Drugs, Beef and the Church: Story Behind the Assam-Mizoram Border Row
- In Current Affairs
- 11:17 AM, Aug 03, 2021
- Ankita Dutta
Border clashes between Assam and Mizoram have occurred several times in the past too. But, this time, the intensity of the conflict and the manner in which it has been unfolding over the past few days has raised several uncomfortable questions about the real intentions of the Government of Mizoram behind exacerbating the already-tensed situation, the role of the Church, the recent ban imposed by the Government of Assam on the illegal transportation of cattle outside the state, and the huge crackdown on the powerful drug mafia in Assam.
Historically speaking, the Assam-Mizoram border dispute can be traced to the notifications of 1875 and 1933 that were passed during the British era. Whereas the notification of 1875 differentiated the Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, the notification of 1933 demarcated a fixed boundary line between the Lushai Hills and Manipur at the tri-junction of Manipur, Cachar, and the Lushai Hills without consulting the Mizo leaders. Mizoram believes that the boundary must be demarcated based on the 1875 notification, which is derived from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873. This boundary line of separation was made by the British colonial administration in close consultation with the local chiefs of the Mizo community. On the contrary, the Government of Assam follows the demarcation specified by the notification of 1933. The general opinion in Mizoram is that with the introduction of the new border line of 1933, the Lushai hills had to lose some of their indigenous lands.
After Independence, the Union Territory of Mizoram was elevated to the status of a state on February 20, 1987 (53rd Amendment to the Constitution of India) along with Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya. The process was initiated by the then Congress Government at the Centre led by former PM Rajiv Gandhi. The PM himself flew to Aizawl to inaugurate the new state. But in their hurry to find a quick solution to the problem of raging militancy in the state, the Congress Governments both at the Centre and the state failed to clearly demarcate and settle the crucial border disputes between Assam and Mizoram. As written by Mita Nath Bora in an article titled Assam-Mizoram Border Issues: Truths of Conflict, if constitutional steps were taken to resolve these issues even in the last 34 years after the granting of statehood to Mizoram, matters would not have escalated to taking the precious lives of our police personnel today.
The Assam-Mizoram boundary lies in a geo-sensitive location of naturally occurring barriers of hills, valleys, rivers and forests. Both states continue to have a differing perception of the border, with both attributing border skirmishes to this difference with respect to the demarcating line of the border. The recent border clash that took place in the Assam-Mizoram border began when Mizoram allegedly breached the existing status-quo of the border. The construction of a road towards Rengti Basti destroying the Inner Line Forest Reserve in the Lailapur patrolling post of Silchar, and the setting up of a new armed camp along the border were some of the provocations on the part of the Government of Mizoram, which eventually led to the conflict.
It needs to be mentioned here that the three districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi in Assam’s Barak Valley share a 164.6-km long border with Mizoram’s three districts – Aizawl, Kolasib, and Mamit. No wonder, the elite club of propaganda-peddling journalists, academics and a few politicians have left no stone unturned to defame Assam Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma on the issue. A team of several high-profile officials including the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police of Cachar district, was sent by the Government of Assam immediately to take stock of the situation. But, in a very unfortunate turn of the events, they were attacked by a mob of miscreants backed by the Mizoram Police. The team of Police officials from Assam were subject to firing and stone-pelting, leading to the death of 6 Assam policemen and injuring 70 more.
Dr. Sarma wrote to the Chief Minister of Mizoram Zoramthanga, for undertaking a satellite survey of the boundary between the two states and also appealed for the maintenance of complete peace and normalcy in the disputed area. Perhaps the most disturbing chapter in this entire incident has been the celebrations of the Mizos that surfaced in social media soon after the killings of the policemen from Assam. CM Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma urged his Mizo counterpart to probe how civilians had got access to bulletproof vests and sniper rifles to attack the cops. To top all of that, the tacit support of the administration of Mizoram and the Mizoram Police towards such activities have raised many an eyebrow in Assam and elsewhere too. This brings us to a pertinent question – Is there a different angle to the conflict which need not necessarily be a border issue?
In the immediate aftermath of the skirmish, Breaking-India forces were quick to jump guns maligning the image of Assam CM Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma for “not being able to” handle the situation. It would be too naïve to not accept the hard fact any longer that the Inner Line Forest areas of Assam have always served as the den of illegal activities such as illicit cutting and sale of timber, which is now a multi-crore business operating with the blessings of influential leaders, top bureaucrats, and notorious criminals. The Assam Police and the State Forest Department along with other enforcement agencies had been stepping up vigil along the Assam-Mizoram border with the objective of checking the illegal felling of logs inside Assam’s forests and their transportation to Mizoram. The benefactors of this illegal trade with trans-border links have no wonder, borne the brunt of this increasing surveillance by the law enforcement agencies of Assam. It has adversely affected the illegal betel nut trade that was taking place on a regular basis between Mizoram and Myanmar.
This brings us to another very important question – What about the recent drive launched by the Government of Assam under the leadership of Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma against drug syndicates in the state? Does it have to do anything with the recent border flare-up, considering the fact that Mizoram is the major gateway of illegal narcotics from Myanmar into India via Assam? The more Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma is trying to resolve the issue amicably, the more the issue is being escalated by the Mizoram police and the administration. In a latest development, they went to the extent of filing a FIR against the Assam CM. The relentless crackdown on drug mafias in Assam after the formation of the new BJP Government has definitely given sleepless nights to the influential drug dealers and their multi-crore dollar drug cartels that have been well-fed and nourished since a long time now.
News reports of narcotics amounting to crores of rupees being regularly seized, burned and destroyed from different places across Assam have almost become regular headlines in the prominent local dailies of the state. Recently, Assam busted a network of illegal narcotics and seized around 32 kg of heroin. This has made huge dents in the drug network that spans through Myanmar and Mizoram via Assam’s Barak Valley and Bangladesh to Punjab and Afghanistan. Top drug smugglers and drug peddlers on the radar of the Assam Police, with many of the top drug lords are being arrested. The drug mafia and their functionaries have close links with groups operating from Myanmar across the international border, with patronage from drug rackets in Mizoram. These links are leveraged to enable the clandestine flow of drugs, including synthetic drugs from Myanmar to Mizoram and then to Assam and the rest of the country.
Reports have been pouring in that a few people who had entered India from Myanmar wanted to settle in Assam’s Dima Hasao district via Mizoram. But, the Government of Assam under the able leadership of CM Dr. Sarma was quick to smell foul and thwarted their attempts in no time. Very soon, the drug route through Mizoram and Manipur to Assam was targeted by the Government. Several Mizo Christian groups and NGOs are a part of the massive drug supply network in the Northeast, backed by huge cash and raw power. No doubt, this has rattled their enormous business interests. They are now desperate to find ways and means to perpetrate mindless violence and killings on the people of Assam, both civilians and officials. Is the border dispute therefore an orchestrated one? Or can it be understood as another pretext to achieve their long-term sinister designs of de-stabilising India’s North-East again?
Because, when the North-east is on the boil, the effect of this instability has the potential to destabilise the Indian state as a whole. Wouldn’t this provide further fuel to the dream of the Islamists to isolate the North-East from the rest of India, under what is infamously known as “Operation PIN CODE”? It is very much possible that the high and the mighty involved in the drug cartel are inciting the common people of Mizoram to lay claim to Assam’s territory in order to divert the attention of the Assam Police and other law enforcement agencies from the real problem. Quite understandably, when vigilance becomes lax, anti-state actors gain an easy hand. So, when the entire attention of the police and the security forces is diverted towards the border, wouldn’t drug peddlers, timber smugglers and other criminals be able to have a free run as it had always been happening in the past?
But CM Himanta Biswa Sarma is now firmly determined put an end to their illegal money-making businesses, and it is happening at a rapid pace within just a time-span of two months after he took the oath of office. This can also be understood from another perspective that may point towards the possible involvement of the Maoist-Christian nexus in the conflict. The police and armed forces personnel constitute an inseparable part of the state machinery for they are entrusted with the upkeep of peace and stability, and law and order, without which the very existence of a state and its people is at peril. Hence, killing the members of the security forces is a common tactic employed by the Maoists to de-legitimise the authority of the state and create doubts in the minds of the common civilians about their protection, safety and security.
When this imagination of a weak state is created among the general public, it is accompanied by major societal rifts and accentuation of already existing divisions. This, in turn, helps accelerate the evangelist mission of the Church. It is because there will be less resistance to the missionaries’ aggressive proselytizing activities when the state’s legal and security apparatuses are overwhelmingly busy in fighting the enemy at the border. The ensuing conflicts also assist in facilitating the opening up of a huge market for the export of arms and weapons by the West. History has been a witness that whenever Dharmic faiths have declined in a state/region, the result has been disturbance, chaos, and the subsequent rise of secessionist movements. What better proof can we have of this than the North-Eastern region of our country?
The spread of Christianity in the North-East was largely a result of political and strategic considerations, and thus it cannot be said to be an entirely religious phenomenon. For instance, in an agreement that was reached in the 1960s between Jawaharlal Nehru and “noted” anthropologist, the late Dr. Verrier Elwin, the entry of sadhus was formally banned into the state of Nagaland. The Christian population in Nagaland increased from a mere 20% in 1947 to a whopping 88% as per Census data of 2011. Nehru had also appointed Elwin as the Anthropological Adviser to the Government of NEFA (today’s Arunachal Pradesh). Elwin was of the belief that Bharat was never a nation of one people with a shared heritage and culture, and that the different janajaati communities were the “original aborigine inhabitants”.
As argued by Sandeep Balakrishna in an article titled ‘How Nehru’s Fascination for Verrier Elwin Helped Christianise India’s North-East’, an exclusivist preservation policy espoused by Elwin was responsible for giving a free hand to Christian proselytizers in the North-East. This led to inter and intra-community hostilities with the subsequent decline of Hindu Dharma and the rise of separatist movements. Various reports available in the public domain, pointed fingers at Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and terror groups in Bangladesh having had close links with the terrorist group Mizo National Front (MNF). The latter was formed under Laldenga in October 1961 and it had resorted to a path of armed struggle to achieve its goal of a separate sovereign state of Mizoram.
The present CM of Mizoram Zoramthanga was a member of the MNF, and he has himself confessed about it in a media conversation earlier. When India defeated Pakistan in 1971, he was hiding in Pakistan along with his comrades. Until 1975, he was in Islamabad as a member of the ISI’s training camp. When the Indian Army conquered Dhaka, he managed to escape narrowly in what he termed as a “James Bond type escape”. It is a well-known fact that the region today inhabited by the Mizos (majority of them Christians) was the original homeland of the Hindu Reangs and the Buddhist Chakmas. During the insurgency in Mizoram, large-scale violence was unleashed upon the Reangs and the Chakmas (collectively known as the Bru community). Their homes were set on fire, their women raped, and they were inhumanely kicked out of Mizoram for being Hindus and resisting forceful Christian conversions.
Since 1997, several thousands of displaced Reang janajaati families have been battling a daily struggle for survival in relief camps at the Tripura-Mizoram border. A huge section of them came from the Kolasib district of neighbouring Mizoram, which now again makes news in the context of Mizoram’s border row with Assam. Many of them have no genuine proof of identification as Indian citizens. The safety and security of their women and girls are constantly at stake. A positive development in this respect has been a quadripartite agreement that was signed between the Centre and the Governments of Mizoram and Tripura in January 2020, to provide permanent resettlement to over 32,000 Brus in Tripura. Organizations like ISKCON, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, etc. are putting their efforts in helping them lead a life of basic minimum dignity, but it calls for a concerted effort by the Mizoram Government and as well as the Central government to chalk out a permanent solution to the problem.
The powerful hold of the Church in the society and culture of Mizoram can be gauged from the fact that public opinions in the state are often moulded by it. Mizoram does not celebrate International Yoga Day because according to the powerful Christian churches here, Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that is “dipped in Hinduism”. In 2015, after the UN General Assembly declared June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, the Church declared that yogic exercises were not compatible with the Christian beliefs of the Mizos. Yoga virtually became untouchable in the state after the Mizoram Kohhran Hruaitute Committee, a conglomerate of 15 major Churches, boycotted all celebrations associated with any form of exercise “dipped in Hinduism”.
Also, what needs to be recognised here is that Assam is not the only state with which Mizoram has a border conflict. In October 2020, the Government of Mizoram had imposed Section 144 near Phuldungsei at Thaidaw Tlang, a disputed village in Mamit district along the border with Tripura, over the construction of a Shiv Mandir by an organisation called Songrongma. The construction of the Mandir was opposed by the Mizoram Government on the ground that a Hindu Mandir would disturb “peace and tranquillity” and result in “law and order problems”. Interestingly, the timing of the occurrence of the border conflict between Assam and Mizoram has coincided with the arrest of self-styled Godman Ranjan Chutia for spreading Christianity in Assam. Ranjan Chutia has been instrumental in spearheading the conversion of Hindus from both Upper Assam and Lower Assam into Christianity by faking his Church as a Namghar (religious prayer hall-cum-cultural centre of the Assamese Hindus). He runs the World Healing Prayer Centre at a village called Doomordolong, Moran, in Dibrugarh district which has emerged as a hotspot of Christian conversion activities in entire Upper Assam.
Comprising of the districts of Jorhat, Golaghat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, and Tinsukia, Upper Assam shares a border contiguous with the Catholic Christian-dominated states of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The fact that an extremely well-organised and powerful global machinery is in operation behind pastors like Ranjan Chutia requires no further elaboration. Moreover, for a long time now, drug trafficking in the North-East has become a serious threat to the financial security of India in terms of the generation of black money, hawala transactions, and money laundering. It has also given rise to a large cash economy, providing a fertile ground for cross-border terrorist activities and establishment of nefarious links with the underworld. A clear indicator of the likely illegal narcotic trade in the North-east is the high incidence of drug addiction and abuse in the states of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh.
Money laundering through narco-terrorism helps in de-linking the tainted money from any association with its criminal origin. The long chain of cash transactions further renders it impossible to locate the original source of the money, which is then pushed through banking channels by way of gifts, donations and trade accounts. This helps in tax evasion and is well-manipulated through a network of professional facilitators like lawyers, traders, chartered accountants, etc. The ongoing crackdown by the Government of Assam against drug mafias has undoubtedly impacted the fortunes of this invisible lot of people involved in the drug racket. They were desperate, as if waiting for an opportune moment to create a ruckus directly targeted at the people of Assam and especially the CM. The border row is an outcome of this desperation, caused by a severe blow to their illegal finances that they had been accumulating over the past several decades from the drug trade.
Coming to Lailapur, the place which provided the initial sparks for the border row and which has also been the source of some major tensions in the past. According to the Government of Assam, a police team led by an IGP went to the border at Lailapur in Cachar district after it was found that the Mizoram Government had constructed a road and a security post in a forested land which belongs to Assam. Lailapur shares a border with Mizoram’s Kolasib district. As the team was holding their discussions with the SP of Kolasib and other top officials, armed residents of Lailapur attacked them after which the Mizoram Police indiscriminately fired at them. A place called Vairengte in Mizoram’s Kolasib district is the northern fringe of the state through which the National Highway 306 passes, linking Mizoram to Assam. Lailapur in Cachar district is the nearest village in Assam from Vairengte.
Lailapur and its neighbouring areas of Karimganj and Hailakandi in the Barak Valley have witnessed vast demographic change over the past several decades, with a huge chunk of the population here being Bengali-speaking Muslims of doubtful nationality. Karimganj shares a riverine border with Bangladesh along the Kushiara river. These regions have witnessed an unprecedented rise of anti-social activities like robbery, illegal trafficking of narcotics and liquor, cow smuggling, smuggling of pornographic films, human trafficking and prostitution. The illegal Bangladeshis, after having settled in a particular place, marry the local girls by wooing them through whatever means, and then convert them into Islam. They purchase lands in these areas, especially those which are dominated by janajaatis, in the name of their wives by producing certificates in her name. They give Muslim names to their children but the clan remains that of the wives, e.g., Akram Semia (Naga Muslims), Akbaruddin Barbhuyan (Assamese Muslims), Azad Lyngdoh (Khasi Muslims), etc.
This finally brings us to the issue of the illegal cattle smuggling market in the border districts of Assam and the North-Eastern states. The Assam Cattle Preservation Bill 2021, which regulates slaughter, consumption and transportation of cattle outside the state could have provided a trigger point for the outbreak of the violence at the border. Beef is a sensitive issue, but it has been made more so by the “Liberals” who love to bring it at every possible instance that they can especially with reference to the North-East. While beef may be consumed in moderate quantities in the Christian-dominated states of the North-East, but it is not the staple diet of the people here as the “Liberals” love to portray. Rice, pork, and chicken are the major items of daily consumption among the people of Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland.
But, considering the illegal network of cow smuggling in Assam spanning across most of the North-East, it can be anyone’s guess as to who stands to lose from the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill. Besides drugs, the smuggling of cattle is rampant through the India-Bangladesh borders primarily in the states of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram. Bangladesh and India share a 4,096-km border, out of which 262 km lies in Assam, 856 km in Tripura, 443 km in Meghalaya and 180 km in Mizoram. The cattle procured from different parts of the country are smuggled through these borders, which ultimately makes their way to the beef processing and tannery industry in Bangladesh. The price moves up as it heads towards the bordering areas of West Bengal and the North-East. The India-Bangladesh border in Southern Assam’s Barak Valley is the primary nerve-centre in the cow smuggling trail, besides Dhubri district in Lower Assam.
It is in the light of the above-mentioned facts that an honest analysis of the Assam-Mizoram border row needs to be done, without bringing in a one-sided, misinformed version of concepts like ethnicity or secularism.
- Assam-Mizoram Border Issues: Truths of Conflict. The Sentinel. July 31, 2021. http://epaper.sentinelassam.com/ArticlePage/APpage.php?edn=Guwahati%20English&articleid=THESENTI_GUWE_20210731_4_1&artwidth=354px
Image Source: Republic World
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