This is only the latest burst of violence in a dispute going back to 1963.

Photo Credit: STR/AFP

Tensions remain high along the Assam-Nagaland border as the death toll in Golaghat has now reached 20. Curfew has been imposed in the town. On August 20, three people were killed and six injured when police fired on a demonstration by hundreds of adivasis in Golaghat town.

The area erupted on August 12 when the All Adivasis National Liberation Army raided two villages along the Assam-Nagaland border – Ronsuyan and Chandalashung – beating up people and destroying property.

The trouble started when Assamese villagers staged a protest outside a Central Reserve Police Force camp on August 11, agitating for the release of two school students who have been missing since July 26. They had last been seen heading to a village called Chandla Chung, on the Nagaland side of the border. The Assamese protesters alleged that Naga insurgents had abducted the schoolboys.

Naga insurgents fired on the protestors and the following day raided eight villages along the Assam border. The chieftain of Chanipur village, Africa Toppo, was murdered and 200 houses in the district were set afire.

The shooting has led to a exodus. Over 10,000 persons moved to 14 relief camps in Uriamghat, in Golaghat district.

The situation escalated when angry locals fought pitched battles with CRPF personnel, demanding that they move to the border areas to take on the Naga insurgents. Nine bodies were recovered from the area on August 15.

Unsurprisingly, the Nagas allege the trouble was initiated by adivasis from Assam. “The adivasis from Assam had attacked two Naga villages,” said P Phuleshe Yepthomi, border magistrate and sub divisional officer in Nagaland at a press conference earlier this week. “They had damaged a couple of houses before opening fire on Naga villagers.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs says the situation is comparatively stable, following the deployment of central paramilitary forces in the region. The state government has asked for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the violence.

This is by no means the first bout of violence along this border.

Long history

The conflict dates back to December 1, 1963, when Nagaland was officially declared a state, after a 16-point agreement between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the leaders of the Naga People’s Convention was 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 kilometre 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 was 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 Sivanagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts. They say 420 square kilometers has been encroached upon by in Golaghat alone.

Frequent friction

The land dispute between Assam and Nagaland has resulted in brutal skirmishes for decades. Before this bout of violence, there were two major incidents in 1979 and 1985, resulting in over 100 fatalities.

On January 5, 1979, armed men from Nagaland killed 54 Assamese villagers in a series of attacks on villages in Golaghat district. Over 23,500 people had to be accommodated in relief camps at the time.

In June 1985, over 41 people in Assam were murdered, including 28 Assam police personnel at Merapani, also in Golaghat.

There have been 17 less-serious skirmishes related to the conflict.

In August 1971, the central government appointed KVK Sundaram, then chairman of the Law Commission, advisor to the Ministry for Home Affairs for Assam-Nagaland. Sundaram wanted to carry out a joint survey of the border area between the two states, but the Nagaland government did not agree.

The two state governments have also had several meetings, including at chief minister-level, but these have not been successful.

The way ahead

The central government has asked the chief ministers of the two states to come to an agreement soon. The two chief ministers, TR Zeliang of Nagaland and Tarun Gogoi of Assam, have agreed to hold talks at the chief secretary-level immediately, in the hope that a resolution can be reached when the chief ministers meet in September. But the past belies hopes of a quick resolution.