At least 28 Mizos spent two nights on a hanging bridge as they tried to return from Mynamar got caught in the no man’s land as India was under lockdown.
The 50-foot bridge is on the Tiau river connects Zokhawthar in Mizoram’s Champhai district and Rih in Myanmar. As per the India-Myanmar protocol, residents of both sides upto 16 kilometre has free movement and do not need any official paper.
The 28 Mizos, including 11 children, had gone to Myanmar to visit relatives much before the border was sealed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent countrywide lockdown for 21 days.
“These Mizo villagers were not aware of the lockdown and when they arrived at the border, the Myanmar sentries put them on the bridge and locked their end,” said T.J. Lalnuntluanga, Mizoram’s Minister of State for Transport, Law, Parliamentary Affairs Department and Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
“But the Assam Rifles personnel manning the border locked the Indian end of the gate too, forcing the men, women and children to spend two nights on the bridge with no food, shelter and toilet,” Mr Lalnuntluanga said.
Zokhawthar falls within the Champhai South Assembly constituency that he represents. “What happened to those people was inhuman. It seemed they were put in an open-air jail for no fault of theirs. Members of the Zokhawthar Task Force and YMA provided them food while they were caught in no man’s land,” local village council president Muani said.
The YMA also provided tarpaulin and other tent materials while they were on the bridge, officials said.
Local officials and members of the Young Mizo Association (YMA) tried to get the stranded people released but Assam Rifles officials said the gate could be opened only after instructions from the appropriate authority.
Chief Minister Zoramthanga and Home Minister Lalchamliana intervened and sternly told MHA that “bringing the Mizo villagers was as important as flying resourceful Indians in from foreign lands”.
But it took long time to the Assam Rifles to get the order and opened the gate at the evening of SUnday only, after spending two days on the bridge. They were taken to a facility at the Champhai Deputy Commissioner’s office where they have been quarantined.