Geography,Languages,History

Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is a state of India, located in the far northeast. It borders the states of Assam and Nagaland to the south, and

Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh

shares international borders with Burma in the east, Bhutan in the west, and the People’s Republic of China in the north. The majority of the territory is claimed by the People’s Republic of China as part of South Tibet. The northern border of Arunachal Pradesh reflects the McMahon Line, a controversial 1914 treaty between the United Kingdom and a Tibetan government, which was never accepted by the Chinese government, and not enforced by the Indian government until 1950. Itanagar is the capital of the state.

Arunachal Pradesh means “land of the dawn lit mountains” in Sanskrit. It is also known as “land of the rising sun” (“pradesh” means “state” or “region”) in reference to its position as the easternmost state of India. Most of the people native to and/or living in Arunachal Pradesh are of Tibeto-Burman origin. A large and increasing number of migrants have reached Arunachal Pradesh from many other parts of India, although no reliable population count of the migrant population has been conducted, and percentage estimates of total population accordingly vary widely. Part of the famous Ledo Burma Road, which was a lifeline to China during World War II, passes through the eastern part of the state.

Arunachal Pradesh Geography:

Much of Arunachal Pradesh is covered by the Himalayas. However, parts of Lohit, Changlang and Tirap are covered by the Patkai hills. Kangto, Nyegi Kangsang, the main Gorichen peak and the Eastern Gorichen peak are some of the highest peaks in this region of the Himalayas.

At the lowest elevations, essentially at Arunachal Pradesh’s border with Assam, are Brahmaputra Valley semi-evergreen forests. Much of the state, including the Himalayan foothills and the Patkai hills, are home to Eastern Himalayan broadleaf forests. Toward the northern border with China, with increasing elevation, come a mixture of Eastern and Northeastern Himalayan subalpine conifer forests followed by Eastern Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows and ultimately rock and ice on the highest peaks.

In 2006 Bumla pass in Tawang was opened to traders for the first time in 44 years. Traders from both sides of the pass were permitted to enter each other’s territories, in addition to postal workers from each country.

The Himalayan ranges that extend up to the eastern Arunachal separate it from Tibet. The ranges extend toward Nagaland, and form a boundary between India and Burma in Changlang and Tirap district, acting as a natural barrier called Patkai Bum Hills. They are low mountains compared to the Greater Himalayas.

Arunachal Pradesh Languages

Arunachal Pradesh can be roughly divided into a set of semi-distinct cultural spheres, on the basis of tribal identity, language, religion, and material culture: the Tibetic area bordering Bhutan in the west, the Tani area in the centre of the state, the Mishmi area to the east of the Tani area, the Tai/Singpho/Tangsa area bordering Burma, and the “Naga” area to the south, which also borders Burma. In between there are transition zones, such as the Aka/Hruso/Miji/Sherdukpen area, which provides a “buffer” of sorts between the Tibetic Buddhist tribes and the animist Tani hill tribes. In addition, there are isolated peoples scattered throughout the state, such as the Sulung.

Within each of these cultural spheres, one finds populations of related tribes speaking related languages and sharing similar traditions. In the Tibetic area, one finds large numbers of Monpa tribespeople, with several subtribes speaking closely related but mutually incomprehensible languages, and also large numbers of Tibetan refugees. Within the Tani area, major tribes include Nishi, which has recently come to be used by many people to encompass Bangni, Tagin and even Hills Miri. Apatani also live among the Nishi, but are distinct. In the centre, one finds predominantly Galo people, with the major sub-groups of Lare and Pugo among others, extending to the Ramo and Pailibo areas (which are close in many ways to Galo). In the east, one finds the Adi, with many subtribes including Padam, Pasi, Minyong, and Bokar, among others. Milang, while also falling within the general “Adi” sphere, are in many ways quite distinct. Moving east, the Idu, Miju and Digaru make up the “Mishmi” cultural-linguistic area, which may or may not form a coherent historical grouping.

Moving southeast, the Tai Khamti are linguistically distinct from their neighbours and culturally distinct from the majority of other Arunachali tribes;They are religiously similar to the Chakmas who have migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan.They follow the same Theraveda sect of Buddhism.The Chakmas consist of the majority of the tribal population.Districts of Lohit,Changlang,Dibang and Papumpare have a considerable number of Chakmas. They speak a linguistic variant derived from Assamese and Bengali. Their language is more similar to Assamese . Assam also have a large population of Chakmas who reside in the district of Karbi Anglong , Nagaon and Kachar. however, they also exhibit considerable convergence with the Singpho and Tangsa tribes of the same area; all of these groups are also found in Burma. Finally, the Nocte and Wancho exhibit cultural and possibly also linguistic affinities to the tribes of Nagaland, which they border.

In addition, there are large numbers of migrants from diverse areas of India and Bangladesh, who, while legally not entitled to settle permanently, in practice stay indefinitely, progressively altering the traditional demographic makeup of the state. Finally, populations of “Nepalis” (in fact, usually Tibeto-Burman tribespeople whose tribes predominate in areas of Nepal, but who do not have tribal status in India) and Chakmas are distributed in different areas of the state (although reliable figures are hard to come by).

Literacy has risen in official figures to 54.74% from 41.59% in 1991. The literate population is said to number 487,796.

An uncertain but relatively large percentage of Arunachal’s population are animist, and follow shamanistic-animistic religious traditions such as Donyi-Polo (in the Tani area) and Rangfrah (further east). A small number of Arunachali peoples have traditionally identified as Hindus, although the number is growing as animist traditions are merged with Hindu traditions. Tibetan Buddhism predominates in the districts of Tawang, West Kameng, and isolated regions adjacent to Tibet. Theravada Buddhism is practiced by groups living near the Burmese border. Around 19% of the population are said to be followers of the Christian faith,and this percentage is probably growing due to Christian missionary activities in the area.

A law has been enacted to protect the indigenous religions (e.g., Donyi-Poloism, Buddhism) in Arunanchal Pradesh against the spread of other religions, though no comparable law exists to protect the other religions.

Arunachal Pradesh History

The history of pre-modern Arunachal Pradesh remains shrouded in mystery. It is popularly believed, and may be speculatively assumed, that the first ancestors of most indigenous tribal groups migrated from pre-Buddhist Tibet two or three thousand years ago, if not before, and were joined by Tibetic and Thai-Burmese counterparts later. The earliest written references to Arunachal are popularly believed to be found in the Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Vedic legends. Several characters, such as, King Bhismaka, are believed to represent people from the region in the Mahabharata; however, since corroborating information is unavailable, and since place-names cannot be verified at that historical time-depth, such associations are to a large extent speculative. For example, there is no evidence whatsoever that the name Bhismaka plausibly associates with any indigenous Arunachali tribes or languages at all.

Oral histories possessed to this day by many Arunachali tribes of Tibeto-Burman stock are much richer, and point unambiguously to a northern origin in modern-day Tibet. Again, however, corroboration remains difficult. From the point of view of material culture, it is clear that most indigenous Arunachali groups align with Burma-area hill tribals, a fact that could either be explainable in terms of a northern Burmese origin or from westward cultural diffusion.

From the perspective of material culture, the most unusual Arunachali group by far is the Puroik/Sulung, whose traditional staple food is sago palm and whose primary traditional productive strategy is foraging. While speculatively considered to be a Tibeto-Burman population, the uniqueness of Puroik culture and language may well represent a tenuous reflection of a distant and all but unknown pre-Tibeto-Burman, Tai and Indo-Aryan past.

Recorded history from an outside perspective only became available in the Ahom chronicles of the 16th century. The Monpa and Sherdukpen do keep historical records of the existence of local chiefdoms in the northwest as well. Northwestern parts of this area came under the control of the Monpa kingdom of Monyul, which flourished between 500 B.C. and 600 A.D. This region then came under the loose control of Tibet and Bhutan, especially in the Northern areas. The remaining parts of the state, especially those bordering Myanmar, came under the titular control of the Ahom and the Assamese until the annexation of India by the British in 1858. However, most Arunachali tribes remained in practice largely autonomous up until Indian independence and the formalization of indigenous administration in 1947.

Recent excavations of ruins of Hindu temples such as the 14th century Malinithan at the foot of the Siang hills in West Siang are somewhat automatically associated with the ancient history of Arunachal Pradesh, inasmuch as they fall within its modern-day political borders. However, such temples are generally south-facing, never occur more than a few kilometers from the Assam plains area, and are perhaps more likely to have been associated with Assam plains-based rather than indigenous Arunachali populations. Another notable heritage site, Bhismaknagar, has led to suggestions that the Idu (Mishmi) had an advanced culture and administration in pre-historical times. Again, however, no evidence directly associates Bhismaknagar with this or any other known culture. The third heritage site, the 400-year-old Tawang Monastery in the extreme north-west of the state, provides some historical evidence of the Buddhist tribal peoples. Historically, the area had a close relationship with Tibetan people and Tibetan culture, for example the sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso was born in Tawang.

Drawing of McMahon line

In 1913-1914 representatives of China, Tibet and Britain negotiated a treaty in India: the Simla Accord. This treaty’s objective was to define the borders between Inner and Outer Tibet as well as between Outer Tibet and British India. British administrator, Sir Henry McMahon, drew up the 550 miles (890 km) McMahon Line as the border between British India and Outer Tibet during the Simla Conference. The Tibetan and British representatives at the conference agreed to the line, which ceded Tawang and other Tibetan areas to the British Empire. The Chinese representative had no problems with the border between British India and Outer Tibet, however on the issue of the border between Outer Tibet and Inner Tibet the talks broke down. Thus, the Chinese representative refused to accept the agreement and walked out. The Tibetan Government and British Government went ahead with the Simla Agreement and declared that the benefits of other articles of this treaty would not be bestowed on China as long as it stays out of the purview. The Chinese position was that Tibet was not independent from China, so Tibet could not have independently signed treaties, and per the Anglo-Chinese (1906) and Anglo-Russian (1907) conventions, any such agreement was invalid without Chinese assent.

Simla was initially rejected by the Government of India as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention. However, this agreement(Anglo-Russian Convention) was renounced by Russia and Britain jointly in 1921, thus making the Simla Conference official. However, with the collapse of Chinese power in Tibet the line had no serious challenges as Tibet had signed the convention, therefore it was forgotten to the extent that no new maps were published until 1935, when interest was revived by civil service officer Olaf Caroe. The Survey of India published a map showing the McMahon Line as the official boundary in 1937. In 1938, the British finally published the Simla Convention as a bilateral accord two decades after the Simla Conference; in 1938 the Survey of India published a detailed map showing Tawang as part of NEFA. In 1944 Britain established administrations in the area, from Dirang Dzong in the west to Walong in the east. Tibet, however, altered its position on the McMahon Line in late 1947 when the Tibetan government wrote a note presented to the newly independent Indian Ministry of External Affairs laying claims to the Tibetan district (Tawang) south of the McMahon Line. The situation developed further as India became independent and the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. With the PRC poised to take over Tibet, India unilaterally declared the McMahon Line to be the boundary in November 1950, and forced the last remnants of Tibetan administration out of the Tawang area in 1951. The PRC has never recognized the McMahon Line, and claims Tawang on behalf of Tibetans. The 14th Dalai Lama, who led the Tibetan government from 1950 to 1959, said as recently as 2003 that Tawang is “actually part of Tibet”. He reversed his position in 2008, saying that it was part of India.

 

2 Responses

  1. Nice…one!!

    • Thanks

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