Siliguri is the gateway of North East India and a multi- cultural society with people of multi-ethnic background coexisting peacefully together. Siliguri is a fast growing economic center in West Bengal. It is third largest agglomeration after Kolkata and Asansol and is the largest and faster growing city in North East after Guwahati. Siliguri is famous for three ‘Ts’, Tea, Timbre and Tourism. Tourists are particularly attracted to this market for its variety and reasonable price for the goods that it sells. This little place is a shopaholic’s euphoria. There are various roads intersecting and with shops popping out on the alleyways. The market attached with Honk Kong Market; Seth Srilal and Bidhan Market has been a popular hub of Chinese products.

More than 50-year-old Hong Kong market, popularly called the Chandni Chawk of North East, located off Hill Cart Road in the city, has become a site of tension lately. Due to the ongoing tension between India and China in the eastern Ladakh and Galwan Valley, Honk Kong Market is caught into a life threatening angst. Being the center of recent cross border tension, this market has attracted several rounds of boycotting Chinese products. People in Siliguri have shown their anger and protested by burning effigies of the China’s President, Xi Jinping together with Chinese goods[5].

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT),  which claims to represent 7 crore traders and 40,000 trade associations, had earlier this month, with the increasing tension in the borders, prepared a list of 3,000 items which are currently imported from China and easily replaceable by Indian manufactured goods. The campaign titled ‘Indian Goods – Our Pride’ aims to achieve reduction in imports of Chinese manufactured goods by Rs 1 lakh crore (about USD 13 billion) by December 2021,” CAIT said [7].

There seems a considerable increase of public anger against China with twenty soldiers being killed including two from the state of West Bengal. It has resulted in various protests against Chinese army on 18th June, 2020 within the state. Even the traders in Siliguri have considered to rename the ‘Hong Kong’ market and stop trading the‘Chinese products’. The slogan of ‘boycott Made in China products’ has received its new popularity under the campaign of self-reliant (Atmanirbhar) India. The incident of this cross border tensions have local impacts which can be deciphered from the following responses.

Hong Kong Market Byabsayee Samiti’s joint secretary Tapan Saha told The Telegraph newspaper that they were deeply disturbed by what happened in Ladakh on Monday. “In our market with some 1,500 traders, most of the goods we sell are imported from China. But after this attack on our security forces, we will change the name of our market. We will soon decide on the new name,”

It’s a known fact that in Hong Kong market Indians get Chinese products in much cheaper price than Indian products and this has been the special attraction to the customers. This market includes various products that ranges from bags, suite case, perfumes, electronics, sunglasses, cosmetics, inner garments, shoes, gift items, cutlery and even eatables which you can get very easily in various designs and price range. The market is crowded throughout the day and the year and during the celebration of Durga Pooja the markets gets flooded with people.

Some shopkeepers put forward their view, when contacted and explained their worldview on the matter. Rahul Bose, a shopkeeper of Hong Kong market, said that “Hong Kong is not the integral part of China and has its own independent constituency but unfortunately it is controlled by China. In fact, citizens of Hong kong are already demanding total independence from China.  Thus the name Hong Kong itself signifies tensions with China and if people understand this there would be no need for the change in name”.

Hong Kong was colonized by the British in 1841and was utilized since then as a military staging point. It was returned to China in 1997. It has its own judiciary and a separate legal system from China. But the basic law of Hong Kong would expire in 2047 and the status of Hong Kong after that is not clear [8].

Another shop keeper Raju Paul stated that, “In the initial years the market was not only about Chinese products, it also had products from Germany, Italy, France, Spain, all imported from Hong Kong. But the recent increase in the imports from China has made the market flooded with Chinese products. The name of this market is given by the citizens of Siliguri itself and the official name of Hong Kong Market is Vidhan Market Cut piece Sammitti”.

He further elaborated that, “If the situation demands the total boycott of Chinese products then we will join hands with the country in this noble cause”. At the same time he was worried about their livelihood which they are continuing since decades.  Further to start a new job neither they have capital nor the skill.

According to Tanmoy Bagchi, a second generation trader dealing in toys, claimed that “we should boycott Chinese products to stand together with our country”. But also pointed out a problem that there is still no substitute for the Chinese product that we consume in our everyday life. “Though the government has started working on the production of Indian goods, the entire system of the market will certainly take time to reach its actual functionality”.

Since India has planned to impose higher tariffs and raise impose duties on around 300 products from China and elsewhere [1] the tension among the traders has increased, as this will increase their investment costs and as a result would increase the price of the goods. Following this the certain rise in the increase of price of the products may discourage the customers to buy these products with the growing stigma of being “Chinese”.

To entirely producing the same items within India may cause the imports of capital goods, chemicals, electrical, machinery, as well as intermediate and consumer goods. Without these import it will not be possible for India manufacture to get required quantity of goods, medicines and gadgets [6].

Economic slowdown in the market started with economic recession of the country, worsened with Covid-19 and the Indo-China situation has pushed the business in Hong Kong Market to its historic low. This market not only has Chinese and other foreign products but also contains made in India products. The traders are struggling to sell the previously stocked products and no new stock is purchased in recent times.

Pritam Sarkar, who sells Chinese watches, stated that he welcomes the step of boycotting Chinese products but in the current economic crisis they can neither afford to throw nor burn their existing stock. He also put forward a very significant aspect of this development that if Hong Kong market starts to sell Indian products the nature itself of Hong Kong market will completely be changed and loose its specialty for which it is widely known. Tourists from all over India, locals and customers from nearby districts and towns like, Jalpaiguri, Kurseong, Darjeeling, Kalingpong, rush to these markets because of its variety and price. It also caters to the needs of the people of the nearby state like Sikkim. It would lose these consumers if they do not have anything fancy, unique and reasonable to sell which being the idiosyncratic character of this market. Simultaneously the Indian products which the adjoining markets and other markets within the city also sell then given the structure of the market, customer might not choose to come to the interiors of market where it is originally situated.

Talking to some customers also helped us understand better about the current crisis.  Seema Singh, a consumer of this market, stated that, “I personally love this place and cannot imagine my life in Siliguri without this and I am sure most people in Siliguri have similar feelings for this market. It has wide range of products in cheap price and we are more or less dependent on them. As far as boycotting Chinese product is considered, I think it’s a good idea as it give more scope to be more self-reliant. Although I am also certainly worried about the increase in the price of the products we consume if it is made in India.”

Priya Rai, another customer, claimed that she has pledged to boycott Chinese products as much as possible. She stated that, “it is high time for us to stand with the country as one and destroy China economy by stop buying their products”.

In the end it’s important to understand the economy of this symbolic act of boycott. The tussle of business and economic nationalism within a region has become the cause of tension not only among the traders but also among the consumers. This instance tells us that international cultural identity effects business prospects in its neighboring territories. The traders of Chinese products in Hong Kong Market seem to welcome the idea of “Swadeshi” to stand with the country and teach China a lesson. But at the same time the international political tension has local economic effects too. Hence the local businessmen are also worried about their business which continue to suffer significant losses. In such conflicting situation they expect the government to consider their problems as well and demand an amicable solution soon.

References

  1. The Economic Times,Jun 19, 2020,India plans extra tariffs, trade barriers on 300 imported products: Sources
    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/foreign-trade/india-plans-extra-tariffs-trade-barriers-on-300-imported-products-sources/articleshow/76447119.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
  2. The Indian Express, June 11, 2020 , Trade associations announces boycott of 3,000 Chinese products

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/boycott-china-products-chinese-india-6453692/

3.      Times of India, Jun 20, 2020, 87% Indians ready to boycott Chinese products for the next one year: Survey
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/76475675.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

  1. The Economic Times, Sep 28, 2019, India may cut duties on 80% of Chinese imports under RCEP
    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/foreign-trade/india-may-cut-duties-on-80-of-chinese-imports-under-rcep/articleshow/71344526.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

5.      Times now Digital, Jun 19, 2020, Ladakh standoff: Amid anti-China protests in West Bengal, Siliguri’s Hong Kong market to change name

https://www.timesnownews.com/expert/timesnow-digital/280

6.      Source: Moneycontrol.com Mar 14, 2019,What will be the impact of India’s boycott of Chinese goods?

https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/economy/policy/what-will-be-the-impact-of-indias-boycott-of-chinese-goods-3644731.html

7.      The Tribune, Jun 10, 2020, CAIT launches campaign to boycott Chinese goods

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/business/cait-launches-campaign-to-boycott-chinese-goods-97259

8.      BBC News, 28 November 2019, The Hong Kong protests explained in 100 and 500 words

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49317695

Rukmani Sharma, Senior research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences. Jawaharlal Nehru University. New Delhi. Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology , Ghoshpukur College, NBU, Siliguri, West Bengal


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