About Assam Rifles: A Unique Role
- Central Armed Police Force: AR is one of six central armed police forces (CAPFs) under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). It safeguards Northeastern regions, the Indo-Myanmar border, and assists the Indian Army in maintaining law and order.
- Operational Duality: Uniquely, AR operates under dual control: administrative control under MHA and operational control under the Indian Army. This sets it apart from other CAPFs.
- Composition and Leadership: With over 63,000 personnel across 46 battalions, AR follows a regimented structure similar to the Indian Army. Its senior ranks are manned by Army officers, and the force is commanded by an Indian Army Lieutenant General.
Historical Significance and Contributions:
- Ancient Roots: Established in 1835, AR is India’s oldest paramilitary force. It originated as Cachar Levy and evolved into Assam Rifles, earning accolades for its service.
- World Wars and Beyond: AR participated in World Wars and the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Its efforts in both global conflicts and anti-insurgency campaigns underline its diverse roles.
- Versatility and Valor: AR’s combat role in World War II, counter-Japanese operations, and contribution to India’s peacekeeping missions in Sri Lanka speak to its versatility and bravery.
Controversial Encounter in Manipur
- Accusations and Escapes: Manipur Police filed an FIR against the AR, alleging hindrance in their duty. The AR is accused of allowing suspected Kuki militants to evade capture. A video showing the tense exchange highlights concerns of collusion.
- Voices of Discontent: Demands to remove AR from Manipur have arisen, with the Meira Paibis demanding their exit and the state’s BJP writing to the Prime Minister, alleging bias. These events underscore the complexity of AR’s presence in the region.
Tensions and Accusations
- Recent Incident: A clash occurred when Assam Rifles vehicles hindered state police personnel from Meitei-dominated Bishnupur district from entering a Kuki-Zomi territory. Allegations arose that the Assam Rifles’ actions enabled suspected Kuki militants, accused of killing three Meitei men, to escape.
- Perceptions of Bias: Some members of the Meitei community perceive the Assam Rifles as favoring the Kuki-Zomi community. These perceptions, along with allegations of inaction during conflicts, have further strained relations.
- Protests and Demands: Meira Paibis, women activists from the Meitei community, staged protests demanding the removal of Assam Rifles from Manipur. They claim that Indian security forces are being used against the Meiteis.
- Suspicion over Collusion: Meitei activists question how suspected militants managed to cross the buffer zone and commit the killings. They criticize the perceived inaction of Assam Rifles personnel during attacks by the Kuki-Zomi.
- Longstanding Grievances: Beyond the current conflict, Meiteis raise concerns about illegal immigration from Myanmar. They point to the Assam Rifles’ historical responsibility for the Indo-Myanmar border and alleged inaction.
Historical Strain with AFSPA
- Historical Tensions: Assam Rifles has faced strained relations with Manipur’s residents, particularly during counter-insurgency operations under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
- Symbolic Resistance: The 2004 incident where 12 Meitei women protested naked in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters reflected the deep-rooted grievances and tensions present in the region.
Debate over Control
- Tug of War: Both the MHA and Ministry of Defence (MoD) desire full control over AR. MHA argues for comprehensive border-guarding coordination, while the Army believes in maintaining the current system, which has worked well.
- Past Proposals: In 2013 and 2019, discussions were held to merge AR with BSF and ITBP, respectively. The Army’s desire for control has led to ongoing deliberations.
- The Assam Rifles embody a legacy of service, transcending decades and challenges.
- As the debate over control continues, the AR’s role as protectors of borders and preservers of history remains unwavering, a testament to their resilience and valor.