"The problem of problems is not to disturb the harmony of the tribal life and simultaneously work for its advancement, not to impose anything upon the tribals and simultaneously work for their integration as member and part of the Indian family"
— Observation by the first Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission under the Chairmanship of Shri U N Dhebar in its Report submitted in 1961
Since the formation of Modi-led NDA Government at the Centre, priority to the issues of Northeast region with participatory approach has been the hallmark. The recently concluded historic, still not adequately discussed, Bru Repatriation Accord is another testimony of Government’s seriousness in ensuring stability, peace and development through the democratic process in the region.
The conflict-induced internal displacement has been the common feature of Northeast India, with more than 200 tribes, habitating together with unique cultural traditions, still with a common approach towards life. The displacement of more than 32,000 Reang or Bru refugees is one of such significant displacements with wider political ramifications. Way back in 1997, they 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 Smt. Rina Mitra, Special Secretary (Internal Security), MHA, Shri Sanjeev Ranjan, Chief Secretary, Government of Tripura, Shri Lalnunmawia Chuaungo, Principal Secretary, Government of Mizoram and Shri A. Sawibunga, President, MBDPF in New Delhi on July 3, 2018 in the presence of Union Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh, Chief Minister of Mizoram Shri Lalthanhawla, and Chief Minister of Tripura Shri Biplab Kumar. The Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) under special secretary will ensure the rehabilitation process to end by September 30, 2018 and to close all the refugee camps by October 1.
The most important part of this agreement is that the concerns of victims, in this case the Bru refugees, are addressed to the best possible extent. As part of the rehabilitation package, each family will get one time Financial Assistance for Rehabilitation of " 4 lakh to be kept in Fixed Deposit in the name of the head of the family within one month of its repatriation, which will be given to the family on its having lived continuously in Mizoram for three years. Besides each family will receive " five thousand per month as Cash Assistance for a period of 2 years through Direct Benefit Transfer, along with free ration for two years. Each family will also be given " one lakh and fifty thousand for House Building Assistance in three installments. 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. This package can be a model for other rehabilitation processes planned in other parts of the country.
The devil lies in details. What is not clear is whether Mizos have accepted the Bru demand for Autonomous District Council, which was the original bone of contention, or not. One cannot forget the fact that Mizoram is the only Constituent State of Bharat that has declared itself as a Christian State and Brus, who are proud of their indigenous tradition were believed to be persecuted because they refused to bow down to the dictates of the organised religion. The electoral presence of these Bru minorities will be crucial to get them adequate representation. Whether militant Mizo groups would allow that to happen or would use their might to suppress the minority voice yet again will be crucial part of this rehabilitation process.
All the tribes, whether in Northeast or in any other parts of Bharat, are the real mainstream and represent the Bharatiyata of celebrating a culture of diversity. Binding them in this common thread and learning from them to ‘live with nature’ should be the ultimate goal, as envisaged by the first Scheduled Tribe Commission. The settlement of Bru refugee crisis would hopefully set the ball rolling in this direction.