This Republic Day, Tripura rolled out its tableau featuring Hojagiri, a Reang tribal dance, to depict the vibrancy of its culture, but thousands of kilometres away in the northeastern state the younger generation of the tribe can barely identify the national anthem.
A team from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in New Delhi was recently taken by surprise when none of the 4,000 children, aged up to 10 years, at temporary shelters for Reang refugees in Tripura’s Kanchanpur were able to identify the national anthem. The children were also unable to sing Jana Gana Mana even after being prompted.
More than 35,000 Reang tribespeople, who moved from Mizoram to Tripura in October 1997 after atrocities were committed against them allegedly by Mizos, have been living in makeshift camps in Kanchanpur sub-division, 170 km from state capital Agartala, for the past two decades.
While a political solution to their problems is in not in sight, the refugees regularly battle for even basic documents such as birth and caste certificates.
“A deputy director of the state education department and other officials, who had accompanied us, tried their best to make the children sing at least two lines of the national anthem but all their efforts were unsuccessful,” NCPCR member Priyank Kanoongo told Hindustan Times.
The team, including Kanoongo and Yashwant Jain, visited the camps between January 11 and 14 and inspected the Non-Residential Special Training Centres (NRSTCs) for Reang refugees at Naisingh Para, Asha Para, Heza Chera and other nearby areas.
They were surprised to find these centres had never celebrated Republic Day or Independence Day since they were established more than a decade ago.
Sixteen NRSTCs, run under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, are meant for child labourers and displaced children, aged between six and 14 years, who have never been to school or have dropped out for more than six months.
“The standard of education is really poor...The contractual teachers who teach the children are only teaching them Bru or Reang languages,” Kanoongo said.
“For the first time this year, the Tripura government organised Republic Day functions at the NRSTCs after being pulled up,” said Kanoongo.
The commission recommended that the Mizoram government should depute at least 60 officers, including teachers, at the NRSTCs to meet children to understand their problems.
The central government disburses crores of rupees every year to these centres, where only a total of 50 to 60 contractual teachers are posted. Shunned by both the Tripura and Mizoram governments, students graduating from the centres have scant scope for further studies in the absence of better facilities and caste certificates.
“The condition of the Reang refugees is really bad. Only recently the Tripura government has started identifying the refugees. So far it has identified 500 refugees for repatriation,” said Purushottam Roy Barman, a senior advocate and chairman of the Agartala-based NGO Tripura Human Rights Organisation.