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Did missing sheep and yaks cause the tension between India and China in 1967?

China accused Indian troops of stealing a flock of animals leading to the 1967 conflict in the same area where the two countries’ border troops are now locked in a standoff.

india Updated: Jul 05, 2017 13:53 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
A herdsman with his flock of sheep and goats crosses a road in the mountains. (Waseem Andrabi/HT File Photo)

A missing flock of 800 sheep and 59 yaks besides allegations of territorial intrusions and illegal constructions were part of the build-up that finally triggered the Sikkim border conflict between India and China in 1967.

Exchanges between the two governments dating back to 1965 reveal that China accused Indian troops of stealing the flock of animals from Tibetan herdsmen operating near the Sikkim border and demanded that animals be returned.

The 1967 conflict took place in the same area where border troops from both countries are currently locked in a standoff.

Read | China’s PLA warns India: ‘Learn lessons from 1962 defeat, stop clamouring for war’

The accusation made by Beijing was reported in the Indian media and it triggered a rather dramatic protest in front of the Chinese embassy on Shantipath in New Delhi.

“In the afternoon of September 24, 1965, a mob of Indian hooligans went to the gate of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi to make provocation led by Indian officials and Congress leaders and driving a flock of sheep before them. They made a huge din, yelling that China had ‘invented absurd pretexts for threatening and intimidating India’, that ‘China wants to start a world war over some sheep and a few yaks’, and so on and so forth,” said a note of complaint from the ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) in Beijing to the Embassy of India in China on September 26 in 1965.

“This ugly farce was wholly instigated and staged by the Indian Government. The Chinese Government hereby lodges a strong protest with the Indian Government,” the Chinese note said.

The ministry of external affairs (MEA) responded to the Chinese note five days later on October 1.

Chinese soldiers guard the border on the Nathu La mountain pass connecting India and China's Tibet Autonomous Region during the Chola incident (or Sino-Indian skirmish), Himalayas, October 3, 1967. (Getty Images)

Referring to four missing Tibetan herdsmen with the animals, the MEA note said: “Like other Tibetan refugees, these four people had come into India on their own volition and without our permission and taken refuge in India. They are free to go back to Tibet at any time if they desire to do so. Apropos the 800 sheep and 59 yaks, the Government of India has already given a reply in the clearest terms possible.”

“We know nothing of the yaks and as regards the sheep, it is up to the two herdsmen concerned to take them to Tibet if and when they choose to go back to their homeland,” the note said.

In fact, Indian protesters in front of the Chinese embassy took around 800 sheep with them.

“In its note of September 26, China has protested against the peaceful demonstration, which was held near the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi on September 24 when some citizens of Delhi took in procession about 800 sheep,” the note said.

Dismissing the Chinese government’s allegation that the Indian government had organised the protest, India said: “It was a spontaneous, peaceful and good-humoured expression of the resentment of the citizens of Delhi against the Chinese ultimatum and the threat of war against India on trumped-up and trivial issues.”

Some protesters carried placards, saying: “Eat me but save the world.”

Also read | China keeps up anti-India rhetoric, news agency calls face-off near Sikkim reckless

First Published: Jul 05, 2017 08:00 IST