NORTH-EAST INDIA: FRAGILE PEACE

The boundary dispute between Assam and Mizoram dates back nearly a century and a half. While there have been several showdowns arising out of inter-state disputes between various states of the Northeast, the dispute between Assam and Mizoram has rarely culminated in violence. Yet, it escalated to unprecedented levels over the past week, as firing on the inter-state boundary left at least six Assam policemen dead and over 50 individuals injured.

Mizoram borders Assam’s Barak Valley, and both border Bangladesh. The boundary between the two states, which runs 165 km today, has a history dating back to the time when Mizoram was a district of Assam and known as Lushai Hills. Boundary demarcations in 1875 and 1933, particularly the second one, are at the heart of the dispute. The 1875 demarcation, notified on August 20 that year, derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873. It differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar in Assam’s Barak Valley. This was done in consultation with Mizo chiefs, and it became the basis for the Inner Line Reserve Forest demarcation in the Gazette two years later. The 1933 demarcation marks a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur, beginning at the tri-junction of Lushai Hills, Cachar district and Manipur. The Mizos do not accept this demarcation on the ground that their chiefs were not consulted at that time.

Places of tension between Assam & Mizoram

Which is boundary does Mizoram find acceptable?

According to Mizo leaders, the only acceptable boundary is the Inner Line of 1875 on the southern frontier of Cachar, notified as per the BEFR Act. (This was subsequently revised in 1878 as it sought to demarcate the Lushai Hills frontier from the plains of Assam). The Mizo leaders and a joint action committee on border issues submitted a memorandum to the PM claiming that the present demarcation between states is unacceptable because they were not consulted during the process.

The dispute has been simmering since Mizoram became a Union Territory in 1972 and then a state in the 1980s. The two states signed an agreement that the status quo should be maintained at no man’s land set up in the boundaries. While alleged transgressions have often happened over the decades, skirmishes have happened very frequently in recent months. Both the states claim that the other transgressed into their territory, and thereby triggering the violence.

Assam-Mizoram dispute: what led to such violence?                                                     

A team of around 200 Assam Police led by the IGP, Assam Police, and the DC, SP and DFO of Cachar travelled to the Vairengte autorickshaw stand on Monday. While Assam has reasoned that they went to “resolve matters”, Mizoram has said they “forced their way in”, overrunning security posts.

The Assam Home Minister, for his part, issued a statement: “In another breach of existing agreements and the existing status quo, Mizoram began constructing a road towards Rengti Basti in Assam, destroying the Inner Line Reserve Forest in Lailapur area. Simultaneously, the Mizoram side also set up a new armed camp on a hillock next to the camp of the neutral force, CRPF, in the same vicinity. A team of Assam officials including an IGP, DIG, DC Cachar, SP Cachar and DFO Cachar went to the area this morning to request the Mizoram side not to disturb the status quo.” 

What are the other border disputes in the region?

Assam, which shares its boundary with all other Northeast states, has been involved in disputes with several of its neighbours. Assam and Nagaland share has a 500-km boundary. Violent conflicts, some leading to deaths, have taken place in several phases since 1965.

With Arunachal Pradesh, Assam shares an around 800-km boundary. Here, the first clashes were reported in 1992. Each state has accused the other of boundary transgressions and illegal encroachment. These issues are now being heard in the Supreme Court.

With Meghalaya, Assam shares a boundary of 884 km. There has been a series of recent flare-ups here, too. The Meghalaya government claims it has 12 areas of disputes with Assam.

Where is this headed?

Following the intervention of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who held closed-door meetings with the Northeast CMs in Shillong and discussed inter-state disputes and other issues — both sides have now retracted their forces.

In its statement, Mizoram has said it wants “that the inter-state border issue with Assam is resolved in an atmosphere of peace and understanding”. It has also called upon Assam to create a “congenial environment” for peaceful resolution of the dispute. Assam has asked Mizoram to “restrain its people and police personnel from indulging in wanton violence and work towards restoring peace”. It alleged that the fact that there was no casualty on Mizoram side was proof that Assam authorities had shown restraint. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga tagged each other in their tweets while calling for peace.

The Chief Ministers of these states had previously held talks in February this year and agreed on the need to maintain the status quo and peace.

One thought on “NORTH-EAST INDIA: FRAGILE PEACE

Comments are closed.