I returned to India in December 2005 after spending over three years in China. My initial interest in the Chinese community in India was an attempt to bridge the gap between my years in China and my subsequent return to India. I longed to speak Chinese, and while on assignments to various parts of the country, I often walked into restaurants run by local Chinese Indians to do just that.
Over time, I began to document their lives to better understand the community. I heard about years of selling paper flowers to make a living; of teenage heartthrobs both from within the community and from outside. We shared anecdotes of my life in China and theirs in Bhagalpur and Bombay, the ea gardens of Assam and Calcutta.
Even though the Chinese had a presence in India for over 200 years, they started settling permanently only after the communists came to power in China, in 1948. In 1962, during the Sino-Indian border conflict, those suspected of having links with China were interned in Deoli, Rajasthan. Scarred by the memories of this era and the subsequent struggle for survival, some chose to leave India. I learned of a heartbroken uncle incarcerated in Deoli, who subsequently left for Hong Kong.
Many who remained were forced to start life afresh. This period brought significant economic and social change within what was once a closed community. Over the last half-century, most Chinese Indians have assimilated into the fabric of the Indian mainstream, embracing the local customs and languages, and even marrying outside the community. The results are more visible among the younger generation. Posters of Bollywood stars share space with calendars and masks imported from Hong Kong, photographs of ancestors in every home to images of Jesus Christ, all reflect the transition within the community.
Even though they still share a bond with China, India is a part of their lives and identity. To the Chinese here, India is 'home'.
Text and photographs by Vidura Jang Bahadur
Courtesy Himal SouthAsia