A memorial will be set up in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang to keep alive the sacrifice and bravery of Major Ralengnao ‘Bob’ Khathing, who had established Indian administrative control over the border town 70 years ago.
Before February 1951, Tawang, despite being part of India since 1914 through the Simla Convention, was administered from Lhasa.
Officials said that it was a historic “Valentine’s Day” celebration here at Tawang – when respect and love showered to late Major Khathing – as the works for establishing the memorial were formally began on Sunday.
Union Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju said he would request the Union Education Ministry to include the story of Major Khathing in school text books.
The Arunachal Pradesh government would set up the memorial land for which was donated by the people of Tawang.
The foundation stone of the memorial was laid by Governor Brig B.D. Mishra (retd) in presence of Chief Minister Pema Khandu, his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad K. Sangma, Rijiju, Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, other top army officers and family members of Major Khathing.
Strengthening people’s love for Major Khathing, the state government also announced to posthumously award him with the state’s highest civilian award, “Arunachal Ratna”.
In his speech, Khandu said: “Today is a historic day for Arunachal Pradesh as we’ve finally got the opportunity to honour Major Khathing for the sacrifice and contributions he made for the state and the country which was long due.”
He said that the memorial would go a long way in promoting tourism and also make people aware about one of significant heroes of India.
He said the local people have decided to donate a plot of land for the memorial at Tsona Dzongpen, the place where the erstwhile administrative camp was situated, which Major Khathing had dislodged.
According to the Army officials, braving harsh terrain and hostile weather conditions, Major Khathing and his team carried out an audacious 20-day journey on foot from Chariduar in Assam to Tawang staring February 17, 1951.
He reached Tawang on February 6, 1951 and then three days later, the Indian administration was set up in consultation with the local leaders and villagers.
“Keeping the historic day in mind the memorial would be inaugurated on February 9 (of the subsequent year) after the completion of the construction of the memorial,” Khandu announced.
John S.R. Khathing, eldest son of Major Khathing, thanked Khandu and the Arunachal Pradesh government for honoring his father. He said that it was Major Khathing who during the 1962 Indo-Chinese war had requested the government to post him back to Tawang from Sikkim at a time when everyone was avoiding it.
“My father had a special connection and love for Tawang and that shall always remain. Our family’s relationship with Tawang would never fade away. In fact the bond has further strengthened today,” he said.
He informed that Major Khathing visited Tawang last in 1985 (five years before his death) and was so happy to see the development and progress of the district.
Governor Misha expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, CDS Rawat and Chief Minister Khandu for their support in making the idea the memorial a reality.
He also appreciated the bonhomie that the people of Arunachal, especially Tawang share with the Indian Army.
Rijiju said: “Major Khathing’s life is a lesson for all of us, especially the youth. He is no normal individual but one who made history. The people of this country must know him. This is how youngsters would know about the contribution and sacrifices of the heroes from the northeast region.”
Sangma said there are several unsung heroes like Major Khathing from the northeast region who also need to be recognised and honoured.
General Rawat assured full support of the Indian Army in construction and maintenance of the memorial.
“The memorial would make us all proud and it is through this memorial people of the county would know that there was a person like Major Khathing,” he said.
Earlier, the bust of Major Khathing was unveiled by his son in the presence of the dignitaries.
Maj Khathing, who had joined Indian Frontier Administrative Services (IFAS) in Oct 1950, was deputed to the Khameng Frontier Division of the then North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in modern-day Arunachal Pradesh as Assistant Political Officer (APO), Sela by Governor of Assam. He was tasked to integrate Tawang and secure Indian administrative control up to the McMahon Line.
He became the first Indian tribal to become an Ambassador when he was selected as the Indian Ambassador to then Burma (now Myanmar) in 1972. He worked in Burma for three years and retired from service in 1975. For his varied services to the Nation, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 1957.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at email@example.com)