Arunachal Diaries – 2

Kangir Jijong - our guide and friend from Adi tribe
Kangir Jijong – our guide and friend from Adi tribe

Arunachal, erstwhile NEFA, was made into a full state in its own right in 1987. It was an ill-considered and a hasty step according to many. The grant of full statehood introduced politics into a state which is economically totally dependent on the centre and at the same time lacked history of instiutional politics. The combination of these two ills has created a deadly situation and root couse of many ills besetting the state today.

One positive voice on the other hand termed the current situtaion as transient in nature, giving Arunachalis experience in carrying their own affairs within modern institutional framework. The point in the making was the creation of the first two municipal councils at Itanagar and Pasighat. These are the first ever municipal bodies in Arunachal. Elections were held over an year ago but the people there dont know what to do with these bodies. Let them learn by experience. (These are not 73/74 amendment institutions directly but are created by the state as per the enabling provision)

The second example was the introduction of common law system and Indian judiciary. There is one full-time bench of Guwahat highcourt in Itanagar and a few district courts elsewhere. People still don’t go to the courts directly, they either settle their cases by heeding the counsel of gaon-burrha (gao-budha). Sometimes they may take recourse to dao and sometimes the traditional kebang takes place. Kebang is the unique and interesting institution. NP Nawani, during his stint as a DM at Ziro and Koloriang in 1968-69 has given a very vivid and lively version of such an affair in his book on district administration. Rajeshji, a real avaliya whom we met at Naharlagun, has spent about two decades in Arunachal and is more an Adi than a Marathi now. He has attended many kebangs and can speak authoratatively about it. Judiciary recomends such ADR methods and people love kebangs. These are very costly affairs. People like arguments which are accompanied by festivities and dances. Elaborate system of computing compensation with the help of sticks puts huge burden on both the sides. In the end it becomes a question of honour. One cock killed by accident may incur compensation of around 50,000 rs. The whole affairs goes on for days.

Most interesting and delicate are the inter-tribal affairs, for which even the conduction of kebang becomes difficult, if at all resorted to. Heated arguments take place. Diplomacy and experience of people from the two tibes in such an adversarial proceedings finally come to help. Yet the eventual usage of dao is not unknown. Many tribes have history of mutual conflict. Idu Mishmis, living uphill, used to raid the bastis of Adis in foothills, take their Mithuns and girls away as war-booty. British Indian Police generally stayed away from inter-tribal affairs and in some extreme cases used to carry out punitary expeditions, burning the whole bastis.

IPC and CrPC are considered secondary while primacy is given to customary law. Customs vary according to tribe and there is hardly any codification. The oral tradition was very strong until very recently. Kangir Jijong is from Adi tribe. His people could retel the story of their migrations of last 200-300 years, everyone knew their 40 ancestors by heart. There are may community dances and dramas and other functions where they teach these things to their new generations. That oral tradition is dwindling now. (NGOs like Riwatch in Roing are working on conservation of sch traditional oral knowledge) Yet, the institution of gaon-burrha is well respected and recognised even by the government. These gaon-burrhas are also recruited as political advisors by the government and given some honorarium. This has been the case since the times of Alexander Mackenzie (surveyor, ethnographer and anthropologist of Arunachal in the 19th century). They were used as liasoning officers to help outside bureaucrats in governing.

Such is the interface of tribal with modern that gave rise to many complicated issues. All this has not happened overnight. Sardar Patel’s oft-quoted infamous rebuff about intergration of Manipur saying ‘Isn’t there a Brigadier in Shillong?’ and Chacha Nehru’s hapless resignation on AIR after the fall of Bomdi La saying ‘my heart goes out to the people of Assam’ are two famous instances indicating apathy shown by the centre to this part of India. This apathy stopped us from taking many strategic and important decisions and Arunachal was left to itself. Even after 1962 nothing changed. Things moved slowly, if at all. And then we saw rise of China. K Sundarji doctrine was finally put to rest after Operation Parakram. Year of 2008 was a watershed where we finally buried the policy of not developing the infrastructure in the border state. In the Eastern Sector, now we are seeing some changes on the ground. (Separate articles on Eastern Command and border infrastructure coming soon)

Suffice it to say here that the neglect by the centre only caused modernity to reach the state in a very devious way. Social structures are being affected adversely, culture is being maimed. ILP can’t stop invasion of ruthless modernity. Tribal vs non-tribal is a political hot potato. General political mobilisation takes place through students as in Assam. If compared to rest of the NE, Arunachal appears a relatively peaceful state. That does not however mean that everything is fine. There is so much to talk about. I will deal with some themes in the next few articles.


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