After days of simmering tension along the Assam-Mizoram boundary, violence broke out on October 17 with at least four people injured in clashes between residents of the two states. One Mizoram resident is “critically injured” and battling for his life in hospital after his throat was slit during the clashes, said officials in the state.
Mizoram was part of Assam till 1972, when it became a separate Union Territory. In 1987, it became a full-fledged state. The three South Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj share a 164.6 kilometre-long border with Mizoram’s Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts.
Much of the boundary is contested – and the two states have often sparred over it, sometimes violently. Several rounds of talks, at various levels, since 1994 have failed to resolve the disagreement.
An old dispute flares up
The latest round of tensions began earlier this month when Assam officials reportedly burnt down a farm house and crops along a contested part of the Karimganj-Mamit boundary. The Assam police claim it was an eviction drive. “They had encroached into our forest reserves and were cultivating there, so they were evicted as per the extant law of the land,” said Mayank Kumar, Karimganj police superintendent.
In response, Kumar alleged, Mizoram “advanced their police and the Mizo IRB [India Reserve Battalion] into our territory and have set up camp here”. “They have a bunker which is still there and they have a war-like presence,” he said. “It is a volatile situation.”
Mamit’s deputy commissioner, Lalrozama, acknowledged the presence of the police bunker – but insisted it was within Mizoram territory. “We are protecting our land,” he said, adding that the Assam police’s supposed eviction drive was actually an incursion attempt.
Things seemed to be cooling down at the Karimganj-Mamit border, with district officials from both sides engaging in talks last week. Then violence broke out eastwards at the Cachar-Kolasib border on Saturday. Visuals of arson and mayhem soon flooded social media.
Both sides have their own version of what led to the escalation on October 17. Mizoram district officials and ethnic outfits allege it began at noon when some residents of Cachar, in the presence of Assam police officials, dismantled a Mizoram police post at a village called Saihapui, along the state border, and manhandled the personnel stationed there. “A Covid checkpoint was destroyed by Assam locals in the presence of Assam police,” said H Lalthangliana, Kolasib’s deputy commissioner.
Later in the evening, the violence shifted to Vairengte, a town on the state border in Kolasib district, not very far from where the checkpoint was allegedly ransacked. The town’s residents clashed with villagers from Lailapur across the border in Assam, said Lalthangliana.
According to Mizo civil society groups, the clashes were triggered by stone pelting from Lailapur.
Lalthangliana also offered a similar account. “Locals from Assam were coming to the Mizoram side and our police personnel tried to stop them at the border,” he said. “But they were very few in number.”
The Cachar district administration refuted such claims. “Some Mizo people came inside the Assam area and burned some temporary shops along the road,” said Bhanwar Lal Meena, Cachar’s police superintendent. “There was no aggression from the Assam side – all that happened was from the other side.”
The Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a powerful student organisation in Mizoram, admitted to setting a few shops on fire, but insisted that they were on the Mizoram side of the border and had been set up by “illegal Bangladeshi migrants”. “They had taken advantage of the pandemic and lockdown and entered Mizoram and set up shops near the Vairengte taxi stand,” alleged Puitea, an adviser to the outfit.
Lalthangliana, however, said that the arson happened in what was “officially” disputed area. “The boundary is not clear on that side,” he said.
Injuries and a meeting
The violence resulted in several injuries. “Three from the Mizoram side are injured and one is critically injured and currently in Kolasib hospital – his throat was half cut by a knife,” said Lalthangliana.
One person was injured in Assam, said Meena.
While there have been no fresh incidents of violence since Saturday evening, officials said the situation was not resolved yet. “The problem is that people from Lailapur have blocked the road, preventing the movement of essential commodities,” said Lalthangliana.
On Sunday afternoon, Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga convened an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the border conflict. “I sincerely request everyone to maintain peace and to kindly not bypass any administrative proceeding,” he said in a tweet.
In a statement issued after the cabinet meeting, the Mizoram government announced security would be beefed up in the “affected border areas” and it was engaging with the government of Assam to resolve the issue. The Union home ministry had also been informed of the “transgressions committed by the government of Assam”, the statement said. The Mizoram government also claimed that since essential supplies had been choked off by a road blockade “organised by Assam” on inter-state highways, it was trying to source commodities like LPG cylinders from other states. Residents of Mizoram were requested not to hoard supplies.