Guwahati: The Northeast part of India boasts of a rich treasure trove of unique culture, tradition and a phenomenal heritage that stretches since time immemorial, thus drawing their myriad cultural extravaganza from a single traditional manifest.
The recent simmering tension between Assam and its neighbouring states have but brought onto fore the crumbling unity that once boasted of a single sisterly unit in the past.
The faulty lines created in the past by the cartographers on the basis of linguistic differences, have in fact further created invisible walls between Assam and its sister states leading to frequent clashes over encroachment issues.
With one such line drawn through a forest turning into a flashpoint for a violent clash between Assam and Mizoram police and civilians on Monday, Assam’s conflicts with its neighnours have come under renewed focus.
Cartographers had carved out all northeastern states from one single state of Assam, barring the princely states of Tripura and Manipur in the decades following India’s Independence in 1947.
Having no idea of the deep natural agglomeration that the Northeastern States enjoyed and in union, cartographers drew district borders on a 1 cm: 1 km scale which later became inter-state borders for what were till then hilly and remote districts of a huge state.
“Sometimes the lines were drawn across a hill, sometimes through a forest on maps which did not clarify whether the hill slope or forest patch through which the line went was Assam’s or its new neighbouring state’s.
“On the ground it meant a lot of headache for administrators as the line often also clashed with a tribe’s perception of its traditional hunting or grazing or jhum (shifting) cultivation lands,” pointed out Ranjan Chatterjee, former Chief Secretary of Meghalaya, who served Assam for much of his career.
However, as these became inter-state borders with excise and police posts, land ownership on either side of the imaginary line became a hotly contested issue. Not forgetting the frequent breakouts on both sides of the borders, sometime leading to violent clashes between the locals over ownership of land.
Peace and harmony have thus taken a back stand as the past history’s faults are now impacting the present.
With populations in all states spilling over, and land in a once scarcely populated part of India turning into a prized possession, the issue started acquiring economic underpinnings.
Throw in a state’s or a tribe’s sub-nationalism into the brew, and the pot often became a red hot recipe for conflict.
The Northeast remained untouched during reorganisation of the states and the territories along linguistic lines, which, according to experts, made the situation more complex.
The role played by identity politics, which is the norm in the northeast, has in fact pervaded the route for a more compounded boundary problem.
Attempts by successive central government to sort out the border conflicts have failed till now.
The latest talks between the Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the Chief Ministers of all the Northeastern states are but a small ray of hope, urging the states to end their conflict more amicably and resolve border issues in the 75th year of Independence.