In his truck parked near the police outpost at Lailapur, the last Assam town on the border with Mizoram, Munazari Khan tries to take a nap in the sweltering heat.
He has been on the road for a week now. He set out from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh on July 20, carrying in his truck a consignment of mattresses for delivery in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram.
He has been at Lailapur since Monday when violence erupted at this contested border point on National Highway 306, leaving six Assam Police personnel and a civilian dead, and several injured.
“It was stupid of us not to have checked if there was any trouble on the way… that is why we are stuck here. I am losing Rs 8,000 a day,” said Khan who has been a trucker for 15 years. On Monday night, when he reached Lailapur at 11 pm, he learnt of the “mara-maari” earlier that evening. “It has been three days now and there’s no sign of any movement.”
Khan is not alone. Other drivers too have been waiting, their trucks parked by the roadside. There’s an uneasy calm here after the firing and clashes. Central forces have been deployed to keep the peace between police personnel of the two states, and tempers are flaring on the ground.
Around 5 km from the border point, a group of local residents are protesting on the road, preventing people from passing through.
“We have always had border issues with Mizoram, but it has become worse in the last two years,” said Monuruddin Barbhuiya, a truck driver who often crosses over to deliver essential food items. “I am not going there anymore. I will find another profession if I have to, sacrificing my income… I don’t want to die there,” he said.
While local truck owners have the option of packing up and returning home to their villages, out-of-towners like Khan do not. “We will just wait and see what happens. I think they may lift the blockade tomorrow,” he said.
Jayanta, a truck-driver from Guwahati who transports wires for electric towers, knows better. Last October, when there were clashes in the same area and a civilian died, the trucks could not move for 10 days. “We were stuck then, we are stuck now,” he said.
Across the border, in the Mizoram town of Vairengte, memories of last year’s blockade are still fresh. “We lost a lot of business,” said Lallawmkima Kimtea who has a wholesale shop in the town. “Right now, we are not in dire circumstances, but it may become problematic later. If vehicles don’t come… if essentially commodities don’t come, how will we survive? This border issue must be resolved… there is too much suffering,” he said.
And this perhaps is the most immediate fallout of the clashes last Monday — a complete freeze on any movement, vehicular or public, from Assam to Mizoram.
Although Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, speaking to reporters in Silchar Tuesday, said his government would not allow any economic blockade of Mizoram, the situation on the ground tells a different story.
“We cannot afford to let anyone pass — any truck, any car, any civilian. It’s an instruction from the high command,” said a CRPF personnel at Lailapur. The path from the police outpost to the border post, with thick sloping forests on one side, is manned by groups of CRPF personnel, Black Panther commandos and Assam Police personnel.
On Wednesday, the media vehicles were made to turn back from a spot about a kilometre from the border. “It is calm right now but anything can go amiss any time, so we can’t afford to let anyone pass. From the Mizoram side, all trucks are coming back, but we are not letting anyone go,” the CRPF personnel said.
The curbs on movement are already causing concern in Mizoram. State Home Secretary Lalbiaksangi, in a letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs, asked the Centre to intervene and end the blockade.
“It may be stated that the National Highway 306 is the main highway for the flow of essential commodities and supplies into the state of Mizoram. The blockade is affecting the livelihood of the people of Mizoram adversely,” Lalbiaksangi said.
The letter mentioned that a similar blockade lasted for nearly a month in October 2020. “It seriously affected the livelihood of people of Mizoram, resulting in various hardships… The National Highways and Railway lines are owned and managed by the Government of India and no state agency/entity or the general public has any right to block them and restrict the movement of people and goods to the highway and railway road,” it said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Kolasib SP K Vanlalfaka Ralte said a railway line in Assam’s Hailakandi district had been uprooted by local residents. “This is the only railway line that connects to the Bairabi railway station in Mizoram. This may cause scarcity of essential items,” he said.
Ramandeep Kaur, who has taken charge as SP Cachar after district SP Nimbalkar Vaibhav Chandrakant sustained a bullet injury in Monday’s clashes, said they were investigating the railway case and some “miscreants” were behind it.
She denied there was any “blockade” at the border. “Several organisations gave a bandh call in Assam today. Moreover, it is a delicate situation. So that is why one-two trucks may have been stopped for their protection. Otherwise, there is no restriction from the Assam side at all,” she said.
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