Security Issues

The Assam Rifles: Their Role, Controversies, and Historical Importance

  • Recent events in Manipur have brought the Assam Rifles (AR) to the forefront, raising concerns about its role, management, and operation.
  • The Assam Rifles, India’s oldest paramilitary force with a rich history, have provoked controversies regarding their jurisdiction and the ministries under which they operate due to their unique structure and dual authority.

The Assam Rifles: A Distinctive Role

  • AR is one of six central armed police forces (CAPFs) overseen by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). It protects the Northeastern regions and the Indo-Myanmar border, as well as assisting the Indian Army in preserving peace and order.
  • AR is unique in that it functions under dual administration: administrative control from the MHA and operational control from the Indian Army. This distinguishes it from other CAPFs.
  • AR has around 63,000 members spread throughout 46 battalions and maintains a disciplined structure similar to the Indian Army. The force is led by an Indian Army Lieutenant General, and its upper ranks are manned by Army officers.

Contributions and historical significance:

  • Ancient Origins: AR is India’s oldest paramilitary unit, having been founded in 1835. It began as the Cachar Levy and grew into the Assam Rifles, gaining praise for its service.
  • AR served in both World Wars, as well as the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Its efforts in global conflicts as well as anti-insurgency activities highlight its broad functions.
  • AR’s combat participation in WWII, counter-Japanese activities, and contribution to India’s peacekeeping missions in Sri Lanka demonstrate its versatility and bravery.

Controversial Encounter in Manipur

  • Accusations and Escapes in a Controversial Manipur Encounter: Manipur Police filed a FIR against the AR, charging interference with their duty. The AR is accused of facilitating the escape of alleged Kuki insurgents. A video of the heated argument raises suspicions of conspiracy.
  • Dissatisfied Citizens: AR has been called out in Manipur, with the Meira Paibis seeking their removal and the state BJP appealing to the Prime Minister, citing partiality. These incidents highlight the complexities of AR’s presence in the region.

Tensions and Charges

  • Recent Incident: A confrontation erupted when Assam Rifles trucks prevented Meitei-dominated Bishnupur district state police troops from accessing Kuki-Zomi region. There were allegations that the Assam Rifles’ actions allowed suspected Kuki insurgents accused of killing three Meitei men to flee.
  • Bias Perceptions: Some members of the Meitei community believe that the Assam Rifles favour the Kuki-Zomi community. These impressions, along with claims of inaction during confrontations, have strained relations even further.
  • Protests and Demands: Meira Paibis, a Meitei woman activist, led protests seeking the expulsion of Assam Rifles from Manipur. They believe that the Meiteis are being targeted by Indian security personnel.
  • Suspicion of Collusion: Meitei activists wonder how suspected militants crossed the buffer zone and committed the killings. They criticise the perceived apathy of Assam Rifles men during Kuki-Zomi attacks.
  • Long-standing grievances: Meiteis express concern over illegal immigration from Myanmar, in addition to the ongoing violence. They allude to the Assam Rifles’ historical responsibility and alleged passivity on the Indo-Myanmar border.

AFSPA’s Historical Tension

  • Tensions in the Past: The Assam Rifles have had tense ties with the people of Manipur, particularly during counter-insurgency operations under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
  • Symbolic Opposition: The 2004 incident in which 12 Meitei women protested naked in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters underlined the region’s deep-seated complaints and tensions.

Control Tug of War:

  • Both the MHA and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) want complete control over AR. The MHA advocates for complete border-guarding cooperation, whereas the Army believes in preserving the current structure, which has proven to be effective.
  • Previous Proposals: In 2013 and 2019, discussions were undertaken to consolidate AR with BSF and ITBP. The Army’s demand for control has resulted in continual discussions.

@the end

  • The Assam Rifles represent a history of service that spans decades and obstacles.
  • As the debate over control rages on, the AR’s role as border protectors and historians remains unwavering, a testimony to their fortitude and bravery.
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