MECHUKHA: Amidst the chorus by people in parts of the country for boycott of Chinese goods, a fiercely patriotic Indian population on China’s border in Arunachal Pradesh is eager to have supplies
from across for a decent living.
In heavily-militarised Mechukha, which boasts of India’s latest advanced landing ground (ALG) at an altitude of 6,200 feet, the locals have to travel as long as for eight hours to get essentials from Aalo, the district headquarters of West Siang. As such, they are demanding access to the markets of Tibet.
Aerially, Mechukha is 29km from the Tibetan border and 50km by road from Lola Pass. The road exists for 30km upto Lamang army and ITBP camps. Aalo is 186km from Mechukha, which is a sub-division of
West Siang. The Buddhists, who account for more than 30% of the population in Mechukha, shared a historic relationship with Tibet even before it was annexed by China.
“Before 1947, we had easy access to Tibet. Our people used to go there to buy and sell goods. Their people also used to come to Mechukha for trade. Those days, the nearest Tibetan town, Gaja, was
four-five days’ walk for our parents and elders. Our miseries compounded manifold after India had attained independence as it brought an end to the border trade,” KL Mosing, town panchayat member and Mechukha Bazaar Committee secretary, told Express.
“From Mechukha, the nearest major Indian town is Aalo. Travelling there to buy essentials is not only taxing, it also entails an expenditure of Rs.1000 per person on transport. So, if we have access to
the Tibetan markets, it will surely mitigate our sufferings,” he pointed out.
Not many people can afford to buy goods and other essential items in Mechukha as the traders sell them at exorbitant prices citing the cost of transport. The airstrip in Mechukha was built long back
but the solitary road that connects the town with Aalo is as good as non-existent. Ironically, it was built only a decade ago.
Kesang Goiba, president of village chieftains’ committee, too felt that border trade was the only way out.
“We’ve given a number of representations to the authorities for resumption of border trade. Disconnect with our Tibetan brothers (Menpa, Monpa, Khampa, Yuba and Kempa tribes are on either side of
the border) has made our lives harder. We need a road upto the border. There is tremendous demand in Tibet for our local liquor, sugar, bidi (not
cigarettes),” Goiba said.
He said their forefathers used to barter sugar with Tibetan rock salt. Tibetans are often caught for straying across the border in search of “Yarje Gomu”, a prized insect which is believed to have
medicinal properties. Soup made from it is drunk for strength and youthful maintenance of body, he said.
“The resumption of border trade would not only help us to buy goods at cheaper rates, it would also give us an opportunity to meet our relatives,” said Koje Maling, a local BJP leader.
As per the 2011 census, Mechukha has a population of 13,310 of which some 5,000 are Buddhists. The rest are people belonging to indigenous “Donyi Polo” faith and Christians. The sub-division has just
one primary health centre, one higher secondary school, four upper primary schools, four private schools (upto class VIII) but no college. The nearest college is at Aalo. Surprisingly, there are just seven police personnel to maintain law and order.