Written by: Zothanzuala Hmar
TNEC Mizoram Special Correspondent
The border dispute between Assam and Mizoram turned deadly on Monday after police forces from both sides opened fire. The gunfight ceased after Assam Police personnel raised a white flag, a protective sign of truce or to symbolize surrender. The result of this gun battle was horrifying and left at least six Assam police personnel dead and 50 others, including a superintendent of police injured.
Netizens from both sides, along with their Chief Minister took the blame game on twitter and now netizens from Mizoram brought up the hashtag #AssamShotFirst which is currently taking social media by storm.
HOW A VERBAL ALTERCATION ESCALATED TO A GUNFIGHT
Last saturday, Amit Shah chaired a meeting of Northeastern Chief Ministers and in the meeting, Mizoram CM Zoramthanga and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma shared the same table, seeking to resolve the border dispute but little do they know that a bloody gunfight awaits. At approximately 11:30 A.M on Monday, Assam police headed by the IGP, DIG, DC Cachar, SP Chachar and DFO Cachar arrived near the border CRPF camp to survey the disputed land, the Assam police party consists of around 200 police personnel and a convoy of vehicles with Ambulance and Buses.
Assam authorities along with 200 police were said to ‘Attempt to defuse the situation’. The trouble then flared up after Assam police personnel and villagers of Vairengte engaged in a clash resulting with at least 20 officials and civilians injured and vehicles damaged.
The confrontation continued and a volley of tear gas canisters, stun grenades were launched to disperse the crowd, followed by a forty five minutes long gun fight between Mizoram Police and Assam Police which will be the starting point of an endless debate and a blame game.
The Kolasib SP told me that the first multiple shots rang out from Assam’s side while the SP Kolasib himself along with his Personal Security Officer and driver were on the Assam Police barricade, holding talks.
He said “While we were holding talks, tension between civilians from both sides escalated and that’s when I heard shots being fired towards the mizo civilians. At that moment I was completely unarmed as I set out towards them to hold a peaceful conversation with my counterpart but as Assam police fired shots towards our unarmed civilians, that’s when Mizoram police forces opened fire. For a moment, I was completely numb when shots rang out from both sides and I just happened to take cover behind a barricade, thanks to my PSO’s situational awareness. He grabbed me by my arms and we rolled down to a hill which connects to a CRPF camp but we were denied protection by the CRPF forces so we had to take cover by the bushes as we were technically behind the enemy lines as both sides exchanged heavy gunfire”.
However, the Assam Government came up with a different story. According to a press release made by Assam, they alleged that ‘the Mizoram police opened fire on the Assam officials and civilians’.
VIDEOS OF THE BATTLEFIELD LIKE SCENE SURFACED ON SOCIAL MEDIA
It was approximately 2 P.M when I saw a post made by a renowned mizo journalist that shows a vandalized car with two occupants in it, the video then reveals the wrecked car and the videographer then continues to allege Assam Police of beating up the occupants and ransacking their vehicle.
After two hours of confrontation and launching tear gas, all hell breaks loose when Mizoram Police reportedly already under heavy fire were forced to open fire towards the Assam police forces to ensure safety for Mizo civilians.
The video of the shoot out surfaced on social media and that’s when the war or words began on instagram and twitter.
“ASSAM SHOT FIRST! ASSAM DRAW THE FIRST SHOT !” THE WORDS OF A LOCAL JOURNALIST AS HE SHOUTED WITH FEAR AFTER HE WAS CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A CROSSFIRE
A Mizo local journalist was caught in between the line of fire as Assam police and Mizoram police exchanged heavy gunfire. In a viral video posted on Social media, he can be heard shouting “Assam shot first! Assam drew the first shot!”. Although he was in great fear for his life, he couldn’t help but capture the horrifying sounds of gunfire. It seems like the new patriotic sensation hashtag #AssamShotFirst came from the video taken by the Journalist.
WHITE FLAG OF SURRENDER
Forty five minutes into the gun fight, both sides are dumping their magazine and the gun battle seems endless. However, the Mizoram Police stopped their firing as soon as they saw a white shirt being raised into the air to signify ‘surrender’ from behind a bunker from the Assam side.
“It was a moment of relief but the adrenaline rush doesn’t stop and we still are staying very much vigilant even though the white flag was hoisted,” says a Mizo police personnel who was on the scene of the shooting but who wanted to remain anonymous. According to reports, Assam police forces retreated after the cease fire. Although the white flag of surrender was waved, it was too late for five Assam Police personnel who were later declared deceased. White flags are used in battle fields and warfare to symbolize surrender and a protective sign of truce.
THE CONSEQUENCE OF A GUN BATTLE
Convoys of Ambulances from Silchar were dispatched to the scene as per reports and several media outlets including Mirror Now reported that Silchar Medical College was packed with gunshot wound victims.
A press release made by Assam Government stated that six Assam police personnel succumbed to their wounds and more than 50 people were injured including the Cachar SP who has a bullet embedded in his leg and is in the ICU.
A Mizo renowned Journalist Vanneihthanga who went to the scene at Vairengte said that five Assam police personnel were gunned down at the scene of the gun battle.
Here is the list of Assam police jawans who have succumbed to the gun fight :-
Swapan Kr. Roy – Sub Inspector (SI) of Assam Police
Liton Suklabaidya – Constable of Assam Police
M.H. Barbhuyia – Constable of Assam Police
N Hussain – Constable of Assam Police
S Barbhuiya – Constable of Assam Police
While Assam Police reported six deaths and many injured, Mizoram government on the other side said that there were no fatalities and seriously wounded individuals other than some civilians wounded by smoke gas canisters.
THE UNEASY CALM
After the forty five minutes long gun fight was over, Mizoram police forces reclaimed the duty post occupied by the Assam Police. The duty post was said to be built by Mizoram Government under MLA fund. Assam Police forces fled the scene as soon as Mizoram ceased fire, leaving behind two police trucks, marked police suv and a jeep.
Visuals surfacing on the internet shows that Mizo civilians ransacked an unoccupied marked Assam Police bolero and an unmarked jeep. The Assam police bolero was also used by the Mizos as a shield while they were being allegedly shot at by Assam police.
After orders from the Union Home Ministry came in, both states were told to stand down and withdraw their troops from the disputed land and were told that CRPF will take over to maintain peace and order.
Although the Home Ministry was quick to intervene, there was an uneasy calm along the border. At around 11 P.M, there was a bomb blast near the border which was caught on camera by a Mizo civilian. However, tensions did not flare up due to the explosion and the atmosphere of uneasiness covered both sides gloomily.
THE BLAME GAME BEGINS
After a series of accusations on twitter, Assam CM Himanta alleged that Mizoram police were using Light Machine Guns (LMG) also known as bren guns against Assam police and here’s what we know about the use of automatic guns by armed forces.
According to Arms Act 1959, Light Machine guns came under the Prohibited Bore (PB) which includes fully automatic, semi-automatic firearms and some other specified types can only be issued by central government for some groups of people; whereas, there seems to be no foul play in using Light Machine Guns by the Mizoram armed forces.
Moreover, the Kolasib SP alleged that the Assam police forces mounted a Light Machine Gun on their sandbag barriers aiming towards Mizoram.
The Bren gun was a series of light machine guns (LMG) made by Britain in the 1930s and used in various roles until 1992. While best known for its role as the British and Commonwealth forces primary infantry LMG in World War II, it was also used in the Korean War and saw service throughout the latter half of the 20th century, including the 1982 Falklands War.
Although fitted with a bipod, it could also be mounted on a tripod or be vehicle-mounted. However, The Bren gun was manufactured by Indian Ordnance Factories as the “Gun Machine 7.62mm 1B” before it was discontinued in 2012. Both states have the Bren gun (LMG) in their weapon Arsenal. Mizoram issued the gun for Mizoram Armed Police (MAP).
WHEN CAN POLICE FORCES DRAW THEIR WEAPON AND OPEN FIRE ?
If an unlawful assembly can be dispersed with the help of non-lethal weapons, generally there is no problem. The problem arises when lives are lost in firing. Since Section 129 is silent about the quantum of force that must be used, this becomes a vexatious question.
People’s reactions to the use of force are both ambiguous and ambivalent depending on the mood prevailing at the time and the hype built by the media. More often than not, the police is accused of deliberate inaction for well-known reasons, such as during the Haryana Jat reservation agitation, Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, and 2012 Assam Violence, etc.
When they use force at all, they often use it excessively, such as in Mathura etc. In their defence, the police try to pass off inaction as tactful handling of a situation. They also take advantage of the fact that if the victims of the use of excessive force are poor (such as in Mathura), nobody would bother about them.
In this case, discarding what both sides have to say, we can claim that the gun firing part was mostly between the armed forces of both parties which rules out the case of ‘opening fire on civilians’. The law is not clear on the type of force that must be used in various situations. It has been left to the discretion of the officers on the spot, which is naturally subject to judicial review.
This unfortunate recent shoot out between India’s very own Northeastern state is a black day for the Northeast states. This particular matter is like a cloud in the blue sky, some people see a tree while some see a big blue whale. Did Assam really draw the first shot? and if so, will the Assam government ever admit to it’s wrong doings.
Was the shooting by the Mizoram government justifiable? If not, when will the Mizoram government apologize to the families of the succumbed police forces. The question remained unanswered but we are sure of one thing, that this fatal gunfight can turn ugly or can be a hopeful turning point for both states to find common ground to negotiate and hold peace talks. When will the central government fully intervene in the situation? When will the next violence erupt ? Will the two states ever settle in peace and will we ever witness the unity of the seven sisters ever again? This truly lies in the hands of the media and its people.
In such a situation, critical thinking, discarding biased views and looking at things from different perspectives is crucial. Each one of us plays a critical role in shaping the future of the two states.