Following the Doklam standoff, the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) has decided to make it compulsory for new recruits to learn Chinese language — both Mandarin and the version of the language that is spoken in Tibet. “This year onward, learning of the language has been made part of the one-year training course for recruits,” said a senior ITBP officer.
“We are a force fully deployed on the border with China. It is only prudent that every personnel should know the language. We interact with Chinese soldiers almost on a daily basis. A good knowledge of their language may help avoid misunderstandings and lead to better resolution of confrontations that arise out of ground zero developments,” said the officer.
Currently, only about 150 officers and men in the 90,000-strong force which guards the 3,488 km-long India-China border know the language. Most of these officers learnt it during mid-career training programmes held at Army training academies or at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Sources said the move is aimed at making the entire force have a workable knowledge of the language so that they can communicate with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers without difficulty.
At present, whenever there is a perceived transgression by either side, the two forces hold up banners which state the established position of the border at that place and ask the other party to retreat. “A verbal communication has a more personal feel and helps in defusing tension. At least fist-fights and stone-pelting, as witnessed recently in Pangong Tso, can be avoided. It will also help in building relations at the ground level,” said the officer.
Sources said the ITBP has already recruited 12 teachers for the purpose at its training academy in Mussoorie. The recruits will have to pass tests in the language, before they are deployed. “Those who get trained in the language will also go through refresher courses later, and will be used to train others in the units. Currently, those who know the language can barely speak 10 sentences. The idea is to help them hold a conversation, with proficiency in 50-60 sentences that they can use for an interaction with the Chinese. Eventually, the entire force will have a working knowledge of the language,” said the officer.
He said the focus is not just on Mandarin but also the version of the language that is spoken in Tibet. “Since we come across many PLA soldiers who speak the Tibetan version of Chinese, along the borders of Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, we have prepared a training course that will cater to both,” said the officer. “We will have a regimen on the lines of physical training, so that there is an exercise everyday, and those who have learnt the language do not forget it even if they are deployed in Left Wing Extremism areas,” he said.