The Assam Rifles ex-servicemen of Vijaynagar

[Tongam Rina]

VIJAYNAGAR, 9 Jan: Government document says that in May 1961, the present Vijaynagar (known as Dawodi by the native Lisus) and other areas in the circle were brought under the Indian territory by Major Sumer Singh after a military  expedition known as Operation Srijitga.

On 20 December, 1961, CS Kaire, deputy advisor to the then governor of Assam, wrote a letter to the ADGA, Shillong, seeking “introduction of as many volunteers as possible for settlement in Vijayanagar.”

On 16 August, 1963, LB Thanga wrote to the deputy secretary, NEFA, government of India, ministry of external affairs, stating that “each family would be given 10 acres given for cultivation and one acre for homestead and kitchen garden.”

It says that “in allocating land, suitable terms will be provided in the lease safeguarding against transfer of land, viz, management and misuse of land allotted and suitable clause for cancellation of the lease in case of default.”

There is no mention of a time-specific lease in the letter and families were given 11 acres or less.

In 1964, SD Lakhar, deputy secretary, North East Frontier Agency, wrote a letter to the inspector general of the Assam Rifles and others, stating that the government of India had approved the scheme of settlement at Vijaynagar as proposed by the NEFA administration, dated 19.8.63.

One of the conditions was that “each intending settler would be provided with land not exceeding 50 acres of homestead and cultivable land per family.”

“This scheme provides resettlement of opportunities to the ex-service and NEFA personnel and such other outsiders as would provide economical, social and political stability.”

The government subsequently came up with the settlement of 200 servicemen of the Assam Rifles in the valley.

Soon after, the process of settlement started with the demarcation of villages and building of homes for settlers by the Pioneer Company in the valley.

Between 1967 and ’71, two hundred families of the Assam Rifles were settled in four batches.

The first batch of 25 families were done during 1967-68, the 2nd batch of 25 families in 1968-69, the 3rd batch of 52 families in 1969-70 and the 4th batch of 100 families during 1970-71.

Once the process of settlement was completed, though without keeping much of the promise given to the ex-servicemen and their families prior to the settlement, the Indo-Burma international boundary was jointly surveyed and demarcated officially in 1972. The internationally strategic move was completed but families had to bear the brunt as they were not allowed to leave even some wanted to go back. Some of the surviving servicemen say that families were not allowed to travel together as the authorities were apprehensive that they might leave the valley. However, some, mostly tribal families from the Northeast, left.

The remaining families, amidst deprivation and forceful retirement of the 200 families, 163 families remained in 1987, according to a report by the director general of the Assam Rifles.

The DG visited the area after a case was filed in the Supreme Court, seeking rights of the settlers.

“It will be therefore seen that 37 families have left Vijaynagar because of hard living conditions and non-fulfillment of promise given by the government regarding allotment of land, citizenship rights, communication faculties.”

Of the 37 who left the area, most are reported to be Kukis and Mizos.

After the settlement was done, the Assam rifles forcibly retired the servicemen. Those who completed ten years were eligible for pension while the rest were not given.

When they were settled, the servicemen were not informed that they would be retired, says ex-servicemen association based in Pharparbari, a village near Vijaynagar. The association says that some 11 servicemen are still deprived of pension.

They are still pursuing with the government for pension, unsuccessfully.

67-year-old Dhanyuli Rawat from Mazgoan, whose husband was denied pension, says that they feel cheated.

“When he was brought here, nobody spoke about forcible retirement. We feel cheated. My husband, who is unwell and is being treated at a hospital feels the same.”

Originally from Garhwal in Uttarakhand, she says that “we kept waiting for the pension but it never came.”

The turbulent and uncertain present

As some under the banner of the All Yobin Students’ Union are demanding their ouster from the circle and deprivation of rights in panchayat election, the settlers, who have organized themselves under the Gorkha Development Society, say that they are victims of “historical circumstances and unfair decisions.” They look at the state and central government for help that includes permanent land papers and voting rights and non-violence.

A rally was taken out on 11 December last year under the banner of the All Yobin Students’ Union, seeking their ouster and non-participation in PRI election. The rally turned violent in the circle headquarters where a number of central and state government establishments were either burnt or damaged.

Double Singh Tamang, an ex-serviceman says that he was posted in the area in 1964 and permanently shifted to Topi Hill under the settlement programme in 1969. He was one of those forcibly retired but had completed 10 years mandatory service.

“We had to stay here, leaving our land. We did not come on our own. The NEFA administration, the Centre and the Assam Rifles settled us here. Gureya settled us here. He lured us with promises,” he says.

Maj General AS Gureya executed the settlement programme of the servicemen and their families sponsored by the Centre and the NEFA administration.

“Arunachal government should not abandon us. They should ensure our safety,” says the ex-serviceman, holding back tears.

“We are in a bad state now with people demanding our ouster… post office has been burnt where I drew my pension,” says Tamang.

Radhika Gurung from Two-Hut village says that families of the ex-servicemen should be given the rights to land.

“It hurts us whenever there is talk about ouster. Government did not let the family move back. Where will we go now?” she asks, appealing to the people of the state to understand the circumstances under which they were brought in.

Bhagat Chetry of the Gorkha Development Society says that Arunachal government, the Centre and the Assam Rifles should thoroughly understand the history of settlement.

“There should be a solution to address the concern of the settlers, which includes papers to identify as residents of the valley,” says Chetry, one of the few who has a postgraduate degree.

He says that due to lack of papers to identify them as residents of the valley, many are not able to apply for jobs conducted by the Union Public Service Commission or get admission into defence schools.

“Our fathers, brothers secured the Indian land and today we are faced with uncertainty,” he says, referring to the recent rally.

Participation in panchayat

The settlers have been participating in the panchayat elections.

In March ’76, Lalbir Gurung from Majgaon/Mazgaon was an elected member of the anchal samiti along with 14 others in the undivided Tirap district.

They are anxious as the state election commission postponed the election following violence.

Dal Bhadur Pun, a former anchal samiti member representing Two-Hut anchal block, says that the State Election Commission and the state government should ensure that voting rights of the settlers are not denied.

The Arunachal Pradesh gazette issued a problematic notification stating that “In Principle Rule, in Form 4, for the entries III that I am ordinary resident at the address given above” appearing after the declaration, the following entries shall be substituted. “(III) that I am ordinary indigenous local resident at the address given above.”

“Our rights in PR election should be continued,” says Bhagat Chetry, stating that the notification did not take into account the history of settlement.

30-year land lease

When the personnel were settled in the nine villages, there was no timeline mentioned about the land holding, but after the two organizations representing the settlers went to court seeking rights for the settlers to the Supreme Court, the government of Arunachal, in pursuance of the SC order, gave land leases.

“Regarding deeds for land holding; since patta system is not prevalent anywhere in Arunachal, it has been decided that the specific letter in this respect to each family of ex-Assam rifles personnel settled at Vijaynagar is to be issued.”

The order was issued in 1987 and subsequently the state government issued a land lease of 30 years in 1990, disregarding the fact that when the settlers were brought in to “populate the area,” there was no mention about time.

“The ex-servicemen were not educated. They did not know anything about 30 years lease. They were pleased that they got land papers from the government,” says Chetry.

He says that nobody would have come if there were mention of lease when the settlers were brought in.

“Government may have forgotten the history of settlement; therefore they must go back in history. People of Arunachal should be made aware of the circumstances under which our families were brought in. Our history should not be erased or rewritten with the changing times,” he says.