What used to be the livelihood of the small Chinese community in Calcutta -- leather tanning -- has turned into its death sentence.
Calcutta is the only Indian city with a Chinatown but that will now end thanks to a Supreme Court order that all 200 tanneries must move out to curb the pollution they cause.
With one stroke of the pen, Chinatown, in Tangra, will disappear. Tannery owners and workers live, work and socialize in Tangra. Once they move out to the new industrial estate of Bantala, the character of the Chinese enclave will change for ever.
The Hakka Chinese are packing up and getting ready to move out of the congested alleys of Chinatown because of protests over the air and water being contaminated by the chemicals used in the tanneries.
Paul Chung, president of the Indian Chinese Association, is reluctant to leave a place that holds so many memories. However, even before the court ruling, decline had been staring him in the face.
From a vibrant 20,000-strong community with its own schools, social clubs and newspapers just seven years ago, Chinatown now has only about 7,000 people. The younger ones, unenthused by the idea of tanning leather for a career, have flown away to Canada, the US and Australia.
Chung, a retired schoolmaster, says he is lucky that his four daughters have stayed on.
"I will never leave India. I was born here. My parents are buried here. This is my home," Chung said.
Other parents have seen their children move out.
"Chinatown is being deserted by the new generation," says S.M. Hsiung, a school principal. "The Lee Club used to be alive with all sorts of activities. Now it's deserted. All the young do is dream of settling in developed countries."
For a man who has worked hard to preserve every tradition of his community, the impending disintegration is upsetting.
"In Tangra, we speak the purest form of Hakka anywhere in the world. Even in its original home it has been diluted."
Despite being ultra-conservative, the Hakka Chinese are known for their tendency to migrate, even to the most remote parts of the world. One anecdote has it that the northernmost restaurant in the world, close to the Arctic circle, is Chinese and run by a Hakka.
The Chinese presence in India dates back to the 5th century AD when traders, Buddhist monks and imperial envoys arrived.
The first Chinese settler in Calcutta was Young Atchew around 1780. He tried to set up a sugar mill but died broken hearted. His workmen remained, though, and other Chinese migrants followed. With every fresh influx, the community renewed its cultural links with "Mother China" and maintained its distinct identity.
Over the years, the Chinese became associated with certain professions, but it was leather that became their chief trade because the Chinese were able to skirt Hindu taboos about working with the skins of the sacred cow. Only low-caste Hindus tan leather; upper-caste Hindus would rather chop off their own hands.
The tanneries added their quota of filth to a city notorious for dirt and decay. Kipling called Calcutta "the city of dreadful night" and Sir Robert Clive, the British adventurer, called it "the most wicked place in the universe."
The narrow alleyways of Chinatown do have dirty water, which contains both solvents and detergents, running through them but appearances are deceptive. Behind the high walls or in the deep recesses of factories built like miniature fortresses, live wealthy families in palatial homes.
The tanneries are the heart of Chinatown and some owners are not moving out.
"I'm too old to start again. I have neither the money nor the energy," said Patrick Chew, 53. "My sons aren't interested in this business. They're on their way to Canada and Australia."
TARNISHED LEGACY: Woodrow Wilson served as the university’s president before becoming the US’ 28th leader, but his racism was ‘significant and consequential’ Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.” The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday. It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US. Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton
‘FULLY ENCLOSED’: Residents of Anxin County would be confined to their homes and would only be allowed out once a day to buy necessities such as food and medicine China yesterday imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people near the capital to contain a fresh COVID-19 cluster as authorities warned the outbreak was still “severe and complicated.” After China largely brought the virus under control, hundreds have been infected in Beijing and cases have emerged in Hebei Province. Health officials said that Anxin County — about 150km from Beijing — would be “fully enclosed and controlled,” the same strict measures imposed at the height of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan earlier this year. Only one person from each family would be allowed to go out once a
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
‘CHAPITOS’: An ex-DEA agent said the sons of the former cartel head are engaged in a battle for control, with the health of the man temporarily in charge a factor The fight for control of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s legacy spilled into the open on Thursday after a gun battle between rival Mexican gangs left 16 dead, authorities said. The 16 men, heavily armed and wearing bulletproof vests, died in a six-hour running shootout near the rural town of Tepuche in northwestern Sinaloa province. “A van with seven bodies was located” after an initial clash, while nine bodies were discovered following a second exchange, Sinaloa Minister of Security Cristobal Castaneda told reporters. Castaneda said that Wednesday’s clash near Tepuche, 25km from the capital of Sinaloa, Culiacan, was “part of a struggle