What is the Assam-Mizoram border dispute?

Politics Aug 15, 2021

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On July 26, 2021, violence erupted at the border between Assam and Mizoram, escalating the ongoing dispute. The clashes resulted in the killing of six Assam Police personnel and left several injured. Though the Assam Mizoram border dispute dates back over a century, the current violence is due to a breach of the status quo between the two states. At the heart of the issue is the 164.6 km border that separates Assam and Mizoram.

The history behind the dispute

Formerly Lushai Hills, Mizoram was a part of Assam until 1972, when it was carved out and made a union territory. Later in the year 1987, Mizoram was granted the status of a full-fledged state. Since that time, there has been a border dispute between the two states.

Three districts of Assam - Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj, share a border with Kolasib, Mamit and Aizwal districts in Mizoram.

The root of the conflict lies in the two notifications passed under the British regime.

Mizo vs Assam stand

Mizoram asserts its rights on the land according to an 1875 notification derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873. This notification demarcates the boundary between Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar.

Assam follows the 1933 notification that demarcated a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur. Mizoram does not accept this distinction because it claims the non-involvement of the Mizo society while planning this boundary. Also, the 1875 notification grants it a wider territorial area.

The ambiguous boundary between the two states and the constant changes in the imaginary line due to the natural obstacles such as rivers, hills, valleys constantly leads to encroachment in the region.

There have been numerous efforts by authorities to resolve the conflict since 1995 but all in vain. Both sides, however, agreed to set up camps in the contentious region to keep a check on encroachments claimed by them.

The recent conflict

The border skirmishes have been growing by the day since August 2020, with first, the violent clashes in Karimganj, which later spread to the Cachar district of Assam. In November 2020, the territorial dispute turned into an ethnic conflict. The current conflict due to an exchange of fire between the police forces of both states escalated the violence. The Mizo police accused their Assam counterparts of trespassing and destroying their camps in the area. The locals of the Hailakandi district of Assam alleged encroachments in their territory by the people of Mizoram.

What are Assam's border disputes with other states?

Assam, which shares its borders with six different states, has been involved in disputes with several of its northeastern neighbours. Assam-Nagaland border conflict also dates back six decades. Amid the row with Mizoram, Assam and Nagaland signed an agreement on July 31, 2021, withdrawing their forces from the borders to their respective base camps.

Latest developments

Following the intervention by the Home ministry, the Chief Ministers of both states have agreed to resolve the conflict amicably through dialogue. The Assam Chief Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma informed that his government would approach the Supreme Court within 15 days for a peaceful settlement to the boundary row for both the states to follow. Mizoram has also called upon Assam to create a cordial environment for an amicable resolution.

The recent Assam-Mizoram dispute is also not a one-off incident, given the contentious history of the issue. Therefore, whether the present resolutions would pave the way towards a peaceful border or not, only time will tell.

This article has been written by Khanak Sharma for the Paradigm.

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