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Saturday, Dec 14, 2019

Tripura to resume cash, food for Bru refugees after protest

Nearly 5,000 Bru displaced persons returned to their native place Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation started since 2009.

india Updated: Nov 08, 2019 05:43 IST
Priyanka Deb Barman
Priyanka Deb Barman
Hindustan Times, Kanchanpur/Guwahati
Bru refugees protest at Kanchanpur in North Tripura district on Thursday.
Bru refugees protest at Kanchanpur in North Tripura district on Thursday.(HT Photo)
         

After a month of hunger and more than a week of a determined but peaceful blockade in the presence of armed security forces, famished Bru refugees blocking a popular market in Tripura’s Kanchanpur district, on Thursday received high-profile visitors and the long-awaited promise of food.

“I have good news for you,” declared Tripura’s deputy chief minister, Jishnu Devvarma to hundreds of members of the Scheduled Caste community which is scattered across Assam, Tripura and Mizoram, and went on to announce that his government would resume the supply of rations and cash to thousands of Bru families who have been living in refugee camps in Tripura since they fled ethnic violence in neighbouring Mizoram in 1997.

Adults in the six camps situated about 200km from state capital Agartala, where around 4,000 refugees were housed, used to receive ₹5 and 600 grams of rice, while minors received ₹2.5 on a daily basis, in addition to soaps, slippers and mosquito nets.

Nearly 5,000 Bru displaced persons returned to their native place Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation started since 2009.

The last phase of repatriation started on August 25 in 2018, when only 150 Brus returned to Mizoram. As most of them didn’t take part in the process, their relief supplies were halted, according to the MHA instructions from October 1 last year. The supply was later resumed after 21 days to continue till January 15 this year. Later , it was extended to March 31 and then to September 30 this year.

At present, nearly 4,000 Bru families are staying in the six camps. Over 480 families have been repatriated to Mizoram since October 3. The repatriation process is scheduled to continue till November 30.

After subsequent entreaties seemingly fell on deaf ears, angry Bru last week blocked off Kanchanpur’s Anandbazar, a prominent market in Kanchanpur. Even the posting of armed security forces and the imposition of Section 144 of the CrPC which debars the assembly of more than four persons, left the protesters unfazed.

“We are citizens of India. We will not stop our agitation until and unless the Government of India resumes our food supply and our cash dole,” 23-year-old protester, Rinmoy Reang said on Thursday.

A day before the minister arrived, three Bru organizations upped the ante. In a statement, they claimed that hungry inmates of the refugee camps were surviving on bamboo shoots, jungle yam, wild plantains, and also some non-edibles that may have caused gastric problems, causing 50 people to be admitted to a hospital. Though the local administration reported four deaths in the camps -- the cause is yet to be confirmed by post-mortem reports -- the Bru have held the Centre responsible for six deaths, allegedly of starvation.

The Deputy CM’s intervention seems to have addressed the issue -- for now.

“The meeting (with Devvarma) was nice and we are happy that we will get our food from tomorrow,” said Bruno Msha, general secretary of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), which claims to be the largest forum representing the Bru.

However, events since October 1 have revived larger questions on the future of the Bru , including their longstanding demand for the creation of an Autonomous District Council (ADC), a cluster of villages exclusively for the Bru, with security guaranteed by the state, to prevent any repeat of ethnic persecution, be it in Mizoram or elsewhere.

Last month, after a series of meetings with local leaders, MHA Special Secretary (Internal Security), AP Maheshwari, said that the government would help with the repatriation and ensure their security but that no Bru camps could continue in Tripura.

Some Bru, like 33-year old camp inmate, Nayanti Reang seem reassured. “We will go wherever we can be together and maintain our heritage.”

But Bru leader Bruno Msha is not committing to a return to Mizoram for his fellow refugees just yet.

“Whether we return to Mizoram or not will be decided through a dialogue with the state and central governments. Our leaders have moved to New Delhi today to meet Home Minister Amit Shah. We are awaiting a message from them.”

Deputy CM Devvarma on Thursday invited the leaders of various Bru organizations to state capital Agartala for discussions, and the Bru also have a supporter in Tripura royal scion and former Congress president, Pradyot Kishore Deb Burman, who sent rice and other food items to a refugee camp and met agitators earlier this week.

“Most of the Reangs (as the Bru are known in Tripura) were displaced for the Dumbur dam, the state’s hydropower project in 1974. They should get land here. I will speak to the Tripura and Mizoram governments for them”, Burman said. “If they are not willing to give land, I will try to arrange some on my own.”

Meanwhile, a government expert in Guwahati spoke to Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity on the crisis and the seeming reluctance of the Bru to return to Mizoram.

“The present situation has emerged because the Bru leaders are exploiting their own people. Most of the Bru want to go back to Mizoram, but the leaders are trying to stop them. The standoff may soon be resolved as the state and Center are determined to not allow the issue to deteriorate further,” he said.

(with inputs from PTI)