Violence erupted in Tripura on Saturday during protests against the settlement of Bru Refugees in the Kanchanpur sub-division of the state. The violence occurred after protesters’ blocked the National Highway at Panisagar in North Tripura. The protest was called by the Joint Movement Committee (JMC) and as per reports, they have demanded that the Brus be settled equally across the eight districts of Tripura.
Thus far, two individuals have lost their lives in the violence. Srikanta Das, a 40-year-old carpenter, died on the spot during the protests while Biswajit Debbarma, a fire service personnel, who was injured during the protests, passed away on Sunday. The protesters and police accounts differ on what actually started the violence.
According to the Police, they were forced to open fire in self defence and to bring the situation under control. “The crowd had blocked the national highway without permission. We tried to dissuade them and, after they became violent, we tried a mild lathi-charge and blank firing. The crowd became unruly and tried to snatch weapons. Police fired in self-defence,” Additional Director General of Police Rajiv Singh told the Indian Express.
The JMC, on the other hand, claims the Police opened fire on the protesters when they were protesting peacefully. “Our protesters were peaceful. The police opened fire on them without provocation. One person died on the spot and many others were severely injured. We are still unclear on details,” Convener of JMC, Sushanta Baruah, said. The protesters claim that the Tripura State Rifles opened fire without provocation which led to retaliation from the protesters.
Chief Minister Biplab Deb held a meeting with top police officials to discuss the incident and a magisterial inquiry has been ordered. Ratan Lal Nath, state Law Minister, said, “The magisterial inquiry will be conducted by North Tripura District Nagesh Kumar B and the probe report will be submitted within one month.”
Were Bangladeshis or Bangladeshi refugees involved in the protests?
As is quite clear, the violence has nothing do with Bangladeshis or Bangladeshi refugees in any manner, contrary to what certain users on social media have claimed. The JMC, which called the protest, comprises of local Bengalis, Mizos and others. The OSD to the Chief Minister of Tripura and the Tripura Police were quick to dispel these rumours as such rumours have the potential to create much ethnic strife in North East India.
Tripura Police has further said that there is no information of the movement of any Bangladeshi miscreants in the area. The Police also said that the situation has been brought under control. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the local Bengalis who were involved in the protest were Bangladeshi refugees as has been claimed.
From their social media feed, it is evident that the Tripura Police is taking these rumours very seriously, given the potential for ethnic strife in the North East. The Police warned that videos are being circulated with the intent to spread ethnic hatred which constitutes a legal offence. They made an appeal to the people of Tripura to not circulate such videos.
Background to the violence in Tripura
The violence that erupted is related to the recently reached agreement on the settlement of Bru refugees in Tripura. JMC chairman Zairemthiama Pachuau claimed that in contravention of assurances made to them that not more 1500 families will be settled, the numbers are now on the rise. “The government is trying to settle 6,000 families. If they go ahead with this, the entire sub-division will be affected environmentally, ecologically, socially and demographically which is not acceptable,” he said.
The dispute around the settlement of Bru refugees began soon after the community had to flee from Mizoram in 1997 due to ethnic violence by local Mizos. Before the violence began, Mizo organisations were already claiming that Brus are not indigenous to the state. Following the violence, the Brus came to Tripura where they have been living for the past 23 years.
Repatriation began in 2010 and 1600 Bru families were settled, however, Mizo organisations started protesting again and it was eventually stopped. In 2019, the central government decided to settle the Bru refugees in Mizoram but following protests from the refugees themselves, that plan was abandoned as well. Ultimately in 2020, a tripartite settlement was reached between the Union Government and the state governments of Tripura and Mizoram for the settlement of Bru refugees in Tripura itself.
Tensions between locals and Bru refugees
The Nagrik Suraksha Mancha (Citizens Protection Forum) has been alleging that Bru Refugees have been attacking local Bengalis in the area. A couple of days after the settlement agreement was announced in January, the NSM demanded the government’s attention on the alleged persecution of local Bengalis by the Brus. It is not clear whether they participated in the protests in Tripura on Saturday but illustrates the underlying tensions prevailing against the settlement.
“We have no problem with the government’s decision. But, at the same time, we also want to draw the government’s attention on the Bengalis who were subjected to persecution by the Bru refugees” president of NSM Ranjit Nath told reporters on the 18th of January. “Altogether 622 families who use to live in around the six refugee camps of Kanchanpur have been displaced following violent attacks of the Bru refugees. The visible conflicts between the Bru refugees and local Bengali population come into being in the year 2000 and since then many families who have to left their ancestral home due to them,” he added.
It is to be noted that regardless of the veracity of these allegations, the allegations prove that tensions have been simmering for a long time. It is also pertinent to note that the violence comes in the aftermath of the Kanchanpur units of both, the BJP and the CPI-M, declaring their support for the JMC. The CPI-M, which has ruled the state for decades, urged the state government to reach out to the protesters and and formulate an amicable solution to the crisis.
JMC convener Sushant Baruah said, “Today, our movement has the support of the BJP and the Left Front. The top leadership, including former CPIM district council member Lalit Debnath and BJP Mandal vice president Arun Debnath, were present on one stage with us. They made it clear that the JMC’s demand for Bru refugee resettlement was justified, and they are with the JMC.”