The Fight In Arunachal Is Not Just Territorial, It’s Cultural Too

Aravindan Neelakandan

Apr 22, 2017, 10:53 AM | Updated 10:52 AM IST

Indian Army Memorial at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
Indian Army Memorial at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
  • The battle in Arunachal is not just between two sovereign states, but also between two ideas and cultures. Does India have its own house in order to fight this one?
  • The recent renaming of six towns in Arunachal Pradesh by China, in Mandarin, has shown the world that it has always been Han racism which has been the animating force of the Maoist-Marxist regime. The Chinese call this exercise ‘standardizing’ of the names.

    At one level this is both propaganda war and staking of claims against India in Arunachal Pradesh. At another level, it is the denial of the cultural identity of Tibet, which has been the official policy of China. The sustained genocide and cultural cleansing of Tibetans by the Chinese is now being illegitimately extended to Arunachal Pradesh. The renaming of the towns in Mandarin is part of the decades long Sinicizing exercise, which has been justified by ideologues of the Maoist doctrine.

    Dan Smyer Yu, anthropologist from the Yunnan Minzu University points out in his work on Tibetan Buddhism, that in the context of China, the Maoist-Marxist evolutionary paradigm reinforced the traditional Han Chinese prejudice of the non-Han populations being savage and barbarian.

    It is important to note that the magazine sponsored by the Chinese state, 'Global Times', has chosen to cite an academic, Xiong Kunxin, Professor of Ethnic Studies at Minzu University of China, to say that it was a move to assert Chinese sovereignty in the region. Lu Kang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, has spoken about the standardizing of the names in Mandarin too, saying taht 'China's territorial claim over South Tibet is supported by clear evidence in terms of history, culture and administration'.

    This convergence of theory, academic justification, political propaganda and territorial expansionism is a tested formula in the geo-political games the Chinese play. Starting 2001, the Chinese Government started funding an intercontinental archeological project that went all the way to Kenya, commemorating the voyages of the 15th century Chinese admiral Zheng He in a 250-ship armada. Behind this was a clear-headed political mission. Mark Staniforth, an archaeologist at Monash University, Australia, told 'Science' correspondent Mara Hvistendahl, that the project was related ‘to Chinese leaders' view of themselves, and to their power projections in places'.

    In 2009, the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Congress was held at Hanoi, Vietnam. There was a Chinese presentation on Chinese marine archeological expeditions in the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China sea. The Paracels are separately claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and the Spratlys by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The Chinese presentation’s point, according to Stainforth was that "these are Chinese ships, therefore this is Chinese territory." The paper shows the thorough continuity of the political aim of Chinese archeological mission in facilitating the territorial expansionism of China, starting from 1956 itself. Despite all these efforts by China, in 2016, in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Philippines, the international tribunal’s ruling went against China .

    Chinese propaganda of 15the century Zheng He voyage got it featured in a 2001 ‘Time’ magazine cover. Not how the speculated voyage matches perfectly with the String of Pearls strategy of China and its colonial ambitions in Africa.
    Chinese propaganda of 15the century Zheng He voyage got it featured in a 2001 ‘Time’ magazine cover. Not how the speculated voyage matches perfectly with the String of Pearls strategy of China and its colonial ambitions in Africa.

    Now, India is facing a similar situation in the Arunachal Pradesh territory. It is here that the academic stranglehold of the pro-Chinese left in institutions like ICHR and the sustained negative propaganda against non-Marxist historians by the media can play a role for the cause of China.

    One can remember that a particular eminent historian ridiculed any archeological project on the Saraswati river or even an attempt to discover any Harappan heritage as a‘patriotic project’. Thus, this person tried to academically devalue archeological projects that could run contrary to the frameworks that did not suit the colonial and Marxist narrative of Indian history.

    So, we can now expect not only China trying to plant archeological ‘evidence’ in the Arunachal territory but also some of the Indian academic cabal reinforcing the Chinese claims. The most common refrain in this effort is likely to be that Arunachal and the Northeast was not a part of the mainstream Indian culture and that the Indian nation itself is a colonial construct, etc.

    Arunachal Pradesh has also been a strong target of proselytization by Christian missionaries. As early as 2003, Moulang Bhante, the Buddhist chief priest for tribal populations in the Indo-Myanmar border regions and Wannasara Bhikku, another influential Buddhist monk in Arunachal Pradesh, had complained that the Maoist-Christian terrorist outfit NSCN’s cadre were frequently visiting Arunachal Pradesh and forcing the Buddhists to convert to Christianity. The temple of the local spiritual tradition, the Rangphra temple was burnt by the NSCN in an attempt to catalyse proselytization.

    In this connection it is interesting to see that the Chinese have decided to use Roman script in the renaming exercise. The use of Roman script for the Northeastern languages is one of the impositions by all Christian terror outfits operating in the region. Missionary supported secessionist movements in the Northeast like the NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland), the NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura), and the NSCN of Nagaland - all support the Roman script. Christian secessionists have even resorted to assassinating literary figures for flouting this decree. Hence, the introduction of Roman script by China cannot be taken lightly.

    So, the fault lines are surfacing slowly. Evangelical-Marxist-Maoist-secessionist forces are being lured by China. The indigenous traditions of Arunachal Pradesh, including the Donyi-Polo, Heraka, and Buddhism have emerged as the greatest supporters of the Indian cause.

    A JNU thesis 'Religious politics and search for indigeneity: A study of Donyi Polo and Heraka movements in north east India' (2012) is a good example of how a leftist looks at the religious politics in Arunachal Pradesh. The thesis was done under the guidance of Prof.Pralay Kanungo. Despite all the academic left rhetoric in the thesis about indigenous culture and the so-called politics of Hindutva, the JNU scholar grudgingly confesses that 'the close association of Donyi-Polo and Heraka with Hindus makes it difficult to demarcate the religious boundaries between them.' It further states:

    In other words had Arunachal Pradesh been a victim of proselytization it would have succumbed to Chinese pressures. It would have become an opening gate for Chinese incursions and mischief. Today China finds it tough to claim Arunachal Pradesh, mainly because of the strengthening of the indigenous spiritual groups and Hindutva movements have played a very important role in that consolidation. Here, one should note also the historical spiritual linkages Arunachal Pradesh has with rest of India. Nocte tribals have been for centuries following the Vaishnavism of the Shankara Dev sampradaya.

    Sankara Dev’s and other indigenous spiritual traditions which have organic affinity with Pan-Indic culture and spirituality unite Arunachal with the rest of India
    Sankara Dev’s and other indigenous spiritual traditions which have organic affinity with Pan-Indic culture and spirituality unite Arunachal with the rest of India

    So, with the enemy devising his plans to occupy Arunachal Pradesh, the Government of India has to now make sure that Arunachal as a border state is guarded not just by the military but also by its own internal cultural and spiritual bonds of assimilation with India – so that it will never have to undergo the suffering of Tibet under the illegal occupation of China. Further it can also become the Hindutva model for national integration of the Northeast tribal cultures with India without them having to lose their individual identity both in the cultural and spiritual sense of the term, resulting in a holistic, sustainable, economic development.


    • Maritime Ambitions, Maritime Ambitions, 'Science' Vol.344 Issue 6184, pp. 572-75
    • François-Xavier Bonnet, Archeology and Patriotism: Long term Chinese strategies in South China Sea, paper presented at Southeast Asia Sea conference, Ateneo Law Center, Makati, March 27 2015
    • url:
    • Subir Bhaumik, Troubled Periphery: The Crisis of India's North East, SAGE Publications India, 2009
    • Soihiamlung Dangmei, Religious politics and search for indigeneity a study of donyi polo and heraka movements in north east india, JNU PhD thesis, 2012 (
    • Abhijeet Prabhu, Missionaries arrested in Northeast India,Compas, August 15, 2003

    Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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