The Indian Village in Tibet
An interesting report from the Special Officer appointed by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to visit Minsar, the Indian enclave in Tibet in Summer 1950. After the report is a historical note on Minsar.
On August 26, 1950, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir (Prime Minister’s Secretariat – External Affairs Department) writes to the Ministry of States in New Delhi to inform it about the circumstances of the Special Officer’s visit to Tibet.
The communication is entitled: ‘Village Minsar in Western Tibet’.
…the State Government have already deputed a Civil Officer, Mr. N. Rigzen Ghagil Kalon, with an escort of armed police to visit Minsar village. From the last report received from Mr. Kalon it appears that the Tibetan Govt have put restrictions on people entering their territory with arms. His report further indicates that he reached Rudok on 3rd June, 1950 leaving the police escort behind at Chuchhol [Chushul] a border village on the side of the Jammu and Kashmir State.
At Rudok the Civil Officer was informed by the Tibetan Govt officials that he could proceed to Minsar without an armed escort. Subsequent report from the Chief administrative Officer Leh shows that the Civil Officer along with some constables in civilian dress and without arms are on their way to Minsar.
Follows the report from Rigzen Ghagil Kalon, the Special Officer (Minsar) to the Chief Administrative Officer (Leh). It is dated September 13, 1950, a few weeks before the entry of the Chinese in Western Tibet.
The report is entitled: “Note on condition of the inhabitants of Kashmir Village Minsar in Western Tibet”. Note that Demchok is clearly the last border village in Ladakh; it is now ‘disputed’ by China.
In compliance to your orders I left Leh on 22-6-50 and reached village Minsar on 24-7-50. The route lies via Rudok. It is ten days journey from Demjok [Demchok] to Minsar. Demjok is the last boundary of the Tehsil Ladakh from which begins the Chhangthang Plateau of Lhasa Tibet. The route from Demjok to Minsar passes through Gartok which is the headquarters of Garpons (Administrative Officers of Lhasa Government). The village Minsar is situated to east of Gartok and about 32 miles west of Mount Kailasas [Kailash]. It is a broad valley with vast plains in it.
There are 68 families with 271 souls of which 120 are males and the rest females and are all adherents of Buddhism.
The entire population depends on livestock which is the only source of subsistence and deal in the trade of sheep, wool, and pashmina. The economic condition of the people is neither much satisfactory nor so much frustrated.
On my way I interviewed Garpons at Rudok and exchanged my ideas with them regarding taking my Police Constables to Minsar and installation of a Chowki [guardian] there. They told me that it would create some consternation in Minsar and its suburbs, if the whole quota of six constables along with rifles were permitted to accompany me and so two constables were permitted to accompany me and the rifles were kept concealed under our saddles. I directed the other four constables to stay at Demjok. I also came across with the traders of Kulu [in Himachal Pradesh] and Leh there. They came with an application to me saying that Tibetan Officials were demanding Custom Duty for their livestock and goods which was not supported by any Rule or Regulation in this behalf. I accordingly went to see the Tibetan Officials and discussed the point with them. They were fully convinced by my arguments that the practice was illegal and they agreed to stop it in future.
The various passengers who had met me on way had already intimated to the people of the village Minsar about me and had accordingly arranged a Tumboo (tent of Yak hair) for my lodging. The Numberdar [hereditary title for powerful families of zamindars of a village or town] and few distinguished persons of the place received me heartily. On the following day I had a discourse with the inhabitants of the place and we exchanged our ideas. I found there a few Garhwal tradesmen who did a lot of propaganda in my favour among the people telling them that I belonged to the National Government of Jammu and Kashmir which is a part of India. It proved a great help to me. I asked for the recovery of revenue and the people told me that they had not the least hesitation in paying the amount to the State Govt., but they had a few grievances against our Government which despite their several representations made at Leh, were not heeded to and no action was taken. They expressed that this attitude of our Government had extremely disgusted them and they wanted an immediate redress before payment of revenue. The grievances are as follows:-
- No help was extended to them at the time of the incursion of the Kazaks. The Kazak raid had wholly ravaged their villages and looted and ruined their monasteries. The figures of personal properties of the people leaving aside the monastic wealth were cash Rs. 25000/-, horses 140, yaks 404, and sheep 4889.
- The people are subjected to the payment of puggur dues (goods sold by the Tibetan Officials to their subjects at exorbitant price) which is a gross injustice of the Tibetan Government on the people. A few days before my arrival there a Tibetan Official called Urkoo had sent goods such as tea etc worth Rs. 672/- to the village for forced sale for which the villagers had to pay Rs. 1548/- as cost price to Urkoo.
- An Official from our Government should stay there annually at least for three months in summer who will look after the general situation of the place.
- The people have to supply free transport to the Tibetan officials. The transport engaged by the Tibetan for other purposes such as carriage of goods etc are paid at normal wages of three pice for 32 miles per pony.
In respect of items 2 and 4 it is requested that the Tibetan Government be contacted to stop this mal-practice forthwith which will go a long way in mitigating the troubles and the people will welcome our Government and do whatever we ask them to do.
I contacted the Urkoo who had sent his goods to Minsar and told him to postpone the sale of goods to people for the present till I submit my report to my Government and the requisite orders whether the sale of goods should be made or not are conveyed to his Government by my Government.
I saw on my way orders of the Tibetan Government affixed on all stages to the effect that no Puggur dues and free transport should be demanded. On my return journey I discussed this point with the high Garpon at Gartok and asked him as to how these mal-practices were in vogue in contravention to the clear and explicit orders in this behalf. Garpon told me in reply that as Minsar virtually formed a part of Government of Lhasa and so the Tibetan Officials were right to enforce their laws in the said territory. He also said that Kashmir Government was only to collect revenue annually from the village as done heretofore and for all other administrative purposes the village constitutes a part of Lhasa Government. I asked him to give it in writing to which he showed reluctance and I could easily infer that he had no such document with him by which he was justifying his action.
From the foregoing observations it transpires that our Government has not so far taken any steps in setting up our administration there. It is submitted that speedy measures may please be taken to alleviate the trouble and miseries of the people of this forgotten place which will assure the loyalty of subjects.
No other political condition worth mention needs to be incorporated in the report.
A historical Note on Minsar
Before the invasion of the Roof of the World by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1950, India had a small territory in Tibet. This village is called Minsar.
For centuries, the inhabitants of Minsar, although surrounded by Tibetan territories, paid their taxes to the kingdom of Ladakh. During in the 19th century, when Ladakh was incorporated into Maharaja Gulab Singh’s State, Minsar de facto became a part of the Jammu & Kashmir State.
In October 1947, after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, Minsar became Indian territory.
This lasted till the mid 1950s.
John Bray, the President of the International Association of Ladakh Studies, who wrote about the Bhutanese and Indian (Minsar) enclaves in Tibet, noted: “Both sets of enclaves share a common origin in that they date back to the period when the Kings of Ladakh controlled the whole of Western Tibet. The link with Bhutan arises because of the Ladakhi royal family’s association with the Drukpa Kagyupa sect.”
This school of Buddhism, different of the Dalai Lama’s Gelukpa has been influential in Ladakh and Bhutan for centuries.
The rights to the small town of Minsar were inherited from the Peace Treaty between Ladakh and Tibet signed in Tingmosgang in 1684. Besides the confirmation of the delimitation of the border between Western Tibet and Ladakh, the Treaty affirmed: “The king of Ladakh reserves to himself the village of Minsar in Ngari-khor-sum [Western Tibet]”. For centuries, Minsar was a home for Ladakhi and Kashmiri traders and pilgrims visiting the holy mountain.
A report of Thrinley Shingta, the 7th Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, who spent three months in the area in 1748, makes interesting reading: “Administratively, it is established that the immediate village of Minsar and its surrounding areas are ancient Ladakhi territory. After Lhasa invaded West Tibet in 1684, it was agreed and formally inscribed in the Peace Treaty between Tibet and Ladakh, signed in 1684, that the King of Ladakh retained the territory of Minsar and its neighbourhood as a territorial enclave, in order to meet the religious offering expenses of the sacred sites by Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash.”
The Panchsheel Agreement
In 1953, wanting to sign his Panchsheel Agreement with China, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to abandon all Indian ‘colonial’ rights inherited from the British. Though he knew that the small principality was part of the Indian territory, he felt uneasy about this Indian ‘possession’ near Mt. Kailash in Tibet. Nehru was aware that Minsar had been providing revenue to maintain the temples around the sacred mountain and the holy Manasarovar lake, but believed that India should unilaterally renounce her rights as a gesture of goodwill towards Communist China.
He instructed the diplomats negotiating the Panchsheel accord in Beijing: “Regarding the village of Minsar in Western Tibet, which has belonged to the Kashmir State, it is clear that we shall have to give it up, if this question is raised. We need not raise it. If it is raised, we should say that we recognize the strength of the Chinese contention and we are prepared to consider it and recommend it.”
Eventually Minsar was not discussed in 1954 during the talks for the Tibet (also known as Panchsheel) Agreement and, the Bhutanese enclaves could not be brought up during the India-China talks in 1960, as China refused to deal with Sikkim and Bhutan.
It means that the fate of these enclaves has never been negotiated or settled. It remains so today.
On December 31, 1953, while opening the ‘Tibet talks’ (without the participation of the Dalai Lama’s government), Premier Zhou Enlai affirmed: “all outstanding problems between China and other countries could be solved on basis of mutual respect for territorial integrity, non aggression and non-interference in internal affairs so as to enable peaceful co-existence. I know Prime Minister Nehru Government and people of India also feel the same way. On basis of this principle all outstanding questions between us which are ripe for settlement can be resolved smoothly.”
Minsar issue was never sorted out.
The Legal Position
We should remember that treaties, conventions or agreements signed by any states, do not depend on an individual or a political party; they remain in force whoever is in power. The Chinese occupation of Tibet did not change this fact.
Further, the return of any part Indian Territory needs to be ratified by the Indian Parliament only, through an amendment of the Constitution. Therefore the so-called ‘return’ of Minsar to Tibet (and China) is still today illegal and invalid in law.
John Bray wrote: “the Sino-Indian boundary dispute remains unresolved. Since the 1960s, the attention of the two governments has focused on the demarcation of the frontier and, more recently, on the prospects for mutual trade. The status of Minsar is no more than a minor footnote to these concerns, but one that has still to be cleared up.”
Nehru’s perception that old treaties or conventions could be discarded or scraped greatly weakened the Indian stand in the 1950s (and later when China invaded India). Nehru’s wrong interpretation made it easy for the Chinese to tell their Indian counterparts “look here, McMahon was an imperialist, therefore the McMahon line is an imperialist fabrication, therefore it is illegal”.