Writer pens plight of Chinese-origin Assamese

She does not consider herself an activist, but writer Rita Chowdhury has been fighting for the cause of hundreds of Assamese people of Chinese origin facing a severe identity crisis having been disowned both by China and India.

When the senior lecturer of political science at Cotton College in Guwahati chose to highlight the plight of some Chinese people who came to Assam in the Second World War in her novel "Makam", little did she know that she will soon mull a movement for their rehabilitation.

"I wanted to reconstruct that part of history, that dark phase," she says about the book which means 'golden horse' in Cantonese.

"The British brought hundreds of men from China to work in tea gardens. These workers soon became part of the Assamese society and many of them married local girls. But after the 1962 India-China war, they were sent to a detention camp in Deoli in Rajasthan so that they don’t work as spies," says the writer.

"Some of them were deported to China while a few were released later. Those released came back to Assam only to find that their property were all gone. The deported people are still considered as Indian refugees," Chowdhury who is in the capital, said.

The writer wants our society to assimilate these people among us.

"We need to embrace them. They are in a state of shock, facing a severe identity crisis. Many of these people are scattered across the state and also other parts of the country. Those deported are longing to come back. They need our support, the government’s support," she says.

In writing the novel, she studied various books published on the Indo-Chinese war but the main storyline was based on media reports and commentaries.

"I conducted interviews with the deportees, sufferers and witnesses and travelled abroad to meet some of them. The evolution of tea industry of Assam and the history of migration of tea workers interwoven with unwritten saga of Chinese society became my subject matter with which I started my work four years ago," she says.

But she had great difficulty in connecting with the victims and their relatives.

"Before I could find any of Assam-born Chinese survivors, most of them left this world. I am sure they died carrying with them lot of pain, frustration and tears. Also most of the people who knew about the migration of Chinese people to Assam died. That’s why lot of stories remained in darkness about the birth and evolution of the Chinese society," she says.

According to Chowdhury, most of the characters in her novel are true.

"To portray the social infrastructure of that period certain characters had to be created.Though I could not erase the pathetic and gory incidents from their minds by highlighting those brutal days, my aim is to illuminate the unfortunate history that lived in darkness for years," she says.

"Those Assamese-Chinese settled abroad organise annual cultural programmes like Bihu. Many of them want to visit Assam and see their place of birth and relatives."

The writer has met a number of government and opposition leaders to facilitate the return of these people. chief minister Tarun Gogoi has assured the writer that those estranged from their families in Assam, and even those who were born and brought up in Assam and later deported would be given a warm welcome, if they want to visit their birthplace.