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Doing Time With Nehru (The Story of an Indian Chinese Family)

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Item Code: NAS233
Author: Yin Marsh
Publisher: Zubaan Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789384757809
Pages: 220 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 8.00 X 5.00 inch
Weight 210 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The midnight knock on the door and the disappearance of a loved one into the hands of authorities is a 20th-century horror story familiar to many destined to "live in interesting times." Yet, some stories remain untold.

Such is the account of the internment of ethnic Chinese who had settled for many years in northern India. When the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962 broke out, over 2,000 Chinese-Indians were rounded up, placed in local jails, then transported over a thousand miles away to the Deoli internment camp in the Rajasthan Desert.

Born in Calcutta, India, in 1949, and raised in Darjeeling, Yin Marsh was just thirteen years old when first her father was arrested, and then she, her grandmother and her eight-year-old brother were all taken to the Darjeeling Jail, then sent to Deoli. Ironically, Nehru - India's first Prime Minister and the one who had authorized the mass arrests - had once "done time" in Deoli during India's war for independence. Yin and her family were assigned to the same bungalow where Nehru had also been unjustly held.

Eventually released, Marsh emigrated to America with her mother, attended college, married and raised her own family, even as the emotional trauma remained buried. When her own college-aged daughter began to ask questions and when a friend's wedding would require a return to her homeland, Yin was finally ready to face what had happened to her family.


I find it most appropriate to begin this Introduction with an excerpt from the book:

...three Indian police officers showed up. They were in khaki uniforms and appeared unemotional. They told us they had come to take us away and that we should be prepared to be away for a long timelhey didn't take kindly to our questions and answered brusquely. They didn't know where we were being taken or how long we would be gone. We needed to take warm clothes, bedding, a few pots and pans, and other essentials needed to exist for many months.... I looked at our neighbours who were watching us being carted off like common criminals: a grandmother...her thirteen-year-old granddaughter and her eight-year-old grandson. They didn't look at us as old friends and neighbours. It was a different look, one of astonishment. It also seemed to say we were outsiders. A flood of simultaneous emotions overwhelmed me: bewilderment, fear of the unknown, and a feeling of shame: shame for being Chinese.

Yin Marsh's powerful memoir Doing Time with Nehru orients our attention to the lives of people of Chinese origin in India. Living in the country as citizens, long term residents, neighbours, or as the kin of Indians, bound to them by blood or marital vows-the Chinese Indians confronted the ordeals of mass arrests, incarceration and internment, and the repercussions of being newly classified, by law, as `enemy aliens' following the onset of the India-China war in 1962. Doing Time with Nehru allows us therefore to absorb and contemplate the political, social, and deeply personal significance of the events that intersected violently with the lives of the Chinese, events that have for over 60 years remained unacknowledged in the nation's imaginary of its own history, politics, and sense of self.

It is critical to point out that the people of Chinese ancestry in question here were an integral part of India's very own diverse and multi-ethnic population. Emerging from a long and rich history of migration spanning well over a century since the early 1800s, people of Chinese descent in the country at the time of the 1962 war came to represent a remarkable social diversity that went beyond the indices of occupation or class. A large number had migrated in their own lifetime, while others were born in India and had grown up as second or third generation Chinese-Indians; newcomers were sometimes married to old-timers; many maintained social ties with relatives in China, whereas others were too far removed in time to do so but nonetheless preserved Chinese cultural practices. Especially in places like Assam, mixed family heritage was not uncommon because of inter-marriage with Indians over the decades, which in turn produced multi-ethnic extended families related by ties of kinship. Members of the Chinese community were fluent in Assamese, Bengali, Khasi, Nepali, Hindi, and English, which reflected their cultural links to the various ethno-linguistic spaces of India. Some had long completed the formality of obtaining Indian citizenship after independence, whereas others had not, which is hardly surprising given the temporal proximity of the early 1960s to the time when India finally became decolonized and formally acquired the designation of an independent republic.

Following the 1962 war, the Indian state, and the public, however, disavowed unequivocally this long and enmeshed socio-cultural belonging of the Chinese community in the country, thus violating the integrity of their roots and history in India. An ensemble of newly-passed laws, such as the Foreigner's Law (Application and Amendment) Ordinance (October 30, 1962), the Foreigner's (Internment) Order (November 3, 1962), the Foreigners Law Act (passed on November 26, 1962), and the Foreigner's Order (issued on January 14, 1963) authorized arrests, repatriation, deportation, and other violations of civil rights of those identified as having any Chinese ancestry. Each law targeted different aspects of life, legal status, and disentitlements. Modelled after U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order No. 9066, which authorized the detention of Japanese Americans in camps during World War II, the Indian government's Foreigner's (Internment) Order (November 3, 1962) in particular authorized the detention and incarceration of the Chinese at the Central Internment camp in Deoli, Rajasthan, and a prison in Nowgong (today Nagaon), Assam.' The Foreigner's Law Act (November 26, 1962) and the Foreigner's Order (issued on January 14, 1963), on the other hand, erased distinctions between people in China, a country with which India was at war, and the Chinese living in India, who represented the demography and cultural ethos of the nation-state's existing multi-ethnic population. New amendments in the legal definition of foreigners were introduced to classify persons adjudged to bear any measure of Chinese ancestry as 'aliens,' and in this case, 'aliens' from an enemy nation. Those who had Indian citizenship found their status rescinded. Cohen and Leng's analysis of the implications conveyed by these laws, as they reconfigured completely what it meant to be a person of Chinese ancestry in India, is highly instructive and worth our attention:

President Radhakrishnan promulgated on October 30, 1962, the Foreigner's Law (Application and Amendment) Ordinance, which made the Registration of Foreigner's Act of 1939 and the Foreigner's Act of 1946, and all rules and orders issued thereunder, applicable to 'any person not of Indian origin who was at birth a citizen or subject of any country at war with, or committing external aggression against India'. Another order issued on the same day suspended for the duration of the emergency the right of such persons, as well as foreigners, to move any court for the enforcement of basic constitutional protections against the arbitrary deprivation of life and liberty. In order to effectuate the Indian government's intention to subject all Indian citizens of Chinese origin to both the October 30 measures, their definition of 'person' was soon broadened to make the regulatory scheme applicable to 'any person who, or either whose parents, or any of whose grandparents was at any time a citizen or subject of any country at war with, or committing external aggression against, India'.

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