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Mainstream, VOL LV No 16 New Delhi April 8, 2017

Chinese Classes Stopped

Sunday 9 April 2017, by Harish Chandola

The Indian Army suddenly stopped teaching its men the Chinese language at its Joshimath Brigade headquarters last year. It, however, continues to teach the language at some other centres.

Joshimath is in the middle sector of the India-China border, some 20 kilometres below the border, called Bara Hoti, across which China maintains its Army posts, from which its soldiers keep coming on patrols into Indian teritory and then return to their camps across the border, after completing their tasks.

An Indian para-military force, called the India-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), maintains some posts along this border, but none of its members know the Chinese language to be able to converse with the intruders when they come. So it is not possible to ask the Chinese soldiers why they had come in, from which place, how long they intend to stay on the Indian side and return.

The ITBP men possess a white banner on which it is written in Chinese that the area belongs to India and the intruders should go back.

Hills in this border area are covered with very good quality Himalayan grass and herders of both sides, Indian and Tibetan, bring their goat and yak herds to graze on it from spring to autumn. They then take them back with the coming of winter and snow.

It would be very much worthwhile for the ITBP or Armymen to converse with the intruding Chinese soldiers that come to this region on patrol from time to time. But since they do not know the Chinese language, it is not possible for them to engage in a conversation with the intruders from across.

From time to time soldiers of the Indian Army stay at the check-posts manned by the ITBP at Rimkhim, Gyaldung and other places. But they too do not know the Chinese language and therefore are not in a position to converse with the other side.

The Chinese come riding horses and after travelling in the areas they want to, they return to their own side across the passes.

This grassland lies in disputed land, awaiting a border settlement between India and China.

The Chinese sometimes leave behind some food or cigarette wrappers and cartons and on rare occasions some papers. The ITBP border guards collect and take them back to their headquarters in Joshimath for examination. Not knowing the Chinese language, they are unable to read what is written on the papers they find.

It is a very unsatisfactory situation, in which the Indian side is unable to know the places from which the Chinese patrols come, the time they spend on the Indian side and when they decide to go back.

To overcome this situation, an Indian officer who commanded an Army brigade in Joshimath, Brigadier Badola, some years ago wrote to his seniors in the Army headquarters to allow the teaching of the Chinese language to some soldiers on this border so that they may be able to converse with the Chinese. The Indian Army then allowed to start the teaching of the Chinese language to Indian soldiers stationed in Joshimath, for about a decade. It was a low cost effort, consisting of just one teacher on a low pay. Then suddenly last year the Army stopped the Chinese language classes in Joshimath. Perhaps it has other centres where the language is taught and considers them sufficient for its needs. But along the vast Bara Hoti and Niti passes, right up to Indo-Nepal border, the Indian Army has no Chinese language knowing person to keep track of Chinese intrusions and try to speak to those that come in.

The Chinese language teacher in Joshimath also translated some papers the Chinese patrols leave behind in the area along with some other material. The Joshimath centre performed a need and an important task. Then, suddenly, in a whim, the Army stopped the Chinese language classes in Joshimath and the learning of that language. The local people, including those of the Indo-Tibet Border Police, considered the move strange and arbitrary, but they had no say in the matter.

Perhaps it might be worthwhile to revive the teaching of the Chinese language to men of the Indian Army in Joshimath. It may be true that the Army may have other centres for the purpose. But some are very far away from the border, in Delhi or perhaps Mount Abu. Imparting basics of the language in Joshimath on this border will be of far greater benefit than those far away.

The Army needs to reconsider its decision on closing its Joshimath Chinese language centre.

The author is a veteran journalist who writes on international affairs.

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