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Bru people will be no longer refugees in their own country, historic agreement signed to permanently settle them in Tripura

The agreement marks a step back for the Modi government, as the union government was trying hard to repatriate the refugees back to their home state

On Tuesday, the Home Ministry announced that it has brought to an end a 23-year old wait for over 30000 Bru tribals living in Tripura, after a “historic agreement” had been signed among the union government, the governments of Mizoram and Tripura; and the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum. According to the agreement, it has been decided that the Bru refugees living in Tripura will not be sent back to Mizoram, but will be settled in Tripura.

The agreement marks a step back for the Modi government, as the union government was trying hard to repatriate the refugees back to their home state. The government had even gone to the extent of stopping their food supply for refusing to go back, but the Bru refugees didn’t budge. In the ninth round repatriation efforts by the union home ministry that started in October last year, less than a thousand people had moved back, among over 33,000 people living in camps in Tripura. In earlier efforts also only a small number of people had gone back.

During the ninth round of repatriation, Mizoram govt had indicated that this will be the last try and there won’t be any more effort to bring the refugees back. The union government had also said that this will be the last effort and after that, the refugee camps in Tripura will be closed down.

In the first week of November, the central govt had stopped food supplies to the six camps where the refugees are living, prompting protests and road blockades by them. The protests were withdrawn a few days later after the Tripura govt promised to resume supplies. The camps are located at Casco, Kahkchand, Hamchapara, Ashapara, Naishingpara and Gachimapara in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of Tripura.

Read- Mizoram Elections: Amid Congress opposition to their voting rights, Bru refugee camps urge political parties to stay away

The Bru people, also known as Reang, were apprehensive about their security in Mizoram, and therefore were not willing to go back. Moreover, they had demanded that they should be settled in a contiguous area in Mizoram for their own safety, integrity, unity, preservation of culture, language and identity. But Mizo organisations were opposing this and as a result, the Mizoram government could not fulfil this demand. It may be noted that majority people in the Bru tribe are Hindus, while the Mizoram is a Christian majority state.

The Brus had escaped from Mizoram following large-scale violence against them in 1997. The violence had started after a Mizo Forest Official was killed by Bru National Liberation Front’s militants. Repatriation of Bru people to Mizoram was started in 2010, and around 1600 families were resettled in the state, but the process was stopped after Mizo organisations started protesting. The people in camps also expressed fear in going back. Since then, they are living in Tripura, with financial and other assistance from the central government.

Till recently the central government was insisting that the Bru people living in Tripura will have to go back to Mizoram, therefore the agreement yesterday came as a surprise. Now the refugees will be allowed to settle in Tripura, they will no longer have to live in refugee camps. Tripura is their natural home as the largest number of Bru people, known as Reangs in Tripura, live in the state. According to the census of 2011, there were around 1.9 lakh Reangs in Tripura, making it the second-largest Tribal group after the Tripuris. Around 40,000 people from the tribe still live in Mizoram, and a smaller number of people from the community live in southern Assam.

Earlier Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb had written to the Union home ministry offering to settle the Bru people in the state. Deb had written that 5,082 families continue to live in camps as they refuse to go back to Mizoram, and hence they should be allowed to settle in Tripura. Tripura’s royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarma had also said that the displaced people should be provided land in Tripura, as they were original inhabitants of the state. “If you can accept lakhs and lakhs of people from another country (Bangladesh), then why can’t you accept the Brus who were natives of Tripura until being displaced by the Dumbur hydro-electric plant,” Debbarma had said. Former Tripura Congress chief Pradyot Manikya had also favoured settling them in Tripura. He had said, “Tripura has enough place to accommodate Reang people. This is your land and nobody can force you to quit from here,” while visiting the camps last year.

According to the agreement signed yesterday, the displaced families will be given 40×30 square feet residential plots, fixed deposit of Rs 4 lakhs, case aid of Rs 5,000 per month for two years, free ration for two years and Rs 1.5 lakh aid to build their house. The central government has sanctioned a package of Rs 600 crore for this purpose. The refugees will now enjoy complete rights as citizens, including voting rights. They will also get Tribal status in the state, and the Tripura government will arrange for documents for them like ration cards, Aadhaar etc. The Tripura government will hold a census at the camps within the next 15 days to ascertain the exact number of Bru refugees living there.

While they were living in camps, their names were in the voter lists of Mizoram, and it was very difficult for them to vote during elections. Earlier the Election Commission had arranged for them to vote in nearby border areas in Mizoram, but that was not allowed by the Mizoram govt during the last assembly election, insisting that the voters must come to their constituencies to cast their votes. This episode had even resulted in the removal of the chief electoral officer of Mizoram after the Mizo organisations and the Congress govt had revolted against him claiming that he was planning to set up polling booths inside the camps in Tripura.

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