There could be more to Friday’s rioting and arson in strategically important and remote Vijaynagar circle of Changlang district, where sensitive government and security installations were targeted by a mob, two officials of the Arunachal Pradesh Police directly involved with the investigations said.
“It was premeditated violence,” said Chukhu Apa, Inspector General of Police, Law and Order. “If it were not premeditated, they would have randomly attacked any property on the road. But they specifically targeted a few government institutions. They came with inflammable liquid items like kerosene and petrol in bottles,” he said.
“There is a possibility of some other angle to it,” said a second police official, on the condition of anonymity. “A case of rioting could have been dealt with by the district police. There is a reason the investigation has been handed over to the special investigations team,” this official said.
Vijaynagar, the remote easternmost corner of the country, is inhabited by the Lisu or the Yobin community. In the 1960s, over 200 families of ex-servicemen, including Gorkhas, Garhwalis, Mizo, Kukis and others were settled there by the government. This frontier, surrounded by Myanmar on three sides and abutted by the Namdapha National Park on the other, is cut-off with no road connectivity. Only 40 kilometres of the 157-kilometre road, which would connect Vijaynagar to Miao, have been completed so far.
On Friday, a mob allegedly led by the student body of the Yobin community marched to Vijaynagar headquarters, protesting against the participation of non-indigenous and non-tribals in the Panchayat elections scheduled for December 22.
The mob torched offices of the Special Bureau, the extra assistant commissioner and the post office. The office of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, where construction has been completed up to the plinth level, was damaged, and the local police station was ransacked, officials who visited Vijaynagar said.
Earlier on December 1, the state election commission postponed Zila Parishad and Panchayat elections in Vijaynagar administrative circle citing apprehension of breakdown of law and order and opposition to the filing of nominations by non-tribals. Yobin groups claimed the rally, which turned violent, was organized to protest no specific action by the state government on their persistent demands.
“It seems it was already decided which offices are to be targeted,” Apa said, referring to the violence on Friday.
The special investigations team of the Arunachal Pradesh Police took over the probe on Monday. Rohit Rajbir Singh, the Superintendent of Police, in-charge of the SIT, said six cases have been registered. “Rioting and arson is the common link,” he said.
Police initially said they arrested 24 persons who were allegedly part of the mob on Friday. Subsequently, many were found to be juvenile. At present, at least 10 people, who belong to Hozolo village neighbouring Vijaynagar headquarters, are still under arrest.
The All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU), meanwhile, blamed the Arunachal government for “not reciprocating to the sentiments of the Yobin community” and warned of more such violent incidents in future.
“It has to be understood that consistent disregard for the rights and aspirations of the indigenous people may invite more such happenings in near future. The government should view the issue seriously and immediately take up AAPSU’s demand for the amendment of Arunachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act, 1997,” a statement issued by the union said.
State home minister Bamang Felix expressed shock over the incident saying, “We accepted the demand of the AYSU and accordingly PRI polls were postponed. This incident is unfortunate and violence has no place in modern society.”
The Yobin community, meanwhile, has urged government authorities to correct the ‘baseless apprehensions over Vijaynagar area,” which they say is “often falsely projected as sharing boundary with China”.
“Truth is that Vijaynagar circle was and is surrounded by friendly Myanmar on all three sides and the other side is Miao circle, which is Arunachal itself.”
The community has also taken issue with the fact that Vijaynagar has been been projected as “vacant land” before 1961. “Vijaynagar was not a vacant land before 1961, as cunningly projected by some. It was Yobin’s territory.”
A factual report titled ‘Settlement of Retired Assam Rifles families in Vijoynagar (AP) area and the displacement of indigenous locals’ as submitted and signed by at least 10 Yobin associations and presented to the Arunachal Pradesh government, said it was “worrisome” that an estimated more than 20 families, “who are unauthorized settlers and also Innerline Regulation violators, have settled in Vijaynagar circle, after the expiry of settlement year (1971).”
The Yobin groups’ report adds: “The government authorities are requested to sort this mess out at the earliest, for this is not incongruent to the nature of this Protected Area State.”
On the other hand, the Gorkha community in Vijaynagar has sought the Governor’s intervention to bring back normalcy in the violence-hit area, alleging that the All Yobin Students’ Union has been issuing intimidating letters and videos to the descendants of the ex-Assam Rifles settlers in Vijaynagar on the basis of a 30-year lease agreement.
The Gorkha Welfare Society (GWS) and the All Settlers Welfare Association (ASWA), Vijaynagar, submitted a joint representation to Governor Brig (Retd) BD Mishra, emphasising the contribution of the Assam Rifles personnel.
“Assam Rifles personnel did not settle in Vijaynagar by their own will or choice. Had it been out of own choice and convenience, we too would have chosen the accessible area bordering Assam,” the Gorkha community’s representation said.
The settlers had been sent to the then uninhabited land of Vijaynagar on the line of duty during the Srijitga expedition to integrate the area and to mark Vijaynagar as Indian territory.
The organisations claimed that 200 families of the Assam Rifles were settled in four different batches – the first batch (25 families) during 1967-68; the second batch (25 families) during 1968-69; the third batch (52 families) during 1969-70; and the fourth batch (100 families) during 1970-71.
“It is well on record that there was no international boundary between India and Myanmar. It was only demarcated in 1971-1972 after the settlement of our fathers/grandfathers in Vijaynagar valley, which clearly explains the underlying objective of settlement of Assam Rifles personnel,” they said.
Meanwhile, officials said there is an uneasy calm in the area. “The administration is working on a two-pronged approach. To get the locals to talk and to ensure that those responsible for violence are brought to book,” the police official said.
The district administration had imposed prohibitory orders under section 144 CrPC in Vijayanagar circle and deputed two magistrates on special duty there to deal with the situation. Additional CRPF platoons were also airlifted by the Arunachal Pradesh government on Monday.