Arunachal Diaries – 4

Sunset @ Sundarbans (Credit - Aniket Marne)
Sunset @ Sundarbans (Credit – Aniket Marne)

It took us 4 days to reach Itanagar. At 4 o’clock in the morning, our ILPs were checked at Bandardeva. This is the gateway to Papum Pare district wherein Itanagar is located. The ITBP jawans standing at the check-post appeared very lackluster early in the morning. Our ILPs were not scrutinised thoroughly as if it was a mere formality. Actually, coming to think of it now, it’s very easy for miscreants to forge ILP to get entry into the state. It’s just a paper with one stamp and names of entrants written with pen (along with entry/exit points and duration of stay). There are no photos, no barcodes, no seals, nothing. Simple and plain paper with one stamp… And the boundary of Arunachal with Assam is very not impenetrable. As said by Gladstone –Laws only constrict the freedom of good intentioned people, for bad people, these are anyway useless.

This is one issue which has potential to dramatically stir the whole political atmosphere in the state. Afer decades of slow progress, last year, the rail service finally reached directly to Naharlagun (part of Itanagar complex). The whole nation expected Arunachal to be happy alas. However there were many protests…! Locals wanted the Railways either to check the ILP of each passenger or to stop the operations. Railway understandably refused to accept saying it to be the job of the state government, thus outside its mandate. After many protests, people forcibly stopped the railway operations. Arunachal must be the only state in India not welcoming Railway connection. And here we keep harping on our old tune of lack of infrastructure in the NE. Finally, some arrangement is made with the state government where ILPs will be checked at Naharlgun before un-boarding. This news came in when we were about to leave the state.

The issue of ILP is a very complex and its history very contorted, chequered. The tribes in Arunachal were (and are) very ferocious. The British could not tame them. The Sahibs actually didn’t even intend to rule over this inhospitable area for lack of its economic value, hardy terrain and brawny people. Not only it was very arduous to tame these tribes, the constant inter-tribal warfare never let the land rest in peace. Intention of the Sahibs was two-fold. To secure the plains of mighty Brahmaputra from raids of upland people and secondly to keep this area as buffer between India and China which was being approached from north by Russia at that time. William Moorcroft was sent to explore the higher Himalayas, Tibetan plateau and then to Central Asia at the height of the Great Game during the times of the Hon. Company. From then till the time of 1911 Treaty with Russia, the outer Himalayas served the purpose of a buffer. Meanwhile, the tea plantations in the doors of Asom turned out to be very profitable (along with the trade in elephant of course). Asom also served the purpose of passage to the Pegu/Burma which had to be safeguarded. British were satisfied by restricting the troublemaking tribes to their own lands. (Anglo-Abor war was one terrible mistake) And thus they introduced Outer Line Permit and Inner Line Permit. These permits regulated the movement of people in these areas in these protected areas.

The OLP was revoked sometime later. The ILP continues till date. It disbars outsiders from entering the area without special permission. The intention at the time of independence to continue this ILP regime was sort of idealistic – to save tribal identity. Verrier Elwin persuaded Chacha Nehru that the pace of modernisation has to be different in different areas and the Arunachal (then NEFA) was not yet ready for outside influence. The current situation however is somewhat anomalous. The urban and town living tribals have costliest of the gadgets in their pockets, wear latest fashion jeans, speak English, watch BBC, purchase China-made illegal goods. Some of them even own apartments in Lavasa. Many go outside Arunachal for some years – mostly for educational purpose. Modern communication has rendered such artificial sagregation of any part of the word impossible and in turn a part of the ILP argument invalid.

On every possible opportunity we asked this question. Ranging from simple students to Finance Secretary Arunachal, a father of the first Catholic Church in Arunachal, an RSS Pracharak, an AVP Head, and Director Industry Arunachal to one senior person in PWD. The answers vary and so do their reasoning. The question is very very delicate. It has many facets – cultural, political, economic. It’s at the root of Arunachal-Assam boundary problems, it’s connected to economic backwardness and it’s also connected to many other identity issues.

The beautiful Siang river near Pasighat. Its called Brahmaputra after it enter the plains of Asom and other rivers like Lohit meet with it.
The beautiful Siang river near Pasighat. Its called Brahmaputra after it enters the plains of Asom and other rivers like Lohit meet with it.

The ILP makes non-tribals and non-Arunachalis a sort of secondary citizen within Arunachal with no property rights and voting rights. We were told that the tribals are exempted even from paying income tax and outsiders working temporarily working in the state (like University professors) have to pay it. This inequality has now assumed very intense political dimension with entrenched interests. Mind well, Arunachal is a state with area even larger than that of Assam and population less than 15 lakh (of which only around 8,00,000 are tribals). Assam, on the other hand, is bloated. Bengalis, Biharis and Bangladeshis are everywhere. People are land-hungry. If you look closely at the map, Arunachal starts where Himalayas start. All the plain area is in Assam (except at two places, one of those being Pasighat area). Assamese thus till the land upto the very boundary further from which they can’t buy any land. Arunachalis on the other hand, are hungry for plains and many of them are now turning to farming in the plains. The state is also looking desperately for some plain area. Arunachalis can go into Assam and buy lands adjacent to the boundary. They can do whatever they want and then get back into their safe hideouts in the mountains. (Sometimes, inter-tribal affairs pour out into Assam) If Assamese try to track them down; they can’t even easily enter Arunachal without ILP. And getting ILP takes time, needs some local contact and there is a whole procedure for it. This has created a lot of problems. Continuous boundary disputes, riots, gang-wars. Such unequal rights and mutually contradictory needs are at the basis of Arunachal-Assam boundary disputes.

To be continued…

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