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Arunachal Pradesh - History

Arunachal Pradesh was known until 1986 as the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). Arunachal Pradesh was the site of a bitter Indo-China War in 1962 when Chinese troops advanced deep into the state and inflicted heavy casualties on Indian troops.

The McMahon Line, a Raj-era demarcation now referred to as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), marks the China-India boundary along Arunachal Pradesh. India inherited the border dispute with China from the British, who had hosted a 1914 conference with the Tibetan and Chinese governments that set the border. Officials in British India and then autonomous Tibet agreed on the McMahon Line that still serves as the working border separating AP from Tibet. However, China has not accepted this boundary and refers to AP as "South Tibet." China never recognized the McMahon Line and claims 90,000 square kilometers of land in Arunachal - almost the entire state.

From 1954 until the 1962 War, India was bound by a "Panch Shila" or "Five Guiding Principles" an agreement with Beijing in which it formally recognized Tibet as part of China. Chinese troops crossed the McMahon Line on August 1959, and captured an Indian outpost at Longju, a few miles south of the line. They abandoned it in 1961 but in October 1962 attacked again in the Indo-Chinese War and seized much of the state. The Chinese later agreed to withdraw approximately to the McMahon Line and in 1963 returned Indian prisoners of war. In 1986, Indian and Chinese forces again clashed in Arunachal Pradesh's Sumdorong Chu Valley over the Chinese construction of a helipad in the valley.

The history of Arunachal Pradesh has been constructed largely from oral histories passed down from generation to generation, in verse and song. The Ahom buranjis (chronicles of the Ahom kings of Assam) and some archaeological finds that have been unearthed in the area have helped to reconstruct the history of Arunachal.

Oral history says that the Monpas came from Bhutan and Tibet, the Sherdukpens claim that they are descendants of a local prince and a princess from the South (possibly an Ahom princess). The Akas say that they migrated from Upper Assam. The Adis believe that they migrated from across the Himalayas. The Tagins are believed to have migrated from Penji, a village in Tibet. The Khamptis migrated to this region from Burma (now Myanmar). Like the Ahoms of Assam, they are a Shan tribe and moved to Arunachal sometime in the 18th century. Being a Shan people, they enjoyed certain privileges and were allowed to settle along the Tengapani River.

The Singphos made their way across the Patkai Pass and, after some confrontation with the Khamptis, settled on the land between the Buri Dihing, the Noa-Dihing and the Tengapani rivers. They often raided the Assamese areas and the 19th century saw a great deal of conflict between the Singphos and the Ahoms, as well as the British and the Burmese.

Every group in Arunachal has a story about their migration to this land. The rich mythological heritage of Arunachal, transmitted orally from generation to generation, tells us about the origin of Man and describes his relationship with the environment. While there are different myths among the tribes, they all speak of Man’s relationship with nature and animals. Among the myths of origin, the Akas of West Kameng speak of their coming to earth from heaven on ladders. According to them, each race had a different ladder, the Ahoms and the Aka kings came on golden ladders, other Akas by silver ladders. The Monpas came by iron ladders, the Nyishis and the Adis came by bamboo ladders, and the Cacharis and Khowas came by grass ladders.

The Mishmis, who inhabit the eastern corner of Arunachal, believe that God penetrated the womb of the first woman and the child born of this union is the father of the first Idu Mishmi. The Mishmis trace the strength of their tribe to the only man and woman to survive devastating tempests and catastrophes. A similar legend traces the origin of the Mukhlom Tsangas to the seven primeval fathers of man who came from the only woman to survive the great snowstorm that once befell earth. Animals also figure in many of the early myths of origin. The Dirrang Monpas, for example, believe that they descended from a monkey and were transformed into human beings by a lama.

While the land has been inhabited since pre-historic times, it never came under the direct rule of the British nor indeed under the rule of any king in Delhi. The Ahoms did not rule over the hills of present-day Arunachal Pradesh, but, they did maintain contact with the people who lived there. Their primary motivation was to protect their empire from depredation by the hill tribes, and to exercise control over the trade between the regions. Few trade routes passed through the hilly tracts to Tibet and, on to China. Occasionally, they undertook a ‘show of force’ exercise, much as the British did, hundreds of years later. The Ahoms introduced a system of paying ‘posa’ (literally money) to some tribes, to buy peace.

Archaeological finds in Dibang Valley (at Rukmaninagar and Bhishmaknagar), the copper temples at Tamreswari and Parashuramkund in Lohit district, the ruins of the Bhalukpung Fort, and the Ita Fort in Papum Pare, suggest some contact between the rulers in Assam and the people of Arunachal Pradesh.

By the 1830s, the British were firmly in control of the Brahmaputra Valley. Their approach to the hill people of present-day Arunachal Pradesh was remarkably similar to the policies followed by the Ahoms. By and large, the British Empire left the tribes alone, resorting to forays in the form of punitive expeditions only when their commercial and revenue interests were affected.

The British made some expeditions to the Adi areas, but, they were unable to establish a trading post there as they had planned. However, they did manage to negotiate some agreement regarding both trade and the frequent raids made to the plains and a fragile peace prevailed in the region until 1911, when the Adis killed a British official on a foray into the Siang Valley. Skirmishes with the British were not uncommon. While surveyors, botanists, and even the odd missionary did manage to make their way into Arunachal, it remained for the most part ‘untouched’. And the people were able to continue living as they had for generations; preserving their local culture and indigenous way of life. According to the provisions of the Inner Line Act, enacted by the British in 1873, people from other parts of the country cannot enter the State without the permission of the Government.

The convention of 1886 was so far successful that it staved off for six years the question of frontier delimitation; but by a curious coincidence, with the return of Lord Rosebery to the Foreign Office in 1892 the border problem again cropped up, and in the convention of March 1st, 1894, a tentative agreement was at last drawn up. The actual work of demarcating the frontier, accepted by both countries in the Agreement of 1897, still remained to be done, and a party of British and Chinese commissioners were occupied with this task up to the end of the winter of 1899-1900.

In 1914, the hill areas of the northern districts of Assam were separated to form the North East Frontier Tracts. The North-East Frontier received but a modest share of public attention, but nevertheless boasted its tale of tragedies and comedies, and was responsible from time to time for no small amount of perturbation among diplomatists and even European Cabinets. Tragedies play so fine a part in the making of an empire's frontiers.

In 1948, under the North East Frontier Tracts (Intemal Administration) Regulation 1948, the Sadiya Frontier Tract was divided into the Abor Hills and Mishmi Hills districts with Headquarters at Pasighat and Sadiya respectively. In 1950, the Constituent Assembly of India appointed a Committee known as North East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas Committee. This Committee, however, was popularly known as Bordoloi Committee after its Chairman.

In 1954, the North East Frontier Agency came into existence with five frontier divisons: the Kameng and Subansiri Frontier Division, the Tirap Frontier Division, the Siang Frontier Division, the Lohit Frontier Division, and the Tuensang Frontier Division (which later became a part of Nagaland). Constitutionally a part of Assam, the NEFA administration was not fully integrated with that of Assam. It was administered directly by the Governor of Assam, as a representative of the President of India. The Legislative Assembly of Assam could not enact laws for NEFA.

India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the advice of noted British anthropologist Dr. Verrier Elwin opposed "over-administering" the area to limit outside influences on the tribal communities. As a result, basic social indicators, such as literacy, health and life expectancy are very low. Infrastructure was not developed because of the anxiety over possible Chinese intrusion into the state and so it is impossible to travel by road from east to west in the state. All east-west travel by road must go through neighboring Assam.

In order to intensify the developmental efforts, NEFA was made a Union Territory in 1972 and named Arunachal Pradesh. The Union Territory became the 24th State of India in 1987. Statehood has provided the administrative mechanism for achieving sustained development. The establishment of institutional infrastructure in a hilly and sparsely populated land is a monumental task.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2018 17:59:53 ZULU