By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
In a letter dated March 12, 2021, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), asked Mizoram to take appropriate action, as per law, and maintain strict vigil at the borders to prevent a possible influx of people from Myanmar into India. The instructions also pertained to three other north-eastern States –Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh – that, together with Mizoram, share the 1,643-kilometre-long Indian international boundary with Myanmar.
The February 1, 2021, coup d’état by Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) followed by civilian protests and violence as a result of a crackdown have led to an influx of Myanmerse nationals into Mizoram.
Significantly, according to a March 6 report, the UMHA instructions come after the Deputy Commissioner of Falam District (Chin Province) of Myanmar, in a letter, officially requested her counterpart in the Champhai District of Mizoram for the return of eight Myanmerse Policemen who have fled to India. The letter noted,
In order to uphold friendly relations between the two neighbour countries, you are kindly requested to detain eight Myanmar police personnel who had arrived to (sic) Indian territories and hand-over to Myanmar.
Meanwhile, on March 8, Mizoram Chief Minister (CM) Zoramthanga observed,
As common-sense dictates, when there is a political problem in one country and when there is a fear for one’s life, if they cross over to the neighbouring countries, then normally they were not sent back.
Although official numbers regarding the influx are not publicly available, on March 8, 2021, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga put the number between 20 and 30. However, news reports based on State Police assessments put the number at 100 Myanmarese, mostly Policeman and their family members, having taken refuge in five Districts. Six Districts of the State – Champhai, Lawngtlai, Hnahthial, Saiha, Serchhip and Saitual – lie along the Indo- Myanmar boundary.
The plight of the kindred tribes in Myanmar (Chin, Hakha and Mara tribes) evoked compassion and anger in the State, and on February 3, 2021, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl, the apex student body in Mizoram, staged a sit-in protest in Aizawl, the capital city of Mizoram, to seek restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, for the fifth consecutive year, Mizoram recorded no insurgency linked fatality in 2020. The last insurgency-linked fatality was reported on March 28, 2015, when three Policemen were killed in an ambush by militants of the Democratic faction of the Hmar People’s Convention (HPC-D) near Zokhawthiang in Aizawl District.
In fact, not a single violent incident of any type has been recorded since March 28, 2015. However, militants from neighbouring states use the State as a transit and safe haven, to evade Security Forces.
On March 12, 2021, Police arrested a leader of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT-Parimal Debbarma) faction, Parimal Debbarma, in Aizawl District.
On March 11, 2021, the Assam Rifles arrested Manipur-based Kuki National Army-India (KNA-I) ‘commander-in-chief’, Nehjang Haokip, in Aizawl District.
The prevailing and sustained peace, moreover, faces a challenge due to the rivalry between Mizo and non-Mizo communities, including Chakmas and Brus.
In Mizoram, Chakmas inhabited villages are located in Lawngtlai and Lunglei Districts. The Chakmas are the inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh who, according to Mizo civil society groups, illegally infiltrate across the international border. Mizoram has 318 kilometres of an international border with Bangladesh of which only 155.07 kilometres is covered with barbed wire fencing.
On February, 21, 2020, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana informed the State Assembly that Special Task Force committees had been formed at the District and Sub-divisional levels for detection, detention and deportation of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in the three border districts of Lunglei, Lawngtlai and Mamit.
Earlier, on March 12, 2020, the then State’s Local Administration Department (LAD) Secretary, Rodney Ralte, stated that an exercise was being carried out since early February 2020, under the joint initiative of the Mizoram Home Department and LAD to detect foreigners. The Secretary also added that there are about 19 unauthorised villages inhabited by Chakma and Bru tribes across Mizoram, 13 in Lunglei District, three in Champhai, two in Mamit and one in Serchhip District. Ratel added,
Strong appeal from civil society groups and student bodies has prompted the State Government to carry out the foreigner detection drive. Genuine residents of Mizoram will be asked to return to their parent villages in the State and foreigners will be pushed back to their respective countries.
This is not the only time that such exercise has been initiated. In March 2019, the State Legislature passed the Mizoram Maintenance of Household Registers Bill, 2019, that sought to identify foreigners residing in the State, so as to prevent “usurpation” of benefits of developmental schemes by those who are not entitled. The Bill is pending with President Ram Nath Kovind for his assent.
The Brus are the inhabitants of Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei Districts. The majority of Brus are from Mamit District, which borders Tripura. In Tripura, Brus – also known as Reangs – are the second largest tribe. Tribal rivalry exists in Mizoram due to the Mizo groups’ contention that Brus “are not indigenous to Mizoram.” Mistrust between the two tribal groups is the leading cause of delay in resolving the issue linked to the repatriation of more than 30,000 Brus from Tripura to Mizoram. These people were displaced from the Mizoram to Tripura in 1997 due to the ethnic violence that was sparked by the killing of a forest official in Mizoram by Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) militants on October 21, 1997. An agreement signed between the Union Government and the Mizoram Bru Refugees Displaced Forum on July 3, 2018, for the repatriation of the Bru tribals to Mizoram has not been implemented thus far.
On March 9, 2021, the Mizo Students’ Union (MSU) gheraoed the Office of the State Higher and Technical Education Department Directorate, to prevent the department Director, a ‘non-local’, Nazuk Kumar, a 2016 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who hails from Chandigarh, from attending office. MSU demanded the incumbent be replaced by a Mizo IAS officer. MSU president J. Lalmuanzuala declared, “We want a Mizo officer who understands the local ethos and interests of the students.” However, the protesters dispersed in the evening after they were given verbal assurance by the Government that Kumar would not attend office till her replacement too charge. The State Medical and Technical Entrance Examination (SMATEE) is conducted by the department.
The preference of a Mizo official over non-Mizos is linked to a similar protest in 2015. The MZP had staged a massive protest in 2015 after 38 Chakma students were given seats for medical and technical education under Category-I of SMATEE. In MZP’s view, these seats are exclusively for Mizos. A legal battle based on claims and counter claims followed, which was settled when the Gauhati High Court quashed the Mizoram (Selection of Candidates for Higher Technical Courses) Rules, 2016, putting the “Zo-ethnic people” (Mizos) who are known as indigenous under Category-I and “non-Zo ethnic people” under Category-II.
The underlying ethnic tension between the Mizos and non-Mizos have led to occasional violent outbursts.
On January 14, 2020, an irate mob numbering about 800 staged a protest rally and vandalized more than 50 dwellings at Nghalimlui in the Lawngtlai District. The protest rally was reportedly against the murder of a Mizo youth, allegedly perpetrated by three Bru tribals. The incident was linked to an individual identified as A. Lalrawnliana, whose body was recovered from a Bru dominated area near Nghalimlui village in Lawngtlai District. He had been missing since January 4, 2020.
Predictably, the Union Home Ministry had mediated a solution by settling the displaced Brus in Tripura. On January 16, 2020, an agreement was signed by representatives of the Brus, Tripura, Mizoram and the Union Government, in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, to resettle the Brus in Tripura.
Another issue is the interstate border dispute with Assam and Tripura. Both Mizoram and Tripura have reasserted their respective claims over Phuldungsei village in the Jampui Hill Range in the North Tripura District [Tripura] – Mamit District [Mizoram] area. On the Assam-Mizoram border, three points – Lailapur in Cachar District in Assam and Vairengte in the Kolasib District of Mizoram; Muolmawi (Baruatilla) in Karimganj District of Assam and Thinghlun village in the Mamit District in Mizoram; and Kachurtal (Zophai area) village in the Hailakandi District of Assam and Bairabi village in Kolasib District of Mizoram.
Further, the unfenced international borders with both Myanmar and Bangladesh remain a continuing concern. On September 28, 2020, the Border Security Force (BSF), in a special operation, recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition on the outskirts of Phuldungsei village in Mamit District along the Indo-Bangladesh border. The cache included 28 AK-series rifles along with 7,894 rounds of ammunition and 28 magazines.
Separately, an investigation by the Frontier Despatch, a Mizo investigative weekly, claimed that, between 2009 and 2019, the State Police and Excise and Narcotics Department (END) had registered a total of 33,592 drug and liquor abuse cases (Mizoram is a dry State with total prohibition). The END data for financial year 2020-21 (data till February 28) indicates that 436 persons were arrested in 336 cases under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act, 1985.
Mizoram has remained relatively peaceful since the negotiated end to a 20-year insurgency in 1986, but the peace is sometimes challenged by inter-ethnic tension between dominant Mizos and the minor tribes. The amicable and just resolution of these differences is essential if enduring peace is to be established in the State. Constant vigil along the international boundary with Myanmar and Bangladesh is another imperative, as is a resolution of inter-state boundary disputes.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management