‘I want to make that clear to all of you, and, especially our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment.’
As the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru uttered these very words while addressing the nation on All India Radio on November 20th, 1962, a wave of panic swept across Tezpur. The Sino-Indian War was at its peak and Bomdila (around 150 km from Tezpur) has already fallen into Chinese hands. There was every possibility of Tezpur suffering the same fate infront of the marauding Chinese Army .
This speech made people of Assam feel abandoned. It was like they were let down by their own government. At a time when even the Prime Minister seemed helpless, what was going to be their fate?
Did providing shelter to Dalai Lama provoke the Chinese?
The Chinese were always known admirers of Arunachal Pradesh and India should have realized their malicious intent way back in 1956-57, when China began construction of the Aksai Chin Road. Aksai Chin belonged to India.
Another issue was China’s Tibet occupation and India giving asylum to Dalai Lama, the Tibetian religious leader, along with 1,00,000 refugees, who took shelter in India. It was the town of Tezpur where Dalai Lama was given a warm welcome. Little did the residents knew what it was going to cost them in the future. India providing political asylum to Dalai Lama didn’t go down too well with Mao Zhedong and that led to Chinese invasion of India.
How Tezpur Dealt with it?
As India and China were moving towards the brink of war, the presence of the army grew in Tezpur. Even women were being trained by the Home Guard for civil defence duties. On October 20th, 1962, war had begun and there were rumours of Chinese occupation everywhere in Tezpur. People had already begun to leave their homes by bus, car, cart, truck, cycle and even on foot.
There was panic everywhere. An eerie silence swept across the town with only a few people remaining, including the administration. As they were readying up to leave, the manager of the State Bank of India, Tezpur branch, piled up all the currency notes and burnt them down to prevent them from getting into Chinese hands. Because the coins couldn’t be burnt, they dumped them into Padam Pukhuri.
At midnight on November 21, 1962, China declared ceasefire and there was no Chinese army in Tezpur. But the fear of foreign occupation was such that people continued to flee their homes even after a unilateral ceasefire. Some people believe that the mass exodus was a result of the wrong assessment of the situation by the Central Government. It took quite some time for Tezpur to return to normal life