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Uncertain fates


Assam-Nagaland border conflict victims are undergoing harrowing experiences but it is no more a concerned issue for many stakeholders


Anupa Lahkar Goswami

Bijoy Ghimire

Assam-Nagaland border disputes are not new. The recent incident at Uriamghat in the Golaghat district of Assam left 11 Assamese villagers dead at the hands of Naga miscreants. Fourteen villages were burnt and destroyed while leaving thousands homeless. This particular incident is just the continuation of recurring conflicts that have periodically erupted along the Assam-Nagaland border for over half a century.

On January 5, 1979, 54 Assamese villagers were killed by armed men from Nagaland in a series of attacks in different villages in Uriamghat, Golaghat district. Over, 25,000 people had to be accommodated in relief camps then. Again in June 1985, over 41 people in Assam were slaughtered including several Assam police personnel at Merapani, Golaghat. Morevover, there were more than 15 instances of less serious skirmishes related to the conflict in the past.

Nagaland was officially declared a state on December 1, 1963 after a 16-point agreement between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the leaders of the Naga People’s Convention signed in 1960. The government of India pledged to return all Naga territories that had been annexed by Britain and made part of Assam. This transfer has still not taken place, since Nagaland refused to cooperate in a survey of the border suggested by the Sundaram Commission, which had been created in 1972 to look into the matter. In all, about 66,000 hectares of land is in dispute between the states.

Assam and Nagaland share a 434 km border. The Assam-Nagaland interstate border area has been divided, for administrative convenience, into six sectors – A, B, C, D, E and F – spread over Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts. All of these are presently in Assam. The Nagas say they should be granted sectors A, B, C and D, a total area of 12,883 square kilometers. The Nagas claim this region historically belongs to their tribes, and were promised to them in the 16-point agreement.

Meanwhile, the government of Assam maintains that these six sectors have been under Assam’s administrative care for more than a century, and no contradictory direction has been given to them by the central government since. Assam also alleges that the Nagas have encroached upon 660 square kilometers in areas like Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts. They say 420 square kilometers has been encroached upon by in Golaghat alone.

Out of 10000 displaced villagers in the recent gruesome incident, around 6000 inmates returned back to their villages and the rest of the villagers are still in the relief camps reluctant to go back. In such a volatile situation the most affected lot are the teenagers. Besides discontinuation of their education, they become easy victims of the human traffickers.

However, the district administration is doing whatever it could do for rehabilitating and assuaging the agonies of these inmates. Besides, the government agencies there are also other organizations like CDI( Centre for Development Initiatives) who are doing significant works in   allaying the fears of the conflict victims.

Usually the soft targets of the refugee camps are the women and girls. The CDI realising the dangers lurking at the fringe of these camps would daily organise the women and children of these refugee camps and in one of the classrooms, selected a leader from the group who would instruct the girls on human trafficking. They would also from time to time advise the mothers to be wary of strangers offering jobs and strictly instructed them not to send them out of the camp without any purpose or company.

When the schools are scorched and burnt down in a place where school drop outs are already high, going back to school becomes an inconsequential option. After a vivid survey by CDI, it was found out that a considerable number of students from these camps were to appear for matriculation exam the coming year. Plagued by the conflict, these students appeared to be the worst sufferers.

In this long impending tussle between these two states, it is always the common people and the children who are marooned. Brutal incidents like these are always the fallout of some sinister designs by people with vested interests. It was infact quite evident how some section in the political system tried taking mileage making the latest instance of violence in the border as their weapon. The ugly trend in the political circles of cashing in from such inhuman incidents further aggravates the situation.

People do not want amelioration after every incident; instead they want complete solution to this long standing contentious issue. And this would be possible only when there is the political will to do it. And this will can be developed only when the political class keeps aside their narrowly defined short-term geopolitical considerations with parochial interest. Causing intolerable human suffering will only ensure long term threats to peace and internal security to both the states.

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