VIOLENCE ERUPTS IN ASSAM MIZORAM BORDER OVER LONG SIMMERING BORDER DISPUTE FROM COLONIAL ERA DEMARCATION
The border dispute along the Assam-Mizoram border escalated on Monday over an ongoing land dispute between the two states resulting in violence and vandalism. According to reports, stones were pelted, shots were fired injuring people, including policemen, farmers’ huts were set ablaze, and government vehicles vandalized. It is now confirmed that at least five Police personnel were killed and over fifty Policemen were injured, including the SP of Cachar district of Assam, Shri Nimbalkar Vaibhav Chandrakant, who sustained a bullet injury in the leg.
Meanwhile, the Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga have traded charges and sought the intervention of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who asked the two leaders to find a way to resolve the dispute. Monday’s confrontation has taken place just two days after Amit Shah met the Chief Ministers of the eight North-East states for a closed-door discussion on inter-state boundary issues plaguing the region at Shillong on Saturday. Wherein, “the border issues were discussed and all state representatives brought up their own apprehension. It was decided that they would talk among each other and resolve it,” said an official who had attended the meeting.
The three districts of Mizoram — Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit — share about a 164.6 km border with Assam’s Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts, which has been a bone of contention since the colonial era.
EVENTS LEADING TO CONFRONTATION:
For the last month, a tense situation has been prevailing at the Assam-Mizoram border along the Cachar-Kolasib districts, with security personnel of both states deployed at the border, when Assam Police allegedly took control over an area known as ‘Aitlang hnar’ about 5km from Vairengte, accusing the neighbouring state of encroaching on its territory. On June 30, Mizoram accused Assam of encroaching upon its land in the Kolasib district which borders Assam, while the Assamese officials and legislators accused Mizoram of building structures and planting betel nut and banana saplings allegedly ten kilometers inside Hailakandi in Assam.
It is not clear which side fired first on Monday, with each side blaming the other. As per the Govt. of Mizoram’s press release (linked below), the trouble started in the morning of 26/07/2021 when around 200 Assam armed Police led by IGP, Assam Police accompanied by DC, Cachar, SP, Cachar and DFO, Cachar came to Vairengte Auto-rickshaw stand at around 11:30 a.m. and forcibly crossed the duty post manned by CRPF personnel stationed there and overran a duty post manned by 1 section of Mizoram police personnel. The Assam Police also damaged several vehicles that were travelling along the National Highway between Vairengte and Lailapur. That the entire development had been quite unfortunate but It all started with the Assam Police’s aggression into the duty camps of CRPF and Mizoram Police near Vairengte Auto-Rickshaw stand.
While the Govt. of Assam press release (linked below) accused Mizoram of breaching existing agreements and status quo by constructing a road towards Rengti Basti in Assam, destroying the Inner Line Reserve Forest in Lailapur area and setting up new armed camp on a hillock next to the camp of the neutral CRPF force in the vicinity. And that to diffuse the situation, a team of Assam officials including an IGP, DIG, DC Cachar, SP Cachar and DFO Cachar went to the area in the morning of 26/07/2021 to request the Mizoram side to maintain the status quo. However, they were surrounded and attacked by a mob of miscreants, visibly supported by the Mizoram Police. The mob pelted stones at the Assam officials and destroyed three vehicles, including the DC’s car. Simultaneously, the Mizoram Police fired tear gas shells on the delegation, injuring the IGP. That the Assam Police has shown remarkable restraint under horrific attack is borne out by the fact that there are no casualties on the Mizoram side.
The border dispute between Assam – Mizoram has been a long pending issue, with several rounds of dialogues held since 1995, which has yielded little result. The dispute originates from a notification of 1875 that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933 that demarcated a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
Mizoram was part of Assam until 1972, when it was carved out as a Union Territory. Thereafter, Mizoram became the 23rd state of India on 20 February 1987 following the Mizoram Accord between the erstwhile underground Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Centre, which ended 20 years of insurgency in the state. Mizoram remains the only instance of India carrying out an airstrike in its own civilian territory in 1966.
According to a report by The Indian Express, Mizoram believes the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, which is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873. Mizo leaders have argued in the past against the demarcation notified in 1933 because Mizo society was not consulted. MZP’s Vanlaltana said the Assam government follows the 1933 demarcation, and that is the point of conflict.
In February 2018, the MZP had built a built a wooden rest house in a forest, which they claimed was meant to provide the farmers a place to rest. They were demolished by the Assam police and forest department officials saying it was built on Assamese territory. The members of MZP had clashed with Assam personnel, who had also thrashed a group of Mizoram journalists who had gone to cover the incident.
THE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS:
Monday’s incident comes after continuously increasing tensions at the border of the two states, which started at the end of June. Before that, in October 2020, residents had clashed twice, once at Cachar(Assam) – Kolasib(Mizoram) and the second time at Karimganj (Assam)-Mamit (Mizoram) districts, resulting in injuries, vandalism of property, a three-week-long economic blockade and an alleged custodial death of an Assam resident in Mizoram.
There was a lull following the Centre’s intervention but tension flared again last month, first at the Hailakandi-Kolasib border, and then at the Cachar-Kolasib point. Following the dispute, Chief Secretary-level talks between both the states were held on July 9 in Delhi.