Assam-Mizoram inter State border dispute : An overview

PC Lawmkunga *

Much has been said and written on the inter-State border stand-off between Assam and Mizoram arising out of the claims and counter-claims on the boundary between the two States. My attempt here is not to sit on judgment to determine whose claim is legitimate or whose is not; my intention is to recount the adverse impact this imbroglio has on both the States and to urge the authorities to take action to allay the sorry plight of the people it has adversely affected particularly in Mizoram.

How the stand-off started : Mizoram has four sensitive coterminous boundaries with Assam. They are at Thinghlun village in Mamit District, Vairengte town, Saihapui ‘V’ village and Zophai areas, all in Kolasib District. These border villages witnessed intermittent intimidation from across the border during the last few years.

However, no incident of serious magnitude has ever taken place before May 8, 2018 when a large posse of armed police accompanied by civilians suddenly attacked the defenseless people at Zophai where a fragile structure of Zofate Chawlhbuk (Mizos’ Gazebo) was being erected. In the melee, a good number of innocent persons sustained injuries. Even media persons were not spared.

Thereafter, there was a mutual understanding between the people on both sides to maintain status quo on the border areas. However, the understanding was more honored in breach than observance in as much as the Assam side renovated a cinema hall for Forest Office a few metres away from Vairengte Police check post. A Mosque was also erected at Zophai, a disputed side.

While these irritants persisted, another ugly incident occurred on 9th October 2020, when a militant mob led by no less a person than the Deputy Commissioner of Karimganj District set on fire the jhum-hut of Mr John Zolawma and extensively devastated the betelnut trees of Shri Ben David.

As if this was not enough, on 17th October 2020, some miscreants from Lailapur (Assam side) pelted stones at the Mizoram Indian Reserve police personnel on duty near the auto stand at Vairengte. Being incensed at the unprovoked attack, the villagers of Vairengte rushed to face the stone pelters and to rescue the IR personnel.

They chased away those miscreants and in the fracas, some kachcha houses on the roadside of Lailapur suffered fire damage. On 17th a mob of Lailapur residents demolished Village Level Task Force-Covid 19’s duty post and gate at Saihapui V.

A senior police officer from Assam of ADGP rank on 29th October came there and he was reported to hold out threat that if all police personnel deployed by Mizoram Government on the border were not withdrawn, all Mizoram-bound vehicles would be halted.

As per understanding during the video conference held by Union Home Secretary with CSs of both the States on 29th October, all stranded vehicles in Mizoram were released but there was no reciprocal action on Assam side till date.

Assam police made their threat a reality : Being concerned over the aggressive attitude of Assam side, Mizoram Government strengthened the existing skeleton police forces not only at Saihapui V and Vairengte points, but also at the Thinghmun point.

Peeved by the stiff stand of Mizoram Government, the Assam police completely halted at Lailapur all vehicles bound for Mizoram from 29th October 2020. As a result, Mizoram’s lifeline for supply of essential commodities was totally cut off for the last 12 days.

Over 200 drivers and their vehicles are stranded today in Lailapur and Silchar without sufficient means of sustenance. They are at the mercy of some good Samaritans. Not all vehicles belonged to Mizoram, nearly half of them are from different parts of the country.

Request from the Government of Mizoram to the Government of Assam to clear the road and give passage to stranded vehicles fell on deaf ears. As the Assam Government remained a mute spectator of this situation, it cannot but be believed that this illegal blockade of public thoroughfare has tacit approval of the Assam Government.

The Assam CS who visited Lailapur on November 3 reiterated their demand for withdrawal of Mizoram police from “their land” but kept silent about the economic blockade on Assam side, thereby strengthening the Mizos’ suspicion that the blockade has the blessings of the Assam Government.

As a result, Mizoram suffers acute shortage of supply of essential commodities, of which the serious ones are artificial scarcity of cooking gas and motor spirit. The request from the Government of Mizoram to the Government of Assam and MHA to clear the highway at Lailapur drew blank till the time of writing this piece. {vide Mizoram CS’ letter D.O. No F.20015/3/2020 HM No dated 31.10.2020.}

This being the situation, Mizoram Government sought the help of IOC to permit them to take indent for cooking gas and motor fuel from their (IOC’S) plant in Manipur. The goodwill shown by IOC as also co-operation of the Government of Manipur and its people deserve our unqualified appreciation.

Solution urgently required: Boundary issue is too sensitive a matter to be dealt with levity and it cannot be settled overnight. It involves too many hierarchies making the process lengthy. The two opposing States will rarely come to a term of agreement. The question over the validity of Notification of 1875 as per BEFR 1873 will remain a subject of hot debate.

So will Assam notification of 1933. Meanwhile, the question many ask is this. Is the border issue a sufficient reason to starve the people across the border and deny them their right to live with dignity and pride ?

Mizoram is too small a State to challenge Assam in terms of population, economy and economic infrastructures. Nevertheless, does Mizoram too not have a legitimate right to enjoy an unhindered supply of essential commodities to feed its people ?

Has any State, for that matter Assam, the right to brow-beat its smaller and less developed sister State into toeing its line ignoring which the latter should suffer untold miseries ? This can happen solely between deadly foes.

Or are the Mizos being regarded by the Assam people as their sworn enemies ? This action on the part of Assam defies all principles of morality. Will they be courageous enough to take responsibility if anyone in Mizoram died of starvation ?

The Ministry of Home Affairs too seems to sleep for too long over this imbroglio. Dealing with the delicate issue of this nature in an ad-hoc manner will not take us far. Deployment of Central Paramilitary Forces to maintain peace on both sides of the border is not a panacea for all the ills either.

At best, it is too late and too little. MHA ought to have taken much earlier a pro-active role in lifting the illegal highway blockade resorted to by the people across the border. If deployment of Central Forces mean withdrawal of Mizoram State forces from the border, then Assam will have no longer excuse to detain vehicles en route to Mizoram.

But this is yet to happen. Anyway, there’s no rhyme and reason to make Mizoram and its carriers suffer these unnecessary hardships for no fault of theirs for the last many gruelling days.

Are MHA and Assam Government not having any empathy for the Mizos back home and those who are wrongfully detained in Assam ? The cascading impact of this blockade is two-fold, sorry plight of drivers stranded in Assam and non-availability of enough essential commodities in Mizoram.

This has compounded the already economic slump in Mizoram caused by the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. The utter neglect Mizo people suffer and the higher-ups’ insensitivity to their hardships are much more painful than physical hunger and thirst.

Even if the highway would be opened after a day or two, the Mizos will have to live with the bitter memories of this nightmare experience. Mizoram deserves better treatment as it is an integral part of this great country, India.

* PC Lawmkunga wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a former Chief Secretary of Manipur
This article was webcasted on November 14 2020.

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