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‘The unrest on the Assam-Mizoram border’

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    24th Nov, 2020

The recent clash on the Assam-Mizoram border underlines the differences the two States have had since 1972.

Context

The recent clash on the Assam-Mizoram border underlines the differences the two States have had since 1972.

Background

  • The boundary dispute between the two states has been simmering since the formation of Mizoram as a separate state in the 1980s.
  • The two states have been locked in a boundary dispute for a long time, with Assam accepting the boundary defined by a 1933 notification and Mizoram sticking to an earlier demarcation drawn up in 1875.
  • 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, clashes have erupted from time to time over the issue.
  • Festering since October 9, the situation along the 164.6-km Assam-Mizoram border took an ugly turn on October 17 with around 20 shops and houses being burnt and over 50 people injured in clashes.
  • The Central Government has been trying to solve the dispute, but with little success.

Previous stand-off

  • The region has remained relatively calm though there have been a few instances of clashes in 1994, 2006 and 2018.
  • In 1994, tensions escalated in Vairengte when a skirmish broke out between the police personnel of the two states, and a major crisis was averted with the intervention of the home ministry.
  • The previous border stand-off had taken place in Zophai area near Bairabi town in Kolasib district of Mizoram in March, 2018 when MZP activists (a Mizo students' body) had tried to reconstruct a resting shed destroyed by Assam's Hailakandi district administration.
  • More than 60 people, mostly students, were injured when Assam Police allegedly resorted to lathi-charge and opened fire to disperse the agitators.

Analysis

What is the dispute all about?

  • Mizoram was carved out of Assam in 1972, when it became a separate Union Territory. In 1987, it became a full-fledged state.
  • The three South Assam districts ofCachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj share a 164.6 kilometre-long border with Mizoram’s Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts.
  • Formerly known as Lushai Hills, Mizoram is located on the southern fringes of Northeast India.
  • The state shares borders with three northeastern states of Tripura, Assam and Manipur, and a 722-km border with the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar.
  • The India-Myanmar border in Mizoram is open, and an unhindered movement of people from both sides has escalated cross-border smuggling.
  • The two countries have a Free Movement Regime (FMR) that allows people living along the border to travel 16 km into each other’s territory without visa.
  • At several points, the boundary between the two states is contested. Assam and Mizoram have often sparred over it, sometimes violently.
  • Several rounds of dialogue, at various levels, since 1994 have failed to resolve the disagreement.

The Cachar-Mizoram boundary

  • The North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, provided for the establishmentof the states of Manipur and Tripura and the formation of Meghalaya.
  • It also provided for the formation of the Union Territories of Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh — by the reorganisation of the existing state of Assam.
  • Barak Valley, comprising the Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts, is the southernmost tip of Assam.
  • Cachar is surrounded on three sides by the hill ranges of Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya, and also shares an international boundary, spread across the Barak Valley region, with Bangladesh.
  • Mizoram was earlier a part of undivided Assam. The Mizos are an indigenous minority group in Northeast that continues to seek protection of rights and privileges under the Indian Constitution.
  • The signing of the Mizoram Peace Accord in June 1986, between the Government of India and the Mizo National Front (MNF), ended the 20-year-old insurgency by the Mizos, and led Mizoram to acquire statehood.
  • However, boundary issues that remained suppressed earlier became a border dispute after the separation.
  • The boundary between Mizoram and Assam follows naturally occurring barriers of hills, valleys, rivers and forests, and both sides have attributed border skirmishes to perceptional differences over an imaginary line.
  • Villagers in Mizoram and Assam, not fully aware of the boundary demarcation, would often cross over to either side for various purposes.

Important Commissions

  • The Centre’s attempts to resolve the dispute through commissions – the KVK Sundaram Commission in 1971 and then the Shastri Commission in 1985 – failed.
  • Assam then moved the Supreme Court seeking a permanent injunction restraining Nagaland from encroaching upon its land.

What are the other boundary issues in the Northeast?

The ‘Seven Sisters’, as the NE states are collectively known, are notorious for their interstate boundary disputes.  Assam has a long history of land tussles with states such as Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh which were once part of it. During British rule, Assam included present-day Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Meghalaya besides Mizoram, which became separate states one by one. Today, Assam has boundary problems with each of them.

  • Assam-Nagaland: Nagaland shares a 500-km boundary with Assam. Violent clashes and armed conflicts, marked by killings, have occurred on the Assam-Nagaland border since 1965.
    • In two major incidents of violence in 1979 and 1985, at least 100 persons were killed.
    • The boundary dispute is now in the Supreme Court.
  • Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary: On the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary (over 800 km), clashes were first reported in 1992, according to the same research paper.
    • Since then, there have been several accusations of illegal encroachment from both sides, and intermittent clashes.
    • This boundary issue too is being heard by the Supreme Court.
  • Assam-Meghalaya boundary: The 884-km Assam-Meghalaya boundary, too, witnesses flare-ups frequently.
    • As per Meghalaya government statements, today there are 12 areas of dispute between the two states.

Inter-State Border Areas

Assam and Mizoram

164.6 km

Assam and Meghalaya

884.9 km

Assam and West Bengal

127.0 km

Assam and Tripura

46.3 km

Assam and Manipur

204.1 km

Assam and Arunachal Pradesh

804.1 Km

Assam and Nagaland

512.1 km

Wrapping Up

The current political scenario in the Northeast reveals that new forms of conflict have been added to the existing ones. A way out of this enduring turmoil requires the Northeastern peoples to accept this challenge as an opportunity. Furthermore, the Union Government needs to intervene to ensure peace and calm to the border regions and allow the state government to remains law and order in their respective states.

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