An awareness campaign for the city’s Cheenepara (neighbourhood of Chinese people) in Tiretta Bazar, listed as one of the heritage sites in urgent need of conservation by the World Monument Fund last year, is scheduled for January 15, the World Monuments Watch Day.
Called “Know Your Cheenepara”, the campaign will include heritage walks, workshops, exhibitions and musical programmes, all of which will be open to all.
Students from government as well as private schools will participate in the campaign, which aims to create awareness about the Chinese community that has been living in the Tiretta Bazar since the 18th century.
The community’s built structures — including temples, churches and funerary sites — need urgent restoration.
The World Monument Fund (WMF) funded the repairs of the roof of Sea Ip Church, a century-old structure, during the last monsoon. “Chinese community members had asked for the restoration of the roof and WMF responded,” said Sohini Pyne, a conservation architect who prepared the dossier for the WMF nomination for Tiretta Bazar.
The nomination to the WMF list is for two years (2022-24), during which it will help fund repairs and restorations and create awareness.
The World Monuments Watch Day is primarily organised to create awareness and involve local communities and children. Students from Mahadevi Birla World Academy, Modern High School International, Indus Valley Word School and The Heritage School took part in a three-month research project at the site, interacting with the Chinese community, in the run-up to the campaign.
Alms House, a funerary structure for the Chinese community that has been lying unused, is in the process of being sold and there are fears that it might get demolished, Pyne said.
A proposal to declare Alms House a heritage structure has been submitted to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
A garbage vat in front Toong On Church, a 1924 colonial-style building, needs to be shifted immediately to create a clean environment for the church-going community, Pyne said.
“The Chinese community of Kolkata is a testimony to the cosmopolitan nature of Kolkata and the culturally pluralistic society it housed between the 18th and 20th centuries,” said Pyne, who is part of a three-member team that is organising the January 15 event.
The other members of the committee are Navpreet Arora and Vibha Mitra.
The World Monuments Fund had in March 2022 announced that Tiretta Bazaar in Old Chinatown had been identified as one of the 25 heritage sites of worldwide significance whose preservation is urgent and vital to the communities surrounding them.
“These sites demonstrate pressing global challenges of climate change, imbalanced tourism, under-representation... underscoring the need for greater action to support heritage places and the people who care for them. In 2022, Tiretta Bazaar was the only site nominated to the list from India,” said Pyne.
Supported by the World Monuments Fund, the “Know Your Cheenepara” campaign in India’s oldest Chinese settlement aims to start a discourse on shared heritage, cultures and responsibilities among school students.
School students will exhibit their three-month research on the Chinese community on January 15 at Nam Soon Club in Tiretta Bazaar’s Damzen Lane.
For better outreach, there will be a curated heritage walk across Tiretta Bazaar. There will also be a dragon dance show. Members of the Kolkata Chinese community will set up food and merchandise stalls.