At Act’s End

Arunachal Pradesh, arguably the most scenic of the seven Northeast states, has always stood apart from its neighbours. Not just because it is remote or only sparsely populated (density: 17 persons per km, as per the 2011 census), but also because it is by far the most peaceful state in the region. There is no violence here, beyond the routine, nor any indigenous insurgent group creating law and order problems. Recently, though, for the first time in my travels to the state since 1986, I have seen rage on the streets.

Anger at the abysmal condition of the only road that connects the frontier town of Tawang to the foothills of Assam has boiled over. Bearing the brunt of the resentment is the hard-working staff of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), entrusted with widening and improving the roads. In the past six months, enraged residents, no longer able to bear the hardship, have attacked BRO officials, destroyed their vehicles and pushed heavy tippers and bulldozers down the steep valleys. I’d heard from friends in the military about the worsening road condition. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the hardship that one encounters in travelling up the hills from Bhalukpong all the way to Tawang—the main theatre of war in 1962. In a 20-km journey, there are stretches that can take two hours or more.