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31 May

Worry about “Refugee”: a result of India’s colonial policy

In the last part of my response to Mrs. Bhalla’s article “Refugee Tragedy in the Making” (Today May 16, 2005), I’d like to look at “Arunachal Pradesh” and the main point of this article.

“Arunachal Pradesh” is the Indian name for the land that never belonged to India before the latter’s invasion in 1951.  Instead, It has been Tibetan territory.  As the author mentioned, this time correctly, that the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (1683-1706), was born and grew up here before he was recognized by Beijing as the reincarnation of 5th Dalai Lama and went to Lhasa in 1697.  Tibet had county government, tax office as well as a small police force there.

The traditional boundary between India and Tibet, as well as other Himalayan nations, had been the foothill of Himalayas.  However, this was changed arbitrarily in late 19th century by Sir Henry McMahon, who argued that the border between British India and Tibet, according to “international tradition”, should be the natural landform, in this case the crest of Himalayas.  According to A. Tom Grunfeld, the author of <The Making of Modern Tibet>  (p63, Revised Edition, New York, 1996), Sir McMahon purposely cheated British government back at London that his demarcation is same as the traditional one, and obtained approval.  However, the new demarcation pushed British India border “sixty miles north from the foothills of the Assam Himalayas to their crest”.

(BTW, even Assam was not traditionally India territory but was annexed by British India from Myanmar)

However, British India government never attempted to implement this arbitrary demarcation, better known as McMahon Line, even when British India army sacked Lhasa in 1904 or during Imperial China’s collapse in 1911.  The farthest step it took was in 1937, when Japan invaded China, that Britain published a map that for the first time marked the new demarcation.

After India’s independence, it adopted a more forward policy than its colonial predecessor.  India rejected Tibet’s appeal to return land that was seized by the British.  Furthermore, in 1951, when Lhasa and Beijing was negotiating a truce following Lhasa’s fiasco in Chamdo, India stabbed Tibet on its back by sending army to implement the colonial McMahon Line and drove away local Tibetan authority.

The difference between “Arunachal Pradesh” and Aksai Chin is: the latter is no man’s land whereas in the former there was legal government.  Therefore, what British India and India government did was essentially: arbitrarily claim a land, send army there and throw away its existent government.

After the communist reunited China, Beijing expressed wishes to solve the land dispute via negotiation.  China wouldn’t recognize the colonial McMahon Line, yet was willing to demarcate along the line of control (which is essentially the same as McMahon Line).  However, same as in Aksai Chin issue, India government insisted that there was no land in dispute and refused negotiation, even though China was to leave “Arunachal Pradesh” under India.

China also made numerous proposal for demilitarization of this disputed land, and both armies stay 20 km behind the crest borders.  India never accepted such proposal, but rather, continued its encroaching by building posts behind China army’s posts.

In 1962, China initiated attack and drove India army out of the disputed land back to the traditional border before 1951.  It then defeated the reinforced and redeployed India army.  After these two battles, China army unilaterally retreated to the crest border, and move 20 km further back, so as to make “Arunachal Pradesh” demilitarized.

So what did India do?  The Indian Army did not return on the heels of the Chinese.  Instead, India government sent emigrants to Arunachal first, the army came back afterwards.  Nor did they hold themselves to the 20 km line south of the crest boundary, instead they further marched to the new line, which is 20 km north to the ridge that Chinese army left for buffer.

It is against international law to send emigrant to land in dispute so as to create de facto sovereignty!

Mrs. Bhalla talked a lot about aboriginal tribes in “Arunachal Pradesh”.  What she didn’t mention is that immigrants from India have already outnumbered the local.  This is why local people are influenced by India culture.

China government shows no eager to take “Arunachal Pradesh” back.  It is absurd for Mrs. Bhalla to create such a groundless warning about so-called “refugee”.  As I indicated in my previous email, she confused the basic pursuits of China and India government, thus made such a unnecessary fuss.

Even if China would take “Arunachal Pradesh” back, the local Tibetans and aboriginal tribes would probably choose to stay in their homeland whereas the Indian immigrants may probably choose to leave.  However, it was not China’s responsibility to move them to “Arunachal Pradesh” in the first place.  It was India who refused China’s demilitarization proposal before 1962, and moved its population into this disputed region after 1962, violating international law.  Now someone acting as a humanitarian appeals that border should be demarcated through unpopulated area.  Well, if this makes any sense, why not India send population to all over the world, then claim the whole earth to India?

I would be more than happy to see India and China solve their land dispute according to de facto line of control, seal the past awful memory and walk on shoulder by shoulder to the future.  However, it is irritating to see that someone who has little history knowledge, someone who has already benefited from illegal emigration policy, someone claims herself to be a converted Singaporean but sticks to narrow national interest of India, keeps making trouble by releasing irresponsible information to the public.

Best regards,

Wang Zai-Tian

The Philharmonic Choral Society


Refugee tragedy in the making
Shobha Tsering Bhalla
Today, May 16, 2005

THE decision last month by India and China to form a strategic partnership and end their decades-old border dispute could not have come sooner.

For far too long the border problem has been festering between the two giants who could have been economic allies and whose overdue friendship could have been a boon for Asia.

Instead, since 1959, the issue of who has legitimate claim over which part of the 4,000km border that India shares with China has bedevilled relations. On a visit to India in April, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao signed an accord that is expected to help the two countries negotiate territorial claims.

But the problem is that many parts of the India-China border are not demarcated and there is much confusion over the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Early demarcation of the LAC is one of the best options for stabilising the border regions and securing a working boundary that the military forces on both sides would respect.

India claims China occupies 38,000 sq km of its territory in Kashmir which was illegally ceded to it by Pakistan in the 1950s. Beijing claims that the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to it and, until 2003, also claimed Sikkim, my home state.

Sikkim was a semi-independent principality but a protectorate of India, a political curiosity that India inherited from the British. It joined India through a plebiscite in 1975.

In a sign of warming ties, China recently acknowledged Sikkim’s Indian status by releasing a map showing Sikkim as a part of India.

But the Arunachal Pradesh issue remains unresolved. Since 1959, China has indicated to India many times that it wants a portion of Arunachal Pradesh, the Tawang tract, and it would accommodate India on Aksai Chin in the country’s northwest.

Tawang’s attractiveness for China arises from its viability for the political development of Tibet. The place has enormous spiritual and political significance as it is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and temporal leader.

But it is unlikely that India will trade off Arunachal Pradesh, or more specifically Tawang, for the barren, uninhabitable Aksai Chin region.

Tawang is lodged well on the Indian side of the LAC and China recognises this. Moreover, Arunachal is part of a thriving democracy and its people are well integrated into India’s multi-hued socio-cultural fabric while still retaining their unique norms and mores. I observed this first-hand as a youngster.

I lived in Arunachal Pradesh for a large part of my childhood as my father was an official there.

On trips home from boarding school, I watched Hindi films with other officers’ children. We would huddle under a vast tent surrounded by equally mesmerised Galong, Aka, Mishmi or Monpa tribe members, depending on which district my father was posted to at the time.

They looked like they could have come out of central casting for Apache tribespeople, they wore feathers, furs and loincloths and some rode horses. Yet they identified with the Bollywood heroes and sang the Hindi refrains with gusto.

But while they could speak pidgin Hindi or Assamese, they clung to their tribal ways, not with the swagger of ethnic chauvinism but because it was the way of their fathers.

So, even as “modernisation” crept up on them, they kept in touch with their past and spoke their own languages, safe in the knowledge that they could continue to do so as long as Donyi-Polo (their Sun-Moon God) shone down on them.

Will they still be able to do that when the boundaries are finally demarcated?

They are simple folk, these pastoral border peoples, unused to barbed wire and the heavy hand of politicians.What will happen to them if those in charge of demarcating boundaries are not sensitive to their cultural geography?

Will there be large-scale population displacement like there was during the partition of India, when a British cartographer drew his pencil down a map with devastating indifference?

Whatever happens, the decision makers must ensure three things: A demarcation of borders only through unpopulated areas, the demilitarisation of the borders once they are demarcated and access for each others nationals who are native to areas within those borders.

That is, if China and India want to avoid a refugee tragedy in the order of what happened in Kosovo, Albania and Eritrea.

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