Mechuka-Paradise on earth, Arunachal Pradesh

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Revisited view from Ranaghat Bridge, Siang River, Pasighat II

Ranaghat Bridge over Siang River, Pasighat
Ranaghat Bridge over Siang River, Pasighat



Captain Neol Williamson was the Assistant Political Officer at Sadiya in the beginning of the 20th century and wedded to the ideas of British imperialism thoroughly. Within a very short time of his appointment, he toured into the interiors of the north-eastern hills and very often crossed the line of his jurisdiction. In the year 1908, Williamson toured the Pasi, Gallong and Minyong village around the present day Pasighat. In the following year he again made the tour in Lohit valley, this time going beyond the ’Outer line’. He also toured the Abor hills going along the course of Dihang river and went upto Kebang village. During this tour, he was accompanied by Colonel D.M. Lumsden and W.L.B. Jackman, a member of the American Mission at Sadiya. Williamson and his party could not go beyond the Kebang Village due to an inter-tribal war between the Pangis and the Minyongs.

 The main objective of these tours was to gather detailed knowledge of the tribal land, explore the possibilities of the trade route through these hills to Tibet and to ascertain the extent of the Chinese influence in this area. The Adis, however, were always suspicious of these tours since during tours, they were not only required to work as porters but were also supposed to provide ration supply to the touring party without any substantial payment. Besides, the  tribals were also haunted by a common sense of insecurity and humiliation. To a primitive people, with their distinctive native culture, institutions and values, the activities of the British amounted to a direct interference in their freedom and the imposition of an alien culture on them. Like any other tribal society which valued its freedom more than anything else, this was causing irritation among the Adis. The result was explosive, leading to the murder of Williamson and his party in 1911.

 Noel Williamson was determined to penetrate into the hills with a view to fulfill his objective and once again, therefore, 1911, he penetrated again into the Mishmi hills upto Walong. There he noticed the Chinese flag at Menikari and was also reported the Chinese occupation of Rima. Noticing the Chinese activities In the Mishmi Hills he became concerned about the lot of the Abor Hills; immediately after his return from the Mishmi hills. He, therefore, chalked out a programme of tour into Abor hills. From the Chinese action he had seen in the Mishmi Hills, he at once realize the necessity of finding out the extent of the Chinese influence in these hills. Thus in 1911, Williamson ventured on another expedition of the Adi Hills that was to make an important landmark in the history of the North East.

Before proceeding to see the expedition of Williamson in 1911, let us have a look at the rules and regulations of the Government concerning such expeditions. the orders relating to the tours beyond the area of political control on the north-east border of India were  summed up briefly in the rule that the sanction of the Local Government must first be obtained in all cases. When such tours were likely involve complications that could demand the sending of a punitive expedition, the tour could not be permitted without the prior permission of the Government of India. All the official records reveal that Williamson had failed to get the necessary sanction of the Government before he started his tour of the Abor Hills in 1911.

During this expedition, Willamson was accompanied by 34 Gurkhali coolies, 10 Miris, 2 orderlies and three servants. Besides, Dr. J.D. Gregorson, a successful doctor in medical charge of the European and native staff of an important tea garden at Tinsukia and Lakhimpur, who took a deep interest in the tribes of the Hills, also accompanied Williamson. On 18thMarch, 1911, the party reached Rottung and halted there for the night. During that night, some provisions and a case of liquor was stolen from the camp by some tribal people. Williamson asked the  village people that the guilty were to be presented before him when he returned back from his journey. The naturally made the village people very angry, since Williamson had the guts to threaten the Adis in their own land. It is suggested that the plan to murder the entire party was discussed by the villagers the same night. This was even reported to Williamson, but he did not pay any attention to it. He was confident that the Adis would not attack him since as per the nature of the Adis, they are stronger in deliberation than in action. On the next day the party marched upto Pangi village and stayed there waiting for the arrival of the porters. On the 28th March, a Mising servant, Manpur, was sent back to Rottung with some sick coolies and some letters. Manpur, it was reported, told to the people of Rottung that he had come to take more sepoys into the hills so that the Adis could be punished. This false statement on the part of Manpur agitated the tribals who killed the four men and marched upto Pangi to take action against Williamson and his party.

On the fateful day of 30th March, Willamson marched further from pangi, leaving Dr. Gregorson and three coolies in the camp. The tribals, gathering more men at Kebang and Babuk villages, came to the Pangi camp and killed Dr. Gregorson and the three coolies. They they followed Williamson who had reached Komsing village, which is 80 miles from the present day Pasighat. On the morning of 31th March, 1911, the furious tribals arrived there and in the broad daylight, Williamson and his party was murderd at 10:00 a.m. Only a few managed to escape to relay the news of this murder at Sodiya.

Pasighat to Bodak and Pangin-Proposed DAM site by jaypee group

dam proposed dam site by jaypee group
dam proposed dam site by jaypee group-Pasighat, Bodak and Pangin
proposed dam site by jaypee group
the proposed dam site by jaypee group-East Siang

da proposed dam site by jaypee groupda proposed dam site by jaypee group


Village Houses Of Arunachal Pradesh

Village House




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THE Assassination of Captain Noel Williamson and Medical Officer Dr Gregorson (31st March 1911) and Abor Expedition and its Consequences

THE Assassination of Captain Noel Williamson and Medical Officer  Dr Gregorson (31st March 1911)

and Abor Expedition and its Consequences

A political agent of the British Raj. Captain Noel Williamson and his doctor companion were carrying the message of the death of King Edward VII to the tribal chiefs. After some ten minutes you will come to Captain Noel Williamson’s grave just up above the houses. It still has its original stone inscription and a more recent brass plaque “On this spot was murdered Noel Williamson, Assistant Political Officer Sadiya, 31st March 1911”.

Captain Noel Williamson's grave
Captain Noel Williamson’s grave in Komsing village Pasighat

“Noel Williamson was the Assistant Political officer of Sardia (sic) who toured the Siang Valley in 1909 up to Kebang. He had a friendly approach and gained the confidence of the people. Greatly encouraged by this gesture of goodwill, he decided to visit Komsing from where an invitation was extended to him. A plan was made, and even though the Government at first was reluctant, they subsequently approved the limited tour (beyond the inner line) up to Komsing on the left bank of the Siang river.

Accompanied by Dr Gregorson (sic), Medical Officer of European and Native Staff of tea gardens in Upper Assam, a company of 47 porters and armed escort, Williamson left Pasighat on 20 March 1911. At ferry point of Komlighat a friendly courier of one of the headmen of Kebang village Takut tried to dissuade him, as there was a conspiracy to stall the move. But Williamson brushed him aside and crossed the river and arrived at Sissan village. At Sissan a number of porters fell sick forcing Dr Gregorson to stay back while Williamson marched ahead to Komsing.

 On 29th March accompanied by an interpreter, three sick porters left for Rotung en route to Pasighat. The interpreter was carrying three official envelopes for delivery to post at Pasighat. He flourished these envelopes to the curious villagers in a show of great importance. The envelopes were bordered with black stripes as a mark of mourning for the death of King Edward VII of the British Empire. But the foolish interpreter boastfully explained that white indicates two sahibs, the black borderline countless sepoys and the red seal was of great anger. He further told the frightened villagers that his move to Pasighat was to deliver the letters to call the army to level the hills by bombardment. Greatly alarmed, the leaders decided to stop the delivery of the letters. Fast runners moved to Kebang, the leading village and relayed the ominous message. Next morning when the interpreter and his companions moved out in great self-assurance they were waylaid and brutally murdered. The people then mobilised for an offensive attack. Stockades were built up, needle-sharp panjies laid on the route of march, stone chutes with immense piles of boulders concealed on the path, strung arrows held in tension of string to fly at all directions, patrols moved out to watch towers, an elaborate signal system operated, food packets cached for emergency.

On 31st March, a patrol of sturdy youths secretly crossed the river to the other bank and descended on Sissan to surprise the small party. Dr Gregorson, along with the escort and porters fell to the attack. Only three could escape death by jumping into the river. At Komsing village Williamson was received with traditional hospitality. Assured of friendship and peace, all were in a relaxed mood. The second patrol from Kebang already took up position. It was midday when Williamson went for a bath in the enclosure when all of a sudden a heavy sword blow fell on him and he died soon after. Simultaneously followers and others including the sentries were taken completely unaware and fell to the attack.

It was a tragedy of the worst magnitude. The escaped sepoys managed to reach Pasighat to convey the news of the disaster; an immediate alarm was raised. Soon after a massive operation was planned under the command of Major General H Bower, the Officer Commanding of Assam Brigade. The Brigade comprised the crack units of Gurkhas, sappers and miners, medical team, cartographers, naturalists and scores of army officers. The extensive preparation for the punitive expedition continued till mid October. Troops were brought from far away Kolkata by river steamers and ferried across to Koboghat by dozens of country crafts. The party then moved up river and took punitive action. An ambush was planned by the people from Kebang village and their few allies (villages north of Kebang refused to become involved) but this was spotted and instead, the villagers themselves were caught in the crossfire from two machine guns and massacred.”


Abor Expedition and its Consequences


Noel Williamson along with Dr. Gregorson went across the ‘inner line’ in the Abor hills in March 1911 and with the exception of six coolies, who managed to escape, Kebang Abors murdered the members of the expedition at village Komsing. The Government of India took it as an affront to the imperial prestige. An impressive expedition under Major General Bower was sent to teach a lesson to the offending Abors. Three survey missions were also sent along with the pacification expedition to map out the entire region up to the Himalayan water shade. The survey missions were to explore and survey the country and recommend a suitable frontier line between India and Tibet. The Deputy Commissioner of Lakhimpur, A H W Bentick, in his ‘Political Report on the Expedition’, furnished the proposals as to the future of this frontier tract on April 23, 1912. Accordingly, the North East Frontier Tract was divided in to three sections: the central and eastern sections to control the Ponpong Nagas, Singphos, Mijus, Chulikata and Babejia Mishmis and the various tribes of Abors as far as the Siang –Subansiri divide, and the western section (which came to be known as the Balipara Frontier Tract) to deal with the tribes from this divide westwards to Bhutan. The two eastern sections were placed in the charge of one Political Officer with head quarters at Sadiya, which came to be known as ‘Sadiya Frontier Tract’.

Under this dispensation, two Assistant Political Officers, one, for Abor subdivision at Pasighat and another, at Wallong for the Lohit Valley subdivision, were proposed. The Government of India Act, 1919 vested with the Governor of Assam with the administration of the three Frontier tracts and declared them as “Backward Tracts”. Similarly, the Government of India Act, 1935 termed these tracts as the “ Excluded Areas” in 1936, by which it was meant that the State Assembly of Assam was not empowered to frame rules for these ‘Excluded Frontier Tracts’ and the Governor of the State was to govern them directly. Between 1943 to 1948, these frontier tracts were re-organized in to five Agencies: Sela, Subansiri, Abor, Mishmi, and Tirap.


Sino-Indian Border Dispute and Arunachal Pradesh

Sino-Indian Border Dispute and Arunachal Pradesh

The Tibet Expedition, 1903-’04 represents one of the landmarks of British’s ‘Forward policy’ to the Himalaya region. However, the gains made by the expedition were squandered at the altar of British imperial interests. The Chinese,who were found totally ineffective during the expedition, were permitted to pay the indemnity on behalf of the Tibetans and the British empire made a hasty retreat from its imperial designs in the Eastern Himalayan region. Charles A Bell, Political Officer, Gangtok, and the overseer of the British interests in Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet, realized in 1909 that the British did not have an effective treaty right over the foreign relations of the communities in the Eastern Himalayan region.

 Before he finalized the Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty, 1910, he wrote to the Secretary to the State, Government of India, in respect of each of the tribes’ on the following points:

 “(i) How far does the territory of the tribe stretch towards Tibet from the Indian frontiers?

(ii) How far is the country cultivable, e.g. how far would it be able to support troops, if and when, the lands were fully cultivated? It may be, as in Bhutan, that there were large areas of the government land at present uncultivated.

(iii) To what extent the tribal territory would act as a barrier to invaders, e.g. its physical difficulties, breadth (of the land) to be crossed and the supplies (when the lands are cultivated as fully as possible) obtainable?

(iv) Whether the tribes in any way have recognized the suzerainty of Tibet or China? The claims of these countries are often so shadowy that it would be well to clear up the point as far as possible.

(v) (Is there a) possibility of inducing the tribes to agree to the treaty? I understand that the use of bazaar in the plains give us a good hold over the tribes.We may have some other pressures to bear.”

 China invaded Tibet in 1910 and this time, unlike in 1904, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan theocrat, took refuse in India. Worried of the Chinese advance and ambitions in the Himalayas, the British thought about its vulnerable hold on the eastern Himalayan ranges. The British hurried in to holding the Shimla Conference in 1913-1914, in which the Tibetan and Chinese representatives were joined by Henry McMahon, the Chief British Negotiator, with Charles A Bell and Fredric M Bailey, the then Political Officer and his successor respectively. The Conference could arrive at initialling an agreed boundary on the Eastern Himalayan region between the three delegates, but it was not finally signed by the three delegations. Though they had no reason for that at that time, but the Chinese government repudiated the claimed and agreed boundary in course of time.

 The British had their reasons to be convinced that the agreed boundary running across the Himalayan water-divide, (which came to be known as the McMahon line) was the long existing natural northern boundary in the region. Bell, who had been keeping a close watch on the going on in the region, proposed another step to bring the Assam Hills under more effective administrative control from the British. He suggested to the government the creation of a “North Eastern Frontier Agency” on the pattern of the North West Frontier Agency (NWFA). The Agency, headed by an Agent, would be head quartered at Tawang, on the western most district of Arunachal on the shortest route between Lhasa, the Tibetan capital and Calcutta, the British imperial seat of power in India. It was to include the British ‘political’ works connected with Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and Assam Hills. The First World War 1914-1918, its aftermath, the world-wide economic depression, the Second World War and the British withdrawal from India were some of the reasons, which came in the way of affecting the McMahon Line as the northern boundary of Arunachal Pradesh. Thus, the British were not in a position to implement the decisions of the Simla Conference or give serious consideration to Bell’s suggestions on time.

 The two distinct world-views represented by the Indian Union and the People’s Republic of China led to a “silent” conflict between the two neighbours from 1950’s. This exploded into an open armed clash between the two regimes in 1962. Since then, the two governments have been holding a series of talks to sort out the boundary dispute. Arunachal Pradesh is one of the Indian regions which China claims is disputed territory. India has been careful to evolve special dispensation suited to the largely tribal population of the state. Keeping in view of the national policy to integrate the small ethic groups with the larger nationalities., Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister of and the self-confessed “missionary” of his gospel on the policy to the tribes, Verrier Elwin, evolved a set of five principles as the “tribal Panchsheel” as the magna carta of the tribal administration in India (Elwin 1964). Not only that, they also created in the 1950s a new inspired and committed bureaucracy known as the Indian Frontier Administrative Service IFAS), which extended the limits of administration slowly and presently was disbanded in the aftermath of the Indian army debacle.

 Singphos and Khamtis, migrated from Shan State of Burma towards the end of 18th century and were known as war like- peoples. Today they are enterprising and extremely progressive business group and progressive farmers and traders, who are in touch with the plains of the Assam. Siang district is the home of the Adi group considered to be one of the most progressive in the State. They are divided into two: Gallong section (Ramos, Bokar and Pailibos) and Padam- Minyong section consisting besides Padam and Minyong, Passis, Pangis, Boris, Ashings, Tangams and Shimongs. Though these communities are known for their strong democratic spirit, they also had the tradition of slavery, which still reflects at societal levels. “An important feature of many Adi villages is the dormitory, the club of the boys and men, which organizes the youth of the tribe and used for deliberations of the Kebang or tribal council” (Elwin 1964). Again, this was the region, where Noel Williamson, the British Assistant Political Officer and members of the expedition were murdered in 1911.

 Subansiri is the home of the Nyishis as well as the most agricultural enterprising and environmentally sensitive of the State’s communities, the Apatanis. In the year 1890 the first European visitor to the Apatani plateau found: “in a remote, well-watered valley lived a society of highly organized, industrious people, who had developed an extensive system of irrigated fields and, though ignorant of plough, succeeded with their hoes in raising two annual crops for themselves and their neighbours. But they had no contacts with the outside world; the Daflas prevented them going down to trade in the plains; and so they lived, fairly prosperous. Fairly happy, in complete isolation” (Elwin 1964). The Nyishis and Hill Miris are other communities of the district. A near revolution has occurred of late, when a site was selected to establish a modern township, Itanagar, for the state capital in the thinly populated foothills of Subansiri. The Nyshis rose to the occasion took full advantage of the opportunity and are on their way to being one of the most powerful communities of the state.

 Monpa and Sherdukpens are the residents of Kameng district in west. They keep large herds of cattle; graze them on the various elevations as per the season; have an economy around bovine rearing. They follow the Geylugpa (yellow hat) sect of Mahayan Buddhism. Tawang, the seat of one of the most important monasteries in the Himalayas, is located here and is about 350 years old. It is one of the living centres of Buddhist  in the world, where hundreds of monks and nuns are trained. This is the land of one of the most progressive communities of the state, who are famous farmers, trader’s as well an as good animal husband. This was also the region through which the Tibetan Dharamaguru, the Dalai Lama, descended to India in 1959 leaving behind his official abode in Lhasa in Tibet. Since then, this has also been the Himalayan battle ground between the Indian and the Chinese army in their border skirmishes.

 Arunachal Pradesh is also saddled with another problem: integration of two sets of foreign refugees; the Chakmas and Tibetans, both settled in Lohit district. About 20, 000 Chakma refugees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and some refugees from Tibet were settled in the district way back in 1960’s. They were allotted some land to support them through cultivation. This step was taken in the period in Arunachal history, in which it was not only shocking defeat of the Indian army in NEFA, but its identity as a distinct political unit was yet to be carved; its own administration was to be established; and some political education was to be imparted to its leaders for a democratic system to function. After nearly four decades, Chakmas’ population has risen to above 60, 0000, who demand their citizenship, which is opposed by a sizeable public opinion of the State on the ground that this numerically large ethnic group will affect the fragile ethnic among the indigenous communities in the State.


The tales of Ami Dori : Oral tradition and culture in the Apatani Valley

The tales of Ami Dori : Oral tradition and culture in the Apatani Valley

There was a young girl called Ami Dori. She was an extremely good person, who spoke kindly and never ever had a bad word for anyone. She was also very beautiful, of incomparable beauty. She was as lovely as the rising sun and the shining moon, a girl of good speech, thought and action. Because she was so perfect she was considered the elder sister of the god iipyo wi.
But her brother’s wife became jealous of her perfection and began to slander her. ”Everyone says that your sister, Ami Dori, is good but she’s not. She’s evil. Do you know what she’s done? She had illicit sex with Tadu and with Bume – that’s what they say, she’s done bad things with them.” When he heard all this about Ami Dori, her brother believed his wife and then he, too, began to speak ill of her. And when their parents heard what the brother had to say, they also started to call her names. Hearing what the parents said, others outside the family began to talk ill of Ami Dori.
When she heard all that was said about her, all this horrible talk, Ami Dori felt terrible, very bad inside, and said to herself: ”At first everyone praised me and said I was a good person, but now they say I’m bad.” That’s how she felt. ”I am the sister of iipyo wi and so I’ve never had a bad thought in my heart, never done a bad thing. Not in the past, not even in childhood, not in the present and not in the future would I ever do anything bad. I never had and never will even entertain bad thoughts. You [her family] have prevented me from living my life as I wished.”
Full of sorrow and pain, Ami Dori left her parents’ house then went to a grove where she made the takun tree her mother and the sangko bacho tree her father. Why did she do that? You might ask. Well, her sister-in-law had slandered her, her brother had slandered her, her mother and father had slandered her, the whole village had slandered her. She was devastated and began to think: ”If my mother doesn’t act like a mother, and if I can’t consider her my mother; if she can’t think of me as her daughter, if my father can’t think of me as his daughter, if my brother can’t think of me as his sister, if my sister-in-law can’t treat me as a sister-in-law, if everyone calls me an evil person, then I don’t know how I can live on this earth.”
Then she said to the creator god, ”Since my birth, until this very day, I have done nothing wrong. I did nothing with Biilyi Tado and Bume Tah; I never even looked at them. To say I had illicit sex with them is idle gossip. God, you know everything – the stars, sun and moon, all the gods, souls, including the malevolent giirii wi; you created all the creatures, from spirits to humans and animals, all the insects and reptiles, the flora and fauna, trees, everything little and big. Everything and everyone is your creation. So you know me, what I’ve done and what I’ve said and who I am. I also know and because I know I can no longer live among people. I’m going to leave this earth. They say that I had sex with Biilyi Tado and Bume Tah and I am humiliated/disgraced.”
With these sad words and thoughts, she tied a cane-rope to a branch of the takun tree and then around her neck and committed suicide. There, in that takun grove, she took her own life and left this earth. After her death, her maternal uncle [and his brothers ?] came and said, ”Ami Dori was always a good person. How could you speak about such a good person in such a terrible way? Because she felt disgraced, she killed herself.” [They thought that she died because she felt disgraced?]
Ami Dori’s family replied, ”We all believed what the others said, that she was bad. We believed what her sister-in-law said about her, what her own brother and her own parents said. Asking more and more questions, the maternal uncle found out that her brother and his wife had first said that she was bad, that she had sex with Biilyi Tadu and Bume Tah. He also learned that they were not humans, but snakes, who became humans who turned back into snakes. Ami Dori had played with those snakes. They explained this to the maternal uncle and his brothers. [When they heard all this] the maternal uncle and his relatives spoke directly to Ami Dori, ”You are sister of iipyo wi, the good Ami Dori, but they said that you were bad. But we, in our hearts, do not believe them. All those people accused you of doing evil, but you have said that you did nothing wrong with Biilyi Tado and Bume Tah, that you have been wronged, that you are blameless. But instead of taking revenge, we will bury you. Then you must show us that you are pure and not evil; give us a sign from your grave that you led a good life.”
On the next day, in the early morning, her family and her sister-in-law’s family [?] went to her grave and saw a small shoot growing, no taller than a snake’s fang. On the second morning it was the size of a lizard’s leg. And on the third day a full tree had grown over her grave mound, a big, thick tree with many branches. From her grave, through the power of god, spiritual power, she showed that she really had committed no evil. Different flowers blossomed on the many branches of that tree – a red flower, a white flower, a green flower and a dark flower [this is in nyibo language]. And the tree was called the ”Dori” tree and the necklace tree because different coloured necklaces hung from those branches – the domin, doku, rite, tado, sampyo, santer, ahing paming, and lebu – all these necklaces grew on the tree.
”One person watches and one makes a hole [in the bead]; one person rolls the thread and one puts it through the hole; and plucks the beads from the tree.” [In the same way ?] everyone now knew that Ami Dori was a good woman, that she had done no wrong; that god had made her a pure being. They knew that she had done nothing wrong with Biilyi Tadu and Bume Tah, that everyone had unjustly slandered her. The necklace tree appeared to show this to everyone. When the tree had demonstrated Ami Dori’s goodness to the maternal uncle, the others – her brother and sister-in-law, and her parents stood accused.
In order to show the rest of the world that she was innocent, her uncles took the necklaces [from the tree?] and set out to sell them. This is said to have been the ”first business”. In our miji language we have the saying: ”Tado must go and sell; Haley must go and sell”. [Tado-Haley refers to a generic trader] These two men set out to sell these necklaces, which were created by the creator of all we see [the stars, sun, moon, etc.] They went to sell those necklaces to show the world that Ami Dori was innocent.
They went to the house of Nyime Payang Radhe [a ruler from Tibet?], to try to sell them to his daughters. But they rejected them, saying they weren’t up to the mark. So the uncles took the necklaces and wandered from place to place, trying to sell them, explaining that they were expensive because they were the ornaments of Ami Dori. North and south they went, here and there and everywhere, until they reached the house of Pan Pachi Tari [some kind of title]; to his women folk they said, ”Here are fine necklaces; look at them and see how nice they are.” Then Pan Pachi Tari bought them for his daughters, saying, ”I’ll buy them with my lands.” And so it was that because Ami Dori was a virtuous person, of excellent character, kind thoughts and gentle speech – because she was the best person on earth her sister-in-law, her brother and her parents spoke ill of her, and others did until the whole world slandered her. God made her pure and through the power of meping wi, the necklace tree grew and showed the world [that she was innocent].

India’s Strategic Geography Culture and India-China Geography

India’s Strategic Geography Culture and India-China Geography

While geography is the study of the physical environment, its centrality is to discover in what ways and to what extent this environment affected history. Geographical analysis can offer more towards the understanding of international politics than just an appreciation of the facts of location.8 Borders define nationhood and sovereignty. India never had borders till Independence. Essentially, its boundaries over the centuries can best be termed as ‘frontiers’ i.e. a demarcation between territories with independent sovereignties. A frontier constitutes “an area of separation” between two regions of “more or less homogeneous, and usually denser, population.” It is of such frontiers that Lord Curzon spoke when, in his classic essay bearing that name, he described them as “the razor’s edge” on which hang the modern issues of war and peace and of life or death to nations. Warfare has always occurred for the defenses of frontiers.

In the making of frontiers, international law has a significant role to play. The recognition of the existence, sanctity and permanence of frontiers is one of the foundations on which the law of nations has been built. Frontiers once negotiated and demarcated cannot be altered unilaterally. They are inviolate and unalterable save through negotiation, for any use of force majeure in such cases would be a denial of international law itself. Vital as the element of power politics is, human geography plays an equally important part. What makes for frontiers, and frontier problems, are such factors as race, population, language, geography and access to the sea. Religion also plays an important role in varying degrees, e.g. the birth of Pakistan (1947) and Israel (1948). Also, self determination has been a powerful weapon in creating new frontiers by disrupting ancient ones.

There is a further distinction between a boundary and a frontier. Geographical and historical boundaries, shown as lines on a map, represent the edges of frontiers. Aboundary does not merely demarcate geographical regions or divide human societies but represents the optimum limits of growth of a particular society. In an address to the Royal Society of Arts in 1935, Sir Henry McMahon maintained that a frontier meant a wide tract of border land which, because of its ruggedness or other difficulties, served as a buffer between two states. Aboundary, on the other hand, was a clearly defined line expressed either as a verbal distinction (delimited) or as a series of physical marks on the ground (demarcated); the former thus roughly signified a region, while the latter was a positive and precise statement of the limits of sovereignty.

The Great Wall of China connoted the domain that it was thought proper to include in the tien h’sia, marking it from the outer darkness of the barbarians. So too did the Roman Empire’s frontiers along the Danube, which separated it from the uncivilised tribes beyond its pale. Much the same holds true of the northern mountain ranges in Indian history. The issue here was not only one of keeping the barbarians out, but also of setting limits to the imperial rule.

The long and sprawling land frontier between India and China is now the subject of a bitterly raging conflict between the two countries. The Himalayas were always considered as a natural barrier ‘forbidding’ or ‘preventing’ passage. Amountain system – and the extent to which it is a barrier is inversely proportional to the ease with which it can be crossed – tends to mark a separation between economic and strategic regions. While mountains were a barrier to older societies, they do not pose insurmountable problems to an industrialised society that is equipped with airplanes or the frightening armoury of thermo-nuclear weapons; here it is not nature that has changed, but man.

Today, the sea, the desert, the mountain and the river no longer guarantee natural security as they once did. Even artificial contrivances as a neutral territory, state or zone, or a buffer state, e.g. Afghanistan and Tibet during the British period, do not inspire in the guarantors, much less among those so guaranteed, any measure of confidence. Frontiers today have evolved from being mere geographical barriers into human bulwarks against political ideologies and systems of government, each of them claiming ultimate perfection and allowing at best a modicum of peaceful, if highly competitive, coexistence.

The frontier, in both geo-political, as well as the human geography contexts, has played a significant role in India’s long and sprawling and frontier to the northeast which, for most of its length, is co-terminous with Tibet. For further understanding of its intricacies, it is imperative to analyse its historical geography under its obvious sub-divisions of northwest and northeast segments. From the very inception of its recorded history and the fight of Chandragupta Maurya against the Greeks, India’s northwest frontier has been a subject of considerable concern to her rulers. It was to protect the Khyber and other passes from the northwest against these onslaughts from ‘barbaric hordes’ that every powerful Indian Empire evolved a ‘frontier’ policy. Thus, the policy of Chandragupta Maurya against the post-Alexander Greeks, of Anangpal vis-à-vis the Ghaznavids, of Balban against the Mongols, or of Akbar or Aurangzeb when faced with threats from Central Asia was essentially the same.  Ranjit Singh’s acumen in the handling of the frontier in the post-Nadir Shah /Ahmad Shah Abdali period, earned him a well-merited tribute from his British successors. The latter, whose span has been the most recent in Indian history, deserves close examination, if only to understand the present situation in that region.

For India, the Himalayas comprised a frontier of both ingress and egress. With Tibet in the north, the intercourse was largely one of religious doctrines and their practice, the mountain barrier being far too formidable to mount any large-scale invasion. But on the western side, the Khyber did provide a route for any hostile power to challenge the northern Indian polity, unless the latter was in a position to defend itself. As to the southern frontier, the peninsular barrier did not constitute any major obstacle; though both Ashoka (273-237 BC) and the Mughals (1565-1820) did hold sway over lands south of the Vindhyas.

It is difficult to sum up the British epoch in a nutshell, but it may suffice to suggest that during the colonial period, the theory and practice of the frontier, as also the foreign and defence policy of a united India, rested on the evolution of a buffer state. Both Afghanistan and Tibet fulfilled this role.

 When a state is enclosed by three other states, its territory is focal. He who first gets control of it will gain the support of All-Under-Heaven. This Sun Tzu’s dictum speaks directly of one of the most important geographic factors—location—and why some countries or regions have long histories of recurring warfare. There are many other aspects of geography that bear directly on the power that a nation develops and the strategies it employs in seeking to secure its national interests.

India-China Geography

India came to Independence within a particular and accepted territorial framework, the source of its legitimacy being within the framework of international law in the territorialist conception, whereby it is entitled to the boundaries established by the colonial power, i.e. Britain. Today, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the effective border between India and the People’s Republic of China. It lies along the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Tibet had been one of the most important buffer states with a 3,520-km border with India. India felt safe behind the buffer until the Chinese occupied Tibet in the early 1950s. The Sino-Indian border dispute is a legacy of the British Raj, though the problem of demarcation/delineation of the India-China border actually started shortly after Independence. The Chinese military invasion into India in 1962 shattered the myth of India’s impregnable Himalayas.

Geographically, the India-Tibet border can be divided into three sectors; the eastern sector consisting of the erstwhile Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA) and the present Arunachal Pradesh, the central sector comprising Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and the western or the Ladakh sector from Demchok to the Karakoram Pass. The dispute between India and China lies mainly over sovereignty over two separated pieces of territory. One is Aksai Chin, located either in the Indian province of Kashmir or the Chinese province of Xinjiang in the west. It is demarcated by what is known as the “Johnson Line”. It is a virtually uninhabited high-altitude wasteland crossed by the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway. In Ladakh, the LAC is actually ambiguous because of several “claim lines” and due to the paucity of easily recognisable terrain features on the Aksai Chin plateau.

The other disputed area lies to the east over the territory referred to as Arunachal Pradesh by India and South Tibet by China. It is demarcated by what is known as the “McMahon Line” established in a 3 July 1914 agreement by Sir Arthur Henry McMahon, the British plenipotentiary, to a conference of Indian, British, and Chinese representatives at Simla, which was initialled by British, Tibetan, and Chinese representatives.24 It is a sparsely inhabited area with numerous local tribes. The eastern sector was neglected by the British Raj and independent India, and remains a geographical problem that has not been appropriately resolved. The line agreed to by Britain and Tibet generally follows the crest of the eastern Himalayas from Bhutan to Burma. It serves as a legal boundary, although the Chinese have never formally accepted it. China continues to claim roughly the entire area of Arunachal Pradesh south of the McMahon Line.

In the Kameng sector of Arunachal Pradesh, the McMahon line runs along the crest of the Greater Himalayas from the eastern boundary till it reaches the Thagla ridge in the west. The actual demarcation was not easy as the watershed principle does not hold good in this sector, leading to different interpretations by India and China, both claiming Thagla, the highest ridge in this area. The Thagla-Bumla-Tulungla routes converge on Tawang, but it is also possible to bypass this township and proceed directly to Sela. This route lies along the foothills of Chaku-Eagle’s Nest—Tenga Valley-Bomdila-Dirang-Udalgiri-Kalaktang-Mandala ranges from 14,000 to 17,000 ft. The most significant of these tracks is from Tawang-Mago-Poshingla-Changla-Thembang-Bomdila, also known as Bailey’s Trail, which played a vital role in the1962 border war with China.

China and India have yet to address the fundamental and very large land boundary disputes. Moreover, their bilateral relations are complicated by the issues of Tibet and Kashmir. China has actually made an overreach in Tibet against the dictates of geography. The Beijing-Lhasa rail link is 4,064 km. Moscow is 4,358 km from Delhi. Geographically and culturally, Tibet and China are poles apart.

Some aspects of the India-China boundary do need emphasis. To start with, it is by no means easy to translate an undemarcated traditional boundary into map lines. The Chinese have persisted with their rhetoric of mutually acceptable borders and charged New Delhi with being a little too rigid, legalistic, and even unwilling to negotiate. The British had tried hard not only to identify traditional or customary boundaries, but also helped evolve strategic boundaries. In the event, McMahon’s thick line drawn on a small scale map is hard to transpose on the ground and stick to natural features or such dicta as the highest crest in very high mountains.




A game of ping-pong has been playing between India and China since the first half of 20th century, in which the state of Arunachal is being used as a ball. The British, being a judge to this game, made a mess by crushing the ball and rushed out of this game in haste, leaving behind two ambivalent countries to play with deformed ball. The so-called border talks are being held at the expense of Arunachal. The debate on border issue seems incredibly long and the outcome is not on the horizon. And if today the Arunachal is being treated as a whore, the British and Tibetan must share a part of blame. The Tibetan, who had some sway over certain part, didn’t took care of the maiden, the British broke its virginity and passed it to India, and then the India kept the state like a mistress and now China wants to have it. Let’s take a look at the historical records to unravel if Arunachal really were a territory of China or an integral part of India. The starting place of border dispute extends back into the 19th Century, when both China and British India asserted claims to remote mountain areas between China and India. But the people of Arunachal unknown to the doom, existed as a sovereign state. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the tide of development was lapping into the foot-hills. So the British drew a line along the foot of the hills which was to be called the “Inner Line” and the “Outer Line” under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873. The Inner Line was an administrative line, in the Assam tribal areas, to keep hunters and traders out of the Assam tribal areas; no taxes were collected beyond the Inner Line. The Outer Line was the international boundary of British India. However, little publicity was given to the demarcation of the Outer Line. On March 30, 1911, Noel Williamson, Assistant Political Officer of Sadiya, and a tea estate doctor were attacked and killed by Adi tribesmen in Komsing. Williamson was formally warned not to cross the Inner Line without expressed permission. Williamson’s death provided for the revision of the tribal policy for which Williamson himself had argued for years. A British expedition, headed by Major General Hamilton Bower, was mounted in late 1911; the mission continued until 1913. The alleged purpose of the expedition was punitive; indeed, the Adis were punished for slaying Williamson. However, the ultimate objective of the expedition was to define a new border and to inform the Chinese of the new limits of British sovereignty. While the British were exploring Assam, the 1911 Chinese Revolution erupted. By 1912, Chinese influence in Tibet had fallen drastically. As Chinese power in Tibet waned, Chinese pressure on the Assam border ceased to exist. The British now endeavored to secure the Assam Himalayas from any future Chinese intervention.


 The fall of Chinese power in Tibet led to negotiations between British Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan delegates to the Simla Conference of 1913-14. The British had decided to make Tibet a genuine buffer state. The British chief delegate, Sir Henry McMahon, introduced the idea of a second buffer into the long Sino-Tibetan debates over the boundary between Chinese control and the Tibetan buffer. The Chinese government immediately repudiated the agreement. The Chinese rejection was a blow to McMahon’s buffer scheme. However, McMahon had meanwhile negotiated another buffer and zone of defense for the Himalayas. He had made a separate agreement with the chief Tibetan delegate; this agreement defined the frontier line along the crest of the Assam Himalayas, based on the 1911-13 Abor Expedition. The line was marked on a large-scale (eight miles to the inch) map; however, this map and the details of the McMahon-Tibetan agreement were not communicated to the Chinese. The task of making good the McMahon Line was given to J.P.Mills, the government’s adviser on tribal affairs, who was to say that: “the tribes to be incorporated (in India) belong naturally more to Tibet than to India. In race and in language they are mongoloid. They all speak Tibeto-Burmese languages which have nothing in common with the Assamesse of the Aryans of the plains. It follows therefore that what one might call the cultural and social pull is towards Tibet …. The McMahon Line therefore suffers from the disability that though it may look well on the map … it is in fact not the natural boundary, whereas the frontier along the plains is the natural one.” The Indian government also recognized that the population along the north-east frontier was ethnically and culturally closer to Tibet than to India, but due to the strategic and geopolitical considerations that had formed Britain’s approach to the north-east border applied with equal force for the new (Indian) government. One of the last acts of the Chinese nationalist ambassador in New Delhi was to remind the Indian government in February 1947 that china did not recognize the McMahon Line, and held the simla convention invalid.

 In the early1950s, a strong Assam Rifles patrol moving up the Subansiri River was warmly welcomed by one of the tribes, feasted and given shelter – and then massacred almost to a man. Under Nehru’s order, no punitive action had been taken. In 1952, G.S. Bajpai, then the governor of Bombay urges that India should take the initiative in raising the question of McMahon Line with the Chinese government, only to be told by K.M.Panikkar that the Prime Minister (Nehru) had decided that it was not in India’s interest to raise the question of the McMahon Line. By 1958, the Indians had completed the work left unfinished by the British and made good the McMahon Line. In December 26th 1959, the china implied that the Indian maps are ‘cutting deep into Chinese territory’ in the western sector, while of the eastern sector it is said that ‘the whole boundary line is pushed northward, including an area of about 90,000 sq km which originally belonged to China. In 1986, differences raise again over the McMahon line in the Sumdorung Chu area of Arunachal. After Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to china in 1988, a Joint Working Group (JWG) forum was formed to find a real solution to boundary problems and thence, the delegates from both side debated on this issue from time to time. Ironically, the JWG forum has focused more on peace along the border than on a real solution to the boundary problem. And so far umpteen JWG meeting was conducted without making much headway, and so far not even a single representative of Arunachal was invited to participate in the border talk.

The natives of Arunachal not only resisted Indian occupation when Indian officials moved into inner line, but were equally intimidated by Chinese troops when they entered in Arunachal during 1962 war. The peoples of this region never had a direct contact with China nor with India which makes the state more or less a sovereign state. But from the day Arunachal Pradesh was lifted up into the category of ‘Indian states’ from Union Territory in 1986, she has worked diligently with Indian constitution. And in these 60 years, from the Independence Day till today, the development of infrastructure is not worth mentioning which leads to grave doubt that India’s incapability to develop physical infrastructure in Arunachal lays in the reason that India cannot hold on to Arunachal for a long time. On the contrary, the Chinese has developed Tibet beyond recognition, even laid a rail tracks up to Lhasa which is situated 3,600 meters above sea level, and which, I anticipate, will bind Tibet more close to the mainland. Apart from development of infrastructure issue; if we analyze the statement made by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee during his visit to Chandigarh last year and in a recent parliament session- 1. “Some adjustments will take place here and there on Arunachal Pradesh and J&K at the conclusion of the ongoing talks with China and Pakistan respectively.” 2. “India and china are exploring the framework of a final package settlement covering all sectors of the India-China boundary (May 10, 2007 Arunachal Times),” it corroborate the doubts enormously. On the other hand, China left no stone unturned to remind the people of Arunachal that they are Chinese citizen. For instance, lately, Chinese embassy refused to grant visa to an IAS officer, Ganesh Koyu who hails from Arunachal, because he comes from a disputed area and which didn’t come as a shock to me as this kind of denial had happened in late 1990’s to then the chief minister, Gegong Apang, when he sought a visa to visit China but was told by Chinese embassy that he doesn’t need a visa to visit his own country.

However, most of the people of Arunachal are of the opinion that the Arunachal would do better under Indian constitution. But the question still refused to subdue is: does the Indian Government and Indians are ready to assimilate the state within its republic. The ‘flip-flop’ attitude of federal government and their vague opinion on Arunachal not only perplex us but also steer us into dark alley. Besides, We (Arunachal along with Mizoram and Nagaland) were accused of being a parasite state by substantial section of the populations that claims that we survives on the flesh of Indians who allegedly labours night and day at IT industry et al to make Indian economy bullish. And we have been blamed for the lack of infrastructure in their state, for the potholes, etc. as well because their money has been pumped into these three states. Perhaps, they may be right in pointing out this. And if this view is defended by Indian government and Indians, then the privilege to call Arunachal an integral part of India is wholly invalid. And the Arunachal should have been given back their earlier status of sovereign state. Furthermore, the Indians are not happy with reservation (reservation in job and educational institution for scheduled tribe and caste), and we (the youth who have been to metropolis and influenced by it) are not happy about being ‘scheduled’ tribe (ST) for so long and to be called ST makes us a part of highly caste ridden and feudal society of Aryans.

At long last, considering the dealings of the centre with our state, it does indicate that the federal government of India, who is directly responsible for corrupting our state government by fattening the wallets of our politician and their enforcement arm, will never be able to oversee our state efficiently. The failure of Indian government to administer competently must not suggest that the whole of Arunachal is for bargain. And the Arunachal and its people shouldn’t be used as pawn in order to strengthen the bilateral ties between India and China. The talk show of two giant goliaths must go on and, but, let the Arunachal be a buffer state – free from Indian and Chinese influence.



This Article taken from written by Roto Chobin


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