The Indian-Chinese community in Kolkata is anxious about the anti-China sentiments sweeping across the country after the violent clashes in eastern Ladakh, fearing that they and people from northeastern States could be targeted should tensions escalate.
What has heightened their anxiety is a robbery at a popular Chinese restaurant in Tangra — where many of the city’s Indian- Chinese community lives and which also has a Chinese Kali temple — on Thursday. While the robbery appeared to be unrelated, the timing — when images of people hurling Chinese products from their balconies and making a bonfire of them are being shared widely and when barcodes are being circulated to help one distinguish between Indian and Chinese products — has become a matter of concern for the community.
Late on Thursday evening, popular Kolkata-based singer Francis Yee Lepcha put out an emotional and lengthy post on Facebook: “Just for the record, the Kolkata Indian Chinese are merely 1,500 approximately in number. We are the true super super super deluxe microbial ‘minority’ of India and have been living in Kolkata for over 100 years. We make Indian Chinese food and not mainland pure Chinese food which none of the regular Tangra restaurant customers can digest.”
He went on to say: “We are great interior designers, dentists, beauticians, laundry owners, shoemakers and restaurateurs [and] we are as Indians as you… We have nothing to do with the CCP and just want to get on with our lives… Therefore dear friends just handle us with care and [also] those who like us (our Northeast family).”
Mr. Lepcha told The Hindu — in fluent Bengali — that his post was prompted by the experience he had on train while he was returning with his family from Puri shortly before the lockdown was imposed in late March.
“Co-passengers were giving us dirty looks. They thought we were coronavirus-carriers. Finally I had to tell them, in Bengali, that we belonged to Kolkata. Back home, I got a T-shirt printed with the words: ‘I don’t have coronavirus. I have never been to China.’ In the current scenario, one doesn’t know whether members of the community will face a situation similar to what I experienced in the train. That’s why the post,” said Mr. Lepcha, whose maternal grandfather had migrated to Calcutta from Shanghai in the late 1940s and whose mother had been detained in a camp during the 1962 Indo-China war.
Robert Hsu, secretary of the Indian Chinese Association, said: “As far as I know, there is nothing to worry about at the moment, but there is a sense of concern in the community, mainly because of WhatsApp forwards. If the conflict between India and China gets worse, there could be a problem for us, but I am hoping that doesn’t happen and the two countries resolve their problems because the world is facing a larger problem in the form of COVID-19.”
He added: “We don’t have a problem with the educated class — they all know who we are. The problem is with people who go by rumours forwarded on WhatsApp.”