After Central Government made a breakthrough on repatriation laced Bru refugees, the implementation of the same is being sabotaged on the ground. The question that remains unaddressed is whether the Bru tribe will ever be welcome to their home state of Mizoram after more than two decades of exile
In 1997, Bru (better known as Reangs) had to flee from their villages in Mizoram. It happened after an incident involving the murder of a Mizo lady alleged to have been committed by Reangs. Their houses in the villages were torched, and they took shelter in the adjoining districts bordering Mizoram. 32,876 people belonging to Bru were taking shelter in 6 relief camps at Jampui Hills of Tripura. Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram rendered yeoman service by providing medical aid, managing some primary schools and giving other kinds of help to each family of Reangs. Home Ministry, Government of India, have been providing monetary assistance to Tripura Government for giving free rice to them.
Bru Refugees (File Image)
Many a time in the past, an agreement was reached to repatriate Reangs, but a few Bru families who went back to their villages returned to Tripura on account of insecurity.
On June 3, 2018, an agreement was signed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Tripura, Government of Mizoram and Bru Refugees Org MBOPF in New Delhi in the presence of Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, Chief Minister of Mizoram, Lalthanhawla, and Chief Minister of Tripura Biplab Kumar Deb. The Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) under Special Secretary was set up to ensure that rehabilitation process ends by September 30, 2018, and the refugee camps are closed by October.
As a part of rehabilitation package, each family that have lived continuously for three years in Mizoram will get one-time Financial Assistance for Rehabilitation of Rs 4 lakh to be kept in Fixed Deposit in the name of the head of the family within one month of its repatriation.. Besides, each family will receive a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000 per family as Cash Assistance for two years through Direct Benefits Transfer, along with free ration for two years. Each family will also be given Rs 1, 50,000 as House Building Assistance in three instalments. The repatriated families will also get free transportation to be arranged by the Government of Mizoram and be financially supported by the Union Ministry for Home Affairs. There has been an attempt to send the Bru refugees back to their home state.
The repatriation of over 32,800 Bru people belonging to over 5,400 families lodged at six relief camps in Tripura, which began in August, expired on September 30. During the two-month-long repatriation process, only 30 families returned to Mizoram
Sawibunga, president of the Bru Displaced People’s Forum, did not agree to the offer given by the Central Government. Bru refugees demanded 5, 00,000 and payment of an additional one-time gratuity of Rs 10, 00,000 per family. The primary disagreement is not about money but about land. Their demand is for at least five hectares. Further, Bru refugee leaders alleged that the Mizoram Government is not serious about welcoming them to their home state.
Misguiding the Implementation
Only 28 families of Bru departed from Tripura to return their homeland on September 19 so far in this process, as per media reports up to September 20. As was apprehended since the agreement was inked in Delhi whether this agreement will be a reality or not, the sabotage has been kicked off. And this commenced from no another place than Mamit District Collector’s premises in Mizoram on 23-24 intermediate night when someone made a burglary, and voter-list updated Forms of Reang refugees were stolen from the District Election Office of Mamit. These forms No. 6, 7 and eight were filled up in 6 refugee Camps in Tripura on September 18 as per directions of the Election Commission of India and the agreement inked on June 3 referred as above; and brought to Mamit for verification and processing as per rules on June 18.
Who are Reangs?
Reangs, also known as Bru community, are one of the 21 scheduled tribes of Tripura, who are also historically habituated in Mizoram, Manipur and Assam. They are proud of their indigenous tradition were believed to be persecuted because they refused to bow down to the dictates of the organised religious pressures of the Church in Mizoram. Way back in 1997, around 32, 000 Reangs had to flee their local habitat in the bordering districts of Mizoram followed by the violence erupted with their demand for Autonomous District Councils and had to take shelter in the Jampui Hills of Tripura. As many as 32,876 people belonging to 5,407 families set to return to their home state following a tripartite agreement signed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Tripura and Government of Mizoram on July 3, 2018. October 1 was the deadline for the implementation of the accord. Their inclusion in the electoral roles of Mizoram is opposed by the militants groups, again keeping the repatriation of 32, 876 Reang refugees in limbo.
The authorities had started processing on 19th. Burglary took place even though section 144 was effective in that area after intelligence input for the safety of EVMs/VVPATs from September 15. Media reports that Joint NGO Forum led by YMA gave a protest call against District Collector (DC) and for his immediate transfer against the revision of voters list of the Bru refugees.
FIR was lodged against unidentified persons for burglary and theft of election-related forms. In all, 11 persons were detained after a week, few of them are from the Election Office itself, without finding any evidence, whatsoever, against them and without any recovery or where abouts of the stolen papers as media reports suggest.
Mizoram bodies against Brus’ return
The NGO Coordination Committee, a conglomerate of major civil society organisations and student bodies of Mizoram, warned that Bru families, who were “stubbornly reluctant” to return from Tripura during the repatriation exercise, should not come back to Mizoram after the end of the deadline.
Vanlalruata, chairman of the NGO Coordination Committee, said that a meeting of major civil society organisations took a resolution that “stubborn” Bru families should not return to Mizoram after the deadline. They also asked the Centre and the Governments of Mizoram and Tripura to act according to the “quadripartite agreement” reached on July 3. The committee appealed to the Mizoram Government to honour its promise and take immediate action in deleting the names of Bru voters living in Tripura from the Mizoram electoral rolls.
Earlier, the State Government had stated that the names of all Bru voters, who are reluctant to return to Mizoram, would be deleted from the State’s electoral roll.
Taking strong exception to the reluctance of the Bru people towards returning from Tripura, the NGO Coordination Committee appealed to all the political parties in the State not to conduct election campaigns at the relief camps in Tripura in view of the forthcoming Assembly polls.
On September 17, the DC was called to attend a meeting withf the Chief Election Office at Aizawal to be held on September 18. He could not reach his house in Aizawal before 11 o’clock on September 18 after a long journey of 16 hours, taking shelters in midway BN and Police HQ in his official vehicle with security guards. The YMA cadres were searching all vehicles on the road to capture the DC as if he was a criminal, it is learnt. Burglary in the DC office, the safest place of any town guarded by the armed police force 24*7, theft of the only election-related filled-up forms of the Reang refugees. No other articles-costly things were stolen. This is a question mark not only on the State Government but also on the Civil Society, the Mizo people who otherwise stand as very humble.
The poor Reangs have been put into the cross firing. If they return, they are sure to face another genocide they had been subjected to 22 years back and had to flee. If they don’t return, the Government of India is going to stop their ration and grant from October 1 shutting down all the relief camps in Tripura.
The Home Ministry’s decision to transport them back to Mizoram can be a difficult yet dynamic challenge for the government.
(The writer is Retd. Deputy Commissioner)