Mizos losing crops, pullback from lands on Assam border

By Subir Bhaumik

Buarchip (Mizoram-Assam Border), Aug 4 (IANS): Lalthanpuii left behind her entire crop of areca nuts after Assam police and villagers stormed her settlement near here on July 10.

That was almost a fortnight before the bloody clash between Assam and Mizoram police at Vairengte, which left seven, including six Assam policemen dead and more than 60 injured on both sides.

"Hundred policemen and several hundreds of Assam villagers attacked our village. They pushed all Mizos out, took away our areca nuts. Later they drained the water in our ponds and took away all our fish," said Lathanpuii, tears in her eyes.

"I have lost everything."

She says five Mizo women, including herself, were among those who suffered injuries in a futile bid to stop the incursion from Assam.

Now Lalthanpuii and other Mizo villagers of Verte are living behind the Mizoram police camp at Buarchip.

"We have lost our crops and fish in our ponds and left without any livelihood now. The future is very uncertain," says Joe Lalsangliana, another Verte resident now in Buarchip.

A small river flowing through the area separates the police camps of Mizoram and Assam, with the CRPF forces deployed between them to maintain peace.

The policemen don't encourage movement of villagers that they feel could trigger violence.

A local palm oil processing project by Godrej is in doldrums because the Mizo farmers are pulling back from the plantations due to spiralling state border tensions.

At nearby mountains on I-Tlang, Mizo jhumias (shifting cultivators) complain that Assam police started razing their crops from early June.

Pointing to their fields in the distant mountains, they say Assam Forest Department has now started planting teak on their traditional jhum lands at I-Tlang after the police razed their crop.

"No wonder the Assam Chief Minister now says the disputed zone is forest land and they want control over it by planting teak trees. But truth is these are Mizo jhum pastures for centuries where our shifting cultivators have harvested a wide mix of crops," says Pi Sangte, a village council member of Vairengte-1 .

Sangte has worked in Mumbai and Europe in the hospitality industry before returning to her ancestral Vairengte , where she is now a community leader.

"You can see for yourself a forward policy by Assam police in this whole disputed area since June that led to tensions that finally exploded into the bloody July 26 clash," Sangte told IANS.

Assam police denies the charge and says they were only taking control of the state's constitutional boundaries.

However, the tribal shifting cultivators like the Mizos recognise no constitutional boundaries because their claims (and that of their state) is largely based on actual use of lands by their forefathers traditionally for jhum or shifting cultivation.

It is a clash of two entirely different culture of land use, one based on recorded possession familiar to plains people and the other based on a loose pattern of use for shifting cultivation without any formal record of possession.

"Any future settlement should take into account these divergent perceptions but we have no reason to fight because we are all Indians," says Vairengte village level worker Pu Gilbert.



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