Reminiscences - Sri Boken Ete.

Boken Ete (1 March 1922 – 8 January 2020)

Sri Boken Ete meets the Hon’ble President, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in the course of their tour, they were naturally taken to meet the topmost dignitary of India, the President, who at that time happened to be Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. The President met them
along with many others who had also come for the same purpose. The President could speak to only some of the visitors. When the time allocated for the interview was over and the secretary signaled Dr. Radhakrishnan about it, the later turned back, unceremoniously, to return to his chambers, without saying a word to these people from Arunachal Pradesh. Mr. Boken Ete, the leader of the party, was offended at Radhakrishnan’s behavior. He took it as a personal affront, if not an insult to the dignity of the entire population of Arunachal. “Tehero! (Stop!)”, he shouted in his broken, unpolished Hindi, remonstrating with the President for his lack of ordinary courtesy. He continued in his usual outspoken manner, so characteristic of the tribals, “Tum kaise admi ho? Ham itni dur se aye hein tumko dekhne ke liye; tum hi hamare Rashtrapati, hamare Neta, hamare Bhagavan samajhke. Lekin tumne ek baat bhi hamare sath nahi bola, sirph jo angreji jante hein unke sath baatchit karke aisa hi chale ja rahe ho, kaise admi ho tum? (What kind of a person are you? How ill-bred and ungracious! We have come from such a long distance, all the way from NEFA, to meet you, the head of our state and our great leader, regarding you as God Himself, and you are going away without speaking a word with us. You speak only with the people who knew English! How shameful of you!).” 

All were stunned. The President himself, was taken aback and apologised, “You see, I am from the south, I do not know Hindi, so I could not speak with you…” “Oh?!” Mr. Boken rejoined,“Tum hindi nahi jante ho, Rashtrapati hokar?! Tab hamko kyon Assami me padhne ko, Hindi sikhne ko bolte ho? (Oh! You are the President of India and yet you do not know Hindi! Then why do you advise us to learn Assamese and Hindi?)” Those were the days when Assamese was being popularized in those regions as the medium of instruction, much to the resentment of the local people. The first important encounter of these people with Indian Government, was tragic, and the plan of the people who organized the tour to give a good impression of the Government had misfired.

The second meeting turned out to be even more disastrous. Mr. Boken Ete meets the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Smt Indira Gandhi They were then taken to see the Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Unlike Dr. Radhakrishnan, she was full of warmth in welcoming them. But she got off on the wrong foot at the very outset by raising the topic of Assamese as the medium of instruction, and by asking them to study Hindi along with it, it being the national language. Mr. Boken Ete was irritated, and angrily protested, again in his blunt manner: “Accha! Hamako Hindi sikhne ko bol rahe ho! Lekin tumhare bacchon ko kyon Doon School me bheja? Kyon unko England me bheja hai? Unko kitani hindi sikhayi hai? (Well! You are asking us to study assamese and hindi. But what have you done with your own children? You sent them to Doon School, and then on to England. Why?)”. Mrs. Indira Gandhi was aghast at his sharp reaction, but had no answer to give. Mr. Boken’s arguments were, indeed, unassailable. Sri Boken Ete’s Wisdom Immediately on return, Mr. Boken Ete started telling people, shouting from housetops at the top of his voice: “Angreji sikho, nahi honese tumko kutte ki maphik dekhenge baahar jaane se! hindi bhi sikhna, kyonki vah hamara Rashtrabhasha hai aur uski bhi jarurat hein. Lekin angreji us-se bhi zyaada zarurat hai. (Learn English! Otherwise, you will be treated like a dog if you happen to step out of your region. Learn Hindi also because it is our national language. But English is far more essential.)” And in his address on the occasion of the inauguration of the Ramakrishna Mission, he did not forget to declare publicly:

‘Ham Ramakrishna mission ko idhar hamko angreji sikhaane ke liye le aye hein. (We have brought The Ramakrishna Mission here to teach us English.)  This, then, is the reason why the Ramakrishna Mission has stressed English education. And all through these years, our school has lived by its word, and delivered not just an English education, but far more than what was expected of it.