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May 15, 2011

Page: 9/40

Home > 2011 Issues > May 15, 2011

Hoping against Hope: Reangs return to Mizoram

By Nava Thakuria

INDIA, one can give nomenclature as the land of displaced people, supports both domestic and international refugees. While the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has limited operations in the country, the government, the judiciary and local rights groups have been supporting the asylum seekers with their limited capacities.

The ongoing Brus or Reangs who are mostly Hindus, repatriation to Christian dominated Mizoram, thanks to the joint efforts of the governments and rights group, brings a fresh ray of hope for the marginalised displaced people in India. Nearly hundred Bru Janjati families, taking shelter in northern Tripura, have returned in the second week of April. The process will continue and by May, over 700 Bru families, who fled their home place 13 years back following violence, would be repatriated to their villages in Mizoram.

“The beneficiaries were selected mostly from those affected in devastating fire in the makeshift camps of Naisingpara in Kanchanpur sub division of Tripura on March 19. Thousands of inmates were affected by the fire where 17 persons were even charred to death,” said Suhas Chakma, a pro-active human right activist, who has been acting as an interlocutor between the Brus and the governments.

The director of Asian Centre for Human Rights Shri Chakma also informed that these returnee families are being resettled in five villages of Mamit district in the Bangladesh and Burma bordering Indian State.

India supports nearly 4,50,000 international refugees though the populous country does not have a specific refugee policy. The general people of the country treat the refugees out of their traditional mercy and kindness. According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are over 110,000 Tibetan refugees, who fled their country following China's 1951 invasion.

Another hundred thousand Sri Lankan Tamils live in India, who left the island nation to escape the aggression of Sri Lankan armed forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam cadre and sympathisers.

Following the political trouble in Burma, nearly 75,000 ethnic Chin people with other Burmese came to Mizoram and now live in many parts of India. Even over 50,000 Nepalese escaped the Maoist rebels engineered violence and left for India. Hundred thousands of Bangladeshis (including Chakma, Hajong and minority Hindus) live in the country. There are few thousand Hindu Afghans and Bhutanese too, who live in eastern India. The country witnesses millions of people displaced due to socio-political unrest and environmental disasters.

The repatriation of Brus who sought shelter in Tripura in 1997 was suspended in November 2010 following protests by the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum. The ACHR director Shri Chakma facilitated a dialogue between the pro and anti-repatriation factions of the displaced Brus at Kanchanpur in December 2010. Both the parties agreed to support the process of repatriation following the involvement of the central government offering financial support under a special project for sustainable development of the returnee Brus.

Thus the Kanchanpur Agreement surfaced and besides the two State governments (Tripura and Mizoram), the Union Home Ministry was also involved in the process. The central government has already allocated Rs 9.97 crore for the repatriation process. RR Jha, joint secretary (Northeast) of Union Home Ministry in an official letter dated January 5, 2011 informed the ACHR director that apart from Rs 80,000 cash assistance to each Bru family, one year free ration will also be provided.

There are about 30,000 remaining Bru internally displaced people (from Mizoram) in the camps. They have already agreed to return to their homes in Mizoram following the assurance of the central government.

Otherwise, the Brus have been living in miserable conditions in relief camps in Tripura since October 1997. Over 40,000 Bru Janjati people left their home places following the large-scale violence engineered by the majority Mizos and since then they are taking shelter in six camps in northern Tripura.

The exodus of Brus was prompted following a demand for an autonomous district council status in Mizoram. The Brus are spread in Tripura, Mizoram and also part of Bangladesh and they are recognised as Scheduled Tribe people. Some politically conscious Brus organised a meeting in September 1997 and the demand for autonomous council was raised, which would provide them specific administrative, judicial and legislative powers. The demand was totally rejected by the majority Mizo groups like Young Mizo Association, Mizo Zirlai Pawl etc. The Brus maintained their demand and it widen the relationship between the two communities.

It was followed by the emergence of Bru National Liberation Front. The armed group started disruptive activities and it was made responsible for murdering a Mizo forest guard in Mamit during October 1997. The incident tempted section of Mizo people for massive retaliatory violence against the Brus that forced nearly 40,000 Bru people leave Mizoram.

Since then series of discussions among various parties including the BNLF, displaced Bru people’s forum, the governments of Mizoram and Tripura, central government and rights groups took place time to time.

Finally the process of repatriation started gaining momentum and success to some extent.

“The resumption of repatriation of Brus is really a welcome move. I believe the Mizoram government as well as the Union Home Ministry must ensure that these families are immediately resettled at their specified villages,” asserted Shri Suhas Chakma.

The rights activist also expressed optimism that if all the stakeholders (the Brus, Mizoram State Government and Union Government) remain committed there should not be any further obstacles in the process.

Shri Chakma believes that ‘if repatriation of all the Brus is completed, this would constitute the largest repatriation of displaced persons in the world facilitated by a non-governmental organisation’.

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