Lim Gui Hua (66) has given up all hopes of getting an Indian citizenship, though he was born in one of Kolkata’s famous bylanes, Chata Gali, known for its impeccable glass works. The reason is simple; he cannot run from pillar to post every year, with his arthritis, trying to convince the police and the bureaucrats that he was born in India in the year of 1948.
“Last year the officers (of Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office or FRRO) told me to get the landlord to sign the Form C,” said Mr. Hua. Following increased militancy, the landlords in the country are expected to go to the FRRO to testify every year, that the tenant – a Chinese-descent ‘foreigner’ in this case – is not an insurgent. But the landlord of Mr. Hua, an even older Muslim, refused to go to the FRRO or local police station.
“Tumhara ek-sho giyara – jo rent control main jama hota hai - uske liye hum police ke pash jaye, kabhi nahin (Should I have go to the police now for your Rs. 111 rent, which is deposited to rent control – never ever), he told me,” said Mr. Hua, who retired from work many moons back. “Now how do I make the police understand that I was born in India. I just hope that Prime Minister Narendra Modi understands the trauma and gives me citizenship,” said the sexagenarian. The appeal to Mr. Modi – from all the Chinese-descent women and men above 60 or 70 awaiting their right to vote – was unanimous.
However, their problems were equally unalike. While having sugary tea, the elderly Chinese-descent women and men explained how they are “stateless” even after being born in Kolkata or after residing in the State for six decades or more.
“I was not born here but in Canton province [now Guangzhou] but came to Darjeeling with my parents when I was six or seven years old,” said Ms. Chen, on condition of anonymity. She, like others, has a Registration Certificate (RC) issued after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, which enables her to stay in Kolkata. But she also needs to renew her temporary citizenship every year.
“There are mainly three types of issues here,” said Binny Law, an activist who works closely with the community. “The people who are born before 1947 and have a British passport and the ones born in China, mostly in south China, and hold a Chinese passport and a third category,” explained Mr law. The third category was explained by David, a third generation Chinese in Kolkata, who helps the elderly with the paper work.
“They are born between 1947 and 1950. The British said they are not our citizens and India was unsure as the Constitution was not framed till 1950 – so they ended up being ‘stateless,” he said. But no one — even the historians — can explain why these women and men are ‘stateless’ when millions of Bengalis who arrived from East Pakistan were initially issued a RC in Kolkata in the 1940s which were later used to obtain citizenship.
“Should have been naturalised citizens”
A former head of State intelligence was rather surprised.
“They should have been naturalised citizens, according to Articles in Part II of the Constitution,” he said. “However, the Citizenship Cell of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in Delhi is the final authority on the issue. I am not sure if there is a separate provision concerning Kolkata’s Chinese population following the 1962 war, which is denying the citizenship,” said the retired officer, also on condition of anonymity.
In fact the Chinese-descent women and men The Hindu spoke to refused to divulge their identity due to the fear of police interrogation and harassment. Sitting in a sprawling second floor chamber of the Buddhist (also Taoist) deity of prosperity and justice, Kuan Di-Ti, many of them said that they are periodically harassed by the police or even “unknown people” since they are stateless.
“They often come at night to question us,” said 75-year-old Ms. Chen (name changed), rather reluctantly.
“There are about hundred of us now in our age group in Kolkata who need to go to the FRRO every year and pay something close to Rs. 10,000 to renew our long-term visa,” said Ms. Chen, while showing the receipt of the fee paid to the FRRO in 2015.
She holds a Chinese passport, which she is “willing to surrender” if she receives Indian citizenship, explained her daughter, who preferred anonymity like her mother. However, nearly no one – like Lim Gui Hua – expect any solution.
“This is how it was for the last several decades and the size of my family has reduced to four from 20, every one either migrated or passed away. I do not have money to migrate, so I will die here, stateless, Mr. Hua said.