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."
China has possibly committed “genocide” in its treatment of Uighurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in a report on Thursday. The bipartisan commission said that new evidence had last year emerged that “crimes against humanity — and possibly genocide — are occurring” in Xinjiang. It also accused China of harassing Uighurs in the US. China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills, which others have called concentration camps. The UN says that
A racing pigeon has survived an extraordinary 13,000km Pacific Ocean crossing from the US to find a new home in Australia. Now authorities consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it. Kevin Celli-Bird yesterday said he discovered that the exhausted bird that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on Dec. 26 last year had disappeared from a race in the US state of Oregon on Oct. 29. Experts suspect the pigeon that Celli-Bird has named Joe — after US president-elect Joe Biden — hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific. Joe’s feat has attracted the attention
The Polish Supreme Court on Friday quashed a lower court’s green light for the extradition of a businessman to China for alleged fraud, a charge he has denied, saying that he is being targeted for supporting Falun Gong. Polish authorities took Chinese-born Swedish citizen Li Zhihui, now 53, into custody in 2019 on an international warrant issued by China for alleged non-payment in a business deal, Krzysztof Kitajgrodzki, his Polish lawyer, told reporters. Following the Supreme Court ruling, the case would return to a lower appellate court for review. Kitajgrodzki told reporters that it was still not a given that his client
DELIVERING HOPE: The Japanese PM pledged to push ahead with plans to stage the Games, despite polls showing about 80% think they will not or should not happen Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga yesterday vowed to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control and hold the already postponed Olympic Games this summer with ample protection. In a speech opening a new session of parliament, Suga said that his government would revise laws to make disease prevention measures enforceable with penalties and compensation. Early in the pandemic, Japan was able to keep its caseload manageable with nonbinding requests for businesses to close or operate with social distancing, and for people to stay at home, but recent weeks have seen several highs in new cases per day, in part blamed on eased attitudes