The long standing border dispute between Assam and Mizoram has resurfaced with the recent incidents of violence in the adjoining districts of both the states. The dispute has been recurring over the decades, which is disturbing the peace of the region. The Northeastern region has faced the wrath of insurgency, infiltration, oppressed with vested political interests that have only fuelled the dispute. The locals are vouching for an end to the border issue which they claim has occurred mostly due to infiltration in the border areas. The complex territories with no proper demarcation of the border areas be it the international or inter-state boundaries often creates confusion, which led to the conflicts. Mumeninaz Zaman reports.
The Recent Uproar
The decades-old border dispute between the two states resurfaced on October 9 when Mizoram officials alleged that officials of Assam’s Karimganj district, forest departments and Assam Police set fire to a farmhouse owned by John Zolawma of Thinghlun village in Mizoram’s Mamit district along the inter-state border. Mizoram officials alleged that many plantations, including over 1,000 betel nut plants, were destroyed by Assam officials.
Following the dispute, representatives of both Mizoram and Assam resorted to strengthen inter-state coordination and decided to setup police outposts along the disputed border area in order to avoid any standoff in the future.
Terming the incident as unfortunate, Mamit District deputy commissioner Lalrozama said that it could jeopardise the relation between the two states, while his Assam counterpart Karimganj district deputy commissioner Anbamuthan MP said that the area falls under the jurisdiction of the Singla Forest Reserve in the Karimganj district, and asked them to respect their authority.
Around a week later, another scuffle took place between the residents of Lailapur village in Cachar district in Assam and residents of Vairengte in Kolasib district of Mizoram. On October 17 at least four people were injured in clashes and a few huts and small shops were set ablaze following a territorial dispute between the residents of both the states.
As per reports, the scuffle took place when a makeshift hut near Saihapui V, a village about 8 km east of Vairengte and adjacent to Karimganj district was demolished. The hut was used by local Mizo volunteers who were engaged in guarding the border area to check movement of people in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. It has been alleged that forest officials from Assam were not allowed to go beyond the checkpost, which flared up the incident. Reportedly, Mizoram Police said some people from Assam pelted stones at the Mizo group, following which an enraged mob from Mizoram’s Vairengte retaliated and set on fire about 20 temporary bamboo huts and stalls built along the NH 306 by villagers of Assam’s Lailapur.
Assam Police officers, however, refuting the charges, stated that unidentified miscreants from Mizoram’s Vairengte burnt shops and huts along the National Highway-306 in Lailapur.
As violence broke out both the sides has been blaming each other for the escalation, According to Mizo civil society groups, the clashes were triggered by stone pelting from Lailapur. Whereas, the Cachar district administration refuted such claims.
Calling it a handiwork of miscreants, Assam Forest and Environment Minister Parimal Suklabaidya, who is also the local MLA said, “These are not isolated incidents and happen as people from both sides illegally cut trees.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers from Mizoram claimed that over 80 per cent of people living along the border are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. They further pointed out that some politicians are trying to take advantage, in view of the Assam elections due next year.
Apprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah of the situation, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal also spoke with his Mizoram counterpart, Zoramthanga, and both sides “agreed to maintain law and order in the area” to find an amicable settlement to the issue.
A Look Back
The Northeastern states, being carved out of Assam which mostly represented colonial Assam province, has boundary problems with other states following the improper demarcation of the border areas.
Mizoram is a landlocked state in North East India, whose southern part shares 722 kilometres long international borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, and northern part shares domestic borders with Manipur, Assam and Tripura.
Mizoram was a part of the Assam in the 1950s. However, discontent over the government’s concern for Mizos led to the formation of the Mizo National Front that sought sovereign independence for the Mizo territory. They staged an armed insurrection with the 1966 uprising against the government. The demand for a separate Mizo state within the Republic of India continued. Eventually, Assam state was split, re-organised into multiple political regions, and the Mizo hills area was declared Mizoram after the insurgency, and it was declared as a Union Territory in 1972. A Peace Accord was signed between the central government and insurgent groups of Mizoram on 30 June 1986 and as per the accord, insurgents surrendered their arms and Mizoram became the 23rd state of India in 1986.
However, boundary issues that remained suppressed earlier became a border dispute after the separation.
The dispute initiated from the colonial era, with a notification of 1875 that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another notification of 1933 that demarcates a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
During colonial times, Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills, a district of Assam. 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. However, the Assam government follows the 1933 demarcation, and that has been the point of conflict.
Inter-state border dispute
Three Mizoram districts of Kolasib, Aizawl and Mamit share about 164.6 km long boundary with south Assam’s Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts. The border dispute between Mizoram and Assam is a long-pending issue which remains unresolved till date. The border issue has remained relatively calm despite the disputed nature, except a few instances in 1994, 2007 and 2018 when tensions flared up. But because of timely intervention by the Central Government, a major crisis was averted.
According to an agreement between the governments of Assam and Mizoram, the status quo should be maintained in no man’s land in the border area.
Owing to the complex terrain comprising of the hills, forests, valleys and rivers both the states are not fully aware of the boundary demarcation. Moreover, on the basis of perceptional differences they have created an imaginary line, which often becomes the cause of conflict.
While commenting on the recent incident Kolasib Deputy Commissioner H. Lalthangliana told The Indian Express: “There is no clear line indicating the Assam-Mizoram border in some areas. According to an agreement between governments of Assam and Mizoram some years ago, status quo should be maintained in no-man’s land in the border area. However, people from Lailapur broke the status quo and allegedly constructed some temporary huts. People from Mizoram side went and set fire to them.” On the other hand, Keerthi Jalli, the DC of Cachar, told that the contested land belongs to Assam as per state’s records.
Political Parties and civil society organisations in Mizoram are now demanding tripartite talks and urged the state government to speak to the Centre so that the long-standing border dispute with Assam is resolved at the earliest. It has also urged the state government to take steps to ensure that the decision to resettle the displaced Bru people in Tripura’s Zampui area, traditionally inhabited by the Mizos, is also withdrawn at the earliest.
Proper demarcation need of the hour
During British rule, besides Mizoram, present-day states like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland were part of Assam. Eventually, they separated, however, due to the complex boundary equations Assam has been in conflict with these states.
Mizoram borders Assam’s Barak Valley and both border Bangladesh. Mizoram civil society groups blame infiltrators (alleged migrants from Bangladesh) on the Assam side for creating trouble in the region.
The October 17 incident only depicts the nation’s inability to carve out a properly demarcated border. While on the international border skirmishes, infiltration and abduction have continued to be a regular affair. In the Northeastern part of India, the region’s complex terrain is attributing to the conflicts that is at the helm of Northeasterners standing against each other.