India’s North East comprises eight states surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Earlier the region was known as the ‘Seven Sister States’ before the inclusion of Sikkim. Its people are different from the main land ethnically, linguistically, religiously, culturally and have been branded as outcastes as a result of such differences. The area become volatile after the Indian occupation of Kashmir and in a bid to secure independence from India, over 200 militant groups have become operational in the region. A large number of Indian army formations and paramilitary forces have been deployed as well.

North East Assam is the biggest state in terms of population and shares borders with all states in the region. Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland were carved out of Assam. The establishments of an oil refinery in Assam attracted a large number of cheap labor from neighbouring regions and East Pakistan. The arrival of the Bengalis was taken a major factor for altering the demography of the region. Currently there are over 37 insurgent groups in Assam fighting the Indian security forces for a separate homeland. Muslims are 34 percent of the population against 12 percent in 1947. The important militant groups are United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), Adivasi Cobra Force (ACF) and Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA).

The majority population of Mizoram are Christians and Bru Tribe (a Hindu community) came to Mizoran from former East Pakistan. The main insurgent groups struggling for independence here are Mizo National Front (MNF), Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) and Hmar People’s Convention Democracy (HPC-D). In the past, there have been fierce clashes between the Mizo and Bru tribes. India had been accusing Bangladesh for helping ULFA and BODOS. The recent skirmishes between the states of Assam and Mizoram has given a new dimension to the region which is already engulfed with insurgencies. Let us have a look at the historical perspective of the issue which led to the killing of 7 Assamese police personnel and injuries to over 100.

The North Eastern region came under British rule in 1826. In 1876, the British demarcated a boundary between Mizoram and the Cachar plains in Assam. By 1972, Mizoram became a union territory and by 1987 a state. Assam shares a 164 kilometers border with Mizoram but both states contest the demarcation. They claim that the other has been encroaching on the land.

Nagaland was first state to break away from Assam and made on autonomous state within Assam in 1957. It was because of the creation of Nagalandthat Mizoram’s borders were redrawn. In 1979, a massacre took place in which 54 Assam civilians were killed by a Naga tribal group. In 1985, clashes also took place between the Assamese and Nagas at Merapani. In October 2020, clashes took place between the Assamese and Mizos twice in a week over the disputed region and houses on either side were set on fire. In July 2021, the Assamese police seized a newly constructed police post after claiming it was located inside their territory. Mizo villages joined their police in an assault on the Assamese police which resulted in the killing of7 Assamese police personnel and injuries to over 100.

The Indian army and CRPF have been deployed at the disputed site between the two states. The CRPF has been accused by the Mizoram government of not maintaining its neutrality as it facilitated the Assamese attack on the Mizo police post. The demand of Mizoram is that the demarcation along the Inner Line notified in 1875 should be accepted as the official border whereas the Assamese demand that the demarcation should be done on the agreements made later.

The violence has increased exponentially since the BJP has taken over. A new dimension has been added to the already volatile states that are now at war with each other along religious lines. The situation may draw other Christian majority states into the conflict as well. Social alienation, geographical distance, ethnic divisions and division on religious lines have made it difficult for the people of the North East to identify themselves as people of the mainland.