• Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

THE BRAVE ESCORT: 5 ASSAM RIFLES AND THE JOURNEY OF DALAI LAMA INTO INDIA IN 1959

Introduction

5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles was deployed in Kameng Frontier Division of the Arunachal Pradesh since 1958. Its posts were spanning over a large area to include Chuthangmu, Bumla and Chuna in Kameng Frontier and Longju and Taksing in Subhansiri Frontier. During this period, there was a uprising going on in Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, along with his family escaped from Lhasa on 17 March 1959. On March 26 1959, Dalai Lama’s fleeing caravan finally reached Lhuntse Dzong – a few days march from the McMahon Line from border between India and Tibet.

The Journey

of the Dalai Lama into India was not only a symbolic act of defiance against the Chinese occupation but also a testament to the compassion and support extended by the Indian government and its armed forces, particularly the 5 Assam Rifles regiment.

Tibetan Uprising

In 1959, Tibetan Rebellion began with a revolt in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Area, which had been under the effective control of the People’s Republic of China and was subjected to socialist reform. Armed conflict between Tibetan rebels and the People’s Liberation Army started and spread to other areas of Tibet.The Chinese attempted to subdue the Tibetans by targeting political and spiritual leaders. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, being a cynosure, therefore became a prime target in their attempts to quell the freedom movement. Since, then he has been living in Dharamshala, Northern India. The Central Tibetan Administration led by His Holiness has long appealed to the UN to consider the question of Tibet. The General Assembly resultantly, adopted three resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961 and 1965.

 

Significant Role of 5 Assam Rifles in Escape of Dalai Lama

As news of the Dalai Lama escape spread, the Indian government swiftly responded by dispatching a contingent of the 5 Assam Rifles to ensure his safe passage into India. The 5 Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force known for its valor and discipline, played a pivotal role in safeguarding the Dalai Lama and his entourage during their arduous trek across the treacherous Himalayan terrain.

On 31st March 1959, his holiness was received by the party of the 5th Battalion of The Assam Rifles and the people of Monyulat at the Frontier Post of Chuthangmu in Kameng Division.

Thereafter, 5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles singularly rescued them safely to India. The description of His Holiness’s escape from Lhasa in Dom Moraes’s timeless book “The Revolt in Tibet”, and particularly his onward journey after crossing over to India refers to Assam Rifles for conducting him to safety – “A strong detachment of Assam Rifles men was sent to the border checkpost to ensure the safety of His Holiness, who was urged to lose no time in leaving for Tawang. The North East Frontier Agency was sealed off, only accredited officials and the local populations being allowed entry. Private traffic was banned in the foothills region of Assam State, and identity cards were rigorously checked.

 

At Chuithangmu the Dalai Lama’s bodyguards surrendered their arms to the Indian authorities, and the Assam Rifles men became the Living Buddha’s escort.”.The 5th Battalion , Assam Rifles had the singular honour of escorting his Holiness to Tawang, Bomdila and thento Tezpur. He then stayed for one night each at Gorsam, Shakti, Lumla and Thongleng. He was received at the Tawang Monastery by the Abbot and Government officials on 5th April 1959. Another account refers to his journey from Bomdila by a jeep some seventy miles to the foot of the hills, where just across the border “was an Assam Rifles post known as Foothills”, which controlled the border separating NEFA from the State of Assam. The Assam Rifles escorted him to the present official bungalow of the Deputy Commissioner, Tawang where he stayed for three nights, “ringed by a unit of the Assam Rifles”. Following His Holiness’ forced exile to India, the Frontier posts of Chuthangmu, Bumla and Chuna saw a mass ingress of armed Tibetan refugees called ‘Khampas’. For security reasons, the Khampas were disarmed before being allowed to proceed further. 5 Assam Rifles thereafter, escorted approximately 12,000 refugees through the Kameng Frontier Division.

The 5 Assam Rifles soldiers demonstrated unwavering resolve and dedication, braving harsh weather conditions, rugged landscapes and the constant risk of interception by Chinese Forces. Their unwavering commitment to the mission and their unyielding protection of the Dalai Lama reflected the highest ideals of duty and honour.

Blessings by the Dalai Lama

As a token of appreciation for the services rendered by the Assam Rifles, the Dalai Lama, very graciously presented his personal weapons to the 5th Assam Rifles. These weapons are proudly displayed at the Assam Rifles Museum in Shillong as mementoes. He also bestowed on them his warm and affectionate blessings, which indeed seem to have prophetically presaged their exponential growth.

“May your luck increase to the size of a mountain. May your fame be such as to cover the whole sky. May your knowledge become vast and deep as the sea long and healthy lives to you and hope your work for others, will be a success”.

Chinese Retaliation

The Dalai Lama’s escape to India marked a crucial moment, not just in Tibetan history but also in the evolution of new Indo-Chinese relationship. The Chinese Government considers the Dalai Lama a separatist threat due to his advocacy for Tibetan autonomy. The entire episode of the Dalai Lama fleeing through Indo-Tibet border to India, irked China to an extent that it moved its troops to the India-China border and claimed vast areas of Indian Territory in Kameng and Subansiri Frontier Division. The border outpost of 5 Assam Rifles at Longju in Subansiri Division was later evacuated following an armed clash with Chinese Forces in August 1959.

Dalai Lama’s Return

During visit to Guwahati in April 2017, ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ recalled his evacuation from Tibet and met Havildar Naren Chandra Das (Retired) of 5 Assam Rifles, who had escorted him 58 years ago from the India-Tibet border in the year 1959. The Dalai Lama embraced the old soldier affectionately and reminisced the vexatious times. During his speech, ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ praised and blessed the Assam Rifles for their selfless service to the Nation.

Conclusion

The legacy of the ‘5 Assam Rifles’ escort of the Dalai Lama in 1959 remain a poignant chapter in the shared history of India and Tibet, symbolizing the enduring spirit of friendship, support and humanitarianism. 5 Assam Rifles share a deep bond with the Dalai Lama to an extent that a body of troop visits Dalai Lama every year to seek the blessings of his holiness.

5 Assam Rifles also known as “The Dalai Lama Battalion”. His blessings are sacred and therefore, 5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles is truly blessed to be a Force that holds special significance for ‘His Holiness’ himself – truly a privilege that has roots in its tryst with the Dalai Lama in 1959.

(Inputs from Indian Army)

Report : Pratyusha Mukherjee

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