By Barun Das Gupta
The death of seven Assam policemen in armed clashes with the Mizoram police on July 26 is deplorable. Assam has “border disputes” with Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram for a long time. This time, according to Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the clash with the Mizo police ensued when the Assam police tried to prevent the encroachment of land by the Mizos in the reserved forests of the contiguous region of Barak Valley of Assam. The CM said that there was no “politics” in it. The clash with the Assam police was because the Mizos had occupied, illegally and surreptitiously, land in the reserved forests of Assam and built roads. He asserted that Assam would not allow “an inch of our land” to be occupied by the Mizos.
The Assam-Mizoram border is 165 km long. In 1875, the then British Government of India demarcated the Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar in Assam and the ILP (Inner Line Permit) system was introduced. In 1972, the Lushai hills were taken away from Assam and made a Union Territory. A decade and a half later, in1987, Mizoram became a full-fledged State.
In 1995, the first sanguinary clash took place between the Mizos and the local people living in the contiguous areas of the Bengali-speaking Cachar district. Assam alleges that the Mizoram Government tried to settle Mizo people in the area which it claimed was theirs according to the 1875 demarcation. Over fifty people were injured when, Assam claims, some Mizos tried to set up settlements in Assam territory in Cachar.
It may be recalled that clashes between villagers of Nagaland and Assam in the border areas had taken place several times in the past, The worst was on January 5, 1979, when armed Nagas, backed by the Naga police, attacked several border villages in the Golaghat district of Assam, killing 54 Assamese people and displaced over 23,500 people who had to be accommodated in relief camps. Again, in June, 1985, over 41 people in Assam were murdered by the Nagas at Merapani, also in Golaghat district. The dead included 28 Assam police personnel.
The reason was the same: attempt to occupy Assam land and settle Nagas there. Then again in August, 2014, there were armed clashes at Uriamghat in Golaghat district. About a dozen Assamese were killed and thousands fled their homes following the incident. All the attacks were one-sided: by the Nagas on the Assamese. In August, 1971, the Centre set up the Sundaram Commission to settle the Assam-Naga border dispute. It submitted its report but armed clashes did not stop. Fresh Naga attacks stopped only when Assam set up a large number of police outposts in the area along the border and deployed an adequate number of police personnel.
Down south, Meghalaya has claimed Assam territory right up to the Kamakhya Hills where the famous Kamakhya temple is situated, though there have been no armed clashes between the Assamese and the Khasis. Assam has been dismembered again and again after Independence. Today, Assam has been left with only two hill districts: the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills.
The areas inhabited by the hill tribes of of Assam have been sliced away from 1963. First the Naga Hills District became Nagaland State, in 1963. The Khasi Hills and the Garo Hills were made a sub-State named Meghalaya within Assam. Next year, 1972, Meghalaya became a full-fledged State. The same year, the Lushai Hills district was cut off from Assam and made the Union Territory of Mizoram. A decade and a half later, in 1987, Mizoram became a full-fledged State. But the Mizos have continued, from time to time, to encroach on Assam land, as the latest clash between the Mizo and Assam police shows. It is for the Mizo political leadership to restrain their folk from occupying Assam land by force. (IPA Service)