New Delhi: The four-party agreement signed this week to try resolve the 23-year-old crisis of Bru tribal people displaced to Tripura from Mizoram has been welcomed as the “best possible solution” in the circumstances.
But some critics and angry voices from within the Bru claim that what happened in 1997, when the community fled Mizoram, was nothing but “ethnic cleansing” and a “deliberate move to drive the tribals out” and this week’s agreement had only normalised that.
The agreement was signed between the Centre, the governments of Mizoram and Tripura as well as the Bru-Reang representatives in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah. It allows 34,000 Bru refugees, who are languishing in six relief camps in Tripura since October 1997, to permanently settle in the state.
The Narendra Modi government has also announced a Rs 600 crore package for resettling them.
How the crisis originated
The Bru community, also referred to as Reangs, resides in Mizoram, Tripura, and parts of southern Assam, and is ethnically distinct from the Mizos.
The first signs of conflict between the two communities emerged in 1995 when Mizo organisations — the Young Mizo Association and the Mizo Students’ Association — demanded that Brus be left out of the state’s electoral rolls as they were not an indigenious tribe.
The Brus retaliated by forming an armed organisation, Bru National Liberation Front, and a political body, Bru National Union. The two demanded more political autonomy for Mizoram’s Brus and a Bru Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
In 1997, following ethnic tension over an incident in Mizoram, around 5,000 families comprising over 30,000 Bru tribals were forced to flee the state and seek shelter in Tripura, where they were housed in temporary camps at Kanchanpur.
‘Welcome the move’
Since 2010, the Government of India has been making sustained efforts, with as many as nine attempts, to permanently rehabilitate these refugees but the issue remained unresolved.
Over the years, around 1,622 Bru families returned to Mizoram in several batches, but many others continued to stay in Tripura as they “feared for their security”.
The Modi government has sought to resolve the issue 23 years later by rehabilitating the Bru refugees unwilling to return to Mizoram in Tripura itself.
“The Bru community is absolutely happy and we welcome this move. In the last 25 years, many generations have been lost but we will finally settle down now with dignity. We will be given all facilities by the state government,” said Bruno Msha, secretary, Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Forum (MBDPF).
R. Vanlalruata, president, Central Young Mizo Association, too said that the state is happy with the resolution.
“The attempts to repatriate the Bru community failed multiple times, so maybe this is for the best. If the Bru do not wish to return to Mizoram, we cannot force them. We always welcomed the Bru back to Mizoram but if they wish to stay in Tripura, we are happy for them,” he said.
‘Brus are our own’
Former Tripura Congress leader Pradyot Deb Barman told ThePrint that the Bru are very happy over their rehabilitation in the state.
“This day came after so many discussions. We had told the Government that they should let the Bru be in Tripura as they feel safe here,” said Barman, adding that the tribal community was always a part of the state and not Mizoram.
“Historically, the Bru were always a part of Tripura. Our Queens were Bru. It was in 1947 that the Bru went to Mizoram after they were displaced due to a hydro project. Thousands of their families were dislocated,” he said. “They migrated to Mizoram but they always lived there as second class citizens.”
According to an MBDPF member who didn’t wish to be named, the Bru community had started a demand for an autonomous district council before 1997.
“The area they demanded had more Mizos than the Bru, so the tension between the two began. Then one of the members of the Bru militant outfit abducted and killed a Mizo youth working at the forest department the Dampa Tiger Reserve. That is when tension flared and there was a riot,” he said.
Members of the Mizo community allegedly started setting the Bru settlement afire, following which many Bru families fled to Tripura.
“Many Bru families left over a period of two to three months. No one kicked them out. There was tension but it was on both sides,” he said.
While stakeholders in Tripura claimed that the Mizos never wanted the Bru back after they fled, the Mizos said they always wanted to bring the tribals back and rehabilitate them.
“Even now, there are more Bru families living in Mizoram in different pockets as compared to those camps in Tripura. They are just 30,000 people in Tripura, while there are over 50,000 here in Mizoram,” said Vanlalruata.
“These Bru families enjoy equal constitutional rights and do not suffer from any discrimination. Else why would they be here.”
He also said that the families who came back to Mizoram from those camps after one of the repatriation attempts are very happy.
“Has one heard of those families who returned to Mizoram facing any trouble? No. The repatriation was partially successful and the families who came back are happy. They are safe. The ones who do not wish to return are not out of fear. The reasons are political,” Vanlalruata said.
He said the Bru families in Tripura are “making excuses to not return”.
“Their leaders are playing a political game by keeping them out and the tribal are suffering because of them,” he added.
‘Mizos are communal, drove us out’
Speaking to ThePrint, MBDPF member Vipin Kumar Riang said, “We welcome the agreement, but how the Bru were forced to vacate their birthplace will always haunt us. The ones born their still miss their home, but they cannot go back as Mizoram is not a safe place for us.”
Bhaba Ranjan Reanz, a Bru staying in Tripura, alleged that the Mizos have always been “communal”.
“They never let the Bru people enjoy their rights. The Bru in Mizoram are a minority and are neglected. Their freedom means nothing to the Mizos,” said Reanz. “They treated us as labourers, tortured us. In 1997 they finally drove us all out.”
He also alleged that the episode of 1997 was nothing but ethnic cleansing. “It was ethnic cleansing. They (Mizos) burnt our houses and drove us out.”
Riang also claims the Mizos even forced the Bru population to convert to Christianity.
“Bru are mostly Hindus but in Mizoram, the Christian population is in majority. The Bru who are in Mizoram were forced to convert to Christianity. The Mizos are hardcore fanatics. They are against the minorities,” he said.
Riang said the Bru demanded a council of their own in 1996 to protect themselves. It was then that they were driven out.
“The Mizo were against us and which is why we demanded a council. But they burned our houses and drove us out. We were in exile for 23 years after that.”
Bru allegations ‘baseless’, say Mizos
Central Youth Mizo Association member Lalbiakzama called these allegations “baseless”.
“This allegation of ethnic cleansing on Mizos for driving the Bru population out is very old and unsubstantiated. The Bru community left themselves. It is a self induced migration, no one drove them out,” he said.
“We had submitted our reply regarding this to the Human Rights Commission and the home ministry and both were satisfied by that. The Bru, however, are still crying foul.”
He also said that not a single Bru was asked to convert. “Majority of Bru living in the camps in Tripura are Christians too, so where does this story come from.”
Vanlalruata too dismissed the allegations as a “nefarious attempt to tarnish the image of the Mizo community”.
“How can one force someone else to convert? This is ridiculous. They (Bru) have this habit of leveling such allegations without any proof… The Mizo society is very tolerant. We have many Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists staying here. Many Bru who are not Christians too are living in Mizoram.”
What the agreement says
Under the new agreement, the Bru refugees will be settled in Tripura. They will get all the rights that the residents of the state enjoy, including social welfare schemes of both Centre and state governments.
Each of the displaced families will also be given 40×30 sq.ft. residential plots, in addition to the aid under a 2014 repatriation agreement of a fixed deposit of Rs 4 lakh, Rs 5,000 cash aid per month for 2 years, free ration for two years and Rs 1.5 lakh to build their house.
The Tripura government will provide the land as per this agreement.