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From Tibet to India: Assam Rifles recalls ties with Dalai Lama's escape to country over six decades ago

The Dalai Lama’s escape to India marked a crucial moment, not just in Tibetan history but also in the evolution of the new Indo-Chinese relationship. The legacy of the 5 Assam Rifles’ escort of the Dalai Lama in 1959 remains a poignant chapter in the shared history of India and Tibet.

Anurag Roushan Edited By: Anurag Roushan @Candid_Tilaiyan New Delhi Updated on: March 31, 2024 21:01 IST
Dalai Lama, Assam Rifles, Dalai Lama's escape to India
Image Source : SHUTTERSTOCK 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.

On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the 14th Dalai Lama's, Tenzin Gyatso, escape to India from Tibet, the Assam Rifles reflected on its ongoing connection with the spiritual leader, whom they were entrusted with ensuring a safe evacuation. The 5th battalion of the force was assigned the responsibility of safely escorting the Dalai Lama and his entourage through the North East Frontier Agency, now known as Arunachal Pradesh, into Assam as they crossed into Indian territory on March 31, 1959.

“The legacy of the 5th Assam Rifles’ escort of the Dalai Lama in 1959 remains a poignant chapter in the shared history of India and Tibet, symbolising the enduring spirit of friendship, support and humanitarianism,” the paramilitary force said in a statement.

Assam Rifles and its bond with Dalai Lama

The Assam Rifles emphasized that their enduring bond with the Dalai Lama has persisted over the years, with a dedicated contingent from the troop, often referred to as the ‘Dalai Lama battalion’, making an annual pilgrimage to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh to receive his blessings. The spiritual leader also cherishes memories of his evacuation by the 5th Assam Rifles, which he recounted during his visit to Guwahati in April 2017, as noted by the Assam Rifles.  

During this visit, he had the opportunity to meet Havildar Naren Chandra Das (retired), who was part of the team that escorted him to Tezpur in Assam. In a gesture of gratitude, the Dalai Lama presented his personal weapons to the 5th Assam Rifles, now prominently displayed at the Assam Rifles Museum in Shillong.

Dalai Lama's escape to India from Tibet

The 5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles was deployed in the Kameng Frontier Division of the Arunachal Pradesh since 1958. Its posts were spanning over a large area including Chuthangmu, Bumla and Chuna in Kameng Frontier and Longju and Taksing in Subhansiri Frontier. During this period, there was an uprising going on in Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, along with his family escaped from Lhasa on 17 Mar 1959. On March 26 1959, Dalai Lama’s fleeing caravan finally reached Lhuntse Dzong - a few days march from the McMahon Line from the 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, the 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's 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 valour and discipline, played a pivotal role in safeguarding the Dalai Lama and his entourage during their arduous trek across the treacherous Himalayan terrain. On March 31, 1959, his holiness was received by the party of the 5th Bn The Assam Rifles and the people of Monyulat at the Frontier Post of Chuthangmu in Kameng Division. Thereafter, 5th Bn 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.  

Following the Dalai Lamai’s forced exile to India, the frontier posts of Chuthangmu, Bumla and Chuna saw a mass ingress of armed Tibetan refugees called ‘Khampas’, and the 5th Assam Rifles thereafter escorted approximately 12,000 refugees through the Kameng Frontier Division. The force also recalled that the Dalai Lama’s escape marked a crucial moment not just in Tibetan history but also in the evolution of the 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 the Indo-Tibet border to India, irked China to the 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 statement said.

Legacy of 5 Assam Rifles in escorting Dalai Lama

The border outpost of 5 Assam Rifles at Longju in Subansiri Division was later evacuated following an armed clash with the Chinese forces in August 1959, it added. The legacy of the 5 Assam Rifles’ escort of the Dalai Lama in 1959 remains 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. 

 

 

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