After returning to my home region of Bomdila after postings in various parts of our beautiful state, including Ziro, Yingkiong, Aalo and Koloriang, I want to present a few observations on the differences between my region and others.
I think this is important because my observations are related to what people in other parts of our state think about the Mon autonomous region demand. My colleagues and friends often say: “But your Tawang and West Kameng districts are the most advanced and developed of our entire state, you see yourself how is our condition here.” I can imagine that an outsider travelling from Bhalukpong to Tawang will feel that way. You don’t see so many wild stretches of jungle, and the main road (when not in repair or widening, which is basically always) is better than in many parts of the state.
But our districts are made up of more than Tenga, Rupa, Bomdila, Dirang and Tawang. Many of the internal parts of the districts are lacking the same roads, electricity, schools, healthcare and other facilities like elsewhere.
And to me, the Mon autonomous demand is not so much about backwardness or access to development. There is a much more pressing and deeper problem playing out.
When travelling from Bhalukpong to Tawang, no one can help but notice how, since the 1962 Chinese aggression, this stretch consists of a string of army cantonments and camps. For the protection of the nation against an aggressor who stood overlooking the plains of Assam right here, this may be a necessity. Local communities sacrificed their ancestral land and the livelihoods that depended on it. But with the various branches of the Indian army came another army – that of their dependent labourers. And slowly, this army has been expanding all over our two districts.
It is something that I have not experienced in any of the other districts that I have lived and travelled to before. One just needs to look at the ratio of ST versus total population in the latest census of India to see how many places in West Kameng and Tawang districts have poor ratios, where the indigenous ST population is a minority.
For many years, certain migrant populations have been able to settle in our districts without any hindrance. Some illegally obtained ST status or settled through mixed marriages. Both the army and the complacent indigenous tribals needed them for all the odd jobs we did not want to do ourselves. And the main problem is that, instead of migrants learning our tribal languages and customs, the tribal people adjust to the migrants. Hindi and Nepali are more commonly heard than tribal languages, not only in the towns but also in many villages.
The situation is not that bad in many other areas like Upper Siang, Kurung Kumey or West Siang. There, tribal languages and customs can still be preserved because there are fewer migrant settlers. But in Tawang, and mainly in West Kameng, the indigenous population is becoming more and more marginalized, not socio-economically, but culturally.
I am in favour of the Mon autonomous demand because I hope that it will give our local people more means to protect our own tribal culture.