Writers and historians say India lost the 1962 Sino-Indian War to the invading Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the erstwhile North Eastern Frontier Agency(Nefa), now Arunachal Pradesh. But, not many people are aware that despite the defeat, Indian nationalism in the form of Hindi won a long-drawn war of language crisis in the state.
“Hum Chini ke haath ladai to haar gaye, lekin Hindustan ke liye jung jeete the. (We lost the war in the hands of the Chinese, but we won it for India),” says 47-year-old Tsering Wange, adviser of Arunachal Pradesh Tour Operators Association, in Bomdila, which was the headquarters of Kameng sector during the war.
Born after the 1962 war, Wange, who’s a new generation entrepreneur, feels the war was in fact a blessing in disguise for the various Arunachali tribes who hardly understood each other before 1962.
With an area of 83,743 sq km and a population of 13.82 lakh as per the 2011 census, Arunachal Pradesh is inhabited by 26 major tribes and over 100 sub-tribes.
The war changed the course of India’s history and, eventually, Arunachal Pradesh was born. As on today, Indian nationalism runs high among the people of Arunachal in the entire trouble-torn northeast.
Before the war, Arunachal tribes would learn Assamese in order to be able to communicate with each other and to carry out trade with the people of the Brahmaputra valley. But as New Delhi troops were pumped into Nefa, the locals had to learn Hindi to interact with the soldiers of the Indian Army and the Border Road Task Force (BRTF) employees, who were mainly from the Hindi heartland, explains 63-year-old Dorjee Tsering, who runs a private school called Guru Padma Sambhava Memorial School, at Bomdila.
As the Army did not have porters during the war, they took the help of tribal villagers to carry food and ammunition. Soon, the tribals started picking up Hindi from them. The administrative officers and teachers who first landed in Nefa were also from Hindi-speaking states and this led to Arunachal residents adopting Hindi as their second language.
At present, Hindi has become the lingua-franca of several Arunachal tribes. The debates in the Arunachal Pradesh assembly take place in Hindi. Arunachal is the only state outside the country’s Hindi heartland to use the language in the assembly.
“We are proud that the people of Arunachal speak better Hindi than any other non-Hindi speaking state in the south, east or northeast. People from the state can communicate better than other northeast natives when they travel to Delhi, Mumbai and other northern states,” says Lhakpa Tsering, a border roads contractor from Dirang village.
The 39-year-old Lhakpa, a Monpa tribal, said the older generation of Arunachal natives, before the 1962 war, was better versed with Assamese. But the post-1962 generation prefers Hindi to Assamese. “I speak in Hindi when I interact with my friends from other Arunachal tribes,” he adds.
D K Thongdok, a former minister and author of the book ‘War on Buddha, a book on Chinese Aggression, 1962′, informs that the war led to the birth of Arunachal Pradesh in 1972, with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi making it a Union territory. Arunachal attained statehood later, in 1987, when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
“The war brought all the different tribes of Nefa together and the sufferings experienced by the civilians during the war led to resentment among people against Chinese. Indian nationalism ran high among the tribals, uniting them. People saw how the Indian jawans fought the war bravely, but got defeated. The villagers carried the dead soldiers for cremation on their backs,” elaborates Thongdok, who was then a 13-year-old boy.
According to Thongdok, Nefa was under the external affairs ministry and was almost like a buffer zone between China and India. The tribes inhabiting the Himalayan hilly tracts hardly knew each other’s languages and dialects. They only interacted with the Assamese people in the Brahmaputra plains.
“A common language was required for the tribes to speak to each other and it was Hindi which ultimately got that coveted place. In the state assembly, we conduct our debates in Hindi as English-educated MLAs are few in number and all of them know Hindi,” he added.
Thus, Hindi won the hearts of the Arunachal tribes after the war and instilled a spirit of Indian nationalism in the psyche of the people. The language became a binding force for the different tribes, concludes Thongdok, who belongs to Sertukpen tribe of Rupa village.