Arunachal Pradesh:Behind the Namdapha Tiger Reserve impasse

The North East Today has better readability than the Eastern Sentinel, and I found the same article there. Here I post it again. It is now very important that we take up legal battle with the Namdapha Authorities.

Source: TNT, 19 September 2015


Arunachal Pradesh:Behind the Namdapha Tiger Reserve impasse

ByTNT NewsonSeptember 19, 2015

Recent impasse over resettlement of Yobin tribe from the core as much as periphery of renowned Namdapha Tiger Reserve to another site is a vicious story of authorities’ failed planning, poor execution and dire inability to understand the sentiments of the locals that have history of symbiotic co-existence for generations together. Several rounds of discussions since 2009 involving local Singpho and Tangsa leaders hoping for an acceptable solution has been unsuccessfully conducted so far. Efforts by the Namdapha National Park authority to relocate the Yobin families occupying the core areas of the world acclaimed national park since many years has once again resulted in stalemate as settlers refused to budge.

Wounds of resettlement process, that started in 1960s right after the “Chowkan Pass Expedition of 1961”, from their original homeland in Dawodi (now called Vijaynagar) to newer locations like Gandhigram and other places to make space for former army personnel have created deep psychological insecurities amongst the Yobins. Therefore, it’s not difficult to understand where the Yobins’ stand is stemming from. Settling and unsettling every generation, forcing them to migrate every now and then is unfair to say the least when authorities have failed to provide them anything concrete including the basics in lives.

Post the expedition in 1961 by 7 Assam Rifles, the then NEFA government set up its first administrative post in 1962. As per material evidences, this tribe on South-Eastern tip of Arunachal on the edge of Indo-Burma border was counted during India’s Census Operation of 1961 and 1971 and was accorded all the political and economical facilities and benefits but they lost everything during the general election; right after the emergency in late 1970s when none of them were enrolled as electorates due to reasons best known to the political leaders of that period.

Thereafter, the establishment of Namdapha Tiger Reserve in 1983 hara-kiri on Yobin and their settlements: The only link road between Miao and Vijaynagar, better known as MV Road turned into porter track. Even the porter track through the reserve was objected to by the authorities. Till date, nearest circle headquarter to Vijaynagar is a foot-track of 6 days.

And that was the beginning of the marginalization process of Yobins.

With no road communication, it had cascading impact on other facilities like medical care, food and social security. Marginalized people are not considered to be a part of society. Consequently, after more than 30 years of marginalization, Yobins are nowhere. Along with material deprivation, marginalized individuals are also excluded from services, programs, and policies; marginalization has ensured poverty, psycho-emotional damage.

The school dropout rate due to lack of educational infrastructural facilities is more than 60% which is significantly high given the fact that denominator is a miniscule few thousands. In its effort to salvage the grim situation; little more than a 100 elders of the Yobin community are supporting couple of hundreds of young children out of a welfare camp in Miao, 157 miles from its original place Vijaynagar.
Therefore, turning a blind-eye to such challenges of a marginalized tribe to safeguard the tiger by the authorities of the Namdapha National Park is inhuman, to say the least. Also, over these years, blaming and singling out a particular community for decline in tigers in the reserve is a poor alibi to authorities’ failure when poaching is an international phenomenon with poachers maintaining no boundaries.

Reports show a drastic fall in tiger population. The Tiger Census conducted in 2006 suggested the presence of only four tigers in the reserve, a finding that was also confirmed by an expedition conducted at four zones by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) during November 2008 to February 2009. The numbers dwindled down to just one tiger sighting during the NTCA sponsored ‘Camera Trapping’ exercise in March-April 2012.

Reckon that almost a decade back in 2005, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest’s ‘Tiger Task Force’ (TTF) suggested that the Yobin community, one of the two communities other than Gorkhalis which are recent settlers, with their knowledge of the terrain and hunting expertise be used for protection of Namdapha Tiger Reserve. Suggestions on making them stakeholders in the conservation of the reserve failed to cut-ice amongst the bureaucracy in the state forest department that continued to treat the community, residing in the vicinity of the reserve, as interlopers. A view which was definitely not kindly accepted by the community as well as conservationists. As late as April 2012, certain sections of the Yobin community tried every means within its capacity to derail the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) sponsored camera trapping exercise. They not only stole cameras, but resorted to firing at the team, on three occasions, at Bulbulia and Kadboi areas.
Despite being seen as interlopers, a study conducted in areas around protected reserves in Nepal and India, has revealed that majority of people living around the vicinity have a positive attitude towards the existence and importance of Protected Areas (PA) but had negative perceptions of PA staff. A dialogue process which is empathetic in its outlook must be pursued so that an acceptable solution can be arrived at. If Namdapha National Park is to survive, then relocation is mandatory. This will not only be a test of strategy but authorities will have to rely on their persuasion skills as well.

What populations living around protected areas require is management strategies to balance conservation goals and livelihood needs. For conservation efforts to bear fruit, locally based strategies rather than centralized approaches must be adopted which are likely to be more effective.

Therefore, the state forest department must also introspect to zero in on possible loopholes or communication bottlenecks in order to present an amiable facade. Lest one forgets, today Yobins are like stateless people in many worldly senses. And worry today is not only about Yobins existence inside the reserve but it is about saving this dying tribe. In its most extreme form, marginalization can exterminate groups.

Kenter Riba is a well established writer from Arunachal Pradesh and also the editor of Eastern Sentinel

Behind the Namdapha Tiger Reserve Impasse

A brilliant insight of Lisu plight under Namdapha authorities. As we all know it has not been pleasant relationships with them. The reasons are clearly spelt by the author of this paper. Thanks to the Executive Editor of the Eastern Sentinel, Kenter Joya Riba.

Mini hydro projects swallow public funds

I heard about this mini hydro in Vijoynagar area more than 10 years but nothing happened. Today I read this news report informing its status… sad news but a pattern practiced in the area.

Below is extract of news items (only the relevant part) from Dawnlit Post.

Mini hydro projects swallow public funds

MIAO, SEP 29, 2015:

Miao is amongst the oldest administrative sub divisions in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. But owing to absence of proper road map and non performing practices of successive elected representatives, the health of the sub division continues to deteriorate. The sub division comprising of three administrative circles (Miao, Kharsang, Vijaynagar) has tremendous potential for growth in all spheres but even the unseen god would be confused over the scheme of things. Coal, timber, crude oil, minerals, orchids, wildlife and what not, Miao has every ingredients needed to emerge as the most developed town of the state. But at this point of time, it is otherwise.
Vijaynagar, the easternmost circle of Miao Sub Division is stagnating in the old age as even basic amenities are a distant dream, compelling Yobin and Gorkha settlers to shift to Miao township in search of work, education for children and medical facility. With the suspension of Pawanhans chopper service, the people of Vijaynagar are compelled to scale 157 km on foot.
In the name of development the construction of Miao- Vijaynagar road (country’s longest link road) is underway but the fate is questionable. Aimed at providing power supply to the people of the valley, a mini hydro project was departmentally taken up at Gherigaon with much enthusiasm and tall talks but even two years after completion of building infrastructures there is no news of power generation. At this point of time if anyone visits Gherigaon it would be practically difficult to locate the site as the hydro project is hidden beneath jungles, turned safe haven for insects and poisonous snakes. Interestingly, the entire valley is electrified but electricity don’t ply on those wires.

Details of the Land Lease to the Ex-Servicemen of Vijoynagar Area

Recently a friend gave me a copy of land lease certificate of an ex-service of Assam Rifles family. A couple of facts about this document:

· It was called “LAND ALLOTMENT ORDER”.

· Issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Changlang District, vide Govt. Signal No. LR-117/87 of 12 April 1990.

· Allocated land consists of Residential Area and Agriculture land.

· Granted lease for 30 years.

A note: This lease expires in another 5 years (in 2020). Do we sit mum? Because the certificate ends with this conditions: “The Government reserves the right to altar or change or cancel any term and conditions from time to time as decided by the competent authority of the Land Records Department of Arunachal Pradesh”.

Conditions of the Land Allotment Order:

1. The allottee shall be liable to pay the land value and lease rent at such rates as may be fixed by the government from time to time.

2. The allottee shall not transfer or sublet any portion of the land allotted to him/her.

3. The allottee shall not utilize the land for the purpose other than for which it is allotted to him/her.

A Concern:

According to the lease, they must confine within the given land, that too with sufficient conditions. But they have taken additional lands not given. They have even taken the land where we have cultivated. This is not right.

AAPSU team meets CS, takes up refugee issue

I am on several occasions surprised at the lack of understanding of the AAPSU leadership on the Lisu/Yobin. See the news item below (AP Times, August 12, 2014)

· Branded Lisu and Yobin tribes separate tribes.

· Still considers Yobin not as an indigenous tribe. If not, tell which tribe is.

· They have no idea that the Govt has already prepared a Family Dossier (Census of people) to avail ST certificate.

Another surprise: Why are the AAPSU silent on the Ex-Service Settlers in Vijoynagar area?


AAPSU team meets CS, takes up refugee issue

ITANAGAR, Aug 12: Members of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) led by its vice president-cum-chairman Refugee Affairs Likha Takar and member secretary Refugee Affairs Arjun Dodum called on state Chief Secretary and Secretary Political to discuss its earlier representation submitted to the government regarding the Tibetan Refugee issue, here today.

Stating that many Tibetan and Bhutanese nationals are availing licenses and certificates by showing fake documents which are otherwise meant for the local people only and misguide the government, Likha Takar appealed the government officials to verify the persons before issuing such documents since it adversely impacts the rights of the indigenous people. Expressing concern over the state government’s decision to issue ST certificates to Lisu and Yobin tribes, he said that it could pose a threat to the indigenous tribes of the state especially, in Changlang district because both the said tribes are settled at Miao and Vijoynagar near the Myanmar border are now starting to illegally migrate into the state after hearing the government’s decision.

While urging the state government to initiate strict measures to check such alleged illegal migrants by alerting the Assam Rifle at various check posts, he further requested the government to identify and prepare a census of Lisu and Yobin tribes who have been settled in state since many years, to avoid future problems.


The following were responses to this press release:

1. Readers’ Forum (Date: 14 August 2015)

Do not zero in on one community

Dear Editor,

I’d like to make a comment on your news “AAPSU team meets CS, takes up refugee issue” that concerns the Yobin (Date: 12 August 2015).

I think the principle that AAPSU leadership is advocating is very reasonable and should be addressed: Illegal migrants must be checked. Tribes that have their population beyond Indian boundary need to come under this purview. Perhaps it might bring relief that the Govt has prepared a Family Dossier of Yobin to provide community certificates.

Having said that I have a couple of objections with this news item.

First, AAPSU alleged we have “now starting to illegally migrate into the state”. Please substantiate facts and if needed constitute an inspection team if we have people in addition to the names in the Family Dossiers. Second, we are called “settled”. I question who settled us? The government “found” us on 7th May 1961 and the Indo-Burma boundary was not demarcated until then. Third, the team said “It could pose a threat to the indigenous tribes of the state especially, in Changlang district”. Who is the indigenous tribe in Vijoynagar area?

Furthermore, as many know, the voice AAPSU cried concerns a small tribe of below 4,000 people. Our people hardly increase 1000 people per decade. The census data gives those details.

I look forward to a day when leaderships in Arunachal Pradesh take up wider issues and implement consistently, instead of zeroing in a particular community.




2. AP Times (16 August 2015)

Misplaced facts

Dear Editor,

This is regarding the news article which appeared on Aug. 12th under the caption ” AAPSU team meet CS, takes up refugee issue”.

First of all, I appreciate the AAPSU team for taking up the refugee issue for the betterment of the future in our state. For this spirit must not end at any cost.

But I felt strong resentment at the immature allegation meted out to one particular tribe: the Yobins.

We are not that foolish to allow anyone to cross into our area! We have a small land to live in! And I wonder if “Yobin” is the only tribe residing in the border areas.

It hurts a lot when the leaders who are our brothers and sisters of the state are indiscriminately hurling resentful things against a particular tribe. It is not wise to discriminate against a particular tribe without having full knowledge of the real facts.

The AAPSU team have narrow knowledge of the matters as they do not seem to know who is a settler and who the indigenous tribe of Vijoynagar circle are.

The team do not seem the know the difference between Yobin and Lisu.

And the team do not seem to know that we possess family dossier.


Barak Ngwazah


Lisu shops at Miao

It is now about 15 years our people began to settle in Miao. Several people have taken interest to run business to support their families.

Two days ago in preparation for a meeting on the 11 July 2015, I counted the number of shops run by the Lisu here. I counted 20 shops.

But almost all our people did similar business. Sixteenth out of the 20 shops sell cloths and related items. Mostly the items are “Dimapur” goods. The other four shops have books, wine, provision and mini-restaurant.

We need to explore other options. I thought of atleast two.

One, a Lisu traditional shop. A shop where we can get traditional cross-bows, basket, dao handle, salah cloth, bags etc. We need it to be handy whenever there are needs for our use or for anyone who would like to purchase our traditional materials as souvenir.

Two, a Lisu restaurant. This should have all traditional foods available. I can think of smoked pork, tsengo, thajhiphele (dried persimmons), hwapi . The idea is to have people taste our foods and also for us to take whenever we miss them.

Perhaps more than this we need a professional business person to help our people move well in modern businesses.

Notes on status of ST certificate

This week I had to visit the ADC office several times for a couple of office works – for birth certificate and ST certificate. On 23 June, a total of 445 applications for obtaining ST certificates were submitted to the office. Out of that 141 applicants were issued the certificates. Khiyosa Ngwazah received the first certificate, No. 1!

On the 5th May, the first 12 certificates were issued in a simple ceremony at the ADC office.

The initial benefits are becoming available for us. For this academic year, students are receiving books at concession rates. My sister who has just joined class xii paid only Rs 190 for her books, otherwise she will need to pay about Rs 700. Another student joined a school and received highly subsidized school fees.

More benefits are to follow: The government workers are getting ready to claim promotions. Young people are looking forward for better jobs. Elder people for other benefits.

I look forward for a day when almost everyone will have multiple livelihood options and availability.

Realised ST on ground

Beginning of January this year, data collection of Family Dossier carried out extensively in all of the Lisu inhabited villages. The Panchayat leaders shouldered this responsibility. The following next two months spent on keying in of those data and formatting, and then finally submitted to the Additional Deputy Commissioner, Miao towards the end of March. Total compiled members were almost 4,000.

The Governor of AP notified Yobin as ST on the 6th February 2015. It came into force after publishing by The Arunachal Pradesh Gazette (Extraordinary) on the 31 March 2015.

This happy news cannot be kept. So three of our ST committee – Avia, Tifu and Stephen – went to all our villages to share this news, taking a copy of the gazettee, from 13 to 25 April. A mega meeting was also held at Shidi to discuss what’s next.

By then several applied for ST certificates, but slightly delayed. The administration had to prepare separate forms and certificate for us. (for other communities, already “Miao” had been imprinted on the certificate).

And on 5 May (incident the very day the Srijitga Expedition reached Shidi in 1961!) the ADC called for meeting at his office. Public leaders both from Tangsa and Singpho gathered. Also the K. Mossang (Minister), FD, police officers, media persons). Certificates to the first 12 people were issued.

A big celebration is coming up in November at Shidi. Dignitaries from AP Government will be chief guests. Now preparations are on progress.

This is just beginning of ST journey after 37 years of struggle. We are yet to see how this privilege will benefit our people, our locality.

In the Shadow of the State

A well organized story of the Lisu in the Shidi valley. The author chronicles our beginning in India, tells struggles we faced, and also what’s happening right now. Perhaps, Max Bearak is one of the few journalists who have ventured to our area on foot. Good to see some of the photos of the places where I haven’t been there myself a couple of years.

Source: (Accessed: 20 April 2015).



By Max Bearak

The valley of the Shidi River occupies the easternmost wrinkle in India’s scrunched-up forehead, the Himalayan range. Thick jungle covers slopes that rise from its banks, and around its headwaters, to ridgelines that delineate the border with Myanmar. Fenced in to the north, east, and south by those geographical and political boundaries, the river rushes west, aimed at the vast drainage of the Brahmaputra basin. If borders were visible from the air, the Shidi Valley would appear like a dark green finger, jutting out of northeastern India and pointing at Myanmar.

When dozens of families fleeing unrest and famine in Myanmar macheted their way into this valley in the 1950s, both India and what was then called Burma had already become independent states, but the border between the two had yet to be drawn. These migrants, belonging to the Lisu tribe (later given the exonym Yobin in India) found only the scattered, stateless settlements of Lisu forerunners who had arrived just a few years earlier. Before those initial incomers, and stretching back through time immemorial, the valley had only hosted temporary visitors: hunters; purveyors of jhum, an age-old slash-and-burn cultivation that shifts from year to year; and the occasional itinerant priest or monk. No records exist of any visit by a British, Indian, or Burmese representative of a state.

But in 1961, 14 years after India’s independence, the Indian army did finally reconnoiter the valley, and nine years after that, India and Burma agreed to define their border, if only with lonely stone pillars placed hundreds of miles apart. For those Lisus who happened to live within India’s new valley, their “discovery” and subsequent envelopment into India marks the beginning of a perhaps inevitable tryst that even the most remotely situated peoples must have with statehood.

The valley is home to what are probably the most remote villages in India

The first time I heard of the Shidi valley, albeit indirectly, was from a wizened old man in another valley, the Dibang, also in Arunachal Pradesh, a boomerang-shaped Indian state that abuts Tibet and northern Myanmar. The Dibang is remote, but unlike the Shidi, it has a road, electricity, and intermittent cell phone reception. As his grandson admired my friend’s camera, he put his hand on my shoulder and asked me a question with a sly look on his face.

“This boy keeps dreaming about what happens in Guwahati,” he said in Hindi, referring to northeast India’s biggest city, a smoke-choked urban nightmare a dozen hours’ drive from where we sat. “But no doubt people in Guwahati watch Delhi and Bombay on TV and dream about life in those cities, and then those city people must also be thinking about how it is in your country. And now you, here, came to find what?”

My response might have been incoherent because of my middling Hindi skills, but more likely because I’m not exactly sure what force attracts me to remote places, to seeking knowledge in the nooks and crannies of relative statelessness, to idealizing the isolated, the supposedly wild and natural, the flipside of my suburban upbringing. When I managed to mutter something like, “Cities are very polluted, and I don’t like how concrete looks, so I try to go far away,” the old man gestured vaguely at the layers of green, pyramidal peaks vanishing towards the east in the midday haze and said, “Then you should go there.”

Weeks later, on Google Maps, I determined that “there” was, unofficially, the Shidi valley.

The valley is home to what are probably the most remote villages in India, if we measure remoteness by distance from a motorable road. Upwards of 5,000 people live the better part of a week’s walk from the nearest road in Miao, where the river meets the plains. To reach the most distant villages, one must follow muddy footpaths that cross jungle-darkened hills and vanish along slippery creek beds, then along the rock-and-driftwood-strewn banks of the Shidi River—and further, traversing its tributaries on handmade bamboo bridges for almost 100 miles.


Reaching the valley’s most distant villages requires crossing through the waist-high Shidi River half-a-dozen times. Photo by: Max Bearak

As I walked up the valley, I asked the older Lisus to tell me how their lives changed when they suddenly became Indian. What I heard was a particularly sub-continental catalogue of promises and pitfalls, in this land where democracy and affirmative action for Lisus and other minorities are enshrined, yet simultaneously, remoteness is often a pretense for impunity and neglect. And while the Lisus I met on the way to the valley’s end seemed healthy, content, and at least mildly keen on being Indian citizens, their histories of the valley seemed to err decidedly on the pitfall side, with promise only recently becoming apparent, more than five decades after the Indian tricolor was first planted along the banks of the river.

The river flows through one of earth’s eighteen “biodiversity hotspots,” according to UNESCO, and the virgin jungles that enclose it host 600 species of orchid, 400 of fern, India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon, and five species of endangered big cats, to name a few of the undeniable criteria it meets for deserving conservation. Given the region’s miniscule human population, it made for an ideal location to create a national park, and only twenty years after the Indian army first ventured into the valley, Namdapha, India’s second largest national park was christened and opened.

Life was simply arduous

But back when Latchi Yobin was a young woman, and her family and six others made it to the Shidi valley in the early 1950s, the valley wasn’t just more or less empty; it was unknown to the Indian government. Together, the troupe had just escaped a truly fragile existence in northern Burma, where Lisus were essentially unwanted refugees, and traded it for a slightly less fragile one of hunting, foraging, buffalo raising, and gardening in what they saw as a place to make a new beginning, protected by miles and miles of jungles and hills between them and wars and famines in Burma at the time. Still, scarcity of food, tempestuous weather, and a cast of dangerous animals circumscribed life into survival mode here too. Life was simply arduous; besides dangers close at hand, older Lisus remember having to traipse through the jungle for more than fifteen days just to procure essential but unavailable items, primarily salt, from faraway towns.

That secluded existence, reminiscent of how people lived in times before nations, came to an abrupt end in the summer of 1961. Major General A.S. Guraya of the Assam Rifles division of the Indian Army, accompanied by around 30 soldiers, a fleet of porters, and two interpreters from outside the valley, arrived in Latchi’s village and, like the Czar’s men did in Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof, told her and her kin that they were to be ready to leave their village immediately, or else. Latchi remembers the soldiers shooting several livestock to make sure their seriousness was understood.


The Assam Rifles army camp in Vijaynagar, the last major village in the valley. Photo by: Max Bearak

In the coming weeks, all the Lisus in the valley were herded at gunpoint towards a village in a wide floodplain that they knew as Shidi, like the river. Once assembled there, they were told, “This place is India, and you are Indians,” Latchi recalled. Through the interpreters, the army men assuaged their fears with pledges of regular rations and road connectivity—promises of dependability given to a population that craved it, but knew little of the possible perils of dependence.

Meanwhile, the Indian government distributed the newly occupied land beyond Shidi to retiring Gurkha regiment soldiers and their families, who had been recruited from Nepal decades earlier by the British colonial army. As if taking a page out of the conquistador’s manual, Guraya then renamed the old Lisu villages Preetnagar, for his daughter Preeti; Ramnagar for his younger son Ram; and finally Vijaynagar, for his eldest. In Hindi, Vijaynagar also means “victory town.” Shidi village was—sincerely, I’m sure—renamed Gandhigram, in honor of India’s pacifist icon who held hallow, above most else, respect for decentralized power and village autonomy.

Adu Yelimi, now pushing 60, remembers that when his family first arrived there, Shidi wasn’t the town it is now, decades of settlement later. “A tiger might come to your field and eat your animals and you’d be scared to go out for many nights afterwards,” he said. “You could hear the elephants out back while you tried to go to sleep.”

But then a “Kheti Babu” came and taught them how to plant rice, said Adu, using his term for a representative from the Department of Agriculture. Rice is easy to grow, and one harvest can provide a family with a year’s sustenance. By cultivating rice, one can in turn cultivate a sedentary, stable lifestyle, living in cleared flood plains with fellow rice growers whose collective presence keeps wildlife at bay.


A rice mill in Shidi village.Photo by: Max Bearak

Adu, like many older Lisu, remains proficient at hunting and foraging, and he knows all the tricks one must use to test whether a mushroom is poisonous or not. But he remembers the monsoon season, decades ago, when the inherent insecurity of rice dependence was proven with alarming force. Dozens, or perhaps a hundred paddy fields including that of Latchi’s family were swept away by the Shidi River after heavy rains, and with their fields ruined and the fertile land up-valley from Shidi allocated to the Gorkhas, the affected moved downriver, only to soon find themselves boxed in ever further.

By 1978, Latchi’s family had settled in a downriver village called Nibodi. The adults of the village were summoned one day that year to Vijaynagar, a few days’ walk, ostensibly for what she remembers as a census count. While in Vijaynagar, a group of breathless young boys from Nibodi arrived, having sprinted the whole way to bear devastating news: Forestry Department officials had burned the village, with only the children and the elderly there to witness it.

Without the consent of the Lisu, the Indian government had decided to designate the rivers and mountains between Shidi and Miao—almost all of the remaining Lisu land in India, as far as they were concerned—as part of Namdapha National Park. As such, human settlement in those areas was made illegal. Those whose homes in Nibodi were reduced to ashes moved back to the only place that was left for Lisus in the valley—Shidi.

A Lisu couple brings tin up the valley to make longer-lasting roofs. Photo: Max Bearak

Unswayed by threats of violence and arguments for conservation, Latchi’s family moved back to Nibodi only two years after it was burnt, if anything, she said, for pride’s sake. Latchi claims to be 105 years old, but the contours of her memories place her at a more believable 85. When we met, in Nibodi, she told of her accumulated distaste for the Forestry Department officials with increasing vigor, chuckling at what now seems to her like the distant past, but practically spitting as she emphasized certain points. We sat around a fire, and floating pieces of ash were falling into her hair.

“Ten lakhs is nothing for this fertile land,” said Latchi, referring to the amount of money the government is willing to pay to resettle those living in the park on land outside of the valley, about $16,000. “Money is of no use anyhow. My husband is buried here. I will be too.”


Shooing an errant buffalo away in the morning mist along the Shidi River.Photo by: Max Bearak

Park officials blame the Lisu for cutting too much firewood from the forest, and for widespread poaching that has depleted wildlife. The latest tiger census, done by remote camera sensing, only captured four tigers though there are certainly more that didn’t happen to cross the cameras, said Dusu Shra, the park’s current field director. Most Lisus admit to hunting, but deny poaching animals like elephants and tigers, and without a road upon which cooking gas can be transported, Lisus use wood from the jungle for all heating and cooking. Park officials want the Lisu out.

Few, if any, want the resettlement money, and feel that Namdapha is rightfully Lisu land. At a meeting last November between national forestry officials and Lisu representatives, the additional director general of India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority’s, Rajesh Gopal, gave his tacit agreement to the stalemate when he promised, “Hum aur jabardasti nahi karenge.” We won’t do any more silly business, using a choice Hindi euphemism for forcible evictions.

Thus confined to a few villages near Shidi and illegal settlements in the national park, the Lisu have had to fashion lives that rely on forces beyond their valley, if only because arable land is becoming more and more scarce. Yet, despite the rocky history, everyone I met welcomes the opportunity to incorporate further into Indian markets and government welfare programs. If the alternative is returning to the fragility of living in a jungle that, in the grand scheme of things, they have only just begun to inhabit and understand, then the broken promises of the Indian government are but postponements of a long-awaited inclusion into Mother India’s reputedly caring embrace.

A signpost in Miao, showing distances on a road that though twice-built, has never lasted longer than a month. Photo: Michael Snyder

That caring embrace is visible to Lisus who make the walk down to Miao, or travel further. In that India, everyone seems to have access to schools, hospitals, roads, subsidized rations, and, if they belong to a registered, or “scheduled” tribe, they are reserved quotas for educational and employment opportunities, and can get certificates of ownership for their land. All of which would be beneficial should they actually receive those things—but as those of us who live in the unwieldy yet accessible parts of India witness constantly, being afforded a right scarcely translates to being availed it.

Fifty-four years into their tryst with India this year, the process to bestow scheduled tribe status to Lisus began in February. For decades, other tribes have argued that Lisus are more like refugees, who don’t truly belong to India, and don’t deserve a piece of its affirmative action pie, despite ample evidence that Lisus arrived in the valley before the Indian state even existed. In fact, Lisus were only made citizens by the federal government in 1994, after they were mistakenly left off the legally recognized list of tribes in Arunachal Pradesh in 1979, around the same time the plans for the national park were solidified and Nibodi was burned.

With scheduled tribe status, the Lisu will be able to claim what land they have left outside of the national park as their own. It is perhaps the only reason they can be happy that the promised road has still yet to be built after all these decades—otherwise, scheduled tribes from other valleys could have easily moved in and claimed it themselves.

The government has, for the third time since it drew the valley’s borders with Burma in 1972, commissioned the building of the road. The first two times, it was blocked by landslides or ruined by rains within a month of its opening. The last time it opened was in 2011, and in just 4 years, jungle has reclaimed it to the extent that paths cleared by machete in the jungle are often more efficient to travel on. This time around, the Lisu have submitted an appeal to their state government to give the building contract to the BRO, or Border Roads Organization, run by the military, which has an excellent track record.


Four years ago, the road opened, and a month later it closed again. The jungle has hungrily devoured most of it since then. Photo by: Max Bearak

But on one stretch of what’s left of the previous road, I ran into a group of sunglass-wearing, pot-bellied men taking selfies who said they had won the tender for that particular stretch. “Someone else has the tender for the rest of it—we are only building from here until 40th mile,” one of them said, refusing to give his name. I asked what company he worked for. “It’s a local company, sir, you wouldn’t know it.”

In Shidi, Phusa Yobin, the 66-year-old president of the Lisu Welfare Committee, said that the company belonged to a relative of a member of Arunachal Pradesh’s state assembly, and that the other two companies that won tenders for the rest of the road were tied to even higher officials in the state government. Without the BRO, Phusa said, he doubts the road will last any longer than the last ones, especially with it being done by separate companies with no vested interest in maintenance.


In what is likely a futile hue and cry, the Lisus have launched a half-hearted campaign to get the road’s construction put into more capable hands. The Lisu alphabet, which includes backwards and upside-down capital Roman letters, is featured on the signPhoto by: Max Bearak

It seems safe to say that until the BRO steps in, the Lisus, young and old, will continue to walk for days and days to towns more firmly in India’s grasp to secure those things which they believe will improve their lives, and which are light enough to carry on their backs: tin for roofing, metal hooks for fishing, solar-powered lights, medicine, car batteries to power and charge electronics like tiny TVs and transistor radios. As one Lisu woman named Chamahey Ngwazah put it to me, “We’ll still need to do left-right-left all the way there and back.”

I’ll admit it: having escaped the crumble and clog of India’s plains again, I worry that if the Lisu get their wish, and the BRO steps in, trucks brimming with sacks of concrete and instant noodles and cheap cigarettes will trundle up to this utmost remote place. But the desire to finally be connected to India is palpable. At some point beyond the thirtieth mile of walking, I was overtaken by a man doing left-right-left, carrying a satellite dish on his back. It was the same dish I later saw in front of Phusa’s house and a good number of others in the villages. They all were made for Dish TV, an Indian company. And displayed on those strange grey orbs, installed in front of the thatch-and-bamboo homes of people forgotten by the rest of their country, was that company’s pompous Hindi slogan—Ghar aayi zindagi. “The world, brought to your home.”


Max Bearak is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Follow him on twitter @maxbearak.


New Releases on Yobin ST after its Notification

News Item # 1

The following is an editorial of Arunachal Times of April 01, 2015. There is an error in facts: “Historical records show that they were given ST status in the year 1979.” Actually, the ST status was available until 1979, not given in that year.

Two objections:

1. “Large number of Yobin resides on the other side of border at Myanmar. Government should ensure that no one misuse this noble initiative”. True that our people live across the borders, but we are not alone. Almost every tribe of Arunachal Pradesh has their relatives on the other side of the country.

2. “Also the decision to grant ST status to Yobin might open door for other groups to make similar demand.” It is the duty of the govt to look after communities with genuine. I would rather say we should encourage govt to address people of their genuine needs and meet the need for justice.

Read on…