Approximately 200 former detention camp internees will gather in Scarborough to reflect upon the 50th anniversary of their forced confinement at the hands of the Indian government.
A reception organized by the Association of India Deoli Camp Internees 1962 (AIDCI) is set for noon Sunday, Nov. 18, at Commander Park Recreation Centre.
The participants, many of them members of the Indian-Chinese Canadian community, will reminisce and tell stories of the terrible years they were forced to spend in Deoli detention camp, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where they were sent in November of 1962 following a brief war between China and India.
“It was a border war that had nothing to do with us,” said Andy Hsieh who spent nearly four years in Deoli. “That’s the thing that bothers most people.”
The month-long conflict over a contested northern boundary resulted in a defeat for India and engendered resentment for the local Chinese population. After China voluntarily withdrew its troops from Indian territory, an estimated 3,000 Indian Chinese were rounded up and sent to Deoli, leaving their possessions, homes and businesses behind.
Now president of AIDCI, Hsieh was 17 when he was removed from a boarding school in Shillong, at the time state capital of Assam and home to generations of Chinese who had immigrated to India as far back as the late 18th century.
Along with hundreds of fellow Indian Chinese, he was bundled onto a train for a one week journey totalling more than 2,000 kilometres to Rajasthan, a remote and mountainous state located in the northwest part of the country.
At Deoli, Hsieh and his family, including his father, mother, sister and two younger brothers, were assigned to cramped rooms in the camp barracks, shared with up to five other families. They had two tiny beds made from jute, a coarse vegetable fibre, and were provided with no mattresses.
They were given meagre rations and whole wheat roti bread became a staple part of their diet. It was an unwelcome adjustment for Hsieh and the other Chinese used to eating rice.
At the camp, which was divided by barbed wire into five separate wings housing around 700 people each, the internees were constantly watched by armed guards, Hsieh said. At times higher ranking Indian army officers would enter the camp to address concerns or answer questions. Communications were strictly monitored and letters could only be written in English.
Hsieh doesn’t hold any ill will towards his captors, who he said were always courteous, though he did hear stories of mistreatment from other detainees.
“That’s their job,” he said. “They were just following orders to do the job.”
He said the worst part of confinement was not knowing when, or if, he would be freed.
“I will never forget the uncertainty,” said Hsieh. “It still stays in my mind. The worst thing was losing my freedom.”
In late 1966, nearly four years after being sent to Deoli, Hsieh and his family were given word of their impending release. A couple of days later under armed police escort, he was returned to Shillong to find all of his family’s holdings and possessions were gone, confiscated by the government and auctioned off.
Having lost everything, Hsieh moved to Calcutta in the east, now known as Kolkata, to join an uncle. His father N.K. Char died two years later in 1969, which Hsieh directly attributes to “hardship” caused by the loss of his restaurant business.
In 1972, Hsieh decided to immigrate to Canada to join an elder brother and soon after settled in the Warden and Steeles avenues area of Scarborough, where he lived since.
Hsieh, who has returned to India once since leaving - in 1998 with his son and daughter - said he still feels Indian despite the mistreatment, though now he holds more in common with his adopted country.
“I consider myself to be Indian. I was born there,” he said. “But I have been in Canada for half of my life so I think more like a Canadian than a Indian now.”
In 2010 AIDCI, a non-profit organization, wrote Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to request the construction of a monument in memory of the Deoli detainees, many of whom are in the last stages of their lives. They have yet to receive a response, he said.
The same letter was also sent to the Canadian government, which also did not send him reply, said Hsieh.
Despite being ignored, Hsieh says AIDCI will continue to spread awareness and push for a permanent reminder of the 1962 Deoli internment and an official apology from the Indian government.
“We are asking only to erect a monument so that 100 years from now people will know ethnic Chinese were there,” said Hsieh. “It’s a very humane gesture, very basic. It’s very basic. One day we hope they will say sorry to us and give us closure.”