From Siachin and Aksai Chin to parts of Arunachal Pradesh, from Nehru’s ‘generous’ gift to the Chinese, of our right to be among the UNSC to now Minsar, which once belonged to India, the Nehruvian era is riddled with too many diplomatic gaffe. Minsar cannot be allowed to become a forgotten footnote in the history of India, as India can leverage Minsar as wedge against the Chinese in our diplomacy
Most Indians would be startled to know that there exists a small hamlet in Tibet West of Mount Kailash, which was administered by Ladakh and then by Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) for over 300 years. The hamlet comprising of village of Minsar (Mansar) was part of Kingdom of Ladakh from early Seventeenth Century. The revenue from this region was used for the maintenance of Kailash and Mansarovar Yatra. The first official reference to Minsar is found in the Treaty of Tingmosgang signed between Tibet and Ladakh in 1684, wherein Ladakh was allowed to retain Minsar. When Ladakh became part of J&K, Minsar became part of the State of J&K and consequently, became a part of India when Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India. The state of J&K regularly collected revenue from Minsar, and its officials periodically visited the village and kept doing so till the 1950s, even after J&K acceded to India. This article is an attempt to enlighten the readers about this forgotten Indian hamlet in Tibetan Plateau, which has gone out of Indian consciousness.
Historically, Minsar was an enclave of the princely state of J&K situated in Tibet. For centuries Minsar was the centre for pilgrims visiting Kailash Mansarovar and revenues of Minsar were used for maintaining the holy sites at Kailash Mansarovar. The old route to Kailash Mansarovar was from Demchok Village on the border of Ladakh via Minsar, which was closed after the occupation of Tibet by China. The Indian rights to this small town were inherited from the Peace Treaty between Ladakh and Tibet signed in Tingmosgang in 1684. Besides the confirmation of the delimitation of the border between Western Tibet and Ladakh, the Treaty affirmed, “The king of Ladakh reserves to himself the village of Minsar in Ngari-Khor-sum (Western Tibet)”. For centuries, Minsar has been a home for Ladakhi and Kashmiri traders and pilgrims visiting the holy mountain.
A report of Thrinley Shingta, the 7th Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, who spent three months in the area in 1748; makes interesting reading. It states “Administratively, it is established that the next village of Minsar and its surrounding areas are ancient Ladakhi territory. After Lhasa invaded West Tibet in 1684, it was agreed and formally inscribed in the Peace Treaty between Tibet and Ladakh, signed in 1684, that the King of Ladakh retained the territory of Minsar and its neighbourhood as a territorial enclave, in order to meet the religious offering expenses of the sacred sites by Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash.”
For centuries, the inhabitants of Minsar, although surrounded by Tibetan territories, paid their taxes to the kingdom of Ladakh. In the 19th century, when Ladakh was incorporated into Maharaja Gulab Singh’s State, Minsar became de jure and de facto part of the Dogra Empire, which regularly collected taxes from Minsar. The process continued even after Indian independence. The last official to visit the region was Rigzen Ghagil Kalon, a special officer of the Government of J&K. He visited the village in 1950, and his report was subsequently forwarded by the Government of J&K to the Ministry of States New Delhi, informing it about the circumstances under which the Special Officer visited Tibet.
Rigzen Ghagil Kalon’s report titled ‘Village Minsar in Western Tibet’ and dated September 13, 1950, stated that Demchok was the last Village on Indian Border. The report also mentioned that it took ten days to reach Minsar from Demchok “The village Minsar is situated to the east of Gartok and about 32 miles west of Mount Kailash. It is a broad valley with vast plains in it. There are 68 families with 271 souls of which 120 are males and the rest females and are all adherents of Buddhism.” The report further mentions “I found there a few Garhwal tradesmen who did a lot of propaganda in my favour among the people telling them that I belonged to the National Government of J&K which is a part of India. It proved a great help to me. I asked for the recovery of revenue and the people told me that they had not the least hesitation in paying the amount to the State Government.”
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) report of 1960 during the Indo China Boundary talks also establishes India’s right over Minsar, “The Indian side had similar records to show that the village of Minsar was from 1684 under the effective administration of the Kashmir Government:
(a) An extract from an original document prepared in about 1862 showing that during the time of Mehta Basti Ram, that is about 1853, a sum of Rs 56 was collected from this village as revenue.
(b) An extract from the tour report of Faqir Chand, Wazir Wazarat of Ladakh in 1905, stating that the village of Minsar belonged to Ladakh and that a sum of Rs 297 was being collected annually as revenue from this village.
(c) The Indian side had shown earlier that the Assessment Report of 1905, the Final Assessment Report of 1908 and the Settlement Officer’s report regarding the amount of revenue payable had all mentioned Minsar also as one of the villages.”
On May 23, 2014, Scoop News reported that the Chief Executive Councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Rigzin Spalbar wrote to J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed demanding re-opening of Demchok route wherein he stated that till the 17th century, the Manasarovar Lake and Mount Kailash were part of the Kingdom of Ladakh and the village of Minsar, near the Kailash continued to pay revenues to the J&K State up to 1960. He cited Ven. Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, then a Minister in J&K Government who in 1954, along with Sonam Khangsar, a judicial clerk of the Leh District Commissioner's Office, visited Kailash/Manasarovar via Demchok; at that time, they collected taxes from the Minsar villagers.
So, how did India give up its rights on Minsar? Claude Apri, who has written extensively about Minsar, Ladakh and Tibet says that in his quest to make Panchsheel successful, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru decided to forego all rights on Principality of Minsar during Indo China Border talks in 1953. Claude Apri states, “Nehru was aware that Minsar had been providing revenue for maintaining the temples around the sacred mountain and the holy Manasarovar lake, but believed that India should unilaterally renounce her rights as a gesture of goodwill towards Communist China.”
He instructed the diplomats negotiating the Panchsheel accord in Beijing, “Regarding the village of Minsar in Western Tibet, which has belonged to the Kashmir State, it is clear that we shall have to give it up if this question is raised. We need not to raise it. If it is raised, we should say that we recognise the strength of the Chinese contention and we are prepared to consider it and recommend it.”
Eventually, Minsar was not discussed at all during the 1954 talks, and therefore, it continues to be legally and constitutionally a part of J&K State of India. No change of boundary was ever ratified in the Parliament via amending Article 1 of the constitution, as was done for the Indian and Bangladeshi Enclaves. John Bray, President of the International Association of Ladakh Studies, wrote, “the Sino-Indian boundary dispute remains unresolved. Since the 1960s, the attention of the two governments has focused on the demarcation of the frontier and, more recently, on the prospects for mutual trade. The status of Minsar is no more than a minor footnote to these concerns, but one that has still to be cleared up.”
Minsar, besides having a historical and spiritual context for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains in India, raises many unanswered questions. The Legal status of Minsar has never been addressed. The treaty of 1684 has never been formally revoked by ratification in the Parliament, neither the boundary been changed by amending Article 1 of the constitution. Till 1961, MEA was proving its rights over Minsar by providing revenue records, maps and administrative documents to Chinese, but never formally staked a claim. Neither was any compensation demanded giving up Minsar from the Government of China. The issue was never highlighted in public domain inspite of repeated clarifications sought on Minsar by the Member of Parliament from Ladakh constituency since 1982 in the Lok Sabha.
Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage holds a very important place in the hearts of Indians. The Yatra at present is either via Nathu La or via Niti pass in Uttarakhand, both being very rigorous and prone to Suspensions due to unfavourable weather conditions. The reopening of Demchok route has been a constant demand from the people of Ladakh. In the eventuality of the route becoming a reality, the significance of having an Indian enclave in the vicinity of Kailash Mansarovar cannot be overemphasised.
At present, Minsar is situated at southern end of Gar (Gartok) County on national highway 219 in Ngari Prefecture. Its Chinese name is Men-shi which is pronounced something like “Men-sher.” Minsar is separated from India by the width of Zhada (Tsamda) County, also in Ngari Prefecture. The nearest point in India would be the Malari and Niti Passes in Uttarakhand State. India must take up with China the unresolved issue of Minsar. Given its historical and spiritual context, Minsar cannot and should not be allowed to become a forgotten footnote in History of India.
(The writer is social media activist associated with Jammu Kashmir study centre)