The recent clash between Assam and Mizoram armed police on 26th July , 2021 which led to the death of around 5 policemen and left many injured , is a not an isolated issue. Many news reports have tried to trace the history of the border dispute between these two north eastern states of India, but it is important to address it with precision. The issue is not as simple as who crossed the border or who initiated it, it stems from deep rooted alienation of the North East as a whole, from mainstream media. Even last year, the same villages of Lailapur and Vairengte had seen clashes between people, which was controlled for a short time, only to reappear again. But the history of North East needs a closer look, through the lens of the “other”. The keyword which drives every issue of the North east and its Politics is the “foreigner” or the “alien”. These keywords are of paramount importance, to navigate through the vast history of the entho-linguistic struggle of the North east and its incorporation in the Indian State. Though many scholars would not want to look at the North east as a whole, but the problems are identical if not the same.
Post Independent India, had a number of critical questions to deal with, in regards to the Mizo Hills. Contrary to a referendum, as organised in Sylhet District, The Mizo Union, which was a political conglomeration at that time, decided to join India rather than going for Pakistan or Burma. But they were not entirely satisfied with the Sixth Schedule, under the Indian Constitution. The Sixth Schedule was designed to give considerable autonomy to hill tribes of undivided Assam. But the growth of the Assamese language movement along with over bearing demands of Assam to remove special provision of the Mizos and Khasis, further alienated them against the State. This was the creation of an ethno-linguistic struggle, for self determination which was followed by years of insurgency against the Indian Government. The role of Mizo National Front is most important, to encapsulate the history of Mizo self determination and pride to get autonomy from Assam. Divisions of forest reserves, claims of Lushai country (under Mizo District) by the Cachar Forest departments, created issues on negotiating how to divide the border between the Mizo district and Assam. The lack of clarity of the Inner Line Forest Reserves and the division between Mizo and Cachar district was the birthplace of the border disputes which still unravels itself every now and then. Channelizing these issues, the MNF started the movement for autonomy. The 1966 Uprising under the leadership of the MNF started with a 12 point declaration, by Laldenga and other MNF leaders addressing their grievances against the Indian State. The battle for self determination entered its insurgency years and was severely suppressed by the Indian State. With frequent air strikes in the villages of Marpara , Pukpui , Sangau and others , the MNF was forced to accept amnesty offers by the Government of India. The insurgents surrendered, and the military activity came to a conclusion. In 1986, MNF accepted the terms of the Indian Constitution and the state of Mizoram was created.
As stated by Assam, these border clashes are not mere law and order issues. It begs the question of how to administer states having such a deep history of alienation. Assam and Nagaland, has similar history of skirmishes along its borders. The conflict between armed police forces of Assam and Nagaland in 1985, in the district of Golaghat , is a severe reminder, of how long drawn inter-state border disputes can start and not fizzle out quickly. The root of these problems, is not recognising how ethnically diverse the North Eastern States are. Assam faces similar problems, with one of largest sections of internally displaced people, because of its history of Bodo Militancy. Assam’s polity itself suffers from instability and frequent violence and insurgency. The Bodo insurgency is also rooted on the premise of “foreigner grabbing their lands”. The Bodo Accord of 1993 was not clear about the boundaries and demarcations within Bodo and Non Bodo lands. The result being violent overturns like the conflicts in Kokrajhar and Barpeta in 1993. In 2012, the nature of ethnic strife shifted towards immigrant Muslims, which caused the displacement of the more than 5 hundred thousand people in the districts of Dhubri , Baksa and Kokrajhar. The government of India, have made efforts to negotiate peace deals with insurgent groups like the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, and in 2020 signed the tripartite agreement with all its factions. But the state of affairs remains very fragile, with internalised fear of the “other”.
The rationale of recalling these violent clashes, between ethnic communities and state agencies, is to make a clear argument that fixing ‘state borders’ is like walking on a thin line. Administratively envisioning state borders, might not always reflect the needs of the community living within these lines. The fear of lands being taken, homes being burnt, rights being suspended, are qualitative measures which are repeatedly looked past, while understanding the federal structure of India. It is important, to clearly understand who are the “protectors” and who are the “encroachers”, to build a peaceful North East. Though the Indian State has tried to negotiate in various capacities, but the lack of structural clarity in these border divisions, are breeding grounds of recurring conflicts, which needs deliberation.