China hands over 5 Arunachal boys; relatives say we lose way as borders aren’t clear

China hands over 5 Arunachal boys; relatives say we lose way as borders aren’t clear

People and planes often get lost in the mountainous forests of Arunachal Pradesh. Last year, it was an Air Force aircraft. Days ago, it was a group of boys from the town of Nacho. Seven of them had gone into uncharted forests near the LAC. Only two came back. After a long week of anxious distress calls by the families, denial by China and confirmation by India, the five youths finally returned home on Saturday.

“The borders are not demarcated well. We are hunters, we move around a lot. We can’t say which side is which. Kabhi kabhi nikal jaata hai log, aur PLA waala leke chala jaata hai (sometimes people stray and PLA takes them away),” Prakash Ringling, whose post on Facebook had drawn attention to the missing boys, had told TOI on Friday. His brother Prasad who had just passed his Class X boards, cousins Tanu Bakar and Ngaru Diri, Dongtu Ebiya and Toch Singkam were among seven who had gone hunting and foraging in the deep forests of northern Arunachal when they disappeared.

“Two others, Tabu and Tate, had made it back. That’s how we got to know they had been detained by the PLA,” he said.

The Tagins, predominantly found in Upper Subansiri, West Siang and Papum Pare districts, are a hunter-gatherer community. That comes with a fluid understanding of boundaries. Besides, with an 80% forest cover, most of Arunachal is not well-mapped, off the connectivity grid and with few roads. What is usually a long process of getting people back also has to do with procedural gaps. China and India do not share an extradition treaty, only an agreement on border defence cooperation from 2013, which says they would “assist the other side in locating personnel, livestock, means of transport and aerial vehicles that may have crossed or are possibly in the process of crossing the line of actual control in the India-China border areas.”

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