Mizoram’s Bru tribals, languishing in refugee camps in Tripura for 15 years, seek a closure to their misery, reports Ratnadip Choudhury
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NO BODY IMAGINED that the murder of a Mizo forest guard in the Dampa Tiger Reserve in 1997 would cause an ethnic clash that would affect the lives of 50,000 people. But it did. And the Brus, a tribe from the Mamit district in Mizoram, had to flee to escape violence at the hands of the majority Mizos. Essentially Hindus, some 50,000 Brus sought refuge in neighbouring Tripura, from the Christian-dominated Mizoram.
Between 1997 and 2012, some 17,000 Brus have returned to Mizoram, till the Mizo government stopped repatriation. The state claimed that a section of the refugees was opposed to the move, fearing violence would resume once they were back in Mizoram. This, the state then claimed, also put the lives of the officials overseeing the process under threat. The Brus felt security lay in being close together. Repatriation would make sense only if all of them were sent back to Mamit. Fear of a backlash from the Mizos still haunts them.
In 2010, the Centre chalked out an annual compensation of Rs 80,000 and free rations for each family. After a long wait, things moved in the right direction only this year when Union Home Minister P Chidambaram visited the camp in Kanchanpur subdivision on 18 February.
For many years, the Brus have been living on bare essentials foraged from nearby forests. Traditionally into shifting cultivation, some work as daily-wage labourers.
Such is the fear of retaliation that even Chidambaram’s assurances failed to convince the Brus to return unless they were given a written assurance by the Mizoram government. Their concerns are security, land and jobs, as well as increasing the free-ration grant to two years after repatriation. The Centre has announced a self-employment scheme for those returning. As a reconciliatory measure, it has also agreed to Mizoram’s demand of granting rehabilitation packages to 83 Mizo families evicted from Tripura in 1983. In a quid pro quo gesture, Mizoram has agreed to take back all refugees. Until then, the Brus are willing to fight it out, preferring to struggle with tubewells that are dry and stomachs that go hungry.
Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.