? Dilip D'Souza You know, they just felt let down and betrayed by this. Or at least at the time of the visit, they felt hopeful because he was giving them assurances that this would end soon. Sandip Roy What are some of the stories that stuck with you that people shared about what life in the camp was like? When you read the book, one of the things that comes out over and over again is just the boredom of it all. Dilip D'Souza Yeah, I mean, it wasn't that they were subjected to, you know, gas chambers or daily beatings or anything like that. That sense, it wasn't like, you know, Auschwitz or something...those kinds of camps. But there was this daily boredom. There were no schools. There were very few medical facilities. Everyday the issue of what do we do about food. They were concerned all the time about the education of their kids. So they tried to arrange for some of the older kids or the younger adults to teach the kids. So then some of the boys they made themselves catapults and went around shooting birds. And that's how you know they added those birds to their dinner table. There's one account of how they would climb to the top of some little tower or a building that had two or three storeys, and from the top of that building, they could look out across the barbed wire to the town outside or to the vistas outside. So this is what occupied them for three or four years again. You know, boredom is a good way to describe it. Sandip Roy There's one little thing that stuck with me when I was reading your book, is that the person in charge of the camp suddenly organises a vegetable growing competition, where they are trying to grow watermelons and all these vegetables and it just felt so surreal. Dilip D'Souza I was thinking when I read that account, that was something that Joy wrote, so I had not heard it from anybody. But when I read that I was thinking, what was the motivation of this guy? And the only thing that occurs to me is that he, in some way, wanted to show the prisoners and the world that this was you know, we're all living in happy normal life and you know, one of the things we do in a happy normal life is organise vegetable competitions and call the neighbours and see who has the biggest watermelon or the biggest Kuddu or whatever it was. And give a little prize to that person. There was one account where they talk about cooking Congee, this rice pottage, and they said that the wood that was used to fire the stove was burned to ash, and then they would use that ash to scrub boards and use it basically also as soap. And this person says that her skin started peeling from the caustic substances there and when she leaves camp, she has no fingerprints. And that was just so astounding to read. I think there's an interesting point there, a kind of poignant point. The whole question of identity, in some sense comes down to this. That she had no way of proving her identity even to the extent of her fingerprints. There's more irony piled on irony there. Sandip Roy Yeah, indeed because in a way also, you know, we use fingerprints as proof of we are and this is a chapter of history that literally almost disappeared, leaving no fingerprints... Dilip D'Souza And here it is literally true within the case of this one person. Sandip Roy How did you find out about the story person? Dilip D'Souza A person called Jay. She's a friend of mine. She comes to visit every few months. A good friend of ours and she stays with my mother down the road from where I live. And she comes to dinner every time. So one day, one of those visits about seven, eight years ago, she came for dinner as usual. And we were chatting and out of the blue, I'm not sure why, but out of the blue, she just said, 'Did you know that this had happened? That India had put these people into a prison camp?' And then she explained the whole story and I was baffled and astonished by two things. One, that this actually happened. That India had actually done this. I thought this is only something the Americans did to the Japanese and the Nazis did to the Jews and the Gypsies and all in in World War II. So that is the one reason for to be astonished. And the other one is that I had not even heard of this. You know, I really, I like to say that I really think of myself as a somewhat aware Indian. Sandip Roy So how did the ordeal end for most of the people? I mean, they were released in bits and pieces it seems. Some people stayed there for months, some stayed there for three years, four years. On what basis were people being released? Dilip D'Souza I have no clue. The question might be on what basis were they being held? There were some cases I think maybe during Shastri's visit also where they were given the option of going to China. Because China said...I think the three different times they sent a ship to take some of these prisoners. So they were given the option - 'Would you like to go to China? Would you like to stay?' And some of them chose to go to China. So they were put on those ships and sent off to China. So that was how some of them were released. Of course, I don't know how they made lives in China, because a lot of them spoke only Assamese and Hindi, and from what I hear, they still speak those languages there in those little communities in China. Sandip Roy And did this cause great disruption? When this choice is laid out to people many of whom have been here for generations, that they could go to China if they chose to? Because I can imagine families and communities who could literally be split down the middle on this issue. Dilip D'Souza I mean, it caused disruption but...so I'd like to tell you a little story about that. But before that, I want to say that, yeah, it cause disruption but you got to remember that a lot of these people have felt thoroughly betrayed by this country. So I don't blame them for choosing to go to China. And the story I want to tell though is that I heard from two-three different people in Assam. Apparently, there was a man who had married a local Assamese woman and then he was rounded up and sent to the camp. So he was the Chinese Indian. But he was sent off alone. And then at some point, he decided to take one of the boats and go to China. And then he made his life there. And after some years, I don't know how long, [he] finds a way to write to his wife and kids, saying, 'Look, I'm here, I'm settled here, will you come and join me?' And by that time, the children had grown up and they'd made their own lives in India and wherever they were. So she wrote back saying, no. And that poor man apparently committed suicide. Sandip Roy And there's no real happy ending at all, either way. Whether you chose to stay or go because...Can you talk a bit about the difficulties they face even after release and the restrictions that were put on them? Dilip D'Souza Yeah, you know, for example Sandip, there's Joy's own family. Her mother, Efa, was essentially taken to Calcutta and left on the streets there. With no money in her pocket. Saying, 'Okay, now you're released from the camp. Go off and fend for yourself'. So she appealed to the police authority that...she was back to the police station and said, you know, 'What am I to do? I've got these three kids with me. You know, I have no money. Where am I to go?' And then there are other stories of people who come back and, for example, try to set up a life but they found their property has been seized and classified as enemy property or sealed somewhere, so they cannot get it back. They have to buy or pay bribes to get them their property back. Another guy talks about how he was sent a notice for income tax. To pay income tax for those three or four years or whatever it was that he was in the prison camp. And he went and tried to explain. But the tax authorities said, 'No way. Well, you just got to pay this income tax'. Sandip Roy What many of us don't realise is that you come back but then even then your movements are restricted. I mean, they may be from a town like Kalimpong, but they come back, they're released in Kolkata and not allowed to go to Kalimpong to try and reclaim their property. Dilip D'Souza Yeah, exactly because there was one of the laws that was put in place for this is called 'The Foreigners Restricted Areas Act', which classified several districts in Assam and Meghalaya as off limits to foreigners. Basically, that's the essence of the law. So when these people came back that law was still in place and so that they could not go to those areas which were declared as restricted areas. So even though they had come from there and their lives were there...so they were struggling to get back there at some point. Sandip Roy What memories did people have of how their neighbours, whom they'd known for years, treated them? After they came back, did people help them? Dilip D'Souza In some cases, I'm sure they did. But in a lot of cases they didn't. Because again, let me give you the example of one man I met in Tinsukia, John Wong. His father had a timber business and they had a number of elephants and a number of cars and trucks as part of the timber business. In fact, their big product was railway sleepers. So I always like to think that this poor man was sent to Rajasthan travelling on sleepers that he himself had provided to the railway. But anyway, so when they came back to Tinsukia, first of all, they reached the railway station and they don't have the 25 paise rickshaw fare to get back to their home. Luckily, some neighbour gave them that money and they were able to leave. So there was a little bit of goodness there. But they get back and they find that their trucks have been stolen. All the elephants have disappeared. One is said to have died but nobody knows what has happened to the others. Their place is locked up, they cannot get anything. Nobody's willing to help them. So they're stuck there for a few weeks until they can finally get access to their property without much help from their neighbours in Tinsukia. Sandip Roy In general, a lot of people because it was so difficult to rebuild a life after they came back from Camp...[that was] one of the reasons so many Chinese Indians ended up leaving India and going to places like Canada and others. But in general, were people able to get their property back? Dilip D'Souza The way they'd rebuild their lives, the ones who stayed behind in India, is by and large by starting over. That's what I heard every time. Starting over meaning eventually they had to find ways to buy property again or build a business again. I don't think I heard of too many stories of people who were able to go and fit back into the kind of life they had before you know. Restart their business or restart the restaurant. And then this John Wong that I'm talking about, eventually he and his father gave up the idea of trying to resume the timber business and he started a restaurant also in Tinsukia, which still exists called Hong Kong restaurant. The irony...I mean it's not related to what you just asked but just since I remember right now. That Hong Kong restaurant is in a part of Tinsukia that's called to this day, and you can find it on Google Maps, it's called Cheena-Patti. That gives you an idea of, you know, that the fact that that part of Tinsukia was dominated by Chinese at one point and now no longer. His is the only sort of Chinese business in that area anymore. Sandip Roy Recently, several of them who now live in America and Canada came back. Some of them for the first time since they left India after the experience at the camp. What did you learn from them? About what it was like, going back to places like Kalimpong, where they had once lived and from where they had been sent to Deoli... Dilip D'Souza So you're referring to 2015, when four of them, that's Joy, my co author, Ian Marsh, Michael Chang and Steven Wen, returned. Some of them went on to Calcutta and Kalimpong, where I didn't join them. But I spoke to them later, you're right. And it was wrenching in a lot of cases because they had not been back to those parts since they were taken away to camp. To go back and to see that this was....this used to be home and this is a place that I grew up in that I loved. Confronted by that memory of what tore them away from there was something you know, touch them very, very deep. Sandip Roy Do they still think these people like Michael and Steven, do they still think of themselves as Indian? Dilip D'Souza In a legal sense, no. Because they are American.. Sandip Roy No, because they have taken different citizenship, yeah. Dilip D'Souza But there is India in their blood, Sandip. In their hearts. And the story I like to tell, that demonstrates that, is the story I begin the book with. So in 2017, this group of them in Toronto decided to make this bus trip to Ottawa to hand over a letter to the Indian High Commissioner. Letter addressed to Prime Minister Modi saying we would like some recognition that this happened to us and an apology from the Indian government. I decided to go join them on that bus trip. And so we were on this bus between Toronto and Ottawa and one of them, Ying Changwon, people said, because I think he's known for his voice...people said, 'Come on sing us a song', and here I was thinking, if he's going to sing, he's going to sing a Chinese song. You know, here I am making the same silly mistake that my predecessors made in 1962. Because he's Chinese looking, he must be Chinese. Anyway, but what does he break out into? He starts singing 'Ajeeb Dastaan'. You know, that old song...lovely song from the 1960s I think. Bollywood song. That's the song they sing. They sing and he still is most comfortable after 40 years living in Canada, he's most comfortable talking in Hindi. He spoke to me on that bus trip entirely in Hindi. That's the degree to which India is in them. Sandip Roy What's in Deoli now? Is there any kind of acknowledgement to what happened there? Dilip D'Souza Well, nothing at all. Deoli is the CISF training camps. CISF is the paramilitary force that checks us all at the airport. There's no plaque or no memory or anything that this used to be a place where these Chinese Indians were kept. And in fact, there's a history to the cap. It used to be a prisoner of war camp in World War II and goes back actually to the 1857 uprising. That's I think, when it was first built by the British. At some point... Sandip Roy Even Nehru had been held there... Dilip D'Souza Nehru and SA Dange and other figures from our freedom movement. In fact, that's why Ian Marsh calls her book, 'Doing time with Nehru', because it's a nod to the fact that Nehru was also in that camp. But the most interesting thing is that I found on the CISF website, a history of the camp and you'd think they would mention that this had happened...the incarceration of the Chinese and they do mention it, but they just say, I wish I remember the quote off the top of my head, but it's in the book...It just says '3000 people were sent to that camp and it was called Chinese camp'. You just read it and you get the impression that they were prisoners of war. But they were not prisoners of war. Seems to be part of this whole effort, unconscious or otherwise, to make us forget that this ever happened. Sandip Roy Is there any chance, now that India is ruled by a government that owes no allegiance to Nehru and his descendants, is there any chance that, forget reparations, that they could get an apology even? Like the Japanese Americans did? Dilip D'Souza You know, I hate to be pessimistic but my real honest opinion is, no. Because it goes beyond the fact that there's a different government. I think it's just that partly we don't like to look back on great wrongs that we've committed as a nation. Well, maybe no nation likes to do that. But certainly we don't like to look back. The thing is that we've grown up being taught that that whole war was a huge betrayal by the Chinese. And that's the only view of it that we seem willing to acknowledge. And if part of that is the fact that we incarcerated 3000 Chinese Indians, well so be it. And besides everything, even if there was somebody in the government who might have wanted to take this forward, the fact is that these are just 3000 people. And in a country of 1.3 billion, really how much does that matter? Sandip Roy This all started, as you say, by people incarcerating people who looked Chinese. Have you been thinking a lot about that? Because right now we are back to a situation where people who look Chinese are being called, not slurs like 'chinky' but new ones like 'Corona'. Dilip D'Souza The first time I read about this was...apparently there's an account that came out of Italy, where the Chinese in Italy were being spat upon and sworn at and their businesses are being stoned because people think that they are responsible for COVID-19 but these are people who've been in Italy for generations. They've never been to China so then in no way are they responsible for this outbreak. But you know, it becomes an easy target and I'm sure that that's happening here. Again, these people must be battening down the hatches and hoping that they will escape the prejudice and fear that's out there. But the trouble is that the Chinese Indians cannot get over that fear. They feel it all the time. Every time there's some kind of tension or a crisis like this, they feel, well, that knock on our doors is going to happen again. Maybe it'll happen tonight. Maybe it'll happen tomorrow night. But we've seen no reason to believe that it will not happen. I think that's such a sad thing to say about our country. Sandip Roy And what about with the current agitation around the Citizenship Act? Is it too far fetched, I was wondering, to draw parallels between what happened then, and the chronology of it as it were, and what is happening now in terms of trying to define, once again, who gets to be an Indian on the basis of papers, grandparents, and all of that? Dilip D'Souza Well, I don't think it's far fetched at all Sandip. It's not just me saying so. Its these Chinese Indians whom I've talked to you. Ian March, for example, looks at this happening and says, 'Well, this is exactly what happened to us'. They see it as a parallel. The whole question of, as you mentioned, who is an Indian? Who is a foreigner? How do we decide that? On what basis do we decide that? These are questions that are coming up now and they came up in 1962. That's the parallel right there. This whole exercise to identify and throw out people you think are foreigners, the reason it gets recycled again and again and again is because it's such a politically expedient thing to do. It fires up your base and you can ignore a whole lot of other issues that you should be, as a government you should be paying attention to. Sandip Roy What do you think, having done this book, talked to all these people, what do you think was the lasting legacy of these camps? And the Chinese who were incarcerated there, as well as on India itself. Dilip D'Souza On the Chinese Indians who were incarcerated there, truly, I think the legacy is just years of despair, bewilderment, disillusionment with this country and that continues. You know, the people who've left and gone abroad feel it but the people who live in India feel it even more. The legacy on us, I think, is really to the rest of us. I mean, the rest of us in India, is this idea of, this question of citizenship, this question of prejudice and hatred, it percolates down to us all the time in different ways. And every time we have some guy saying go back to Pakistan. It's that 1962 operation to send these people to that incarceration camp that makes such a sentiment legitimate. It makes it expressible because we did it once. We set these people off to a camp even though they were Indian. So now we feel it's okay to tell a random Indian who says something or professes something that's different from us, say to them, 'Go back to Pakistan'. Which makes no sense because he's as Indian as you and me. This is the legacy that we've engendered and I think it's going to take a lot to remove from our consciousness from our attitudes, but that's that's the legacy for good or bad. Sandip Roy Dilip D'Souza, thank you so much for joining us. Dilip D'Souza Thank you, Sandip. That was a pleasure. 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