Afraid of Losing Identity, Bru Refugees Refuse to Return To Mizoram

As of now, there have been eight attempts to repatriate the Brus.

Aizawl: With only two days left for the “final” round of repatriation of Bru refugees from Tripura to Mizoram, the exercise has run into rough weather as the community leaders decided not to return to their home state till their demands were met.

Urging the authorities not to send officials for a futile exercise, leaders of the displaced people claimed in a memorandum to Mizoram home minister Lalchamliana that they are afraid of losing their Bru identity if they return to Mizoram.

In the ninth round of repatriation which is termed as the “final” one, altogether 4,447 Bru families, lodged in six relief camps in Tripura, are scheduled to return to the neighbouring state from where they had fled since 1997 following ethnic clashes. The exercise is scheduled to commence from October 3.

“The people of the relief camps have decided not to go back to Mizoram till our demands are addressed in the right perspective,” three Bru organisations said in a joint memorandum to Lalchamliana through the district magistrate of North Tripura where their relief camps are located.

The memorandum, signed on September 30 by leaders of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), Bru Tribal Development Society and the Mizoram Bru Indigenous Democratic Movement, reached Lalchamliana on Tuesday, officials said.

“You are humbly informed that no official be sent to the relief camps along with vehicles… your toil will be in vain as the upcoming 9th phase of the repatriation seems to be unsuccessful,” the memorandum said.

Among others, the MBDPF has on September 19 demanded that post-repatriation, the refugees be resettled in one village in south Mizoram’s Lunglei district and six villages in Mamit, in lieu of the proposed 14 villages.

“Many people protest the upcoming repatriation and said the transit camps set up by the Govt of Mizoram are not appropriate for human habitation. The inmates have fear in mind if we go back to our homeland, Mizoram, there will be a chance of losing our identity,” the memorandum said.

They also demanded that meeting of the Joint Monitoring Group on Bru repatriation be convened immediately in a venue near the relief camps to enable a large number of Bru people to attend it.

Copies of the memorandum were sent to A.P. Maheswari, special secretary (internal security), Satyendra Garg, Joint Secretary (North East), Ministry of Home Affairs and principal secretary, Government of Tripura.

The MHA had warned last year that the relief camps would be closed down from October one and free ration and money doled to the displaced families would be discontinued after the eighth phase of repatriation which did not bear much fruit.

While the MHA did stop the free ration and cash dole from October one, 2018, the Centre restarted it apparently due to political reasons as Mizoram assembly election was nearing.

The Centre has approved Rs 350 crore for the ninth phase of repatriation and the amount covers transportation and rehabilitation package expenses, which include Rs 5,000 per month for each resettled Bru family in Mizoram and free ration for them for two years.

The Mizoram government has identified members of 4,447 Bru families lodged in the relief camps as bona fide residents of the state last month.

The home secretary had earlier said all the identified families expressed willingness to return to Mizoram though obstruction from hard-liners and anti-repatriation elements cannot be ruled out.

Eight attempts had been made to repatriate the Brus, also called Reangs, and only around 1,681 families have returned to Mizoram since 2010 and were resettled in Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts.

The vexed Bru problem started when the Bru people, spearheaded by an organisation, Bru National Union, demanded a separate autonomous district council by carving out areas of western Mizoram adjoining Bangladesh and Tripura in September 1997.

The situation was aggravated by the murder of a forest guard in the Dampa Tiger Reserve in western Mizoram by Bru National Liberation Front insurgents on October 21, 1997.

The first attempt to repatriate the Brus from Tripura from November 16, 2009 not only fizzled out due to the murder of a Mizo youth at Bungthuam village on November 13, 2009, but also triggered another wave of exodus.