Displaced Brus of Mizoram

 

Photo source: The Print

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

It was first in October 2019 when federal Indian government, alongside state governments of Tripura and Mizoram, began its nine attempt to repatriate more than thirty thousand internally displaced people of the Bru community from six relief camps in north Tripura, where they have been living for almost two decades now. This attempt also led to futility as only few hundred people returned to Mizoram so far, despite central government announcing cash doles, and land allocations. After that, Indian government tried to settle their issue again. Infact, the federal government, alongside the governments of Tripura and Mizoram, had been trying to repatriate them to their home state over the past decade, but with little success. It is because many Brus cited security concerns and were unhappy with an inadequate rehabilitation package. The first attempt to repatriate the Brus from Tripura was made in November, 2009.

The displacement of Brus, also known as Reangs, is one of the most prolonged in post-independence India. In July 2022, New Indian Express reported that the hills of Haduklau, a tribal hamlet at Longterai range of Tripura’s Dhalai district is now dotted by small houses for many Brus.

It shows that with time, things have changed a bit. Some Brus have agreed in taking land and money to construct the houses, and English medium schools have also been set up for the children as well. Administration had also assured that Antoday cards would be given to them for subsidised ration. A 1,200 square feet plot has been allotted to each rehabilitated Bru family and Rs 1.5 lakh provided by the government to set up a home. The agreement guarantees a fixed deposit of Rs 4 lakh for each family, a monthly sum of Rs 5,000 and free monthly ration for two years besides setting up of schools in all cluster villages. More than twenty one thousand people of more than three thousand families are yet to be rehabilitated, who would be given settlement by August 31, 2022. However, how many will agree to go back, only time will tell.

The vexed Bru issue started in September, 1997, following demands for a separate autonomous district council for the Brus by carving out areas of western Mizoram adjoining Bangladesh and Tripura. As a result, a large number of Bru people, around forty thousand people, fled from Mizoram to Tripura as ethnic clashes broke out.

During the ethnic clashes, there were verbal duels, between Mizo and Bru groups, and a hitherto unknown Bru militant group, calling itself the Bru National Liberation Front, kidnapped and murdered a Mizo forest department employee in the Dampa Tiger Reserve. The killing led to an upheaval, and as a reaction, Bru thatched huts in several villages in Mizoram’s western periphery were burnt by enraged Mizo villagers.

Between 1997 and June 2018, Bru representatives signed nine different agreements with the Centre and the state governments of Mizoram and Tripura to ensure the community’s repa
triation. These efforts were largely unsuccessful.

As per an article by Sanskrita Bharadwaj in Scroll, some leaders in Tripura put forth the suggestion, over the years, of permanently resettling the displaced Brus in Tripura. Among them was Biplab Kumar Deb, the former chief minister of Tripura, and Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, scion of Tripura’s erstwhile royal family. They both had written letters to the Centre in November 2019. No government organisation, however, has taken up such a discourse. Actually, there is a merit in this plan, because a large population of Brus are willing to resettle in Tripura itself rather than have repatriation or relocation to Mizoram. They long to stay in the state, even in exile. The life has made them familiar with the region, which they now saw as their home, despite recent continual government efforts to settle them back in Mizoram.

This, however, doesn’t mean that the Brus shouldn’t be alleviated of their poor living conditions in the Tripura camps, because they wish to live there, and not decide to relocate to Mizoram.

The life spent by Brus at the camps, is without permanent electricity, and safe drinking water, and residents also didn’t have easy access to healthcare services. Yet, thousands of them have continued to live in camps, for their reasons.

When Sanskrita Bharadwaj travelled to one of Bru camps in Tripura, in Kahamtaipara, 200 km east of Tripura’s capital, Agartala, in the Panisagar division of North Tripura district, she found the living conditions appalling. She wrote: ‘conditions at the camp remain far from suitable for permanent settlement. The road leading up to the location was poorly constructed – a rocky, narrow path uphill. The site did not have water pipelines or a drainage system: most residents, including children, walked down the hill to collect water from a distant stream. The path that led to the stream was unpaved and steep, and residents often ascended barefoot carrying multiple vessels filled with water, work that left them sore and exhausted.’


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