Under the shadow of the dragon | Opinion | Times Crest
Popular on Times Crest
  • In This Section
  • Entire Website
  • Bang in the middle, right upfront
    July 13, 2013
    As the Arab Spring turns into an autumn, especially in Egypt, we ought to carefully consider just who props up radical groups across the Middle East,…
  • Your say
    July 6, 2013
    From football to the love of books, your comments say it all.
  • Deflating victim Narendra Modi
    July 6, 2013
    With the CBI chargesheet in the Ishrat case, the carefully crafted Modi-versus-The Rest campaign has gone for a toss.
More in this Section
Leaving tiger watching to raise rice Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in…
The crorepati writer He's the man who gives Big B his lines. RD Tailang, the writer of KBC.
Chennai-Toronto express Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil…
Don't parrot, perform Maestro Buddhadev Dasgupta will hold a masterclass on ragas.
A man's man Shivananda Khan spent his life speaking up for men who have sex with men.
Bhowmick and the first family of Indian football At first glance, it would be the craziest set-up in professional football.
From Times Blogs
The end of Detroit
Jobs in Detroit's car factories are moving to India.
Chidanand Rajghatta
How I love the word ‘dobaara’...
Can ‘bindaas’ or ‘jhakaas’ survive transliteration?
Shobhaa De
Anand marte nahin...
India's first superstar died almost a lonely life.
Robin Roy
Uneasy past, troubled present

Under the shadow of the dragon


Tawang is connected to the plains of Assam by a road that is a little more than a dirt track. (Below left) The ghosts of '62 lurk beneath Tawang's carefree exterior

At first glance, life in Arunachal Pradesh's north-western town of Tawang seems to glide through its happy, carefree routine, marking the seasons with joyous Buddhist festivities. The smiles on the faces of the locals belonging to the Monpa tribe appear permanent as they loll around the town's vibrant square, trek to the guardian Gaden Namgyal Lhatse (the Tawang monastery) which stands as a sentinel over the town, or go about their business in a relaxed fashion.


But scratch the surface and the ghosts surface - the ghosts of 1962. Fifty years on, many remember the swift invasion by the Chinese, the ignominious retreat and a few acts of gallantry by Indian forces, and the upheavals they faced that bleak October five decades ago. Their faces cloud over when they talk of that border war, and even those born after the conflict - the only one where the Indian army faced total humiliation shudder at the very mention of it.


They fear what the future holds in store for them. China's well-equipped People's Liberation Army (PLA), after all, is stationed just 37 km away and has Tawang within its telescopic sight. Their fears are reinforced by periodic rumours about the possibility of Delhi reaching an agreement with Beijing to hand over Tawang to China in exchange for Aksai Chin.


Their fears find substance in the popular notion that the PLA is much better equipped than Indian troops, and the fact that China has built much better infrastructure, including all-weather four lane highways, along the contested McMahon Line that serves as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This side of the border, the miserable dirt track from the plains of Assam up to Tawang is proof of the pathetic incompetence of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Even the overwhelming presence of the Indian army fails to serve as a concrete assurance to the inviolability of Tawang.


The Chinese, after decimating the Indian army and overrunning Tawang, had launched a charm offensive to win over the locals. "When the Chinese came in, most locals fled to Bhutan and Assam. But the Chinese sent word through those who stayed back to the Monpa refugees to return. They told us we were their kin and had nothing to fear from them, " says Ka Tashi, 74, a resident of Lhou village, about 10 km from Tawang. Ka was a porter with the Indian army when the Chinese attacked in 1962.


Gendan Tashi, 84, also of Lhou village, recalls that the first thing the Chinese did after consolidating their positions was to rebuild the homes of villagers which were destroyed or damaged by shelling. "Chinese soldiers even helped us harvest our produce, thresh the paddy and store the grains. They organised cultural functions and gave all of us portraits of Mao and even started giving lessons in communist philosophy, " said Genden, who used to carry huge loads of rations to remote Indian army posts for a measly Re 1 a day.


Kunto Tashi, 74, who was working as a sleuth with the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) in 1962, recalls being impressed with the civic projects carried out Chinese. "Bomdilla (about 175 km from Tawang on the road to Tezpur) was a terribly dirty town with sewage flowing through the streets and garbage all over. It fell to the Chinese on November 18 and the Chinese withdrew after a week. But in that span, they had constructed drains, put in place a garbage collection system and cleaned the town. When we returned to Bomdilla in mid-December as an advance scout party to ensure that the Chinese had left, we were surprised to find it looking so neat and clean. "


But the attempts by the Chinese to win over the locals failed and throughout their stay in the Tawang tracts (as the area corresponding to the present Tawang district was known then), the Monpas looked uponthem with suspicion and distrust. They knew very well the persecution of the Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese and the brutal suppression of the Khampa rebellion in that country, forcing the 14th Dalai Lama to flee Tibet and enter India through Bumla (the mountain pass on the LAC about 37 kilometres from Tawang) on March 30, 1959.


"We knew they were speaking with a forked tongue. The appalling stories of Chinese persecution of Buddhists in Tibet had reached us and we knew that the Chinese could never be trusted, " says Lhou village's Gendan Tashi. "There was never any doubt in our minds that we are Indians and were grateful to our (Indian ) leaders for providing refuge to our spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, " says Gen Chow, 82, a senior monk at the Tawang monastery who attended to the Dalai Lama during the latter's stay at the monastery for a few days after fleeing Tibet.


But all of them also remember that the Chinese had, while returning, promised to be back. "While leaving Tawang in end-November, a Chinese officer told my uncle that they would be back, and that this time it would be forgood. We fear the Chinese will make good that promise sometime. There's news that for India, Aksai Chin is more important now than Tawang. So India may give up this place in return for Aksai Chin, " says Thupten Gendun. There are many who assert they heard that the Chinese had said they'd be back after 50 years. Such rumour-mongering feeds latent fears of a renewed occupation among the Monpas.


Many among the younger generation, though, dismiss such thoughts. "2012 is not 1962 and the Indian army is much stronger. Also, Tawang has as much, if not more, strategic importance than Aksai Chin. All that talk (of an exchange of Tawang for Aksai Chin) is the imagination of idle minds, " says Tsetsen Jambey, 38, a hotelier in Tawang town. "A repeat of 1962 is highly unlikely. Both China and India have a lot at stake to launch hostilities against each other, " asserts Gombu Tsering, a building contractor who studied in Pune.


But what agitates Tsetsen, Gombu and many other young men and women is the lack of development on the Indian side of the LAC in comparison to China. "Look across the LAC and you'll see the roads and buildings they have built. We can see communication equipment and mobile phone towers. But here, getting a call through to someone in Tawang is considered an achievement, the internet doesn't work on most days and we get electricity for just five hours a day. The roads are a shame. Employment opportunities are few and New Delhi has done nothing to improve Tawang's economy, " says Pemba Tsering, 30, a taxi driver.


Much more than the imaginary threat from China, it is the sorry under-development south of the LAC which is a cause for concern. Some people also wonder, though in mock-seriousness, if the plight of the Monpas in India is better than that of their kin in Tibet. India's failure to develop this tiny part of its territory is what keeps the ghosts of 1962 alive.

Reader's opinion (2)

Akshar Oct 15th, 2012 at 21:06 PM

Arunachal Pradesh is our land Twang must be protected at any cost,They claims on the Basis of Tibet like autonomous region
Our UPA Govt must give more protection by ways of Financing,relocation subsidies,Celebrating cultural festivals,establish Religious,Educational,Tourism,etc
Bussiness relocation.

Sameep AgarwalOct 14th, 2012 at 01:39 AM

We could have won the war in 1962, had right steps would have been taken by flamboyant and Casanova Jawahar Lal Nehru, a person busy with women in bed can not secure a nation. And Gandhis have a long malign history.

Other Times Group news sites
The Times of India | The Economic Times
इकनॉमिक टाइम्स | ઈકોનોમિક ટાઈમ્સ
Mumbai Mirror | Times Now
Indiatimes | नवभारत टाइम्स
महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स
Living and entertainment
Timescity | iDiva | Bollywood | Zoom
| Technoholik | MensXP.com


itimes | Dating & Chat | Email
Hot on the Web
Book print ads | Online shopping | Business solutions | Book domains | Web hosting
Business email | Free SMS | Free email | Website design | CRM | Tenders | Remit
Cheap air tickets | Matrimonial | Ringtones | Astrology | Jobs | Property | Buy car
Online Deals
About us | Advertise with us | Terms of Use and Grievance Redressal Policy | Privacy policy | Feedback
Copyright© 2010 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service