Borders Too Far | The times of Arunachal

Mobility for all?

[ Tongam Rina ]

It is rare for ordinary Arunachalees to reach the last Indo-Tibetan border crossings unless invited by the Indian military on formal occasions like peacetime border meetings with China. Clearances are extremely difficult to obtain and most of the time you don’t know who to ask as civil and military authorities take an inordinate amount of time to decide who the real boss is.

As Arunachalee, raised with a heavy dose of Indian nationalism and national security, who am I to question the military to make me feel like a lesser citizen in my own state? This feeling of being an inferior Indian citizen occurs a lot more when you are closer to the actual line of control, which is undefined.

Sometimes the unexpected happens. In February 2020, while on vacation in the border town of Mechukha, Shi-Yomi district, I was invited to visit Lamang, the last border post on the indo-Tibetan borderless border.

It was a rare occasion that I could visit the last Indian border post without having to worry about papers, or having to explain to the Indian Secret Service the purpose of my visit, or having to agree not to take pictures. or write about everything that I have seen and have not seen.

There was no clearance requirement from the military or civilian authorities this time because a group of ministers from Arunachal were visiting the area. Lamang is about 29 kilometers from Mechukha, but it even took a while to reach the penultimate post.

The Arunachalees know that before embarking on a trip to the state, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the time it will likely take rather than the distance. Twenty-nine kilometers can be anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours on the road, if you’re lucky. Absolutely anything can be the cause of the delays in the hours to reach your destination – weather forecast, rocky roads, discovery of remains of roads in potholes, crossing the same stream ten times because there are no bridges , and passage to army convoys.

Time was what stood between Lamang and us.

We could not reach the last border post because heavy snow had blocked the road after crossing Yorlung, about twenty kilometers from Mechukha.

Disappointed, at the sticking point, we stopped for photos, precariously balanced to avoid tripping over the slippery and snowy road, before returning to Yorlung, the penultimate Indian post.

After a short stop at Yorlung, we returned to Mechukha.

There is a village near the second post, but civilians are not allowed to go beyond Yorlung.

This is the case everywhere in border areas. Civilians cannot access beyond certain points under the Indian Army. While the Indian army makes it impossible for civilians to pass a certain area, the Indian government refuses to provide basic facilities to border villages, resulting in voluntary depopulation.

On the other hand, populating border areas has been the policy of the Chinese government. Even from a distance, the glaring difference in infrastructure facilities can be seen.

Migration from border villages to urban areas in Arunachal is not uncommon, due to the lack of livelihood facilities and options. Schools are closed in many border villages; there are no proper sanitation facilities and roads are non-existent.

The issue has been discussed several times in the Legislature, the most recent being in August 2021.

Chief Minister Pema Khandu attributed the migration from border villages to “lack of infrastructure, basic amenities and employment opportunities, difficult terrain” and declining allocation of funds under the framework. the Border Zone Development Program (BADP), an initiative of the Union government in all the border states of the country.

Last month, the Arunachal Pradesh Indochinese Border Development Legislators Forum, made up of elected representatives from border districts along the three international borders, called for “modification of existing BADP guidelines, improved funds and submission of a block usage certification. instead of the existing collective.

The forum was established in September 2021 to meet the development needs of people living in border areas and to control the migration of people from border villages to urban areas, according to a press release.

“People living along international borders are still deprived of basic amenities, which causes them to migrate to urban areas in search of a better life,” reads the statement by President of the Legislative Assembly Pasang D Sona.

Earlier in March 2021, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, in his budget speech, announced the establishment of three model villages along the Indo-Tibetan border areas with an allocation of Rs 30 crore.

The government has not specified how it intends to do it and where exactly it wants to establish these villages in the border areas of the east, west and center of the state.

According to a government document, the Arunachal shares an international border 1,080 km long with China out of a total of 1,680 km of international borders which include those of Myanmar and Bhutan.

Tawang and West Kameng share borders with Bhutan and Tibet, while Anjaw shares a border with Tibet and Myanmar. East Kameng, Kurung Kumey, Kra Daadi, Upper Subansiri, Shi-Yomi, Siang, Upper Siang, Lower Dibang Valley and Dibang Valley share borders with Tibet.

The Indian government is funding the BADP, which focuses specifically on border blocks along the three international borders, but little has been achieved on the ground, resulting in migration to better-equipped neighboring cities.

While migration to the urban areas of Arunachal is not new, an increasing number of the urban poor, especially in Itanagar, belong to the border blocs.

The government may be well aware of this and sometimes even make fine speeches in the Legislature, but Arunachal has done little to encourage people to stay in their villages.

The lack of facilities in border areas and the resulting migration are rarely part of the hyperventilating Indian media discourse, or the focus of the unity government.

Whenever there is a border issue between China and India along the Indo-Tibetan border in Arunachal, or elsewhere, there are usually complaints and counterclaims from both governments. , which are exaggerated by the media who move on very quickly until the next intrusion occurs or China supports another border village overnight. The inhabitants of border villages are forgotten, even when national security issues are discussed.

In Arunachal, there is usually a muted response or an occasional retort to the construction of border villages by the neighboring country, or even to intrusions. Maybe it’s because it’s a common occurrence, or maybe it’s a good neighborly thing to ignore each other’s transgressions, or maybe because we know we don’t have no access to our own land, hunting grounds and grazing lands near borders, in the name of national security.

Is it because there is no trust in the Arunachalees that their own land has been kept apart from them at the last border posts? This may be just a lazy journalist’s speculation, but the fact remains that border areas under Indian military control are off-limits, even to border residents, unless the one is not a hunter or a person employed by the Indian army for various roles. .

The Indian government must change its policy. Obviously, building new border villages does not really make sense in an environmentally sensitive region, but ensuring access to education, health facilities and other infrastructure without destroying the environment is the duty. of the government. If it is not for the border residents, then in the name of national security, India must give facilities to the Arunachalees who live along the borders, and also give them access to their own land.

More than anyone else, border residents want peace. I’m sure people across the border feel the same way. No one wants to live in perpetual uncertainty.

While I wish for the reopening of the traditional border trade routes with Tibet, which is much closer than any mainland Indian trade point to people on the Indo-Tibetan border, I also realize that the fear is real after this. that happened in Doklam and Ladakh.

Visa stapled? Well, it’s for another time and space.