By -Dr. H. Lalzuithangi,
(The author is an Associate Professor at Government Hrangbana College, Mizoram.)
For centuries, mankind has fought wars in every corner of the world, however big or small the issue may be. And with time, the tools, instruments, modes, and tactics used have changed tremendously. Today, we have arrived at a time when modern technology is at its peak. This has enabled the masses to take up their concern issues and raise their voices for or against them. And this was exactly what happened in the recent Mizoram-Assam boundary clash on the 26th of July, 2021.
Mizoram, (‘Lushai Hills’ by the Britishers) is situated in the North-Eastern corner of India. Sandwiched by two countries – Bangladesh and Myanmar. Along with the whole of mainland India, it was once upon a time under British Rule. In Mizoram, the British Christian missionaries had a deep impact on the Mizo (Lushai) culture and their religious beliefs. The Britishers living in the plain areas adjacent to the hills were expanding their tea plantations into the Lushai Hills, causing the Lushai tribes – the Mizo(s) – to retaliate, The British in consultation with the Mizo Chiefs agreed on a demarcation. But over time, the Britishers still encroached the land belonging to the Mizos and ever since Mizoram has been experiencing boundary disputes with Assam.
The disagreement was regarding the demarcation of the boundary. Mizoram accepted the demarcation based on the 1875 notification under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) of 1873. They claim that the inner line of the Inner Line Eastern Reserved Forest as described in the 1875 notification under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873 should be the basis for the demarcation of the boundary with Assam. However, the British kept on changing the boundary, each time penetrating deeper and deeper inside the territory of Mizoram, and the last one being the Notice of 1933 Demarcation. This demarcation was made without consultation and the knowledge of the Mizo people. Mizoram stand is the vernacular boundary of 1875, while the Assam stand is the colonial boundary of 1933 Demarcation. This is what has to be resolved.
The boundary conflict between Assam and Mizoram, as cited above, has been going on for decades. Since it has not been solved for that long, it can be assumed that political leaders have not been paying much attention, thereby, leaving it an area of conflict for decades after decades. An eruption occurred on 26th July 2021 at Vairengte. There have been series of events of dispute which led up to the fateful day. The event escalated when the Chief Minister of Assam allegedly ordered to open fire on the Mizoram side of the boundary. The Mizoram police in retaliation opened fire leaving 6 Assam policemen dead and many casualties on both the side. This created a rift and tension even more in the Assam-Mizoram boundary issue.
Now that we know the series of occurrences, here is the highlight of the argument that is being made.
Mizoram, due to the pandemic has been on lockdown for several months. So, to have such a shocking, unpleasant incident take place was rather nerve-wracking. Adding to the stress was the lock-down preventing the Mizo people from going down to the boundary area to fend for their land. Right then, the reaction of the Mizo youth was unlike anything is ever seen before. The mode, tactic, and space of engagement with the alleged intruders were altered.
‘The pen is mightier than the sword is taught in schools, the lessons in history classes of how India won its Independence from the British rulers by non-violent means still resonates in our ears. The Mizos belong to this democratic country, which bestows upon its citizens the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression (Art 19 (1) (a) in the Indian Constitution). Hence, the viewpoint of the Mizo people was conveyed openly via social media platforms. Combining their passion for networking, social skill and the love for their land, the Mizo ‘Netizens’ (a term used to describe a user of the internet, especially a habitual or keen one) converted their virtual space into a battlefield, where they fought valiantly.
Modern technology and growth in the social network have provided for the Mizo people, a space and a new means to engage in a dialogue not only amongst themselves but also with people even outside the Mizo community. Social networking platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide a space for exchanging information and discourse. The never before used platform by the Mizos (to this magnitude) enabled the users to gain more leverage on the issue. The users educate other users to understand the depth of the situation, providing factual evidence to support their posts. They created an awakening, interest, and awareness which further encouraged users to participate in the discourse. An example can be cited of Miss Lalrinngheti’s (@lalrinsangsiama) post on her Instagram account, where she posted the series of occurrences which led to the incident with supporting documents. Her post justifies the Mizoram stand with evidence which enlightened many users, both Mizos and non-Mizos.
An unexpected but rather pleasant surprise came from the Mizo Twitteratis (frequent users of Twitter). It is no news that the virtual world provides opportunities, countless areas of interest to explore depending on an individual’s interest. The Korean wave (Hallyu wave) which has taken the world by storm for more than a decade now serves as one such area. K-pop and K-drama fans have been using Twitter as a means to follow the trends of their Bias (a term used for the person they have the most inclination towards). Mention may be made here, particularly of the ARMY (fans of BTS), The Blinks (fans of Blackpink) EXO-L, Ikonic, and many other K-pop fans. These fans are so well versed with the algorithm of Twitter that they combined their knowledge of the use of hashtags ‘#’ and goodwill to educate their fellow Mizos users.
Twitter, a social network platform used by celebrities, political leaders worldwide and at the national level as well, every organization big or small around the world is a very powerful platform. Hashtag ‘#’ became an influential tool in this battle. When tweeting, the hashtag ‘#’ used is important as it leads to the subject of concern. The experienced Mizo Twitter users orchestrated the tweeting trends for the battle, hoping the nation will hear the voices of the Mizo people. Flyers were designed with information on the timing and the method of effective tweeting. It was then circulated via other social media. The popular tags used were #assamshotfirst #supportmizorampolice #mizoramspeaksout to name a few. The effectiveness of the tweets was unexpected and unfathomable by many political leaders at the local level or the national level. It came as a surprise even to the Mizo people.
It is no lie and rather unfortunate, that North-East India is not represented adequately in the mainstream media for whatever the reasons may be. But when it comes down to issues like this, it would only be right if our stories were interpreted in a just and rightful manner. The interviews and debate we witnessed on the national media was a total sham. However, these social network platforms were a saving grace. It enabled the Mizos to participate in the political discourse and counter the false allegations. The mainstream media, when discussing the boundary issues on their news channels mentioned the social media feud ample of times and even on print media, which meant that the tweets and posts on social media platforms had a huge impact.
On 1st August 2021, the Chief Minister of Mizoram issued a notice stating that the Assam Chief Minister and Union Home Minister had agreed to resolve the Mizoram-Assam Border issue and urged the ‘Netizens’ to refrain from posting sensitive messages which could escalate the situation. Therefore, it can only mean that the public voice, through social media, was heard and these platforms proved to be the way forward for any political participation in the future.
Analyzing the incident, there were some unfortunate occurrences, for instance, the Chief Minister of Assam allegedly ordering an open fire, the ill-fated death of the Assam police from the gun-shots of the Mizoram police which was shot in retaliation. However, the reaction of the people of Mizoram protecting their land, in a manner that was truly constitutional, whilst exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression is truly inspiring. It is Citizen Journalism at its best. It is an indication that when people come together with a common concern, the opinions and the voices reach the policymakers.
The border issue may or may not be solved right away to our satisfaction. However, the Mizo people have emerged victorious. They have found a platform where they can let their voice be heard. Be it the boundary issues or any other issues for that matter. Healthy discourse is necessary for nation-building and the Mizos are ready to take on any issues and fight together to build a better nation.
(The views expressed in the article is of author’s own and does not reflect that of the organization)