The Brave Escort: Assam Riffles and The Journey Dalai Lama to India in 1959

The journey of the Dalai Lama into India was not only a symbol of defiance against Chinese occupation but also a testament to the compassion and support extended by the Indian government and its armed forces, particularly the 5 Assam Rifles regiment.

In 1958, the 5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles was stationed in the Kameng Frontier Division of Arunachal Pradesh. Meanwhile, an uprising was underway in Tibet. On March 17, 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled from Lhasa with his family. Finally, on March 26, 1959, the Dalai Lama’s caravan reached Lhuntse Dzong, just a few day’s march from the McMahon Line, the border between India and Tibet.

Tibetan Uprising

The Tibetan Rebellion of 1959 began with a revolt in Lhasa against the People’s Republic of China’s control and socialist reforms. This led to armed conflict between Tibetan rebels and the People’s Liberation Army, spreading to various parts of Tibet. The Dalai Lama, as a prominent figure, became a target in the Chinese attempts to suppress the freedom movement. Since then, he has resided in Dharamshala, Northern India. The Central Tibetan Administration, led by His Holiness, has consistently appealed to the UN regarding the Tibet issue, resulting in three resolutions in 1959, 1961, and 1965.

Significant Role of 5 Assam Rifles

In response to the Dalai Lama’s escape, the Indian government swiftly dispatched a contingent of the 5 Assam Rifles to ensure his safe passage into India. Known for their valor and discipline, the 5 Assam Rifles played a pivotal role in safeguarding the Dalai Lama and his entourage during their perilous journey across the Himalayan terrain. On March 31, 1959, the Dalai Lama was received by the 5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles at the Frontier Post of Chuthangmu in the Kameng Division. From there, the Assam Rifles escorted him safely to India, through Tawang, Bomdila, and then to Tezpur. Along the way, they braved harsh conditions and the constant risk of interception by Chinese forces.

Blessings by the Dalai Lama

In gratitude for their services, the Dalai Lama presented his personal weapons to the 5th Assam Rifles. These weapons are proudly displayed at the Assam Rifles Museum in Shillong. He also bestowed his blessings upon them, wishing for their prosperity and success in their endeavors.

Chinese Retaliation

The Dalai Lama’s escape to India marked a crucial moment in Indo-Chinese relations. China, considering the Dalai Lama a separatist threat, reacted strongly, deploying troops to the India-China border and claiming vast areas of Indian Territory. This led to armed clashes, including one at the border outpost of 5 Assam Rifles at Longju in Subansiri Division in present day Aruanchal Pradesh.

During a visit to Guwahati in April 2017, the Dalai Lama met Havildar Naren Chandra Das (Retired) of 5 Assam Rifles, who had escorted him in 1959. He embraced the old soldier affectionately and praised the Assam Rifles for their selfless service.

The legacy of the 5 Assam Rifle’s escort of the Dalai Lama in 1959 remains a poignant chapter in the shared history of India and Tibet. It symbolizes the enduring spirit of friendship, support, and humanitarianism. The Assam Rifles, also known as The Dalai Lama Battalion, shares a deep bond with His Holiness, visiting him annually to seek his blessings. This bond is a testament to their role in ensuring the safety and well-being of the Dalai Lama during a critical moment in history.

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