Guwahati: With the situation in the border areas between Assam and Mizoram still tense, the central government is sending additional paramilitary forces to be deployed at the earliest, according to Assam’s Chief Secretary Jishnu Baruah.
A high-level meeting was held in Silchar Wednesday between the deputy commissioners of Assam’s Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts, which share a border with Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts of Mizoram. Senior Assam Police and forest officials discussed the various options available for a “peaceful solution” to the current imbroglio. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Baruah urged local residents to maintain calm.
Wednesday’s meeting was the latest in a series of engagements between the two states and the central government over the boundary issue. Baruah had met Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla Tuesday, and told ThePrint that a permanent solution is expected “within a short period of time”.
“We cannot choose our neighbours. We will have to live peacefully with them, but we also cannot let anyone lay claim on our land. We know it is our area as per the constitutional boundary. We have no two opinions on that,” Baruah had also told reporters.
Heart of the conflict
Assam and Mizoram share a 164.6-km-long border, but their border issue has been unresolved for 50 years. Mizoram insists that a 509-square-mile stretch of the inner-line reserve forest notified in 1875 is the actual boundary of Mizoram with Assam.
The issue flared up again on 17 October when clashes erupted in border areas, leaving several injured. Then, a week ago, an economic blockade was imposed along the national highway by local groups in southern Assam.
This was followed by the death of Intazul Laskar, a 48-year-old resident of Lailapur in Assam’s Cachar district, at a hospital in Vairengte of Mizoram’s Kolasib district on 2 November, which triggered an outrage among people in the Barak Valley.
According to an official statement from Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s office Monday, Laskar was “abducted” by miscreants from the Lailapur border outpost area. Sonowal had also written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah after the incident.
But a statement from the Mizoram Home Department the same day said Laskar was “apprehended” by the Young Mizo Association (YMA), Vairengte branch, for selling drugs. The YMA is the apex body of Mizos with more than 4.5 lakh members from both within and outside the state.
According to the Mizoram government, Laskar was caught selling 420mg heroin at a border village and was handed over by the YMA to the Excise and Narcotics Department, Vairengte. On Sunday night, he was sent to the Community Health Centre for a medical check-up and was admitted there. The next morning, “he was found dead in his hospital bed”, Mizoram’s official statement read.
Cachar superintendent Bhanwar Lal Meena, a senior official of the Assam Police, told ThePrint that the death of Intazul Laskar is suspected to be a “custodial death” and the matter would be reported to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
“It is suspected to be a custodial death and the matter will now be handed over to the NHRC. He was kidnapped Sunday evening by unidentified members of YMA (Young Mizo Association), and his wife had lodged a missing complaint,” Meena said.
“On Monday morning, we got a call from Vairengte police saying he is in their custody. It was later that we came to know he died. The situation is tense, but under control. Volunteers of YMA are scattered along the border. There is adequate security deployment from our side for now,” he said.
Following CM Sonowal’s directive, Assam’s chief secretary and director general of police visited Laskar’s house Tuesday evening and handed over a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the family members.
“We will not accept any injustice towards Assam. We will try to solve this amicably without having to resort to anything unpleasant. We have taken all possible steps to ensure the safety and security of locals in the present situation and also in future,” Assam DGP Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told reporters in Silchar.
Assam forest minister and local MLA Parimal Suklabaidya also visited Lailapur and asked the locals to have patience and maintain peace.
What Mizos say
The Mizo Students’ Union (MSU), meanwhile, has said that the “unfortunate” death of a civilian in Assam cannot stand in the way of pursuing their rightful demands over the boundary issue.
Samuela Zoramthanpuia, MSU general secretary, alleged that the “illegal immigrants” on the Assam side of the border are trying to “divert” attention from the main issue. Some Mizo organisations view the current unrest as a fight against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and not an Assam-versus-Mizoram issue.
“Our sources said he (Laskar) was a drug peddler. It’s unfortunate he died in Mizoram’s custody. We have to maintain peace and tranquility, but we would not be held back regarding the border issue. These illegal immigrants are trying to divert (attention) to some other incident,” Zoramthanpuia told ThePrint.
The Mizoram government Monday wrote to Assam officials asking for “safety and security of Mizo community within Assam”, in order to prevent any retaliatory action for Laskar’s death. Mizoram has also sought police protection for stranded vehicles along NH-306, which links Mizoram to the rest of the country through Silchar in Assam, and is considered the lifeline of the state.
While around 200 Mizoram-bound goods-laden trucks are stuck in Cachar, Assam-bound vehicles from Mizoram have returned to the state, according to the MSU. Meanwhile, Mizoram has started ferrying fuel and cooking gas from Manipur and Tripura because of the blockade.
MSU’s Zoramthanpuia alleged that truckers from Mizoram are being threatened by Lailapur’s residents in Assam.
“We have let all trucks from Assam return to the state, but the people in Cachar have held our trucks, including oil tankers. We do not trust Assam Police. Instead of escorting our drivers to safety, they tricked them into entering Assam and left them at the mercy of agitators in Lailapur. Our state has requested to let our own police force escort vehicles from Silchar to Mizoram,” Zoramthanpuia said.