Arunachal tribes want Tibet trade back, ask for pre-1962 routes to be opened
Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh living near the McMahon Line demarcating the India-China border want pre-1962 trade routes to Lhasa reopened.india Updated: Nov 17, 2016 00:47 IST
Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh living near the McMahon Line demarcating the India-China border want pre-1962 trade routes to Lhasa reopened.
Their demand comes with a rider: New Delhi and Beijing should keep their bilateral issues to themselves and let Tibetans and their ethnic cousins on the Indian side of the border resume social and economic exchanges.
Before the 1962 Chinese aggression, the Buddhist Membas of Mechukha and surrounding villages trekked five-six hours to reach nearest Tibetan village Langong for trading essentials.
Mechukha, the sub-divisional headquarters of West Siang district, is 492 km from Arunachal Pradesh capital Itanagar. West Siang is the only district of the frontier state that borders China-controlled Tibet and Assam.
“The historic trade route from Mechukha via Mangang and Nesanggang villages and Lola Pass on the border was closed after the 1962 war. It hit us hard because Tibet had been our source of sustenance while road communication with the rest of Arunachal Pradesh, let alone India, is still deplorable after all these years,” KL Mosing, secretary of the Mechukha Bazaar Committee, said.
The armed forces – army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police – have plugged the trade routes and no local person besides those assigned as guides or porters for soldiers are allowed beyond an imaginary line close to the border whose nearest point is aerially 29km from the heavily militarised Mechukha.
The local chamber of commerce, association of gaonburas (influential village chiefs) and various NGOs have submitted memorandums to the Arunachal Pradesh government as well as the centre for resumption of people-to-people trade with Tibet. They favour an arrangement where “governments and armies of India and China have no role to play”.
“This is in the domain of the Centre as it involves clearance from the defence and other ministries,” a sub-divisional officer said.
Local MLA Pasang Dorjee Sona admitted life in the Eastern Himalayas became harder after the link with Tibet snapped. “We are trying to compensate through better road and air transport, but there’s a long way to go,” he said.
Mechukha does have an advanced landing ground that was upgraded last year but it is more for used by the armed forces. A 190km road to district headquarters Aalo exists too, but locals say it is more of a dirt track that takes SUVs more than 12 hours to cover.
The condition of the road makes old-timers such as Doge Phale wish they could return to the pre-1962 days when there were no vehicles. Phale, a resident of Malo Basti in Dorjeeling village near Mechukha, is a local hero for having been the last person to have traded with Tibet before the war.
“We used to load our horses with assorted articles like animal hide, rice, chilli, etc., and bring back rock salt, garments and cattle from Tibet. I wish to see resumption of trade and social contact with Tibet before I die,” he said.