Roads and bridges in North-East India could drive away small tribes

Roads and bridges in North-East India could drive away small tribes

Kherepe meme makes animated gestures. She vividly recalls and describes The Great Assam earthquake of 1950. The 8.6 magnitude earthquake occurred in eastern Tibet, along the Sino-Indian Border, just a few hundred kilometers from Kebali, where Meme lived for 80 years.

Kebali, one of many remote villages in Arunachal Pradesh’s eastern region, is located near Roing.

Meme lives close to Ephe river, which is a tributary to the Dibang in her Idu dialect. The sounds of the river during peak monsoon remind Meme of the earthquake.

Kherepe Meme, a resident of Kebali village, looks towards the river Ephe. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman

Together with the Miju, Digaru, and other communities, the Idus form the Mishmi tribe. The Idus have a close relationship with the tributaries of the Dibang River and Lohit River, which meander down from the Mishmi Hills. Locals describe the rivers as being mad, thunderous, and impassable in the rainy season.

Even in their youth, many women, like Kherepe, found it difficult to cross rivers during monsoons and sometimes used suspended bamboo bridges constructed by locals.

This bamboo bridge is used to connect remote villages in Arunachal. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman

Other times, they stay away, giving the river its peace. Kherepe has never ventured beyond Roing. She is unable to comprehend the new Bridge that has been built across the Lohit River, about 70 km away from her home. It now connects Arunachal Pradesh with its neighboring state of Assam.

Geopolitical connections

On May 26, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India’s longest river Bridge, named after legendary Assamese musician Bhupen Hazarika. The Bridge connects just over 9km between Dhola and Sadiya townships in Assam.

Bhupen Hazarika wrote many songs about the Brahmaputra and other rivers.

The Bridge, which began construction in 2009 and is expected to be completed by 2010, will provide an important connectivity connection between Assam as well as between Assam & eastern Arunachala Pradesh.

Several projects that New Delhi has undertaken in this state in the last decade have gained momentum. This is especially true since the current BJP Government took power in 2014also has accelerated.

The Bhupen Hazarika Bridge connecting Dhola to Sadiya, Assam, is about to be inaugurated. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman

In April, Beijing renamed six places in Arunachal Pradesh on its official map to retaliate against the Dalai Lama’s visit. Beijing renamed six spots on its official map in April, claiming that Arunachal belongs to South Tibet. This angered New Delhi.

New Delhi is investing in road construction to match China’s infrastructure. This will allow heavy machinery, including turbines, to be transported to project sites. India is attempting to assert its riparian rights in the trans-boundary water disputes with China regarding the Brahmaputra.

The central government in India also claims that these projects will help to close the enormous development gap faced by the different tribes living in Arunachal Pradesh.

Residents are unsure when asked.

The local community fears a bridge.

Jibi Pulu is a 45-year old Idu Mishmi leader who has been involved in conservation efforts in Roing. He told me these projects would have many implications for the community. Idu Mishmis, who has a very small population (between 12,000 and 14,000), are concerned about a change in demographics as more engineers and labourers from other parts of India will be needed to build infrastructure projects like the Dibang Dam Project.

The Idu Mishmis predict that migrants will outnumber the Idu Mishmis and this will result in a loss of culture and linguistic identity.

They also expect positive changes, such as better access to markets, improved health care, and more jobs. Since the 1950s, the Mishmis in the region have been deprived of various economic benefits.

Sadiya in Assam was an important river port at the start of the 20th century for the British economy. This port was primarily used to export tea and oil in this region.

The riverbeds of the Lohit, Brahmaputra and other rivers moved upwards after the earthquake. This reduced the navigability, causing this region to lag behind in development.

Failed connectivity

The Indian government has also made roads a priority. The Trans-Arunachal Highway Project was announced by the former government in 2008. It aims to connect districts in eastern Arunachal.

The Dipu Nallah Bridge is not yet finished, so many of the roads between Tezu to Roing remain unfinished. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman

These roads aren’t very usable because of the incompleteness of some bridges. During the monsoons in May, the river will be high, and people won’t be able to cross under these bridges. The old road back to Assam is then necessary, such as Sadiya.

The Bridge that crosses the Dipu Nallah connects Roing, Lower Dibang Valley District, with Tezu, Lohit District, which are both Idu Mishmis. This Bridge is about one-tenth the length of Bhupen Hazarika. Its construction began at the same time, but it has not been completed.

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