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Definition: Arunachal Pradesh from Philip's Encyclopedia

State of the eastern Himalayas in the far NE of India; the capital is Itanagar. Once a district of Assam, it was invaded by the Chinese in 1962, but returned to India the following year. It became a union territory in 1972, and the 24th state of India in 1986. Most of the state is mountainous forest and jungle. Its main products are coffee, rubber, fruit, spices, and rice. It is India's least densely populated state. Area: 81,426sq km (31,438sq mi). Pop. (2001) 1,091,117.

from India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic

The state of Arunachal Pradesh (“land of the dawn-lit mountains”), located in the extreme northeast corner of India, is a state known for its rich biodiversity; serene landscapes; and cultural, linguistic, and ethnic heterogeneity. It is bordered by Bhutan on the west, China to the north and northeast, Myanmar on the east and southeast, and the Indian states of Assam and Nagaland to the south. The state has a territory of 32,333 square miles and a population of 1.1 million people. With 34 persons per square mile, Arunachal Pradesh has the lowest population density in any of the states of India. The state is home to around 26 major tribes and more than 100 subtribes, each having its own distinct language or dialect and culture.

Arunachal Pradesh is a mountainous state. Much of the state is covered by the Himalayas. Parts of eastern Arunachal are covered by the Patkai hills. Of the total area of utilized land, about 94 percent is covered by forest, and about 12 percent is under permanent snow covers and glaciers. It has a varied topography, and the climatic condition varies from subtropical and hot in the plains to cold and alpine in the higher altitudes. The state receives heavy rainfall of 80 to 160 inches annually, most of it between May and September.

Little is known about the early history of Arunachal Pradesh, as there are hardly any written historical records about the region. From the oral literature and the ruins of many historical sites in the foothills, it is known that early settlements in the area date back to the beginning of the Christian era. The region has witnessed waves of migration from the neighboring areas of Tibet, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Yunan. This area came under British influence as early as 1826, with the consolidation of British rule in Assam after the Treaty of Yandaboo between the British and the Burmese, which ended the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–1826. Much of the area, in fact, remained free of direct British control and administration during the entire colonial period, that is, until Indian independence in August 1947. In 1914, however, the hill areas of northern Assam were separated to form the Northeast Frontier tracts. After independence, this area, known as the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA), was the focus of the Indo-China border conflict in 1962, when China invaded India due to a dispute about the location of the India-China border. China still disputes the 553-mile-long northern boundary of the state, known as the McMahon line, which came about as a result of the Simla Treaty signed between Great Britain and Tibet in 1914. In 1972 NEFA was renamed as Arunachal Pradesh; it became a Union Territory and then in 1987 became the 24th state of the Indian Union.

Newly-built homes on a hillside in Arunachal Pradesh. (Samrat/

The most remarkable aspect of local governance in Arunachal Pradesh is the tribal policy pioneered by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964; prime minister 1947–1964) and Verrier Elwin (1902–1964), a self-trained anthropologist and tribal activist who became an adviser to the prime minister on tribal affairs. The tribal policy laid emphasis on the continuation of the traditional community institutions of the tribes. By and large the traditional village-level institutions in Arunachal Pradesh can be categorized into three categories: (1) those within a hierarchical structure under the Buddhist monasteries, particularly found among the Buddhist tribes of the West Kameng and Tawang districts of western Arunachal Pradesh; (2) the chieftaincies found in the easternmost corner of the state; and (3) the republican village-councils among the Tani group of tribes in central Arunachal Pradesh. Although, at present, local governance in the state is run through the panchayati raj system, whereby an assembly of five (panch) elders chosen and accepted by the community governs the affairs of the village or area, traditional community institutions continue to play a significant role.

According to the 2001 census, the Scheduled Tribe population—those tribes that in the 1850s became loosely referred to as “Depressed Classes,” and often called untouchables, although they are also known by the term Adivasis—constituted 64 percent of the total population. Some of the main tribes of the state are Monpa, Miji, Aka, Shedukpen, Nysihi, Apatani, Tagin, Hill Miri, Adi, Digaru-Mishmi, Idu-Mishmi, Khamti, Miju-Mishmi, Nocte, Tangsa, and Wancho. As many as 40 languages are spoken in the state, although many of them do not have scripts of their own and use either the Roman script or the Assamese script. Most of the languages are Tibeto-Burman in origin. Apart from the languages of the tribes, English (which is the medium of instruction in schools), Hindi (which is the language of communication by the people), Assamese, and Nepalese are also spoken and understood by many. A large population of the state follow shamanistic-animistic religious traditions (such as Donyi-Polo in the Tani area and Rangfra in eastern Arunachal). Tibetan Buddhism predominates in the western districts of Tawang and West Kameng, and Theravada Buddhism is practiced by people living near the Burmese border. Few of the Scheduled Tribe people follow Vaishnavite Hinduism, the largest sect in Hinduism. Around 19 percent of the people are Christians.

Almost all the people of the state depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Slash-and-burn or shifting cultivation, called jhum, was the traditional system of cultivation among the tribal groups. In recent years there has been a gradual decline in the area under shifting cultivation. However, the traditional wet rice cultivation practiced by the Apatanis in Zero Valley in central Arunachal has been widely studied as a unique example of an indigenous irrigation system. The major crops grown in the state include rice, maize, millet, wheat, pulses, sugarcane, ginger, and oilseeds. Recently there has been a significant expansion in the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and spices. The mithun (bos frontalis), a large, dark-coated forest animal, found both in its wild and semidomesticated form, has great significance in the social and cultural life of the people of the state. Traditionally, the mithun was the medium of exchange and the indicator of the wealth of a person. Arunachal Pradesh has a long tradition of handicrafts, including textiles, carpets, and cane and bamboo objects and carvings. Although the state has very few modern industries, the rich hydroelectric potential of the state has attracted considerable investment in recent years. Arunachal has also entered into the tourist map of India.

In 2001 the literacy rate of Arunachal was only 55 percent. Although there has been a remarkable growth of education and health facilities in the state, the performance of the state in the area of human development has come in for a great deal of criticism, as there are considerable interdistrict variations in the levels of services and performance.

See also Northeastern States

Further Reading

Arunachal Pradesh. Accessed April 20, 2011.

  • Elwin, Verrier. A Philosophy for NEFA. Directorate of Research Itanagar, Government of Arunachal.
  • Pradesh, 1957. Government of Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh Human Development Report, 2005. Government of Arunachal Pradesh Itanagar, 2006.
  • Haimendorf, Christoph Von Furer. A Himalayan Tribe: From Cattle to Cash. Vikas New Delhi, 1980.
  • Luthra, P. N. Constitutional and Administrative Growth of Arunachal Pradesh. Directorate of Research Itanagar, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, 1993.
  • Ramakrishnan, P. S. Shifting Agriculture and Sustainable Development of North-East India. UNESCOMB Series. Parthenon Publications Carnforth, 1992.
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