Updated: June 28, 2020 10:46:45 am
I was grabbing my mask to rush to the nearby grocery store when the cellphone rang. It was my mother. I thought she would be (once again) fussing over my ‘outing’ amid the pandemic but she spoke in an extremely serious tone: “I hope you know what is happening between India and China. Always keep your face covered. Stay safe and do not respond to any trouble maker out there.”
While the words of caution aren’t anything new, the fears and anxiety of a possible backlash ratchet up whenever there is a fresh confrontation along the border. The undercurrent of tension bounces back, perhaps each time with a greater force, leaving me wondering if the average man on the street would understand that I am an Indian Chinese and should not be blamed for anything that happens with the neighbouring country.
It was during the initial days of the coronavirus pandemic, when I had gone to a familiar store for some purchases. Little did I expect that one of the staff members, wearing a mask, would appear in front of me, pass some unpleasant remark and walk away. It didn’t turn out to be a pretty sight after I confronted him in front of other customers and the owner, who forced him to apologise. Even though I wasn’t at fault, it didn’t make me want to return to the same store again.
But it took only a couple of weeks for me to rethink the entire situation as news of the latest border face-off between the two nations poured in.
Would someone catch me again if I went out or will it prove to be worse this time? I am not a “spy”. I have no connection with the Chinese government, so why should I suffer?
Most think that I am going overboard with the word “spy” but that’s how I was portrayed the last time I tweeted something in favour of Indian Chinese. I was cornered for being a “Chinese agent” with a few people tagging the National Investigation Agency. I remember I couldn’t sleep that night.
The current spiralling tension makes me wonder what it will take to make others understand the need for cordial exchanges and support rather than hostility with their very own people. An Indian Chinese friend recently asked me if the various Chinese associations should put out a message of harmony.
What I find unusual is how we are most of the time treated with respect but it is only during a conflict that we are looked upon with suspicion. It doesn’t appear difficult for anyone to turn their backs on us just because we look similar to those from the enemy nation.
Such situations often call for measures to heal the festering distrust between people. At the same time, they also leave you wondering if you should succumb to ridiculous ideas such as #boycottchinese goods and give up Chinese food, only for the sake of peace and to ensure that your life is not hampered.
It might sound slightly crazy but at one point, I was suggested by a close one that I wear more of ethnic clothes and wear a bindi to “prove” my nationality.
Am I not just one of the 1.35 billion Indians out there? Why are people demanding that minorities change their own culture to be regarded as a citizen of the very country they were born in?
I might be of Chinese origin but I have no knowledge of Mandarin. Rather, I am well-versed in Hindi and Bengali.
Recently, a friend left me annoyed when she said, “Don’t mind me saying this but China…”. I don’t understand why others need to worry about how I feel about a remark against the neighbouring country.
The scars of the 1962 war will always haunt my community. Fearful of drawing attention, we have always remained quiet about the injustice meted out to us back then. Picking on us will only worsen our suffering.
Liu Chuen Chen is a Senior Sub-Editor with IE Online
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column
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