“Voting is a mere formality. No political party has time for us.”
This is the sentiment echoed by Kolkata’s disgruntled Chinese-Indian community, the largest in India, this election season. The City of Joy may boast of the country’s only China Town but its “apathy” towards the once-vibrant community, that numbered in ten thousands, have left several residents feeling alienated and with a sense of disillusionment.
Ignored by political parties, except during the polls, the Chinese here vote when they have to, and not because they hope something good will come out of it.
“We have no expectations from the government. No party will favour the Chinese community. I don’t think any party will be receptive to our problems,” Monica Liu, a restaurateur in one of the alleys in the eastern suburbs, said.
Monica’s despondency is shared by several others for development, to them, has been a dusky mirage. Unfulfilled poll promises have bred resentment within the community who are now indifferent towards the elections.
“Look at the condition of the roads leading to Tangra. I had once written to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in this regard, she had apparently spoken to the mayor who in return sent a few people to check out the place. After that, everything stopped. It feels as though we are talking to statues,” Monica rued.
“I had also met the Chief Minister once and told her how China Town is gradually disappearing but she does not care,” she added.
The areas that the Chinese reside in come under the watch of two constituencies. While old China Town, or Teretti Bazaar, comes under the North Kolkata seat, the new China Town or Tangra, which is home to a majority of the Chinese, fall under the South Kolkata constituency.
“Painting graffiti in Chinese will not get them (parties) votes. Forget the remaining days, how many party representatives have actually come to us to hold any sort of personal meeting?” James Chen, a school teacher, asked.
In an attempt to woo Chinese voters, the ruling Trinamool Congress has painted graffiti along the walls of Tangra in support of their South Kolkata candidate Mala Roy. However, the Chinese here are too cynical about the polls as well as the repercussions that it can offer.
“Where are the politicians and councillors when our own people are thrown out of their own spaces,” James said.
The 43-year-old was referring to the illegal encroachment, which the Chinese claimed, was being carried out by the ruling party on their land.
“Real estate builders are encroaching upon our spaces with the help of police and political manpower. Recently, I learnt on social media that a house was also ransacked. We are a quite community and also helpless in such situations,” Robert Hsu, a member of the Indian Chinese Association and an IT professional, said.
Monica recalled how she was threatened by the neighbourhood goons when she tried to protest and in return, was falsely implicated by the police in a case. “The local police are hand in gloves with the goons. I tried to take it up with them after a promoted started troubling me but now they’ve (the administration) started looking for ways to harass me. They have even filed a false case against me.”
Asked to elaborate, she said, “I was once called by the cops and was accused of thrashing another person. A case under Section 107 of the CrPc (breach of peace or disturbance) was registered against me. I told them that the person named in the FIR and the address mentioned did not belong to me but they refused. I recently had to apply and was granted bail by the court.”
TMC candidate Mala Roy evaded The Indian Express’ attempts to provide any response in this regard. She handed over the call to her husband and former Congress MLA Nirbed Roy who said, “Don’t you think there is resentment in this country? This is how it functions. We shall look into their issues after the elections.”
Sharing similar fears, several others believe it is “wiser” to not disclose your troubles, let alone raise a finger against anyone.
“I might be detained by the Intelligence Bureau if I say anything. As they say, even walls have ears. I am wary of others; I want to live a peaceful life without any harassment,” one person said, on the condition of anonymity.
The apprehension among the Chinese can be traced to the 1962 Sino-Indian war which left an indelible mark on their minds. Suspected of being spies or Chinese sympathisers, over 3,000 Chinese-Indians, mainly from Assam and West Bengal, were bundled up and sent to a detention camp in Rajasthan’s Deoli that year. While the war lasted for about a month, the Chinese were forced to stay as prisoners in the western part of the country for nearly four years.
“I do not wish to recall those years. But yes, after that experience, no Chinese will ever be able to regain their trust in the government,” Monica, who was one of the victims of the camp, said.
“I was born in Mysuru and have been staying in Kolkata for the last 35 years. But no political party will accept us. Working for our development is only a distant dream,” another person said, preferring anonymity.
The fear within the people has only worsened amid reports of atrocities against the minorities across the country.
“I definitely want to vote against a party. Social media is flooded with all sorts of reports on violence against minorities. Religion has become the biggest enemy of the people here. The country has internal conflicts to resolve, how can it progress at the international level?” Robert said.
“Communalism is definitely on the rise. Parties are only trying to assert their dominance. They always want to be seen and heard,” Thomas Chen said.
Taking on the Chief Minister, Monica said, “Mamata cannot assure security to people belonging to her own community, what will she do for us?”
“Where are the jobs? No rallies have any mention of this. There is only negativity and no decorum whatsoever. The government is unable to get its priorities clear, perhaps why so many youngsters are gradually migrating to other countries,” Thomas said.
Asked about the biggest fear this poll season, Thomas said, “My biggest fear is that the policy of divide and rule will only strengthen with time.”
On the fluctuating relations between India and China, Robert said, “It is purely an international issue for us and doesn’t bother us until the matter slips out of hand and turns into a war-like-situation. We are Indians just as several others.”