Written by: Asst. Prof. N William Singh, Pachhunga University College, Aizawl
The map of Assam has been changing since 1824, and underwent massive change during post-independent India. By 1963, Nagaland was formed from Naga Hills of Assam. By 1971 Northeast States Reorganization Act, the erstwhile districts of British Assam – Meghalaya, Mizoram, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh evolved as separate states.
Loosing geographical spaces and ongoing attempts for Bodoland, Dimasaland and Gorkhaland so as to alter the map of Assam is no longer an excuse to the Assam administration. Assam will not even shed an inch of land. At the moment, Assam adopts historical documents and official papers, not popular or community-belonging narratives in maintaining border administration.
Mizoram shares one hundred and twenty three kilometers long border with Assam. The northern border of Mizoram is till today non-demarcated and remained fuzzy. Claims and refutations describe the everyday life activities in this borderland. The existing dots and lines on the map as the official border are based on the lines drawn by the colonial administrators.
Border skirmishes in Northern Mizoram’s borderland occur due to the extension and adoption of the erstwhile colonial administration practices. Colonial authorities did not consider ethnic solidarities. They divided ethnic homelands due to their policy of ‘administrative convenience’ so as to ‘minimize cost of administration’. They did not consider the geographical entity.
The ongoing annual border dispute between Assam and Mizoram is the case in point due to the adoption of principle of colonial administrative convenience. It is a byproduct of the historical tragedy triggered by the colonial authority.
Border skirmishes undermine the territorial and political sovereignty of Mizoram and Assam. It affects livelihood, belongings and forest resources in incomprehensible and inexplicable terms. On an annual basis, families often felt the sense of belonging and un-belonging of their land and resources. In this zone of dispute, the communities have submitted to live and accustomed to such borderland disputes, and carry on with their everyday existence.
In this non-demarcated border, often notice are the overlapping of administrative divisions. For instance, whenever border disputes occurred, the district officials rushed to the borderland with all kinds of Map to sort out issues. They usually look the spots for border pillars arguing this bank of the river, that trench or that riverine or that foothill.
Lack of seriousness by central government aggravated the dispute. For instance, till today, there is no intervention from Prime Minister’s Office to the 2007 memorandum submitted by former Chief Minister Zoramthanga. The memorandum’s sole purpose was to resolve and demarcate Assam-Mizoram border. The dispute is further deepened due to lack of data and information of the region. Yet the available data are not sufficiently analyzed and communicated between the two states and the Centre, contributing to further misinformation, mismanagement and alienation.
Officials from Mizoram census mentioned that prior to 1981 census, the total area of Mizoram was 20,187 square kilometers. Post 1981 census, total area is 20,181 square kilometers and Mizoram had lost a geographical space of six square kilometers.
Mizo elders agree to the fact that northern border of Mizoram was created on a copy-paste manner, by reproducing the exact lines and dots of the 1933 Inner Line modification. They consider it as an undemocratic bloat in the democratic annals of India. They opined that it was a bitter day, when MNF overlooked the issue of border dispute during Mizo Peace Accord signed on 30th June 1986. Officials also claimed that the actual boundary between Assam and Mizoram should be the ‘Sunnud Line’ agreed between the British and Mizo chief SukPuilal during 1875.
In a nutshell, the 1973 Border Committee Report by Reverend Zairema and B Poonte mentioned that Mizo society dissatisfaction to the Inner Line of 1875. British adopts outer line of 1904 (further inside Inner Line towards Lushai Hills) as a frontier line that separated the Lushai hill and the plains of Assam. By principle, British adopted ‘outer line as jurisdictional limits’ and ‘inner line as administration limits’ so as to re-modify/re-fix/expands existing inner lines.
ARBITRARY WAYS OF FIXING BORDERS
The unacceptable manner in which northern boundary with Cachar was fixed arbitrarily by British divided lands, resources and belongings. It strips rights to hunt and gather firewood from the Inner Line Reserve forest of 1904. British Assam committed territorial blunder of map making. Borders should be drawn on certain reasonable grounds like historical, traditional and cultural backgrounds.
Mizoram state Congress party formed a Border Study Committee under the chairmanship of C. Chwankunga on 2013. The committee submitted the report on 1st July 2014. The report contains historical documents, orders and letters of communication between the colonial authorities, minutes of meetings held between the state authorities, memorandums submitted to authorities for demarcation and delimitation of the disputed boundaries and Inner Line Reserve Forests (ILRF).
Till date, six inter-state level meetings were held between officials of Mizoram and Assam. Meetings were held on August 1978, March 1988, April 1988, 14th February 1994 at Silchar and 15th February at Guwahati. Another National level meeting took place at New Delhi on 6th February 1994 convened by the Home Minister, Government of India (GOI) attended by Chief Ministers of Assam and Mizoram.
British Assam fixed, re-fixed, drawn, redrawn and entrenched the Inner Line subsequently on 1904, 1912, 1930 and 1933. Examining colonial documents from the Political Department revealed that motive behind redrawing of Inner Line was due to the incoherence in the 1873 Line at the actual ground (Of course there was no idea of GIS mapping apps or soft-wares).
This process of resurveying as done by the British officials, according to the Mizo officials from the Land Revenue and Settlement, Government of Mizoram, is simply a process of land grabbing to exploit minerals and resources, a textbook example for maximum economic exploitation. In the gazette letter of 1875, one cannot find terms like ‘maximum economic exploitation’. Rather, terms like ‘administrative convenience’ and ‘effective maintenance of law and order in British India’ were written in bold.
The argument is that tea economy had inspired the colonial authorities to use Inner Line of 1875 as a strategic tool. Inner Line was like a cosmetic, where one can press in any possible manner to serve the interest. The Inner lines of 1873, 1904, 1912, 1930 and 1933 overlooked community forest rights, hunting rights and jhum cultivating practice.
NO HARD BOUNDARY UNTIL INNER LINE
Until Inner line was imposed, there was no hard boundary for cultivating and hunting practices. Each village had consensual boundaries and limits up to which they can practice cultivating practices. Because, each village had distinct areas under their respective control, until, the British altered the whole picture with administrative control and map making.
Recent events of border skirmishes due to Mizo Zirlai Pawl’s effort to construct Zofate Chhawlbuk in this non-demarcated border recalls – first, the revenue collecting strategies of British Assam by expanding tea gardens into the Lushai foothills, second – subsequent re-drawings of 1873 Inner Line Regulations, entrenching further into the Lushai territory, third – absence of Forest Divisional Office at the erstwhile Lushai Hills District Council and management of Inner Line Reserve Forest by the Cachar Forest Division, fourth – Assam’s inflexible ethos to adopt 1933 Inner Line as the official border contrasting to Mizoram authority’s insistence on 1873 Inner Line as the official border, fifth – border demarcation between Mizoram and Assam was simply overlooked during the peace negotiation 1982-1986 between MNF and Indian authority, sixth – many borderland families had sold off their land to the outsiders (which cannot be ‘sold to’ or ‘possessed’ by outsiders under VI schedule directions), seven – why Mizoram Revenue department collect revenues on this dispute borderland without resolving the dispute and lastly – ‘zero outcome’ from the series of official meetings between Mizoram and Assam authorities, at the cost of tax payers money.
About the article: Written by N.William Singh, a lecturer of Sociology at Pachhunga University College, Aizawl, Mizoram. He is also a researcher on Mizoram border issues. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org. The article first appeared in Newslink, Aizawl-based English daily. Republished on zoramobserver.com with publisher’s permission by Matana Pachuau.