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Home > Human Rights > 1962 Indo China War and its Shocking fallout on India’s Chinese

1962 Indo China War and its Shocking fallout on India’s Chinese

13 October 2015

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Video: Untold Stories of a Forgotten War
NDTV: October 7, 2015 | Duration: 14 min, 53 sec

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The Wire - 5 October 2015

The Chinese-Indian Prisoners of Deoli are Here and Their Voices Need to be Heard
by Rafeeq Ellias

Can India, in an act of the highest statesmanship, formally acknowledge its mistakes and apologise, as the US government did to Japanese-Americans in 1988?

Buried inside the ‘Himalayan Blunder’ of 1962 – the humiliating India-China war – is a tragic story that is not known to most of India and quietly ignored by successive governments.

It is the story of how over 3,000 Indian-Chinese – men, women and children including infants – were summarily arrested without trial and placed in a disused World War II POW camp in Deoli, Rajasthan.

In an episode painfully reminiscent of the Japanese-American experience on America’s west coast after the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, they were incarcerated for periods ranging from a few months to over four years and much of their property was confiscated, auctioned or simply allowed to be vandalised.

This week, a group of four Chinese Indians who currently live in Canada and the United States are visiting India on what they describe as a ‘pilgrimage’ that began at Rajghat, the memorial to Gandhiji, on October 2, before addressing public gatherings at a host of venues in Delhi.

They are a part of the last generation of survivors from the desert camp and hope to tell their stories – seeking awareness, empathy and a dignified ‘closure’.

The group includes Yin Marsh, who now lives in Berkeley, California and is the author of a book of her experiences, Doing Time With Nehru.
Yin Marsh’s Story
Yin Marsh. Credit: Rafeeq Elias

Yin Marsh. Credit: Rafeeq Elias

“When the border war broke out, we were living happily in Darjeeling. Because it was located near the border, my family, along with hundreds of other ethnic Chinese, were suddenly arrested and sent to an internment camp. After our release, my family was not allowed to return to Darjeeling and we lost all our property. Eventually, we emigrated to the U.S. because life in India was becoming increasingly difficult for ethnic Chinese.

“It was a traumatic time in my young life so I chose to put those memories away and go on with a new life. Now, 50 years later, I have become aware of the fact that this small chapter in Indian history is little known, not only to the outside world, but to native Indians as well. I now feel that I am not only to ready to tell my story but indeed am obligated to share publicly those memories of 1962.

“As I wrote this book, I felt it was important that I not emphasise those events in negative terms. Rather, I wanted to shed light on the unfortunate and sad consequences of government policies, which were more viscerally motivated than reasonably thought out. When actions are hastily taken based on ethnic, racial, and religious divisions, they inevitably have adverse impacts on families and communities, and indeed on the national psyche.”

Source: Doing Time With Nehru (2012)

Yin, a teenager at school then, was plucked out of her studies at the Loreto Convent and sent on a 7-day train journey to Deoli along with her 8-year-old brother, father (who was arrested a month earlier and put into the local jail) and grandmother who could barely walk.

Joy Ma, who now lives in San Mateo, California, the youngest of the group of four, was actually born in the camp in Deoli. Her mother, who was pregnant then, along with her father and two brothers were picked up from their home in the Dooars near Siliguri well after the war ended, ironically on Chinese New Year when all is meant to be happy and auspicious, and taken to the internment centre in Rajasthan.

Joy’s family was among the last batch to be released, more than 4 years after their internment. When they returned to Calcutta with the few rupees they were given, Joy’s father was abruptly re-arrested, again without trial, and put in Alipur jail for another one year.

Steven Wang, who now lives in London, Ontario in Canada, was a teenager then with seven siblings. Michael Cheng who now lives in North Carolina, US, was all of two years of age. Both grew up in the hill district of Darjeeling and they along with their entire families were whisked away in the middle of the night, taken to a local jail and then put on a train to Deoli.

Both families, again, lost their homes and their businesses; their children’s education ground to a halt overnight. All under the dreaded Defence of India rules, whose origins go back to colonial British laws; and in the name of two words that so easily justify every excess – “national interest”.

Some of the internees were released and chose to go on repatriation ships to a China they had never known, a China that was in the midst of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. Some were simply pushed over the border into China while others went back to Calcutta and slowly re-built their lives. In subsequent years, a wave of migrations began – to Canada mainly, but also to the United States, Australia and Europe.

More than 20 people died in the camps and are believed to be buried in a cemetery in Deoli. Whole families broke up as they were released in batches. Some never met each other again for years, even decades.

Sadly, no records are available of precisely how many people were arrested, how long they were held and when they were released. Efforts to obtain these under the Right to Information Act have been unsuccessful so far.
Joy Ma in Yin’s House. Credit: Rafeeq Elias

Joy Ma in Yin’s House. Credit: Rafeeq Elias

My own connection with India’s Chinese community goes back to 1962 when some of my Chinese classmates in Byculla in Bombay stopped coming to school as the war broke out. A Chinese school and a Chinese newspaper in my neighbourhood in Agripada, Bombay also shut down.

Years later, photographing the community in what was now Kolkata, I realised that the 1962 war and its tragic aftermath was a defining moment for them, and for India – when a whole community was stereotyped and targeted unfairly and arbitrarily.

My film for BBC World in 2003, the Legend of Fat Mama was the first to talk about it. In 2012, on a visit to Canada and the US, I met members of the Indian Chinese community who, despite their pain and anger, continue to maintain links with India through food, films and music. I began recording the voices of ex-detainees who had settled there; voices that are part of my new film Beyond Barbed Wires: A Distant Dawn.

Most disturbing, however, are the stories of ex-internees who continue to live in Calcutta, many of whom struggle financially (other than those who own restaurants and tanneries in Tangra). They live in the labyrinthine lanes around Terreti Bazaar and in decreasing numbers as the young migrate, leaving an ageing population that still prefers the warm familiarity of Calcutta to North American winters.

Ex-detainees here are tight-lipped out of fear that they will be arrested again or their small businesses hampered. The few who are willing to talk do so with great hesitation. My haunting memory is of seeing prison IDs that a few families have preserved – a little folded card with a picture and description. I particularly remember the ID card of the tiniest ‘prisoner of war’, a black and white picture of an infant with the inscription: Baby Chang, Age: 6 months.
Girls from local Chinese school in Calcutta in 1955 await the arrival of a delegation from China. Credit: LIFE magazine

Girls from local Chinese school in Calcutta in 1955 await the arrival of a delegation from China. Credit: LIFE magazine

Each family has its own story but what hurts each one above all is how arbitrarily they were yanked out of their homes and businesses, usually in the middle of the night. The utter helpnessness and humiliation as even friends and neighbours, carried away by the rhetoric and hysteria of war, overnight turned their backs on them.

The alienation continued after their release. Till a few years ago an Indian-Chinese could not step out of his or her home city without a permit from the local police. Those considered ‘stateless’ or ‘foreign nationals’ despite having lived here for more than several generations still need to renew their permission to stay every year for a fee.

That they were a minuscule minority, tarred overnight as the ‘enemy’, made it impossible for them to protest. For decades after, the internees simply did not talk about the episode to family or friends – or even to their children as they grew up. This was a ‘stigma’ for a community that believes in Confucian self-respect.

Poet Ann Muto, a Japanese-American who was born in the internment camp of Poston, Arizona in 1944 tries to come to terms with the effects that traumatised her parents, an experience about which they never spoke, but which forever changed them:

My sorrow is that we never talked:
How it was for her,
How it was for me.
– from “Regret”
Our parents hid
Their history from us
They swallowed
Their pain
They didn’t want us to lose our way
In bitterness or anger
– from “Questions”

This is the first time that a group of ex-detainees have chosen to speak to the country that was once their home. Can we build a memorial in Deoli that archives their history, their contributions to our country and the human tragedy that took place after the 1962 war? Can we, in an act of the highest statesmanship, formally acknowledge our mistakes and apologise, as the US government did to Japanese-Americans in 1988?

Rafeeq Ellias is a film-maker

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Barbed wire at Deoli: Indian Chinese who were interned after the 1962 war want an apology
’One day I was saluting in the Independence Day parade, three-and-a-half months later I was thrown in jail.’

by Ipsita Chakravarty · 9 October 2015

As India went to war with China in 1962, more than 3,000 people of Chinese origin were sent across the country to Deoli Prison Camp in Rajasthan. Entire families were picked up from border areas in West Bengal and Assam, suspected of being spies or Chinese sympathisers. Deoli had been a prisoner of war camp in the British era, once used to detain Jawaharlal Nehru. Today, it is a training centre for the Central Industrial Security Force.

Ironically, the Indian Chinese families were imprisoned after the war had ended. There are no official records of exactly how many were sent to Deoli, how many were released. Some of them were detained for a few months, some for four-and-a-half years. Afterwards, many families were left to fend for themselves in Kolkata while others were sent back to China, a land some of them had never seen. Almost none of them made it back home.

Many survivors migrated to the United States, Canada and Australia. This month, four of them – Yin Marsh, Joy Ma, Steven Wen and Michael Cheng – returned to Delhi. They said they had come to seek closure, to ask for an apology from the Indian government, to talk about a history that has gone unacknowledged for so long.

The late Yap Yin Shing, who was interned at Alipur Jail, a still from Rafeeq Ellias’s documentary, Beyond Barbed Wires: A Distant Dawn.

The Chinese in India

The Chinese community has roots in eastern India that goes back several centuries. Yong Atchew is the earliest recorded Chinese settler in these parts. He moved to Bengal in 1780, received 650 bighas of land near Budge Budge from Warren Hastings and set up a sugar mill. Yong brought about 100 compatriots with him and the Chinese settlement that grew around the mill came to be known as Atchewpur, later Achipur, 33 kilometres from Kolkata.

Economic migration continued through the 19th century, as Chinese men came to work in the docks and start shoemaking businesses in Kolkata. After 1826, they went to work in the tea plantations of Assam, newly acquired by the British. In Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Shillong and Kolkata, they came to be known as the best dentists and shoemakers. Many of them set up successful businesses in north Bengal and Assam. Joy Ma, for instance, says branches of her family moved to the Dooars in the 1880s and prospered as contractors. They also owned land in Dhubri.

The turmoil of early 20th century China brought a new wave of migration, as thousands fled war, revolution and the new communist regime. Both Michael Cheng and Steven Wen’s parents moved to north Bengal in the late 1930s. Yin says her father had come to Darjeeling in 1944, to head the Indian branch of a Chinese import export company. “Then after 1949 when the communists came to power, they wanted him to work for them,” said Yin Marsh. “So he resigned and stayed behind in Darjeeling.”

They remember happy childhoods. “In Darjeeling, there were Chinese, Tibetans, Nepalis, Bengalis, Anglo-Indians,” said Marsh. “Nobody asked who was what or who was who.” Her parents were very involved in the community and had many friends. When you ask her which community she means, you realise she is talking about all the inhabitants of the town, not people of any particular ethnicity. March was sent to boarding school and in the winter of 1962, she looked forward to going home for the holidays.

Wen talks about walking in the Independence Day parade run by Dr Graham’s Homes, a boarding school in Kalimpong. “One moment I was saluting in the Independence Day parade, three-and-a-half months later I was thrown in jail,” he said. "And that is the really sad part of the story."

The midnight knock

In the months leading up to the 1962 war, tensions had started building among Chinese people in the hills. There were rumours of midnight knocks. Marsh says the authorities took her father away first. The family was having tea when there was a knock on the door. “They just asked him to come and answer some questions at the police station," she said. "But then he didn’t return the next day and the next. I asked our parents’ friends for help but everybody shut the door. They were too scared. I went to the convent where I had studied. They said they would pray for me but they couldn’t help.”

A few weeks later, they came for 13-year-old Marsh, her eight-year-old brother and her grandmother, who could barely walk because her feet were bound in the traditional Chinese way.

Wen remembers the day they were arrested most vividly. “We had a wholesale shop in Kalimpong that sold Tibetan, Bhutanese and Nepali merchandise. On November 19, there was a knock on the door. We thought it was somebody who needed emergency supplies. Instead it was the police and intelligence officials. They couldn’t even come up with a criminal charge.”

Cheng, who was six when his family was sent to Deoli, has no memories of the night they were taken. But he had witnessed his father’s arrest a few weeks earlier. “I remember my father in chains, shackles around his feet,” he said.

Wen’s family were transferred from Darjeeling Jail to New Jalpaiguri station, where they boarded a train filled with Chinese-Indian people from Assam. From there it was four days by train to Deoli. “It was a feeling of fear and uncertainty," he recalled. "Whenever our train stopped at a city or town, there were soldiers and guards at the station.”

Marsh remembers descending to the jeep that took them from their home in Darjeeling, as a crowd of people stood and stared. “They looked at us as if we were criminals. We were suddenly strangers.”

Yin Marsh and Joy Ma, a still from Ellias’s film on the captives.

At Deoli

What was life like in Deoli?

“Boring,” Stephen Wen said. “There was not much to do, no proper schooling.” Cheng says he learnt the same alphabets over and over again for two years. They all remember the half-cooked food, the barren landscape, the air so dry that it split the skin on their fingers. Soon the families started cooking their own food. Rations came in a cart at ten in the morning and after that it was a long, desultory day.

Joy Ma was born in the camp. Her mother had been pregnant when they were arrested and she wanted to have an abortion, but the camp authorities wouldn’t let her. So she had to get a permit in advance to go to a hospital outside the camp and have the baby. There was so little to life in Deoli, Ma said, that people started trooping to her parents quarters to pet the new baby.

And the guards? Steven recounts how the camp commanders confiscated all their money when they entered Deoli and never returned it. “They checked you if you had to pass in and out of the gates, otherwise they left you alone,” he says.

But they were always fenced in and watched, guards at checkposts waiting to shoot if they came too near the barbed wire. Wen gave a detailed description of the barbed fence, nine feet high with great whorls of wiring coiled around the top. When asked about the structure of the camp, he drew a map of it, as if it was the most natural thing to do after all these years. Five wings arranged around a square, each divided into three or four barracks. “I was in barrack number 20 in Wing 1,” he said. “All of us here stayed in Wing 1.” Marsh and he exchange notes about which family lived next to them, who lived opposite.

Marsh later found out that they were quartered in the same building where Nehru was once detained. So in 2012, when she wrote a book about her experiences in Deoli, she wryly called it Doing Time With Nehru.

The return

Marsh stayed in Deoli for a few months. Ma’s family were kept there for four-and-a-half years. They were one of the last batches to be released, in 1967. “We passed through Jaipur where a man came up to us and asked, ‘What are you people still doing here?’ He had been a prisoner of war in China in 1962 and had come back.”

All of them have harrowing stories of return. “They didn’t tell us where we were going,” said Wen, whose family was released 22 months later. “The train took us to Howrah station in Kolkata. There we had a surprise waiting. Two detainees who had been released earlier came to meet us and the police arrested them. We took shelter in a Chinese temple near Tiretta Bazar and fell asleep around two in the morning. At five in the morning we were woken up.” There was going to be a funeral service at the temple, they were told, the sleeping family had to make way for the dead bodies.

Cheng said that the night his family was dumped us in the streets in Kolkata, he suddenly grew up. He was around eight at the time. A relative who ran a laundry shop in Kolkata’s Bow Bazar area took them in. There wasn’t much space so young Cheng had to sleep on an ironing board.

Home was gone. Their property in Darjeeling and Kalimpong had been taken over by local people and they weren’t getting it back. Only Cheng’s family managed to get their shoe shop back two years later. And they were not really free in a strange and hostile Calcutta. The old Deoli inmates were still kept under surveillance and needed permits to go out of the city. Cheng remembers his proud, dashing father going to the authorities day after day, begging for a permit, the daily humiliations that broke him down and made him fearful.

To people outside the Chinese community in Kolkata, the former Deoli internees were traitors or spies. People within the community kept a distance from them out of fear. “My mother used to keep having dreams when she was in the camp and when they were in Calcutta,” said Joy Ma. “She used to wonder whether we would ever get out. All the bitterness now actually comes from the time in Calcutta.” In wartime Calcutta, there were 20,000 to 30,000 Chinese people in Chinatown. Today, the population has dropped to about 2,000.

It was fear that kept the Deoliwallahs silent all these years, even after they had moved west. “We built walls of silence around ourselves,” said Ma. “But within the community, we talked about it with the people we knew.”

Said Wen, “As a Chinese Indian, I have gone through life with a sense of suppression, a loss of dignity and a lack of identity.”

Added Marsh, “But now that I’ve started talking about it, I don’t want to stop.”

Effa Ma, Joy’s mother, a still from Ellias’s film.

The listeners

The four of them spoke to an emotional audience at the India International Centre in Delhi on Tuesday, after a screening of Rafeed Ellias’s documentary, Beyond Barbed Wires: A Distant Dawn, on the old Deoliwallahs.

As they spoke, hooks of memory seemed to draw in the audience. A man called Gautam Das got up and introduced himself to Marsh. He had gone to North Point school in Darjeeling, near Yin’s old school, and did she remember such and such person, and that other girl, and another one? Yin remembered them all. “It was a lonely place after you all left,” Das said. Marsh asked whether it was true that North Point boys had been given rifles by the army. Yes, Das replied, but that was before the war and they didn’t know why all the Chinese people had been taken away.

Filmmaker Jahnu Barua, who was also in the audience, shared his memories of growing up on a tea estate in Makum, in Assam, where they had a neighbour whom he called “Sina Mama" or Chinese Uncle. Sina Mama married an Assamese woman and had five children. All of them were arrested except the eldest son, whom Barua’s mother helped to hide.

Suddenly, strangers in a room were chatting about old acquaintances, going back to childhood experiences. The Chinese have faded from everyday life in India but pockets of memory remain. Wen wasn’t the only one who had to suppress memories of Deoli: an entire country has done so for more than 50 years.

At one point while telling his story, Cheng asked whether he should stop because they were running out of time. Keep talking, said a gray-haired man in the audience, we want to listen.

o o o

51 years after war, it is Diwali for seven people deported to China from Assam

Or watch the trailer of "Beyond Barbed Wires: A Distant Dawn":

Association of India Deoli Camp Internees 1962

The Atlantic, Aug 9, 2013

India’s Forgotten Chinese Internment Camp

Following a brief border skirmish in 1962, India held 3,000 ethnic Chinese people in prison camps. A half-century later, survivors are still seeking justice.

James Griffiths Aug 9, 2013

Army soldiers carry the coffin containing the remains of Karam Chand, a soldier who died during the 1962 Indo-China war. (Reuters)

Michael Cheng was six years old in 1962 when the police came to take him and his family away. They arrived, armed and in force, in the middle of the night. Some of the officers, many of whom had known the Chengs for years, were apologetic. They were just following orders, the men assured Michael’s mother, and the family was being taken somewhere safe "for your own good."

The Cheng family wasn’t the only one. Andy Hsieh was a student at a boarding school in Shillong, in northeast India. One day, he and several of his classmates were called into the headmaster’s office and told that they would be going away for an indefinite length of time.

When police came for Wong Ying Sheng’s family, they were packed and ready to go. Wong’s mother had escaped the Japanese invasion of Singapore and knew the signs.

Michael’s family, too, was unsurprised when the police arrived. Michael’s father had been imprisoned for the previous week, one of dozens of "suspicious people" in the tiny Chinese-Indian community scattered around West Bengal who were arrested by the authorities in the first days of the 1962 Sino-Indian Border Conflict. But what was a surprise was how far the family — Michael, his parents, and his older brother Moses — were taken. Over the next days they were transported 1,000 miles west to a remote prison camp in Deoli, Rajasthan. They would spend the next two years there — prisoners of a war that was never declared.

From today’s vantage point, a war between China and India - the world’s two largest countries by population - seems remote, a relic of ancient history. And initially, relations between the newly independent India and the recently established People’s Republic of China (PRC) were strong: Nehru’s India was one of the first nations to recognize Mao Zedong’s Communist regime when it took power in China in 1949. Despite one major sticking point — the two countries shared a long and poorly-defined Himalayan border — relations between China and India were mostly cordial through the 1950s.

Tibet proved to be the catalyst for worsening relations. Initially, India reassured China that it had no designs on the territory, which Beijing annexed in 1950. But relations soured when, after a failed Tibetan uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to Dharmsala in India’s Himachal Pradesh. In response, a furious China claimed over 60,000 square miles of Indian-controlled territory and demanded "rectification" of the disputed Himalayan border. Beijing’s proposal was rejected, and the two countries began years of "military incidents" and minor skirmishes.

Then, on October 20, 1962, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops crossed the border in force, overwhelming the unprepared and undermanned Indian defenders. Within a month, Chinese forces had largely occupied the territory they had claimed in 1959, and on November 19 China declared a unilateral ceasefire. Both countries retreated to the unofficial "Line of Actual Control" that existed pre-1959, though China retained de facto ownership of Aksai Chin and India was forced to abandon any territorial ambitions to the east. For Indians, this was a national humiliation.


Chinese immigration to India started in earnest over 100 years before the 1962 conflict when the British recruited laborers from Hong Kong and Guangdong to work in tea plantations, and by the middle of the 20th century there were some 3,000 ethnic Chinese and Tibetans living in the newly independent Republic of India. These "hyphenated Indians" became the scapegoats for the country’s defeat in the 1962 war with China.

"The Indian government thought all border Chinese were potential spies," Michael Cheng says, sipping a soft drink in Meizhou, the sweltering Guangdong Province city near his ancestral homeland. Michael, now a naturalized American citizen, described how he and his family, along with most of their neighbors, were transported to the Deoli prison camp, where some remained for as much as six years — five years and 335 days longer than the war itself.

The internment of Chinese-Indians, which contravened both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which India was a founding signatory) and India’s own constitution, was established by the Defense of India Act 1962 which permitted the "apprehension and detention in custody of any person [suspected] of being of hostile origin." This broad power ultimately allowed for the arrest of any person with a drop of Chinese blood, a Chinese surname, or married to a Chinese person. Some of the arrested "Chinese" families had lived in India for generations and regarded themselves as Indian.

"One Hindi teacher we had, who was absolutely Indian — he had a Chinese name or something like that — somehow ended up in the camp," Cheng says. "You’d see people who didn’t look Chinese at all — they looked completely Indian."


The Deoli camp was originally set up by the British to house prisoners of war in the 1940s. Following independence, the Indian government converted Deoli to a prison for Chinese- and Tibetan-Indians, many or them children or infirm. Trains ran from Makum, an area near the Burmese border with a large ethnic-Chinese community, to Assam. It was there that Michael and his family joined hundreds of other "potential spies" for the long trip west to Rajasthan.

The trip took over a week, in a cramped train with the word "enemy" scrawled on the side. In "Deoli Diaries", a collection of interviews with camp survivors, Wong Ying Sheng recalled how the internees were kept under armed guard at all times. Once, when the train stopped near a town, locals threw stones and hit the carriages with sticks, yelling at those inside to "go back to China". Other internees, small children at the time, spoke of being separated from their families during the trip and shoved into carriages alongside other youngsters.
Most of those who chose to stay had strong roots in India, like businesses and homes. It was their life you know, they didn’t want to leave.

Upon arrival at Deoli, internees endured the notoriously inefficient Indian bureaucracy as they were processed, one by one, into the camp.

"They were not prepared to deal with 3,000 people," Michael Cheng says. "By the time they were finished it was cold and dark in the desert."

The poorly-prepared camp spoke to the chaotic nature of the entire internship program. The camp was unable to house all those it had been sent, and many internees were forced to sleep outside, some without blankets. Food too was a problem, as camp guards had no idea how to prepare meals for so many people. Cheng says internees were often served food that was half-cooked.

"The rice had lots of gravel and dust in it, so when you bit into it you would bite stone."

The Red Cross provided only temporary relief. In one of only two visits to the camp during the six years it was in operation, Red Cross workers noted that hygiene was substandard and food provision lacking. But while internees said that conditions improved while the Red Cross was there, they soon deteriorated again once the aid workers left.

Life in the camp improved somewhat when the Indian authorities began transporting internees who were willing to go to China. The Chinese government, as it later did during the height of anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia, sent ships to India to collect "its people" and return them to the motherland. Some 2,400 internees then headed to a country many had never been to, and one that had just emerged from the hardships of the Great Leap Forward and would soon dissolve into the insanity of the Cultural Revolution.

The repatriation program caused tension. "There were fights in the camp over leaving. The people who wanted to go to China argued with those who preferred fight until the Indian government released them," Cheng says. Most of those who chose to stay had strong roots in India, like businesses and homes. It was their life you know, they didn’t want to leave."

Not to be outdone, the Republic of China government in Taiwan also assisted the internees, and it was the Taiwanese who ultimately came to the aid of Cheng’s family, placing them in Calcutta (now Kolkata).

There the family struggled, but those who stayed in the camp were far worse off. When Deoli closed in 1968, the remaining internees were transported back to their old neighborhoods, where they were then imprisoned by a government that didn’t know what to do with them.

"A girl in one of those jails wrote to the prime minister," Cheng says. "When the jailor read the letter he said ’Hey, you guys are not supposed to be here this long’. So he got involved and they were finally released."
Some of the arrested "Chinese" families had lived in India for generations and regarded themselves as Indian.

Others weren’t so fortunate. Surviving internees speak of seeing people, particularly the old and infirm die in these jails, sometimes mere yards away from their homes. Other lives were significantly shortened by the ordeal. One internee said that his father was kept in an Alipur jail for over a year where he became seriously ill — possibly as a result of a botched medical procedure — and died three weeks after he was released. There were deaths in the camp as well. Wong Ying Sheng’s father died there, as did many other older internees — deaths that were largely preventable.


In the decades since, Sino-Indian relations have stabilized, and the Indian government would rather the internship program be forgotten. A stone plaque outside the Deoli camp, now an army training ground, mentions that it was once used to house German, Japanese, and "Chinese" prisoners, lumping the Chinese-Indians in with foreign combatants.

"There’s no monument to the people who died in the camp, no memorial. They didn’t even issue a death certificate for them. India has lots of things hidden like this, and it’s difficult for them to own up to them. If they admit to one thing they would have to admit to everything, like a domino effect," Cheng says, though he hasn’t given up trying to get the Indian government to account for its actions at Deoli.

He’s had some help. The Association of India Deoli Camp Internees (AIDCI), registered as a non-profit in Canada in 2009, seeks to pressure the Indian government into issuing an apology similar to those issued by the U.S. for the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Ex-internees and their children also wish to erect a monument in Deoli "in honor of those who lost their lives at the camp."

AIDCI wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009, outlining the ex-internees grievances.

"Of course," Michael says ruefully, "nothing happened. So a year later we sent a second letter."

They’re still waiting for a reply.