India's Development Strategy for Arunachal Pradesh Tribes
India's Development Strategy for Arunachal Pradesh Tribes
“The starting point for the project is the recognition that tribal people, contrary to perceptions of them as guardians of tradition, are also initiators of change.”1
As we have already observed, up until the twentieth century the tribals of Arunachal Pradesh lived in virtual isolation and autonomy from the nearly all forms of outside influence. The first recorded contact with the British colonial authority was not until 1897, and this was only a brief encounter which lasted two days and had little direct effect. The first attempt by outsiders at setting up a permanent outpost in the Arunachal Pradesh region was carried out in 1948 by the Assam Rifles.2 This intrusion was promptly brought to an end when the Apa Tanis attacked and, subsequently, drove the Assamese contingent out. But this action was to signify a new era for the tribals, as their centuries of isolation were about to come to an end.
In acknowledgement of previous policy failures in other tribal areas, such as the Deccan and Andhra Pradesh, the new independent government of India wanted to continue the colonial effort to allow for a more egalitarian development of the Arunachal tribes. A major clause of this novel approach was the institution of the ‘Inner-line’ policy. Haimendorf describes this policy as such, “. . . the so-called “Inner Line,” [was] a boundary running along the foothills, which no plainsman was allowed to cross without a written permit. Inhabitants of the hills were free to cross this line in either direction, for there was no intention of keeping the hillmen within their territory, only of keeping the lowlanders out”3 This strong action was implemented as a device which would provide the tribal people with the space to develop at their own rate, without the threat of competition, exploitation, and expropriation from unscrupulous outsiders. This divisional policy was in reaction to what has continuously occurred in other tribal areas of India, where tribals incredulously found themselves as prey to opportunistic infiltrators from other cultural segments of the Indian population.
When greater India began to administer control over the Arunachal Pradesh region, they did so with much care and used a model that was set forth by the anthropologist, Verrier Elwin. Under this system, the traditional community structures were kept intact and, “. . . efforts were made build up a political structure which would allow the tribesmen to run their own affairs within the framework of the wider Indian political system.”4 This introduction of a broader political paradigm was even further instituted by the formalizing of village panchayats and the formation of a Legislative Assembly, “which functioned on the lines of the assemblies of the Indian states.”5 All administration units within the region operate on the principles of democratic election and all representatives are themselves of tribal origin. According to Haimendorf, by 1978, fifteen Apa Tanis served in gazetted appointments and 342 Apa Tanis were in other governmental positions.6 Due to the “hands-on” policies of the Indian government to ensure that the tribal communities remained in control of their own affairs, the development of the region provided the people with an unprecedented degree of self-determination while, at the same time, being an unabated part of the Indian political structure.
One major area where the governing body of India attempted to provide assistance was that of agricultural reform. As was stated earlier, the de facto agricultural methods of the Apa Tanis were continuously very successful, but could productivity be further increased through the use of modern implements? At least at first, the Apa Tanis had no use for the new tools of the ‘modern world’, and the traditional ways stood in their entirety. As Haimendorf observed in 1980, “. . . for not only were ploughs unknown in the past, they also failed to gain acceptance in recent years when Apa Tanis eagerly took to bicycles and other products of modern technology.”7 But I cannot believe that this wanton adherence to tradition held up for long in the face of seemingly more efficient technologies. By the time Haimendorf made the above statement, the Nishis had already begun taking to the plough and, where the environs would allow, had even settled into permanent villages around continuously cultivated fields. I tend to think that the Apa Tanis soon followed suit to the extent of taking advantage of the plow bullock as a beast of burden. Other agricultural assistance was also provided by the government which initiated, and in the beginning subsidized, fruit farming. This endeavor turned a very substantial profit for the involved communities. Fish farming in pre-existing irrigation canals was another outside suggestion that was eagerly implemented by various tribes; again, with huge monetary payoffs.8
Another major coalescing initiative of the Indian Government was the introduction of modern style education facilities in 1950. Again, due to the harsh lessons that the Indian authorities learned from their previous educational policies in peninsular tribal areas, the manner in which they went about introducing schooling was done with respect to the framework of tribal culture. These educational facilities were introduced at no cost to the tribal people which, “. . . enabled children to obtain a sound education irrespective of parental means.”9 The training of local teachers was also an imperative part of the educational plan, so concessions were made to meet this end. The Arunachal tribes eagerly took to these newfound educational opportunities and seemingly benefited from them greatly. By 1980, a mere thirty years after outside education was initiated, forty-five Apa Tanis and thirty Nishis already obtained university degrees and many more students were currently studying in universities throughout India. What makes this great educational growth even more remarkable was that it occurred in the span of a single generation. Within one generation, many of the tribal communities went from being semi-autonomous, illiterate, subsistence cultivators to graduating students from some of the most major universities in India- a fully trained doctor and an airforce pilot even came out of this contingent.10 This rapid accumulation of outside education, and hence influence, would seem to have firmly set the stage for social changes in every sphere of tribal life.
It could very well be stated that the excessive levity and understating that the Indian Government showed towards the development of Arunachal Pradesh may not have been completely for altruistic reasons. The fact of the matter is that Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,080 km border with the political giant, China, and any unrest in the region could be potentially hazardous to the symbioses of the entire Indian state. In actuality, Arunachal Pradesh itself is simultaneously claimed by both countries, the necessity behind developing its infrastructure without local resistance is obvious. In fact, “The PRC [Peoples Republic of China] regards most of the territory administered by Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory occupied by India” and “The name South Tibet is often used by Chinese websites to refer to the disputed region.”11 Haimendorf broached this issue when he wrote that, “It could be argued that the Government of India has provided very large funds for the development of a politically sensitive and strategically endangered zone close to the Chinese border.”12 Nirmal Kumar Bose acknowledged the same concern in his book, Tribal Life in India:13
Moreover, some of our borders, as in Arunachal Pradesh. . . have to be guarded carefully by armed forces. There is some amount of troop movement, and motor vehicles of several kinds, including bull dozers and other road-building equipment, have become a common sight where they were never heard before.
But whatever the reasoning behind these uniquely understanding governmental policies, the fact is that the tribal population of Arunachal Pradesh benefited greatly from them intellectually, administratively, infrastructurally, as well as monetarily. With the thoughtful introduction of these new institutions, ancient subsistence agriculturalist and itinerant slash and burn cultivators the were thoroughly brought into the “modern” world with a bang. But is this the end of the story?
1School of Oriental and African Studies. “Project Description,” http://www.soas.ac.uk/research/our_research/projects/tt/description/
3 Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf. Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985). 288.
4 Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf. Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival (Delhi: OxfordUniversity Press, 1985). 295.
5 Ibid. 295.
6 Ibid. 296.
7 Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf. Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985). 28.
8 Ibid. 28, 306.
9 Ibid. 294.
10 Ibid. 296.
12 Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf. Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985). 295.
13 Nirmal Kumar Bose. Tribal Life in India (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1971).44.
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