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Minuscule Assamese Chinese community never misses chance to vote

Their votes may not be the deciding factor in the elections, but for decades, members of the small Assamese Chinese community have been exercising their franchise without fail.

Minuscule Assamese Chinese community never misses chance to vote

MAKUM: Their votes may not be the deciding factor in the elections, but for decades, members of the small Assamese Chinese community have been exercising their franchise without fail.

They consider themselves very much Indians and do not want to miss out on elections.

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 women.

But after the 1962 India-China war, they were sent to a detention camp in Deoli in Rajasthan so that they do not work as spies, says Sahitya Akademi-winning writer Rita Chowdhury, who has written a novel titled "Makam" on the subject.

Some of them were deported to China while a few were released later. Those released came back to Assam and settled across the state but mostly in the Upper Assam areas of Makum, Digboi, Panitola and Tinsukia. They consider themselves as citizens of India and their names too have found a place in Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC). They also speak chaste Assamese.

John Wong, in his 60s, runs the Hong Kong restaurant in Tinsukia's China Patty (pronounced as "Cheena Patty" locally) area. His father, the late Wong Ssu Chin, was the headmaster of a Chinese school here which has now been converted into a Hindi school. John's mother Lee Su Chen is in her 90s and is among the oldest voters of the community.

"As always, we are eagerly waiting to vote," he says. "My nephew Rajiv Gogoi, who works in Mumbai, is coming all the way to vote here," John told PTI.

Social worker Akhil Chandra Baruah says there are 16 Assamese Chinese families in Makum with a total of around 30 members. Across the state, there are less than 50 families.

Makum falls under the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituency, where voting will be held on April 11.

Tung Chin Tham is a third generation Assamese Chinese. He is an English language trainer in the aviation and tourism sector and is based in Guwahati.
Tham feels "Assamese Chinese" is just a tag and nothing else.

"There is no such feeling that we are Chinese. Our people have very well assimilated in the Assamese society," he says.

According to Tham, whichever government comes, it should work for the concerns of the people and development and ensure that there is peace and harmony in the society.

Willie Ho, proprietor of C M Ho & Company, which manufactures tea machinery, says, "We vote like any other person does in India."
The company was started by Willie's father C M Ho.

Chowdhury had taken an initiative to help the separated families' members in India and China reunite.

"They (those who stayed here) forgot their own language and most of them never went back to China again. Most of the people were illiterate and ignorant of political changes," she says.