Lisus question police allegation of foreign element in Vijaynagar violence

[Tongam Rina]

VIJAYNAGAR, 6 Jan: The Arunachal Pradesh Police’s (APP) allegation that there may have been involvement of foreign element in the Vijaynagar violence has not gone down well with the Lisu /Yobin community.

The rally was organized by All Yobin Students’ Union demanding debarment of ex-Assam Rifles settlers in Vijaynagar from participating in the Panchayat election, and shifting of the settlers out of the valley.

The rally was taken out even though the state election commission had postponed the election following turbulence.

The ex-servicemen who were settled in the area by the central government between 1967-71 had been participating in the Panchayat poll since then.

Some of the Lisu community members say that police made the allegation “to hide its incompetence and failure to judge the gravity of the anger of the people.”

One says that villagers had gone all the way to Itanagar and sat through a hunger strike demanding protection of the indigenous people.

“If Lisus were a major community of the state, the state would not have dared to ignore. The BJP would not have dared to issue ticket to a non-indigenous person for the seat of ZPM. The BJP and the government ignored the sentiments of the indigenous people, ” says a person.

A reserved seat for women, the BJP had issued a ticket to a person of Gorkha origin. The party later withdrew the candidature.

“The state intervened only after the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union made its stand against participation of non-indigenous communities. I don’t support the AAPSU or AYSU stand, as settlers did not come on their own. They are entitled to voting rights but the entire situation exposes how the state continues to ignore the Lisu community,” says one.

“First, we were stripped of the scheduled tribe status and now the allegation that there is foreign hand in the violence. This is unprecedented and none of the indigenous communities in the state had to face the indignity as we have been subjected to. The government of Arunachal should apologize to the Lisus and get their act together so that such violence does not happen again,” the person says.

Though Lisus were recognized as ST in 1979, the recognition was withdrawn shortly afterwards. It was restored again, but halted yet again in March 2017, because of a faulty notification issued in February 2015 by the state government. However, following directives from the union tribal affairs ministry and the National Commission for ST, the Arunachal government started issuing ST certificates in December 2018.

“Politics may have motivated the violence as the chief minister had already assured that the demands of the AAPSU would be examined and elections postponed,” the person says, adding that “violence was orchestrated from Itanagar.”

The government had met the AAPSU delegation on 3 December and a memorandum submitted by the AAPSU was sent to the Panchayat minister with a copy to the chief secretary, Home commissioner, law and judicial secretary, commissioner to chief minister.

The Panchayat election was subsequently postponed.

Even after assurance of the state government and subsequent postponement, the rally was organized  on 12 December, 2020.

That day, the EAC office new building, post office and SB (RAW) office were burnt down completely; civil helipad ransacked rendering it not fit for aircraft operation; SIB building foundation ransacked completely and newly constructed police station ransacked, including quarters and barracks.

Officials of the state police and central organisations say that they did not anticipate violence as the leaders of the community had in a meeting in Miao assured them that the rally would be peaceful.

The police estimate that some 400 citizens took part in the rally that originated from Gandhigram (Shidi). They walked five hours from Gandhigram to Vijaynagar, which is the circle headquarters.

There is no motor-able road between the two places. The entire circle is not connected by road.

Some Gandhigram residents allege that villagers were forced to join the rally by the students. However, many joined willingly for the ’cause’ though they were not aware that there would be violence.

A police person agrees that many of the participants may not have been aware about the planned violence.

“The police were clueless, so were some of the participants,” says an official.

“A police team was in Gandhigram a night before the 11 December  rally but they did not have any clue that government establishments would be attacked, which reflects massive intelligence failure,” a person said.

Another says that there were not even 20 police personnel even though the department was well aware that a large scale rally was being organized, which was well reflected in the media.

The state police department confirmed that the police force, including the ones sent from Miao subdivision to oversee the rally, was less than 20.

Those who are opposed to the violence and those who justify it share the same opinion that the state police failed to do its job.

For the entire circle, there is one police station in Vijaynagar. Some six personnel are posted for six months each.

Officials say that on the day of the rally, people were armed with dao (machete), sticks and fuel. Two reportedly were government-appointed  gaon burahs.

 When the police got the information, they tried to stop the rally at Ram Nagar, a settler village between Vijaynagar and Gandhigram.

We had no option but to make way for them, says a police person.

“The police station which was newly inaugurated by the Home minister and DGP were ransacked. The office of the RAW was burnt; the foundation of the SIB office was destroyed. The Assam Rifles, which is in the middle of the town, did not even bother to come out of its premises. If they had done their job, none of it would have happened,” says another.